Archive for the ‘Judgment and Mercy’ Tag

Varieties of Exile   Leave a comment

Above:  Road to Natural Bridge in Death Valley National Park, California, 2012

Photographer = Carol M. Highsmith

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-highsm-23917

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FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN  THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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Bestow your light on us, O Lord, that, being rid of the darkness of our hearts,

we may attain to the true light;  through Jesus Christ, who is the light of the world.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 69

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Isaiah 62:10-12

Psalm 32

1 Corinthians 4:1-5

Luke 3:2b-6

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Isaiah 40:3-5 (quoted in Luke 2:4b-6) and Isaiah 6:10-12 share the thread of return from exile.  In order to grasp Isaiah 62:10-12 one should back up to the beginning of the chapter.  The Babylonian Exile is over yet the reality of Jerusalem after liberation by the Persian Empire does not live up to expectations.  God will indeed restore the fortunes of Jerusalem, we read; more exiles, accompanied by the Presence of God, will return to their ancestral homeland via a highway in the desert.  This is the same highway in Isaiah 40:3-5.

The Babylonian Exile, according to the Hebrew Bible, occurred mostly because of persistent societal sinfulness, such as that manifested in idolatry and institutionalized social injustice.  Divine judgment was simply the consequence of human actions.  Then forgiveness followed, hence the reading of Psalm 32 in the context of Isaiah 62:10-12.  Mercy followed judgment.

Quoting Isaiah 40:3-5 in Luke 3 was thematically appropriate, for life in Roman-occupied Judea constituted exile of a sort.  Expectations of deliverance from the occupiers was commonplace yet not universal among Jews in the homeland.  Jesus, of course, was not the conquering hero; he was no Judas Maccabeus.  No, Jesus was a savior of a different sort.  The high expectations left over from Isaiah 62 remained unfulfilled.

There is, of course, the major of the continuing passage of time.  The fact that these hopes remain unfulfilled does not mean that they will remain so indefinitely.  God’s schedule is not ours.  God, who is the ultimate judge, is faithful and full of surprises.  May the incongruity between our expectations and divine tactics and schedules not stand in the way of serving God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 28, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS AMBROSE OF MILAN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; MONICA OF HIPPO, MOTHER OF SAINT AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO; AND AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO, BISHOP OF HIPPO REGIUS

THE FEAST OF DENIS WORTMAN, U.S. DUTCH REFORMED MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF LAURA S. COPERHAVER, U.S. LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER AND MISSIONARY LEADER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MOSES THE BLACK, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK, ABBOT, AND MARTYR

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Psalms 120-125   1 comment

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POST LIII OF LX

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The Book of Common Prayer (1979) includes a plan for reading the Book of Psalms in morning and evening installments for 30 days.  I am therefore blogging through the Psalms in 60 posts.

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 226

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Psalms 120-134 are Songs of Ascents, which pilgrims to Jerusalem used en route to festivals at the Temple.

Regarding Psalms 120-125, dependence upon God is a recurring theme.  One might be alienated from one’s society (as in Psalm 120) or fear bandits, sunstroke, and lunacy (as in Psalm 121).  The dependence upon God might also be national (as in Psalms 123, 124, and 125).  Either way, congruity with concern for the shalom of Jerusalem after the Babylonian Exile (as in Psalm 122) is certain.

In my distress I called to the LORD

and He answered me.

–Psalm 120:1, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The God of these psalms is one who cares deeply.  He is the one who, in the words of Psalm 121,

…will guard your going and coming now and forever.

–Verse 8, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Given the postexilic context, pilgrims would have understood God as also being ready, willing, and able to punish individuals and nations for their persistent sins.  The balance of divine judgment and mercy was on their minds.

Do good, O LORD, to the good,

to the upright in heart.

But those who in their crookedness act corruptly,

let the LORD make them go the way of evildoers.

May it be well with Israel!

–Psalm 125:4-5, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Such a balance is useful to ponder, yet only with great reverence and caution.  One should also do so with much humility, for no mortal can know where the line between divine judgment and mercy exists.  One can, however, study the scriptures and notice an emphasis on mercy for the faithful.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 22, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JACK LAYTON, CANADIAN ACTIVIST AND FEDERAL LEADER OF THE NEW DEMOCRATIC PARTY

THE FEAST OF JOHN DRYDEN, ENGLISH PURITAN THEN ANGLICAN THEN ROMAN CATHOLIC POET, PLAYWRIGHT, AND TRANSLATOR

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Psalm 119:105-144   5 comments

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POST LI OF LX

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The Book of Common Prayer (1979) includes a plan for reading the Book of Psalms in morning and evening installments for 30 days.  I am therefore blogging through the Psalms in 60 posts.

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 226

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This is the fourth of five posts on Psalm 119 in this series.  The first is here.  The second is here.  The third is here.  The fifth is here.

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My flesh creeps from fear of You;

I am in awe of Your rulings.

–Psalm 119:120, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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My body bristles out of awe of you,

and I fear your judgments.

–Psalm 119:120, Mitchell J. Dahood translation (1970)

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This verse follows closely on the heels of an affirmation that God is the psalmist’s shield, a prayer for deliverance by God from foes (the wicked, or those who do not obey the torah, or teaching of the wise), and statements that God rejects the wicked.  Here, in Psalm 119:120, the alternating use of “fear” and “awe” seems to be evident.  The Presence of God has quite an effect on one.  Mitchell J. Dahood refers readers of his commentary to Job 4:15:

A wind passed before my face,

a storm made by body bristle.

If one who seeks to keep the torah of God more and more as time passes and finds the divine commandments to be sweeter than honey has that kind of response to the Presence of God and to divine commandments, how much more will the wicked have to tremble before God?  In God exist both judgment and mercy.  I do not pretend to know when one ends and the other begins.  I do, however, affirm that mere respect, if not an overpowering sense of inadequacy before the Almighty, should lead one to a sense of awe before God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 21, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN ATHELSTAN LAURIE RILEY, ANGLICAN ECUMENIST, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

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Psalms 108 and 109   1 comment

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POST XLIV OF LX

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The Book of Common Prayer (1979) includes a plan for reading the Book of Psalms in morning and evening installments for 30 days.  I am therefore blogging through the Psalms in 60 posts.

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 226

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NOTE:

Versification in the Book of Psalms is not universal.  One style of versification is that which one finds in Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Bibles.  Another is the versification in Protestant Bibles.  When I prepare these posts, I consult a range of Bibles and commentaries.  At any given time, the totality of these sources cover both styles of versification.

The versification in this post is that of The New Revised Standard Version (1989).

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Psalm 108 consists of two parts:  verses 1-5 (nearly identical to Psalm 57:7-11) and verses 6-13 (almost the same as Psalm 60:5-12).  [I know, for I laid opened three copies of The New Revised Standard Version, placed them next to each other on my desk, and read slowly.  I did not rely exclusively on the notes in commentaries.  I noticed an extra “and” as well as the changing of “us” into “me” in Psalm 108.]  Tradition attributes Psalm 108 to David.  I am not so sure, however, given the ancient custom of attributing authorship of a famous dead person.  Unlike some other psalms, in which the distinct parts have little to do with each other, the first section flows organically into the second.  The text is, anyway, a prayer for victory.

The author (allegedly David) of Psalm 109 also seeks victory; that is straight-forward.  The ambiguous element of the text is the question of the identity of the speaker of the curse (which God has the power to subvert into blessing, by the way) in verses 6-19.  The New English Bible (1970), The New Revised Standard Version (1989), The New Revised Standard Version:  Catholic Edition (1993), and The Revised English Bible (1989) preface the prolonged curse with

They say.

The 1991 revision of the Book of Psalms for the New American Bible prefaces the long curse with

My enemies say of me.

The Jerusalem Bible (1966) and The New Jerusalem Bible (1985) start the section with quotation marks.

However, the Revised Standard Version (1952 and 1971), the Revised Standard Version–Catholic Edition (1965), the Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition (2002), Mitchell J. Dahood (1970), TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985), and the 1970 and 2011 editions of the New American Bible do not set the prolonged curse apart as to indicate that another party is speaking.

If the speaker of the prolonged curse is the aggrieved party, i.e., the psalmist, “David,” Psalm 109 is consistent with other angry psalms up to this point.  The emotion is certainly predictable.  It is, as C. S. Lewis explained,

the natural result of injuring a human being.

–Quoted in J. Clinton McCann, Jr., Volume IV (1996), The New Interpreter’s Bible

Psalm 109 concludes with an affirmation that God stands with the needy.  In a real sense, however, whenever one victimizes another, there are only victims.  After all, whatever we do to each other, we do to ourselves.  If we, for example, seek to keep others “in their place,” or to restrict their opportunities, we harm the progress not only of them but of society as a whole, and thereby restrict our own opportunities.  Are we not, therefore, also among the needy because of our nefarious actions?  Yet, as I have written many times, when oppressors refuse to cease oppressing, divine deliverance of the oppressed is catastrophic for the oppressors.

Analysis of Psalm 109 in The New Interpreter’s Bible includes an affirmation of the importance of expressing anger when one is a wronged party.  That analysis also emphasizes the importance of submitting that anger to God.  The word “anger” comes from the Old Norse angr, which means grief, affliction, and sorrow.  These underlie anger, which is a burden too great to carry for long.  We should, therefore, surrender it to God.

I have carried much anger to God.  I have also spoken some of it in the presence of a priest and left it under the seal of confidentiality.  Uttering my strong, negative, and understandable feelings was a process that contributed to my spiritual recovery.  I have learned the wisdom of abandoning grudges and not picking new ones.

That is the spiritual journey of the author of Psalm 109.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 18, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ERDMANN NEUMEISTER, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM PORCHER DUBOSE, EPISCOPAL THEOLOGIAN

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Psalm 106   2 comments

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POST XLII OF LX

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The Book of Common Prayer (1979) includes a plan for reading the Book of Psalms in morning and evening installments for 30 days.  I am therefore blogging through the Psalms in 60 posts.

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 226

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Psalms 105 and 106 are simultaneously similar and different.  Although Psalm 105 focuses on the faithfulness of God, Psalm 106 concentrates on human faithlessness.   The catalog of sins is self-explanatory:  they forgot God’s deeds quickly, they forgot God (who saved them), they provoked wrath on themselves, et cetera.  We read of divine judgment and mercy, in balance.

The story of the Hebrews in Psalm 106, in broad terms, is the story of all of us who identify as being devout.  We (both collectively and individually), if we are intellectually and spiritually honest, admit that God has done much for us, that we have forgotten with scandalous rapidity God and what God has done, that we have brought negative consequences upon ourselves, and that God has not gone anywhere.  We, if we are honest with ourselves and others, acknowledge that divine graciousness continues amid judgment.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 18, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ERDMANN NEUMEISTER, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM PORCHER DUBOSE, EPISCOPAL THEOLOGIAN

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Posted August 18, 2017 by neatnik2009 in Psalm 105, Psalm 106

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Psalms 98-101   1 comment

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POST XXXVIII OF LX

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The Book of Common Prayer (1979) includes a plan for reading the Book of Psalms in morning and evening installments for 30 days.  I am therefore blogging through the Psalms in 60 posts.

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 226

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Each morning I will destroy

all the wicked of the land,

to rid the city of the LORD

of all evildoers.

–Psalm 101:8, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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Morning after morning I shall reduce

all the wicked to silence,

ridding the LORD’s city of all evildoers.

–Psalm 101:8, The Revised English Bible (1989)

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Like cattle I destroyed

all the wicked in the land,

Cutting off from the city of Yahweh

the evildoers one and all.

–Psalm 101:8, Mitchell J. Dahood translation

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This post covers four psalms united by the theme of kingship.  God is the ideal king, we read; hesed (faithfulness/love/steadfast love/kindness) and justice define His reign.  Justice for the oppressed often has detrimental effects on oppressors, predictably.  All of us depend completely on God, who has been kind enough to give us law and who has demonstrated judgment and mercy as well as discipline and forgiveness.  The ideal human king strives to govern justly and avoid corruption.  This is a high standard, one which is impossible to achieve fully.  Even the best and most well-intentioned rulers, for example, cannot help but effect some injustice.

The last verse of Psalm 101 interests me.  The consensus of the five commentaries I consulted is that the scene is a familiar one in the ancient Near East:  a prince sitting at the gate early in the morning and dispensing justice.  (See Jeremiah 21:12; Psalm 46:5 or 6, depending on versification; Isaiah 37:36; and Lamentations 3:23.)  Mitchell J. Dahood, however, departs from the standard translations (“each morning” and “morning after morning”), noting that they create

the impression that the king was singularly ineffectual; an oriental king who each morning had to rid his land of undesirable citizens was destined for a very short reign.

Psalms III:  101-150 (1970), page 6

Therefore his rendering of the opening of Psalm 101:8 calls back to Psalm 49:14 or 15 (depending on versification), for that art of the Hebrew text of 101:8 is similar to the Hebrew for “like a calf,” which is parallel to “sheeplike.”

Linguistic nuances are fascinating.

Sin permeates and corrupts our entire being and burdens us more and more with fear, hostility, guilt, and misery.  Sin operates not only within individuals but also within society as a deceptive and oppressive power, so that even men of good will are unconsciously and unwillingly involved in the sins of society.  Man cannot destroy the tyranny of sin in himself or in his world; his only hope is to be delivered from it by God.

–From A Brief Statement of Belief (1962), Presbyterian Church in the United States

Living up to divine standards is an impossible task for we mere mortals because of the reality of sin, both individual and collective.  God knows that, however.  May we strive to come as close as possible to that standard, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 17, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL JOHNSON, CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, ANGLICAN PRIEST, PRESIDENT OF KING’S COLLEGE, “FATHER OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH IN CONNECTICUT,” AND “FATHER OF AMERICAN LIBRARY CLASSIFICATION;” TIMOTHY CUTLER, CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, ANGLICAN PRIEST, AND RECTOR OF YALE COLLEGE; DANIEL BROWNE, EDUCATOR, CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, AND ANGLICAN PRIEST; AND JAMES WETMORE, CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND ANGLICAN PRIEST

THE FEAST OF JONATHAN FRIEDRICH BAHNMAIER, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

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Psalms 82-85   1 comment

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POST XXXII OF LX

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The Book of Common Prayer (1979) includes a plan for reading the Book of Psalms in morning and evening installments for 30 days.  I am therefore blogging through the Psalms in 60 posts.

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 226

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Show us, O LORD, Your faithfulness;

grant us your deliverance.

–Psalm 85:8, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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Show us, O Yahweh, your kindness,

and give us your prosperity.

–Psalm 85:8, Mitchell J. Dahood translation

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Show us your steadfast love, O LORD,

and grant us your salvation.

–Psalm 85:7, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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LORD, show us your love

and grant us your deliverance.

–Psalm 85:7, The Revised English Bible (1989)

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The act of comparing translations can yield much.  For example, the Hebrew word hesed can mean “faithfulness,” “kindness,” “love,” and “steadfast love.”  Likewise, another Hebrew word can mean “deliverance,” “salvation,” and “prosperity.”  In the context of Psalm 85 it is deliverance from the Babylonian Exile and prosperity that only God can provide.  Related to these matters is the fact that “righteousness” and “justice” are the same in the Bible.  I bring up this point because of Psalm 82, which tells us that God’s justice is universal.

The author of Psalm 83 assumes that enemies of ancient Israel are automatically enemies of God also.  Thus he has no hesitation to ask God to smite them.  Yet, as we read in Psalm 81, God has enemies in ancient Israel also.  Furthermore, a recurring theme in the Hebrew Bible is the faithfulness of certain Gentiles, including the prostitute Rahab and her family (Joshua 2 and 6) and the Aramean general Naaman (2 Kings 5), both from national enemies.  In the Book of Jonah, a work of satirical fiction from the post-Babylonian Exilic period, God recognizes the possibility that enemies of ancient Israel will repent and desires that they do so.   Reality is more complicated than the author of Psalm 83, in his understandable grief and anger, perceives it to be.

A faithful response to God includes both gratitude and obedience.  This segue brings me to Psalm 84, my favorite psalm, one which Johannes Brahms set to music gloriously in A German Requiem.  The psalmist writes as a pilgrim to the Temple at Jerusalem.  He approaches the Presence of God humbly and filled with awe.  The author delights to be in the Presence of God, which he understands to exist physically (via the Ark of the Covenant) at the Temple.

If Rahab and her family could become part of Israel, surely divine judgment and mercy crossed national barriers in antiquity.  If the Gentile Ruth could become the grandmother of David, YHWH was never just a national deity.  If the alien Naaman could recognize the power of YHWH, there was an opening to Gentiles at the time of the divided monarchy.

If divine justice is universal, as I affirm, we will do well to cease imagining that God is on our side and strive instead to be on God’s side.  We can succeed, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 14, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM CROFT, ANGLICAN ORGANIST AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF JONATHAN MYRICK DANIELS, EPISCOPAL SEMINARIAN AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF MATTHIAS CLAUDIUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MAXIMILIAN KOLBE, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR

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