Archive for the ‘Legalism’ Tag

Holiness, Part VIII   1 comment

Above:  Woodland Stream, by Alexander Demetrius Goltz

Image in the Public Domain

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According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)

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Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18

Psalm 1

1 Thessalonians 1:5b-10

Matthew 22:34-40 (41-46)

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Almighty and everlasting God,

increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity;

and, that we may obtain what your promise,

make us love what you command;

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 29

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Almighty God, we pray,

show your humble servants your mercy,

that we, who put no trust in our own merits,

may be dealt with not according to the severity of your judgment

but according to your mercy;

through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 87

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Holiness, in the Bible, pertains to separation from the profane/common (Leviticus 10:10; 1 Samuel 21:5-6; Ezekiel 22:26; 44:23; etc.).  Holiness is about complete devotion to God.  Holiness, however, is not about legalism, self-righteousness, and serial contrariness.  No, holiness is more about what it favors than what it opposes.

Holiness–in its proper sense–manifests itself in life:

  1. The Holiness code, as in Leviticus 19:1-37, includes honoring parents; keeping the sabbath; refraining from idolatry; offering a sacrifice of well-being properly; feeding the poor; dealing honestly with people; defrauding no one and stealing from nobody; not insulting the deaf; not placing a stumbling block before the blind; rendering impartial justice; loving one’s kinsman as oneself; not mixing different types of cattle, seeds, and cloth; refraining from sexual relations with a slave woman meant for another man; reserving the fruit of the food tree for God for the first three years; eating nothing with blood; avoiding divination and soothsaying; avoiding extreme expressions of grief and mourning; not forcing one’s daughter into harlotry; and eschewing necromancy.  Most of the items on this list are absent from the assigned portion of Leviticus 19.  Cultural contexts define them.
  2. “The man” (literal from the Hebrew text) is a student of the Torah.  He finds his stability in God, in contrast to the unstable scoffers.  When the scoffers find stability, they do not find it in God.
  3. Holiness is contagious in 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10.
  4. Jesus knew the influence of Rabbi Hillel (Matthew 22:34-40).  Holiness manifests in how we treat each other.

In a dog-eat-dog world, more spiritually toxic since the advent of social media and internet comments sections one does well not to read, loving God fully and loving one’s neighbor as one loves oneself (assuming that one loves oneself, of course) does separate one from the profane/common.  Holiness is love, not legalism.  Many particulars of holiness vary according to context, but the timeless principles remain constant.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 22, 2022 COMMON ERA

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

THE FEAST OF JOHN DAVID CHAMBERS, ANGLICAN HYMN WRITER AND TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF SAINTS HRYBORII KHOMYSHYN, SYMEON LUKACH, AND IVAN SLEZYUK, UKRAINIAN GREEK CATHOLIC BISHOPS AND MARTYRS, 1947, 1964, AND 1973

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JOHN KEMBLE AND JOHN WALL, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYRS, 1679

THE FEAST OF SAINTS THOMAS PERCY, RICHARD KIRKMAN, AND WILLIAM LACEY, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS, 1572 AND 1582

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Adapted from this post

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Love One Another   1 comment

Above:  St. Peter Walking on Water, by Alessandro Allori

Image in the Public Domain

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According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)

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1 Kings 19:9-18

Psalm 85:8-13 (LBW) or Psalm 28 (LW)

Romans 9:1-5

Matthew 14:22-33

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Almighty and everlasting God,

you are always more ready to hear than we are to pray,

and to give us more than we either desire or deserve. 

Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy,

forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid,

and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask,

except through the merit of your Son,

Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 26

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Almighty and everlasting God,

always more ready to hear than we to pray

and always ready to give more than we either desire or deserve,

pour down upon us the abundance of your mercy,

forgiving us the good things we are not worthy to ask

but through the merits and mediation

of Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 74

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I am listening.  What is Yahweh saying?

–Psalm 85:8a, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

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Quaker theology includes the Inner Light–the Holy Spirit within each person.  God speaks.  Quakers listen.

I assume that God is a chatterbox in search of an attentive audience.  We are busy and/or distracted.  God gives us assignments.  Like Elijah, we do not complete most of them.  Like St. Simon Peter, we look down at the chaos, not up at Jesus.  We lose faith and sink into that chaos without Jesus, without God.

St. Paul the Apostle believed that the covenant had passed to Christians.  His argument has not convinced me; the Jewish covenant has held.  God has established a separate covenant for faithful Gentiles.  Unfortunately, anti-Semitic misinterpretations of St. Paul’s words have fueled hatred and violence for nearly 2000 years.

What is God saying?  One may experience difficulty knowing the answer to that question even when one is listening carefully.  Assumptions and cultural programming get in the way.  Distractions mean that we miss some messages, even repeated ones.  Ego-defense mechanisms bristle against some messages.  Even when we know the words, we need to interpret them in contexts.

In the middle 1980s, at one of the United Methodist congregations of which my father was the pastor, there was a man named Don.  Don was hard of hearing.  He heard parts of what my father said in sermons.  Don frequently became incensed regarding what he did hear.  He missed contexts and misheard certain words and passages.  He heard (somewhat) and did not understand.  And he assumed that my father was in the wrong.  And Don frequently confronted my father.

Many of us are like Don; we hear partially, misunderstand greatly, and assume that we are correct.  We are, of course, correct some of the time.  A cliché says that even a broken clock is right twice a day.  But why be content to be a broken clock?

Rabbi Hillel and Jesus were correct.  The summary of the Law of Moses is to love God fully and one’s neighbor as oneself.  Gentiles often neglect the second half of Rabbi Hillel’s statement, in full:

The rest is commentary.  Go and learn it.

We Gentiles often stop after,

The rest is commentary.

Many of us tend not to want to study the Law of Moses.  And when many of us do study it, we frequently misinterpret and misunderstand it.  Well-meaning piety may mistake culturally-specific examples for timeless principles, resulting in legalism.

The most basic Biblical commandment is to love self-sacrifically.  If we mean what we say when we affirm that all people bear the image of God, we will treat them accordingly.  We will love them.  We will seek the best for them.  We will not treat them like second-class or third-class citizens.  We will not discriminate against them.  We will not deny or minimize their humanity.  In Quaker terms, we will see the Inner Light in them.

According to a story that may be apocryphal, the aged St. John the Evangelist was planning to visit a house church somewhere.  At the appointed time, the Apostle’s helpers carried him into the space where the congregation had gathered.  The helpers sat St. John down in front of the people.  The Apostle said:

My children, love one another.

Then St. John signaled for his helpers to take him away.  As they did, one member of the congregation ran after St. John.  This person asked an ancient equivalent of,

That’s it?

St. John replied:

When you have done that, I will tell you more.

The message is simple yet difficult.  Yahweh tells us to love one another.  The news tells us all we need to know about how poorly or well we are doing, based on that standard.  We are selfish bastards more often than not, sadly.  Or, like Don, we may be hard of hearing.  Or maybe we have selective memories and attention spans.

Do not imagine, O reader, that I exempt myself from these criticisms.  Rather, I know myself well enough to grasp my sinfulness.  I confess that I am a flawed human being.  I am “but dust.”  I depend on grace.

We all do.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 21, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALOYSIUS GONZAGA, JESUIT

THE FEAST OF CARL BERNHARD GARVE, GERMAN MORAVIAN MINISTER, LITURGIST, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF CHARITIE LIES SMITH BANCROFT DE CHENEZ, HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JOHN JONES AND JOHN RIGBY, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS, 1598 AND 1600

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Adapted from this post

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St. Paul’s First Missionary Journey   Leave a comment

Above:  St. Paul the Apostle

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART LXVII

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Acts 13:1-14:28

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Terminology and context matter.  A reading of Acts 13:1-14:28 reveals a few mentions of “the Jews.”  Recall, O reader, that Sts. (Joseph) Barnabas and Paul the Apostle were Jewish.  Remember, also, that many of the people they converted were Jews.  “The Jews,” therefore, refers to Jews hostile to Christianity–sometimes, violently so.

We have the same issue in the Gospel of John, a book with mostly Jewish characters and composed during a time of conflict between Jewish Americans and non-Christian Jews.  Another wrinkle in the Johannine Gospel, though, is that “the Judeans” may be the correct translation sometimes.

The hostility of “the Jews” toward Christian Jews and Sts. Paul and Barnabas, in particular, should inspire spiritual examination in the reader or listener.  I think of the shameful record of violence Christians have committed in the name of Christ against Jews, Muslims, other Christians, and other people.  I understand that I am not immune to the dark side of human nature.  How dare I fall into complacent self-righteousness and mistake myself for someone who would never commit or condone such an act, given different circumstances?

Such violence arises from hatred, which flows from fear, which comes from a lack of understanding.  Such violence also indicates the severity of the perceived threat Sts. Paul and Barnabas allegedly posed.

We also notice a pattern in evangelism–taking the message to the Jews first then to the pagans.  This is consistent with St. Paul’s outreach to Gentiles while including Jews in his mission.

For St. Paul, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus ended one epoch and inaugurated another one.  Therefore, in his mind, outreach to the Jewish population made sense.

We read of two miraculous works–a healing and a blinding.  I am happy for the man born crippled, for I rejoice in his healing.  Yet I cannot rejoice in the blinding of Elymas Magus (Bar-Jesus), a magician and a false prophet.  The physical blindness indicated spiritual blindness, mixed with fear of losing influence with Proconsul Sergius Paulus.

Perhaps the magician’s temporary blindness is a metaphor of the failure he and others like him have in blinding people to the course of God’s salvation.

–Robert W. Wall, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 10 (2002), 190

A relevant matter is the name “Bar-Jesus.”  “Jesus” is simply “Joshua,” a common name.  Yet the irony of “Son of Joshua” opposing nascent Christianity is ironic.  We read that St. Paul described Bar-Jesus as

son of the devil

instead.  The implication here is that opposition to the Gospel was a moral failing.  We readers are supposed to recall the conflict between Jesus and Satan and evil spirits in the Gospel of Luke.  Also, we are supposed to contrast St. Paul, blinded on the road to Damascus, with Elymas/Bar-Jesus.

Speaking of the name “Bar-Jesus,” another rendering is “Bariesou,” similar to “Barieu,” or “wrongdoer.”

Luke-Acts dates to circa 85 C.E.  Recall, O reader, that Gentiles were the intended audience.  Consider, also, the rising tensions between Christians (both Jews and Gentiles) and non-Christian Jews at the time.  Read in context, we may reasonably guess how members of the original audience related Acts 13:1-14:28 to their lives.

This seems like an appropriate setting in which to repeat myself from previous posts:

  1. Judaism at the time understood that God accepted righteous Gentiles.
  2. Luke-Acts documented some Gentiles who had positive relationships with their local Jewish communities.
  3. Intra-Jewish arguments occurred in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles.
  4. Anti-Semitism has always been wrong.
  5. Legalists have always distorted non-legalistic religions.

I have made these points in writing many times.  I tire of the necessity of repetition, but I feel obligated to commit it sometimes, just in case someone has missed all of the ten zillion times I have condemned anti-Semitism, for example.

Recall the Parable of the Mustard Seed, O reader.  The Kingdom of God is like a really big weed–an unwanted plant, by definition–derived from a tiny seed.  The Kingdom of God goes where it will.  I live in Georgia, so I understand the “kudzu theory” of the Kingdom of God.  This kingdom’s shape may not necessarily be what one expects, but the kingdom is present and tenacious.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 23, 2022 COMMON ERA

SATURDAY IN EASTER WEEK

THE FEAST OF TOYOHIKO KAGAWA, RENEWER OF SOCIETY AND PROPHETIC WITNESS IN JAPAN

THE FEAST OF MARTIN RINCKART, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT TERESA MARIA OF THE CROSS, FOUNDER OF THE CARMELITE SISTERS OF SAINT TERESA OF FLORENCE

THE FEAST OF WALTER RUSSELL BOWIE, EPISCOPAL PRIEST, SEMINARY PROFESSOR, AND HYMN WRITER

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Loving and Being Humble Like Jesus   1 comment

Above:  The Last Supper, by Leonardo da Vinci

Image in the Public Domain

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According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)

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Exodus 12:1-14

Psalm 116:10-17

1 Corinthians 11:17-32 or 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

John 13:1-17, 34

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Holy God, source of all love, on the night of his betrayal,

Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment: 

To love one another as he had loved them. 

By your Holy Spirit write this commandment in our hearts;

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

OR

Lord God, in a wonderful Sacrament

you have left us a memorial of your suffering and death. 

May this Sacrament of your body and blood so work in us

that the way we live will proclaim the redemption you have brought;

for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 20

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O Lord Jesus, since you have left us

a memorial of your Passion in a wonderful sacrament,

grant, we pray,

that we may so use this sacrament of your body and blood

that the fruits of your redeeming work

may continually be manifest in us;

for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 44

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In Exodus, the blood of the Passover lambs protected the Hebrew slaves from the sins of Egyptians.  The Gospel of John, mentioning three Passovers during the ministry of Jesus, placed the crucifixion of Jesus on Thursday, not Friday, as in the Synoptic Gospels.  The Fourth Gospel made clear that Christ was the Passover lamb that third Passover of his ministry.  In the Johannine Gospel, Jesus died while sacrificial lambs were dying at the Temple.

We read of the Last Supper in 1 Corinthians 11.  That is good, for John refers to it only in passing.

Jesus modeled humility and self-sacrificial love.

These are timeless principles.  The nature of timeless principles is that how one lives them depends upon circumstances–who, when, and where one is.  Certain commandments in the Bible are culturally-specific examples of keeping timeless principles.  Legalism results from mistaking culturally-specific examples for timeless principles.  Bishop Robert C. Wright, of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, says:

Love like Jesus.

To that I add:

Be humble like Jesus.

Circumstances dictate how living according to these maxims looks where and when you are, O reader.  By grace, may you succeed more often than you fail, for the glory of God and the benefit of your neighbors in God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 14, 2022 COMMON ERA

HOLY/MAUNDY THURSDAY

THE FEAST OF EDWARD THOMAS DEMBY AND HENRY BEARD DELANY, EPISCOPAL SUFFRAGAN BISHOPS FOR COLORED WORK

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ANTHONY, JOHN, AND EUSTATHIUS OF VILNIUS, MARTYRS IN LITHUANIA, 1347

THE FEAST OF SAINT WANDREGISILUS OF NORMANDY, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT; AND SAINT LAMBERT OF LYONS, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AND BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT ZENAIDA OF TARSUS AND HER SISTER, SAINT PHILONELLA OF TARSUS; AND SAINT HERMIONE OF EPHESUS; UNMERCENARY PHYSICIANS

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Adapted from this post

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Faith and Works, Part III   2 comments

Above:  Abraham’s Journey from Ur to Canaan, by József Molnár

Image in the Public Domain

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According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)

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Genesis 12:1-8

Psalm 105:4-11

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

John 4:5-26 (27-30, 39-42)

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Heavenly Father, it is your glory always to have mercy. 

Bring back all who have erred and strayed from your ways;

lead them again to embrace in faith

the truth of your Word and hold it fast;

through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

or

God our Father, your Son welcomed

an outcast woman because of her faith. 

Give us faith like hers,

that we also may trust only in our Love for us

and may accept one another as we have been accepted by you;

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 18

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O God, whose glory is always to have mercy,

be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways,

and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith

to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word;

through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 34

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I grew up with a stereotype of Second Temple Judaism.  I learned that the Judaism of Christ’s time was a legalistic faith with works-based righteousness.  I learned a lie.

As E. P. Sanders thoroughly documented in his seminal work, Paul and Palestinian Judaism (1977), Second Temple Judaism taught Covenantal Nomism.  Salvation came by the grace of being born Jewish.  The maintenance of that salvation was a matter of habitually keeping the moral mandates in the Law of Moses.  The failure to do so resulted in dropping out of the covenant.  St. Paul’s objection to Second Temple Judaism was that it was not Christianity.  For the Apostle, the death and resurrection of Jesus changed everything.

The Law of Moses, which postdated Abraham, defined the lines one should not cross.  “Do this, not that,” was necessary guidance.  The application of timeless principles to culturally-specific circumstances was essential.

It remains so.  Unfortunately, many devout people fall into legalism by failing to recognize the difference between timeless principles and culturally-specific examples.

Faith, for St. Paul the Apostle, was inherently active.  He dictated, in Greek translated into English:

For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

–Romans 3:28, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

The author of the Letter of James defined faith differently.  He understood faith as intellectual assent to a proposition.  Therefore, he reminded his audience that faith without works is dead (2:17) then wrote that Abraham’s works justified the patriarch (2:21f):

See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

–James 2:24, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

Despite the superficial discrepancy between Romans and James, no disagreement exists.  When people use the same word but define it differently, they may seem to disagree when they agree.

Or justification may not be a factor at all.

Consider a different translation, O reader.  David Bentley Hart, The New Testament:  A Translation (2017) is a literal version that, in the words of its Eastern Orthodox translator, “provokes Protestants.”  Hart renders Romans 3:28 as:

For we reckon a man as vindicated by faithfulness, apart from observances of the Law.

“Justified” becomes “vindicated,” and “works” become “observances.”  Then we turn to James 2:24:

You see that a human being is made righteous by works, and not by faith alone.

“Justified” becomes “made righteous.”

Justification is a legal term.  “Vindicated” and “made righteous” are not.  That is a crucial distinction.  I acknowledge the existence of the matter.  Nevertheless, the point about using the same word and understanding it differently holds in both interpretations.

The reading from John 4 has become the subject of much misinterpretation, too.  For nearly two millennia, a plethora of Christian exegetes have sullied the reputation of the Samaritan woman at the well.  Yet Jesus never judged her.  And his conversation with her was the longest one recorded in the canonical Gospels.

Jesus violated two major social standards in John 4.  He spoke at length with a Samaritan and a woman he had not previously met.  Jesus was not trying to be respectable.  He had faith in the Samaritan woman at the well, who reciprocated.

For reasons I cannot fathom, God seems to have faith in people.  My opinion of human nature is so low as to be subterranean.  Observing the irresponsible behavior of many people (especially government officials who block policies intended to save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic) confirms my low opinion of human nature.  Yet God seems to have faith in people.

May we reciprocate.  And may our deeds and words be holy.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 4, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CORNELIUS THE CENTURION

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Adapted from this post

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Mutuality in God XII   1 comment

Above:  Icon of Moses

Image in the Public Domain

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According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)

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Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Psalm 119:1-16

1 Corinthians 2:6-13

Matthew 5:20-37

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Lord God, mercifully receive the prayers of your people. 

Help us to see and understand the things we ought to do,

and give us grace and power to do them;

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 16

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O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers

of your people who call upon you,

and grant that they may understand the things they ought to do

and also may have grace and strength to accomplish them;

through Jesus Christ, your Son,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 27

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Culturally-specific examples make timeless principles applicable, in context.  Outside of that context, the culturally-specific examples may seem confusing and may not apply.  Yet the timeless principles remain.  When reading any Biblical text, the question of context(s) is always relevant.  Knowing the difference between a timeless principle and a culturally-specific example thereof is essential.

Consider the reading from Matthew 5, for example, O reader.

  1. “Raca,” or “fool,” was an extremely strong insult.  We have counterparts in our contemporary cultures; these counterparts are unsuitable for quoting in a family-friendly weblog. How we think and speak of others matters.
  2. Divorce and remarriage, in well-to-do families, consolidated landholding, thereby taking advantage of deeply indebted families.  Such practices endangered societal and familial cohesion.  Some divorces are necessary, especially in cases of domestic violence and emotional abuse.  The innocent parties deserve happiness afterward, do they not?  I support them receiving that happiness.  Yet modern practices that endanger societal and familial cohesion exist.

The Gospel of Matthew makes clear that Jesus affirmed the Law of Moses.  He favored Torah piety.  Jesus also opposed those who taught the Torah badly.  Deuteronomy 30 and Psalm 119 taught Torah piety, too.  St. Paul the Apostle admitted that the Law of Moses was good.  His objection after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, was that Judaism was not Christianity, not that it was legalistic.  For St. Paul, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus changed everything.

We have now received not the spirit of the world but the Spirit of God himself, so that we can understand something of God’s generosity towards us.

–1 Corinthians 2:12, J. B. PhillipsThe New Testament in Modern English, Revised Edition (1972)

In your context, O reader, what does God’s generosity require you to do?  Returning to Matthew 5 (among other Biblical texts), God orders that we–collectively and individually–treat others properly.  How we think of them influences how we behave toward them, inevitably.

May we–you, O reader, and I–as well as our communities, cultures, societies, et cetera–in the words of Deuteronomy 30:19, choose life.  May we choose proper piety.  May we acknowledge and accept our complete dependence on God.  May we practice mutuality.  May we love one another selflessly.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 25, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE CONVERSION OF SAINT PAUL THE APOSTLE

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Adapted from this post

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Scandalous Sabbath Activities   1 comment

Above:  Christ Healing the Man with a Withered Hand

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART XIV

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Luke 6:1-11; 13:10-17; 14:1-6

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INTRODUCTION

The Gospel of Luke tells four stories (6:1-5; 6:6-11; 13:10-17; and 14:1-6) pertaining to scandalous activities on the Sabbath.  For the sake of not repeating myself more often than necessary; I combine the material for all three stories in this post.

The Sabbath is a gift.  It is a mark of freedom.  (Hebrew slaves in Egypt had no days off.)  To keep the Sabbath is to live in freedom and to imitate God.  The Sabbath reminds us that we do not need to be  productive every day of the week.  The Sabbath should inspire joy.  Why, then, do so many people transform it into an occasion of boredom and misery?  I leave the answer to that question to you, O reader.

Also, ancient diagnoses were unreliable much of the time.  Possession does not cause a person’s crippled state, a condition with other origins.

6:1-5

Deuteronomy 23:24-25 permits someone to enter another person’s field and to pluck ears of grain, provided that one does not use a sickle.  The Law of Moses also considers reaping and sowing forms of work forbidden on the Sabbath.

We read that some of Christ’s disciples followed the provisions of Deuteronomy 23:24-25, but did so on the Sabbath.  We also read that, in their defense, Jesus cited the example of David (1 Samuel 21:1-6).  The defense Jesus offered, we read, is that, if David had the authority to overturn Levitical rules when he and his companions were hungry, so did Christ and his disciples, for the same reason.

6:6-11; 13:10-17; 14:1-6

According to later rabbinic tradition, the only healing permitted on the Sabbath was that which spared a life.  The man with a withered hand was not in a life-threatening situation.  Neither were the crippled woman and the man with dropsy.  Jesus insisted that the Sabbath is a day to perform good deeds.

The combination of these three healing stories points to the universalism of Christ’s message.  A withered hand.  Eighteen years of being crippled and bent over.  Dropsy.  One woman.  Two men.  The Gospel of Luke casts a large and inclusive net.

AVOIDING STEREOTYPES AND GRASPING THE TRUTH

The Law of Moses is a complex code.  Obeying one provision may require a violation of another one sometimes.  Therefore, one must rank priorities.  We read that, in Jesus, satisfying hunger and helping other people outranked a hypothetical standard.  Ideals are necessary, but people live in reality, not hypothetical scenarios.

Jewish tradition before and during the time of Jesus understood the ranking of commandments in conflict with each other.  (Modern Judaism still does, too.)  In the First Book of the Maccabees, the Hasmoneans–sticklers for the Law of Moses–waged combat on the Sabbath more than once.  They reasoned that not waging defensive combat on the Sabbath as necessary would contribute to the failure of their cause, which they carried on in the names of God and the Law of Moses.  In the Gospels, Jesus mentioned Pharisaic exceptions to Sabbath-keeping.

So, what was really going in these stories?  Why were critics of Jesus and his disciples unjustly critical?  I posit that Jesus and his disciples threatened the traditional understandings of what was orthodox and proper.  As I keep repeating ad nauseum, O reader, heaping scorn upon long-dead scribes and Pharisees is easy.  Doing so is part of a self-righteous effort if one is not careful.  Examining oneself for undue rigidity is another matter–and a vital one.

I reject Gentile stereotypes of Judaism.  (I grew up with them.)  These are traditional misunderstandings born of ignorance, not malice.  Yet the often feed malice, at worst.  At best, these stereotypes lead to misunderstanding certain Bible stories.

Nevertheless, legalistic people have always existed.  Some otherwise commendable pushing back against stereotypes of Judaism have ignored or minimized this point.  I have chosen to eschew stereotypes and false, easy answers, in favor of recognizing reality.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 28, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FOURTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN THE EVANGELIST (TRANSFERRED)

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Posted December 28, 2021 by neatnik2009 in 1 Samuel 21, Deuteronomy 23, Luke 13, Luke 14, Luke 6

Tagged with , , ,

The Power of the Divine Word, With the Second Servant Song   Leave a comment

Above:  Martin Luther

Image in the Public Domain

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READING SECOND ISAIAH, PART VII

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Isaiah 48:1-49:26

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Before I get to the meat of this post, I must clarify one point:  the meaning of “word of God,” in the context of Isaiah 48:1-49:26.  Pay attention to the difference between “word of God” and “Word of God” in writing, O reader.  I live in the Bible Belt of the United States of America.  Here, many fundamentalists (fun-damn-mentalists) and Evangelicals mistake the “Word of God” for being the Bible.  I, with my Barthian tendencies, affirm that Jesus is the “Word of God” and that the Bible is the “word of God,” in the broad sense.  Yet, in the narrow sense–in the context of Isaiah 48:1-49:26, for example–the “word of God” is whatever God says in a particular setting.  One of the highlights of Reformed (Christian) theology is the concept of the “book of nature,” by which God also speaks.

In Isaiah 48, Hebrew exiles (in general) were faithless people who swore insincerely and falsely in the name of YHWH.  Their word was not reliable and powerful.  The people were stubborn and prone to commit idolatry.  Yet God’s word was faithful and powerful.  And, as in the Book of Ezekiel, God was faithful not for the sake of the covenant people, but for God’s own sake (48:11):

For My sake, My own sake, I do act–

Lest [My name] be dishonored!

I will not give My glory to another.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

We also read the Babylonian Exile was punishment the population earned, and that God (for God’s own sake) balanced judgment–and mercy–did not destroy the rebellious Hebrews (48:9-11).  We read that the exile was a form of education in the ways of heeding divine commandments (48:17-19).  We read, too, that the Babylonian Exile was about to end (48:20-22).

What I wrote while blogging through the Book of Ezekiel holds.  I still find this self-centered God-concept repugnant.  I understand the cultural-historical context.  I know that Ezekiel and Second Isaiah asserted the sovereignty of God in the context of the widely-held assumption that Marduk and the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian pantheon had conquered YHWH in 586 B.C.E.  Yet I am also a Christian.  As one, I affirm the Incarnation, that Jesus of Nazareth (who lived, who breathed, and who dined with people) was God with skin on.  I affirm that the real, flesh-and-blood person, Jesus, being God (however the mechanics of the Incarnation worked) revealed the character of God.  I recall reading in the four canonical Gospels about Jesus healing and feeding people out of compassion and pity, not concerns about burnishing his reputation.

Isaiah 49:1-6 is the Second Servant Song.  The servant speaks.  The servant’s mission predates the servant’s birth.  The servant’s mission is to announce the divine restoration of the covenant relationship with YHWH, by YHWH, that the covenant people may be a light to the nations.  Salvation will, therefore, reach the ends of the earth via the covenant people.  As with the First Servant Song, the identity is not a matter of unanimous agreement.  Most likely, as in the case of the First Servant Song, the servant is the covenant people–the exiles, about to be free to go home.  The idea is that the end of the Babylonian Exile will lead to all the (known) world recognizing YHWH.

That prediction proved to overly optimistic.

The covenant people’s mission is to model a just society grounded in divine law.  The Law of Moses contains timeless principles and many culturally-specific examples of those principles.  Legalism results when people mistake culturally-specific examples for timeless principles.  Context is also crucial, as it always is.  Many people neglect or misunderstand context when interpreting verses and passages.  They mean well, but miss the point(s).  Mutuality, in the context of the recognition of complete dependence on God, informs many of the culturally-specific examples in the Law of Moses.  We human beings are responsible to God, to each other, and for each other.  We have a divine mandate to treat one another accordingly.  Creating and maintaining a society built on that truth is a high and difficult calling.  It is possible via grace and free will.

The prediction of the Jewish homeland as paradise on Earth after the Babylonian Exile also proved overly optimistic.  Dealing with disappointment over that fact was one of the tasks of Third Isaiah (24-27, 56-66).

The people were faithless, but God was faithful.  Martin Luther, counseling practicing, baptized Christians concerned they would go to Hell for their sins, advised them to trust in the faithfulness of God.  he was correct about that.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 9, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF AUGUSTUS TOLTON, PIONEERING AFRICAN-AMERICAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN RUDOLPH AHLE AND JOHANN GEORG AHLE, GERMAN LUTHERAN ORGANISTS AND COMPOSERS

THE FEAST OF JOHANN SCHEFFLER, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF GORKUM, HOLLAND, 1572

THE FEAST OF ROBERT GRANT, BRITISH MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT AND HYMN WRITER

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Salvation and Damnation, Part I   1 comment

Above:  Part of the Title Page of Paul and Palestinian Judaism (1977)

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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For the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year 2

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Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Worship (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1947)

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Almighty God, who knowest us to be set in the midst of so many and great dangers,

that by reason of the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright,

grant to us such strength and protection as may support us in all dangers,

and carry us through all temptations;

through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 131

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Job 38:1-21

Psalm 119:1-16

Romans 4:16-25

Luke 14:25-35

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Contrary to a widespread misconception, Second Temple Judaism was not a legalistic religion with works-based salvation.  No, it was a religion that taught covenantal nomism–salvation by grace (birth into the covenant) and self-exclusion from that covenant by habitually defying the ethical obligations of God’s law.  E. P. Sanders cited Second Temple Jewish writings to make that case in Paul and Palestinian Judaism (1977).

Read Psalm 119:1-16 again, O reader.  Read it as saying what it does, not what theology with a Protestant Reformation hangover thinks the text says.  Nothing in Psalm 119 contradicts Christianity.

St. Paul’s critique of Second Temple Judaism was that it lacked Jesus, not that it was legalistic, with works-based righteousness.

God, who has been creating the natural world, has also created salvation and free will.  Salvation is of divine origin.  Damnation is of human origin.  As C. S. Lewis wrote, the doors of Hell are locked from the inside.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 8, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE TENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF WALTER CISZEK, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY PRIERST AND POLITICAL PRISONER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS AMATUS OF LUXEUIL AND ROMARIC OF LUXEUIL, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONKS AND ABBOTS

THE FEAST OF ERIK CHRISTIAN HOFF, NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER AND ORGANIST

THE FEAST OF JOHN GREENLEAF WHITTIER, U.S. QUAKER ABOLITIONIST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIN SHKURTI, ALBANIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1969

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Concerning Wheat, Tares, and Donatism, Part II   Leave a comment

 

Above:  The Parable of the Tares

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Third Sunday of Advent, Year 2

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Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Worship (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1947)

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Almighty and Everlasting God, who hast given to us, thy servants, grace,

by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity,

and in the power of the divine majesty to worship the Unity;

we beseech thee, that thou wouldst keep us steadfast in this faith,

and evermore defend us from all adversities;

who livest and reignest, One God, world without end.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 182

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Isaiah 12:1-6

Psalms 67 and 75

Revelation 21:1-27

Matthew 13:14-52

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The fully realized Kingdom of God will arrive on schedule–God’s schedule.  Or it will seem to arrive, from a human perspective, one bound by time.  Either way, this will be wonderful news for the oppressed and catastrophic news for their oppressors.  Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance.

We–you and I, O reader–live in the age of weeds (tares) growing among the wheat.  May we not presume to know more than do.  Our judgment regarding who is a weed and who is wheat may be flawed.  The Church and many congregations have a shameful track record of harming members spiritually (especially with legalism and bigotry) instead of nurturing them.  I know refugees from the Church.  Perhaps you do, too, O reader.  The irony of a bumper sticker,

JESUS, SAVE ME FROM YOUR FOLLOWERS,

is rich.  Nobody needs saving from actual followers of Jesus.  Yet those “followers of Jesus” from whom people need deliverance almost certainly think they follow Christ.

As the Gospel of Mark (in its entirety) and Matthew 25:31-46 teach us bluntly, many who think they are insiders are really outsiders, just as many who imagine themselves to be outsiders are actually insiders.  Wheat or weeds?  One may not know to which category one, much less another person, belongs.  That may be either good or bad news, depending on one’s case.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 29, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FIRST DAY OF ADVENT:  THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK COOK ATKINSON, ANGLICAN CHURCH ORGANIST AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF JENNETTE THRELFALL, ENGLISH HYMN WRITER

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