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Tobit’s Instructions to Tobias   Leave a comment

Above:  Map of the Neo-Assyrian Empire

Image in the Public Domain

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READING TOBIT

PART V

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Tobit 4:1-20

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Samuel L. Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, explained that the difference between reality and fiction is that people expect fiction to make sense.  Often, as cliché tells us, reality is stranger than fiction.  After all, solar-powered submarines exist.

The Book of Tobit is a work of fiction, of course.  Yet its main human characters are realistic.  I can believe that, in real life, one may suddenly remember, after years of dependency, that a vast sum of money far away exists.  Human memory works in odd ways much of the time.

Tobit’s instructions to his son, Tobias, reflect piety.  We read again of the importance of proper burial and of giving alms to the poor.  Other morals pertain to honoring parents, keeping divine commandments, avoiding fornication, choosing a Jewish wife, paying workers promptly, keeping the Golden Rule, not getting drunk, and praising and trusting God.

The importance of alms in the Book of Tobit is about more than helping the poor.  Jews living in exile and the diaspora lacked the option of offering sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem.  Almsgiving substituted for offering sacrifices.

A brief survey of almsgiving in the Bible follows:

  1. One should give alms willingly.  (Deuteronomy 16:17; Tobit 4:8, 16; Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 18:15-18)
  2. One should give alms in proportion to one’s income.  (Deuteronomy 15:14; Deuteronomy 16:17; Tobit 4:8, 16; Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 35:9-10)
  3. One should restrict alms to within one’s community.  (Deuteronomy 14:29; Deuteronomy 16:14; Tobit 4:17; Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 12:1-7)
  4. Almsgiving saves the giver from sins.  (Tobit 12:9-10; Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 3:30-31)
  5. Almsgiving is a worthy offering before God.  (Tobit 4:11; Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 34:18-35:4)
  6. Almsgiving saves the giver from premature death and destruction.  (Tobit 4:10; Tobit 12:9; Tobit 14:10; Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 29:10-13; Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 40:17, 24)

The Bible places a priority on works as an expression of faith.  May we leave Reformation theology of faith and works out of this, for the time being, at least.  May we admit that Second Temple-era Jews were not Lutherans.  And may we remember Matthew 25:40:

And the king will say to them in reply, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.

The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

In other words, such works matter to God.  We cannot love God, whom we cannot see, if we do not love people, whom we can see.

The principle is clear.  The execution is not always obvious, however.  It depends on circumstances, such as who one is, where one is, and when one is.  For example, should one give money to a panhandler standing on a street corner?  Or should one instead give those funds to organizations that help the poor and homeless?  I favor a local charity that helps battered women.  In my community, churches pool their funds to help the poor into a central distribution point.  Wisdom in almsgiving is essential.  May we–collectively and individually–be wise in this way more often than we are foolish.

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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Building Up Each Other in Christ, Part VIII   Leave a comment

Above:  Jeremiah

Image in the Public Domain

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For the First 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 God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness,

and put upon us the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life,

in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility;

that in the last day, when he shall come again in his

glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead,

we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth

with thee and the Holy Spirit, now and forever.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 105

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Jeremiah 31:31-34

Psalm 46

Hebrews 10:19-25

Matthew 25:1-13

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“Desist!  Realize that I am God!

I dominate the nations;

I dominate the earth.”

–Psalm 46:11, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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…for he is utterly dependable….

J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English, Revised Edition (1972)

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Three themes dominate this group of four readings.  They are:

  1. the reliability of God,
  2. the sovereignty of God, and
  3. the balance of divine judgment and mercy.

In the full Biblical sense, to believe in God is to trust God.  Whenever someone asks me if I believe in God, I reply first by asking what he or she means by “believe in God.”  The second part of my answer depends on what the person means.  I am glad to answer honestly, but I need to know what the question really is.  I always affirm the existence of God.  That is insufficient, though.  I trust God most of the time.  I know the meaning of

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief.

–Matthew 9:24

Trusting God can be difficult, especially during times of distress.

I publish this devotional post during a time of global and national distress.  The COVID-19 pandemic, made worse by human irresponsibility (both collective and individual) is taking lives, damaging lives, and wrecking economies.  Right-wing populism, fueled by hatred and resentment, remains firmly entrenched in the mainstream of politics in many nation-states.  Misinformation and what Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) called “damn lies” spread quickly via the internet and other media.  Achieving a consensus regarding what constitutes objective reality has become increasingly difficult in this age of “alternative facts.”  Incivility is on the rise.

Affirming with my lips, pens, pencils, and computer keyboards that God dominates the earth and is utterly dependable is easier than internalizing that message.  Yet I think about Jeremiah, who watched homeland, reduced to vassalage to the Babylonian/Neo-Chaldean Empire, near its end at the hands of that empire.  I recall his documented struggles with God.  And I read a bold yet partially-fulfilled prediction in 31:31-34.

God is faithful, as we must be.  Collective and individual responsibility are Biblical virtues.  The parable in Matthew 25:1-13 reminds us of our individual responsibility.  It tells us that there are some spiritual tasks nobody can fulfill for us.  And mutuality remains a principle that carries over from the Law of Moses.

I consider the epistle reading.  Hebrews 10:19-25 is usually a passage assigned for Good Friday.  Scheduling this passage for the First Sunday of Advent makes much sense and fits with precedents.  One may detect, for example, the inclusion of the classical Passion Chorale (with words other than those for Good Friday) in some sacred music for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany.  One may recognize this motif in certain compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach and Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy.  To think of the crucifixion near and at Christmas is appropriate.

The advice, set in the context of faith community, to build up each other and to provoke one another to love and good deeds is timeless and sage counsel.  It falls into the category of mutuality.  May we, collectively and individually, look out for each other and take care of each other.  May we seek to build up each other, not tear each other down.  May we bolster each other in healthy faith.  May we love according to the standard of the Golden Rule and 1 Corinthians 13.  May we succeed, by faith.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 27, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES INTERCISUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR, 421

THE FEAST OF JAMES MILLS THOBURN, ISABELLA THOBURN, AND CLARA SWAIN, U.S. METHODIST MISSIONARIES TO INDIA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM COOKE AND BENJAMIN WEBB, ANGLICAN PRIESTS AND TRANSLATORS OF HYMNS

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The Faithfulness and Generosity of God, Part II   1 comment

Road Through Desert

Above:  A Road Through a Desert

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Stir up your power, Lord God, to prepare the way of your only Son.

By his coming give to all the world knowledge of your salvation;

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 19

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 40:1-11

Psalm 126

Romans 8:22-25

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When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,

then we were like those who dream.

Then was our mouth filled with laughter,

and our tongue with shouts of joy.

They they said among the nations,

“The LORD has done great things for them.”

The LORD has done great thins for us,

and we are glad indeed.

Restore our fortunes, O LORD,

like the watercourses of the Negev.

Those who sowed with tears

will reap with songs of joy.

Those who go our reaping, carrying the seed,

will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.

–Psalm 126, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Hope–even that of the well-placed variety–can be difficult to maintain.  Periods of exile might be long, fear and uncertainty might be daunting, physical and/or emotional suffering might be terrible, and daring to aspire to a better future might seem foolish.  Yet God is faithful and generous, and many unlikely and seemingly unlikely events occur.  Samuel L. Clemens, who wrote as Mark Twain, commented, fiction, unlike non-fiction, is, according to many people, supposed to make sense.  Yet I have noticed that many expect non-fiction to make sense, according to their expectations, and reject reality when it contradicts confirmation bias.

This is a devotion for early in Advent, the time of preparation for the twelve days of Christmas.  December should be a time of contemplation, assuming that one observes a spiritual holiday or holidays during the month.  (It is a month full of holidays.)  I, as a Christian, observe the seasons of Advent and Christmas while wishing others happy holidays in their traditions, for having a firm opinion need not lead to hostility and/or intolerance toward those who are different.  I observe Advent so enthusiastically that I wish people a holy Advent until very close to December 25, finally yielding to “Merry Christmas” somewhere around December 23.  Then I wish people “Merry Christmas” until January 5.  I, without becoming lost in theologically minor details, ponder the central mystery of Christianity, which is that God entered into the human story as one of us.  That Jesus was a human being is the first important statement about him.  The incarnation is foundational, for, if that assertion is not true, other essential doctrines, such as those related to Good Friday and Easter, fall apart.  Other ancient religions proposed their own saviors of the world, but those figures never existed as historical figures.  How can a figment of human imaginations save the world?

Was it ever too much to hope that God would become incarnate?  No, but it was wonderful.  And, since Jesus rose from the dead and conquered death and sin, there is even more hope for us than we would have otherwise.  Dare we to live in that hope?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 11, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT GREGORY THAUMATURGUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF NEOCAESAREA; AND SAINT ALEXANDER OF COMANA “THE CHARCOAL BURNER,” ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR AND BISHOP OF COMANA, PONTUS

THE FEAST OF AUGUSTUS MONTAGUE TOPLADY, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT CLARE OF ASSISI, FOUNDER OF THE POOR CLARES

THE FEAST OF MATTHIAS LOY, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, EDUCATOR, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR; AND CONRAD HERMANN LOUIS SCHUETTE, GERMAN-AMERICAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, EDUCATOR, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2015/08/11/devotion-for-monday-after-the-second-sunday-of-advent-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Posted August 12, 2015 by neatnik2009 in Isaiah 40, Psalm 126, Romans 8

Tagged with , ,

Rereading the Bible Again As If For the First Time   5 comments

Above:  The Reading of the Gospel, St. George’s Episcopal Church, Griffin, Georgia, May 6, 2012

Image Source = Bill Monk, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

(https://picasaweb.google.com/114749828757741527421/BishopWhitmoreSVisitToStGeorgeSGriffen#5739530750820847474)

I grew up with the Bible; my father is a United Methodist minister.  Methodists, of course, are not Sola Scriptura people, at least not officially, nor should they be.  Methodists are Quadrilateral people, with the four elements being Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience.  Scripture is primary in this formula, which they got from us, their parent tradition, Anglicanism.  The Methodists transformed the Anglican Three-Legged Stool into the Quadrilateral by splitting off experience from reason.

As I have implied, Sola Scriptura is rubbish.  It does not hold water historically, and therefore fails theologically.  Much of the Bible began as oral tradition before entering its written phase of existence.  And the parts which were in writing from the beginning had their roots in tradition.  So Scripture flowed from tradition.  And religious figures defined cannons for Judaism and varieties of Christianity.  The Bible for the earliest Christians was the Hebrew Scriptures.  The earliest (eventually canonical) written Gospel was Mark, composed no earlier than 67 CE.  Paul died before any written Gospel existed.  If the Scriptura does not yet exist or if its definition is not a settled matter, how can Sola Scriptura work?

Speaking of which, there are Christian canons.

  1. Protestant Bibles have 66 books.
  2. Roman Catholic Bibles have 73 books.
  3. Orthodox Bibles, depending on the variety of Orthodoxy, have 76, 78, or 80 books.

I have read all 78 books of the Slavonic Bible.  God help me, I have endured the pure confusion which is 2 Esdras, the Maccabees-devoid 3 Maccabees, and the combination of philosophy and over-the-top hagiographies replete with descriptions of torture which is 4 Maccabees.  And I have concluded that the Council of Trent was correct on at least one matter:  the Bible properly has 73 books.

I travel through that material to arrive at this destination:  Although I have read all 78 books of the Slavonic Bible, I have been rediscovering the Biblical texts while preparing blog devotionals based on lectionaries.  Subtleties which once evaded me have become apparent.  Connections between texts have become obvious to me.  I would not have thought to have paired certain parts of the Old and New Testaments, but I am glad that a lectionary committee did.

Once my Bible study techniques were rather poor, sometimes non-existent.  More than once I devised a plan and got off to a promising start.  Then everything fizzled.  Yet, with these lectionaries and the discipline of blogging, I have found a winning strategy for rereading the Bible again as if for the first time.  I want to read what is next, so I do.

My advice to you, O reader, is to try this approach for yourself, with or without blogging.  There are options.  The Revised Common Lectionary is mostly for Sundays.  It has become the standard for many denominations across the planet.  Thus many ecumenical study materials are based on it.  And the new Sunday lectionary of the Roman Catholic Church is nearly identical to it.  The lectionary texts and many study materials linked to them are available online.

Or maybe you prefer Lutheran options.  The Lutheran Service Book (2006) (https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/07/01/evangelical-lutheran-worship-2006-and-lutheran-service-book-2006-services/), of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, contains a one-year daily lectionary, complete with an Old Testament reading, a New Testament reading, and the choice of a morning psalm or two evening psalms.  Readings tend to be continuous.  This, in my experience so far, has proven to be an excellent Bible reading plan.  Finding the connections between the Old and New Testament readings has been a great spiritual exercise.  Reading Job and John together, for example, led to some interesting insights.  Meanwhile, in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006) (https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/07/01/evangelical-lutheran-worship-2006-and-lutheran-service-book-2006-services/), of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, one finds a three-year daily lectionary built around the Revised Common Lectionary.  On a Thursday the readings built up to the Sunday lessons.  Then they flow from them through Wednesday.  This is the lectionary I have scheduled myself to follow next, for church year 2013-2014.

For Episcopal Church options one can turn to The Book of Common Prayer (1979) and Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010).  The Prayer Book contains the Daily Office, a plan for daily readings (Old Testament, New Testament, and morning and evening psalms) over two years.  The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), incidentally, incorporated the Daily Office with only minor modifications (as far as I can tell, in the choice of psalms per day) into its fifth Book of Common Worship (1993) (https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/06/28/book-of-common-worship-1993/).  The Episcopal Church has replaced its 1979 Sunday lectionary with the Revised Common Lectionary, so more recent printing runs of the Prayer Book have placed the RCL where the 1979 Lectionary used to be and added the 1979 Lectionary as an appendix.  Over at Holy Women, Holy Men, one can find a set of daily lectionaries to string together through the entire church year to read in lieu of the Daily Office.  And there is a six-week topical lectionary for Monday-Saturday.

Or perhaps one prefers what my brethren in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) offer.  Chalice Hymnal (1995) (https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/01/03/chalice-hymnal-1995-worship-resources/) includes a three-year daily lectionary.  For each week there is a designated psalm or portion thereof.  One reads this in conjunction with one of a series of continuous lessons from a rotation of books of the Bible and with a hymn keyed to the lesson.

Maybe you, O reader, prefer an old Scottish Presbyterian lectionary.  If so, look no further than the 1946 U.S. Presbyterian Book of Common Worship (https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/07/03/the-book-of-common-worship-1946/), the third in a line which began in 1906.  This lectionary, mostly for Sundays, offers a psalm and a reading from the Old Testament, an epistle, and a Gospel per day.

In other words, by writing about these options I am offering possibilities in methods of reading and studying the Bible intelligently and methodically.  Above all, O reader, I encourage you to read the Bible intelligently and methodically.  This exercise ought not to be about gathering ammunition for winning arguments.  And prooftexting ought never to be on the table.  This exercise ought not to be about “being right;” it ought to be about being righteous.  And you will certainly discover, as I have, the truth of a sage statement by Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain:

It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.

So be it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 16, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ANDREW FOURNET AND ELIZABETH BICHIER, COFOUNDERS OF THE DAUGHTERS OF THE CROSS; AND SAINT MICHAEL GARICOITS, FOUNDER OF THE PRIEST OF THE SACRED HEART OF BETHARRAM

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN NEPOMUCENE, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF SUDAN

THE FEAST OF TE WERA HAURAKI, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY

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Some Related Posts:

Lamp of Our Feet:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2012/05/15/lamp-of-our-feet/

Before a Bible Study:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/10/07/before-a-bible-study/

A Prayer for Opening a Bible Study:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/07/17/a-prayer-for-opening-a-bible-study/

Come, Blessed Spirit! Source of Light:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/come-blessed-spirit-source-of-light/

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