Archive for the ‘Martin Luther’ Tag

The Faithfulness of God, Part IV   Leave a comment

Above:  The Vision of the Valley of the Dry Bones, by Gustave Doré

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Fourth Sunday after Easter, Year 1

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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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O God, who makest the minds of the faithful to be of one will;

grant unto thy people that they may love what thou commandest,

and desire what thou dost promise; that, among the manifold changes of this world,

our hearts may there be fixed where true joys are to be found;

through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 172

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Ezekiel 37:1-14

Psalms 124 and 125

2 Timothy 2:8-23

John 16:1-11

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This saying is sure:

“If we have died with him, we shall also live with him;

if we endure, we shall also reign with him;

if we deny him, he also will deny us;

if we are faithless, he remains faithful–for he cannot deny himself.”

–2 Timothy 2:11-13, Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition (2002)

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The theme of seeking, trusting, and obeying God is prominent in the readings.

Martin Luther counseled people to trust in the faithfulness of God.  Many baptized, practicing Christians, true to the Medieval zeitgeist that shaped them, feared that their sins condemned them to Hell.  Luther, a theologian of the spoken word and of sacramental language, must have recalled the passage (itself a quoted portion of a hymn, probably) from 2 Timothy I quoted and that he translated into German.  It was sound advice.

It remains good spiritual counsel.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 8, 2020 COMMON ERA

WEDNESDAY IN HOLY WEEK

THE FEAST OF HENRY MELCHIOR MUHLENBERG, PATRIARCH OF AMERICAN LUTHERANISM; HIS GREAT-GRANDSON, WILLIAM AUGUSTUS MUHLENBERG, EPISCOPAL PRIEST, HYMN WRITER, AND LITURGICAL PIONEER; AND HIS COLLEAGUE, ANNE AYRES, FOUNDRESS OF THE SISTERHOOD OF THE HOLY COMMUNION

THE FEAST OF SAINT DIONYSIUS OF CORINTH, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT HUGH OF ROUEN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP, ABBOT, AND MONK

THE FEAST OF SAINT JULIE BILLIART, FOUNDRESS OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE SISTERS OF NOTRE DAME

THE FEAST OF TIMOTHY LULL, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, SCHOLAR, THEOLOGIAN, AND ECUMENIST

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Posted April 8, 2020 by neatnik2009 in 2 Timothy 2, Ezekiel 37, John 16, Psalm 124, Psalm 125

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Seeing and Believing   Leave a comment

Above:   The Miraculous Draft of Fishes, by Konrad Witz

Image in the Public Domain

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For the First Sunday after Easter, Year 2, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Grant, we pray thee, O God, that we who have celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

may demonstrate his victory in our daily conduct and face the future unafraid;

through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 122

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Exodus 15:1-13

1 Corinthians 15:12-20

John 20:19-31

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I choose to focus on the New Testament readings, with a brief analysis of Exodus 15:1-13 before I start in earnest.  The foreshadowing of subsequent grumbling and punishment is not accidental, given that the editors know how the story ended.  The necessity of responding faithfully to (free) grace is a timeless principle.

St. Clement I of Rome, writing to the church in Corinth circa 100 C.E., argued against doubting the resurrection of Jesus.  He cited natural cycles and the myth of the phoenix (which he apparently thought was real) to support his position.

I understand why many of the close associates of Jesus doubted the resurrection at first; how often does something like that happen?  I also read that they they encountered him again.  I do not have the luxury of meeting Jesus in the flesh.  I must, therefore, have faith to affirm the resurrection.

Encountering Jesus again dramatically proved insufficient for some of the Apostles.  After the encounter in John 20, some of them tried to return to fishing in Chapter 21.  They had seen him again yet acted that way just a few days later.

We are not so different from those Apostles as we may imagine.  Do we tell ourselves that seeing is believing?  And, when we see something much less dramatic than Jesus walking through a locked door, do we really believe?

Martin Luther was correct; we must and can rely on the faithfulness of God, for human behavior frequently indicates a lack of fidelity.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 27, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CORNELIUS HILL, ONEIDA CHIEF AND EPISCOPAL PRIEST

THE FEAST OF HUGH THOMSON KERR, SR., U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND LITURGIST; AND HIS SON, HUGH THOMSON KERR, JR., U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, SCHOLAR, AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF JAMES MOFFATT, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, SCHOLAR, AND BIBLE TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN THE GEORGIAN, ABBOT; AND SAINTS EUTHYMIUS OF ATHOS AND GEORGE OF THE BLACK MOUNTAIN, ABBOTS AND TRANSLATORS

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Faithfulness and Egos   Leave a comment

Above:  Moses Striking the Rock, by Pieter de Grebber

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Almighty God, who hast created man in thine own image:

grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil, and to make no peace with oppression;

and, that we may reverently use our freedom,

help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice among men and nations, to the glory of thy holy name;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 120

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Deuteronomy 34:1-8

Ephesians 4:10-16

Matthew 17:1-8

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The assigned readings for this day give us two mountains–in Deuteronomy 34 and Matthew 17.

The sin of Moses in Numbers 20:9-13 was the lack of trust in God.  He disobeyed orders, striking the rock–twice, actually–instead of speaking to it–to release the water contained therein.  He took glory intended for the Name of God.  Also, as one Jewish commentary on the Book of Numbers has taught me regarding this passage, wrath and leadership ought not to go together.  Moses and Aaron, having become resigned by the continued faithlessness of their people, lost faith in the continuity of the divine faithfulness to those people.  Therefore, Moses did not cross over into the Promised Land; he did see it, though.

Ephesians 4:10-16 reminds us that spiritual gifts exist for the glory of God and the building up of faith communities, not the sake of the ego and the reputation of those who receive those gifts.  We are stewards of our spiritual gifts.

The account of the Transfiguration of Jesus in Matthew 17, set en route to die in Jerusalem, reminds us of the full glory of Jesus shortly prior to his Passion.  We read of the presence of Moses (representing the Law) and Elijah (representing the prophets), figures who, although great, were not as great as Jesus.  One should note the story of the assumption of Elijah (2 Kings 2:1-18) as well as Deuteronomy 34:6, which tells us that God buried Moses.  An especially observant reader of ancient Jewish traditions knows of the alleged assumption of Moses.

Losing faith in divine promises is relatively easy, for God frequently acts in ways that defy our expectations.  The problem is human, not divine.  Faithlessness is not always malicious, but it does indicate weakness.  Yet, as Martin Luther insisted, we can trust in the faithfulness of God, even when we lose faith.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 1, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALL SAINTS

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Schism and Reconciliation   1 comment

Above:  Wittenberg in 1540

Image in the Public Domain

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The Feast of the Reformation, celebrated first in the Brunswick church order (1528), composed by Johannes Bugenhagen (1485-1558), died out in the 1500s.  Initially the dates of the commemoration varied according to various church orders, and not all Lutherans observed the festival.  Original dates included November 10 (the eve of Martin Luther‘s birthday), February 18 (the anniversary of Luther’s death), and the Sunday after June 25, the date of the delivery of the Augsburg Confession.  In 1667, after the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), Elector of Saxony John George II ordered the revival of the commemoration, with the date of October 31.  Over time the commemoration spread, and commemorations frequently occurred on the Sunday closest to that date.

The feast used to function primarily as an occasion to express gratitude that one was not Roman Catholic.  However, since 1980, the 450th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession, the Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute (of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement) and the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau have favored observing the feast as a time of reconciliation and of acknowledging the necessity of the Reformation while not celebrating the schism.

This perspective is consistent with the position of Professor Phillip Cary in his Great Courses series of The History of Christian Theology (2008), in which he argues that Protestantism and Roman Catholicism need each other.

I, as an Episcopalian, stand within the Middle Way–Anglicanism.  I am convinced, in fact, that I am on this planet for, among other reasons, to be an Episcopalian; the affiliation fits me naturally.  I even hang an Episcopal Church flag in my home.  I, as an Episcopalian, am neither quite Protestant nor Roman Catholic; I borrow with reckless abandon from both sides–especially from Lutheranism in recent years.  I affirm Single Predestination (Anglican and Lutheran theology), Transubstantiation, a 73-book canon of scripture, and the Assumption of Mary (Roman Catholic theology), and reject both the Immaculate Conception of Mary and the Virgin Birth of Jesus.  My ever-shifting variety of Anglicanism is sui generis.

The scandal of schism, extant prior to 1517, but exasperated by the Protestant and English Reformations, grieves me.  Most of the differences among denominations similar to each other are minor, so overcoming denominational inertia with mutual forbearance would increase the rate of ecclesiastical unity.  Meanwhile, I, from my perch in The Episcopal Church, ponder whether organic union with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is feasible and wise.  It is a question worth exploring.  At least we are natural ecumenical partners.  We already have joint congregations, after all.  If there will be organic union, it will require mutual giving and taking on many issues, but we agree on most matters already.

Time will tell.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 13, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PETER OF CHELCIC, BOHEMIAN HUSSITE REFORMER; AND GREGORY THE PATRIARCH, FOUNDER OF THE MORAVIAN CHURCH

THE FEAST OF GODFREY THRING, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JANE CREWDSON, ENGLISH QUAKER POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF NARAYAN SESHADRI OF JALNI, INDIAN PRESBYTERIAN EVANGELIST AND “APOSTLE TO THE MANGS”

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Almighty God, gracious Lord, we thank you that your Holy Spirit renews the church in every age.

Pour out your Holy Spirit on your faithful people.

Keep them steadfast in your word, protect and comfort them in times of trial,

defend them against all enemies of the gospel,

and bestow on the church your saving peace,

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

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

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Psalm 46

Romans 3:19-28

John 8:31-36

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), 58

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Revelation 14:6-7

Romans 3:19-28

John 8:31-36 or Matthew 11:12-19

Lutheran Service Book (2006), xxiii

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Adapted from this post:

https://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2018/09/13/devotion-for-the-feast-of-the-reformation-october-31/

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Concerning Wheat, Tares, and Donatism   4 comments

Above:  Danish Lutheran Synods in the United States of America and Canada

Scanned by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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Another parable [Jesus] put before them, saying,

The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away.  So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also.  And the servants of the household came and said to him, “Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field?  How then has it weeds?”  He said to them, “An enemy has done this.”  The servants said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?”  But he said, “No; lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.  But both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”

–Matthew 13:24-30, Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition (2002)

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The Roman Emperor Diocletian (reigned 284-305) presided over an empire-wide persecution of Christians starting in 303.  He ordered the burning of Christian books and the destruction of churches.  The penalty for a clergyman (from 303) and a lay person (from 304) who resisted was the combination of incarceration and torture and, in some cases, execution.  The Dioceletian Persecution resulted in many martyrdoms.  That persecution ultimately ended because Constantine I “the Great” (reigned 306-337) won the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 and issued the Edict of Milan the following year.  During that persecution, however, many professing Christians chose not to resist.  Traditors surrendered Bibles to the authorities, who burned those volumes.  Many of these traditors subsequently sought reconciliation with the Church, which consented, on condition that they were sincere and penitent.  This forgiving attitude met with the disapproval of rigorists, especially in northern Africa.

The trigger for the Donatist schism occurred in 311.  That year some rigorists opposed the consecration of Caecilian as the new Bishop of Carthage due to the fact that Felix of Aptunga, an erstwhile traditor, consecrated him.  Numidian bishops consecrated Majorinus as a rival bishop.  Soon Donatus, from whose name we derive the word “Donatism,” succeeded him.  The Donatist schism ended only when the Islamic conquest of northern Africa destroyed it centuries later.  Donatists understood themselves to be the true church, the assembly of the uncompromising and the holy.  They were self-righteous.  These rigorists, who identified themselves as pure, were not as pure as they thought they were.  They were, after all, only human.  These rigorists were much like the unforgiving elder brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Donatism (in the broad sense) predated the schism of 311.  It has also persisted to the present day.  It has been a factor in a host of ecclesiastical schisms, whether on the congregational or denominational level.  I have traced many denominational schisms, unions, and reunions as a hobby.  Along the way I have arrived at a few conclusions:

  1. Most mergers occur to the left.
  2. Most schisms occur to the right, usually in the name of maintaining a standard of purity, whether of orthodoxy, orthopraxy, or both.
  3. Whenever two or more denominations merge, two or more denominations frequently form.
  4. Regardless of how theologically conservative a denomination might be, there is probably at least one denomination to its right.  This might be the result of a schism.
  5. Schism frequently begets more schism.

The state Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark encompassed a range of theological factions in the 1800s.  Two of these were the Pietists and the Grundtvigians.  Pietists, who shunned “worldly amusements,” such as dancing, playing cards, and attending plays, emphasized separation from the world.  Grundtvigians, however, enjoyed “worldly amusements,” especially folk dancing, which scandalized their pietistic co-religionists.  Grundtvigians also differed from Pietists and agreed with Martin Luther that

Printed words are dead, spoken words are living.  On the printed page they are not so forcible as when uttered by the sound of man through his mouth.

Grundtvigians therefore argued that the Bible is not the Word of God (as opposed to the word of God) and that the living message of salvation contained in the Bible and reinforced in Holy Baptism and the Apostles’ Creed is instead that Word.

Although the Danish state church avoided all but minor schisms, the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (1874-1962), renamed the American Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1953, was not as fortunate.  In 1894, after much controversy, pietists seceded and formed the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church in North America.  They quickly joined with another pietistic group, the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church Association (1884-1896) in forming the United Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church (1896-1960), which dropped “Danish” from its name in 1946.  UDELC/UELC was strongly pietistic during much of its existence.  “Worldly amusements” were allegedly sinful for these “Sad Danes;” the folk dancing that was ubiquitious among the “Happy Danes” in the DELCA/AELC was absent in the  UDELC/UELC.

Enok Mortensen, author of the official retrospective account of the DELCA/AELC, made no excuses for pietism and Donatism:

The schism of 1894 must be seen against the background of a situation existing at that time.  The historian who weighs the evidence carefully and objectively does not doubt the good intentions of those who sought a “pure” church; he only questions their wisdom.  The Christian church is not a society of angels; in the words of the Lord of the church, it is a field of wheat and tares in which both must grow together until harvest.

–Enok Mortensen, The Danish Lutheran Church in America:  The History and Heritage of the American Evangelical Lutheran Church (Philadelphia, PA:  Board of Publication, Lutheran Church in America, 1967), page 121

Laying the issue of the identity of the Kingdom of Heaven (reverential circumlocution is a false argument, according to Jonathan Pennington) in the Gospel of Matthew aside for the purpose of this post, Mortensen’s tolerant theological position was commendable.  Likewise critical (in the best sense of that word) of pietism and Donatism was John M. Jensen, author of the corresponding volume about the UDELC/UELC:

The men who had written about the UELC in the past had generally been uncritical.  They simply glorified the pioneers and placed a halo about their heads and their works.  That was especially the case concerning the men of the Danish period.  This tended to color all writing about the church in the church papers.

It has been my purpose to be as realistic as possible.  While I have written about the accomplishments of the men, I have ever hesitated to point out weaknesses wherever I found the.  This, it seems to me, must be the prerogative of a historian.  Otherwise the history will be distorted.

–John M. Jensen, The United Evangelical Lutheran Church:  An Interpretation (Minneapolis, MN:  Augsburg Publishing House, 1964), pages v-vi

Furthermore:

In the earlier years of the church, it was not so much in the later years, there was a sharp distinction between the saved and the unsaved, between the believer and the unbeliever.  This may have been both a strength and a weakness, but it was what furnished the motivation for the preaching and the work, for maintaining the school, and for sending out missionaries.  There were places where the spirit built up strong congregations, but there were also places where pietism became so legalistic that the congregations could not grow.  An example of this legalism was the constant preaching by some pastors that the members should be sure not to eat and drink themselves to damnation in Holy Communion.  An overly legalistic attitude sometimes became a barrier to sound evangelism.

–Jensen, page 234

To speak or write about Donatism in the past, especially in denominations that have merged themselves away (as the two Danish synods did in the early 1960s), is relatively easy.  Likewise, speaking and writing harshly of the self-righteousness of Donatists (in the narrow definition) who died thousands of years ago is a low-risk proposition.  However, Donatists (in the broad definition) exist among us.  Some of the readers of this post might even be Donatists.  Thus labeling contemporary Donatism becomes politically fraught.  Without naming any congregations or denominations in this post I assert that you, O reader, can probably find concrete evidence of Donatism in your community.

To return to the parable at the beginning of this post, I assert the following also.  Anyone who fancies oneself to be wheat and certain others to be tares might be correct.  Or one might be mistaken; one might be a tare or others might be wheat.  Only God knows for sure.  One should not presume to know more than one does.  One should also leave all weeding to God.  Collegiality is superior to Donatism.  If collegiality is not a feasible option, simply refraining from imagining that one is purer than one actually is will suffice.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 1, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CHARLES DE FOUCAULD, ROMAN CATHOLIC HERMIT AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF DOUGLAS LETELL RIGHTS, U.S. MORAVIAN MINISTER, SCHOLAR, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EDWARD TIMOTHY MICKEY, JR., U.S. MORAVIAN BISHOP AND LITURGIST

THE FEAST OF PETER MORTIMER, ANGLO-GERMAN MORAVIAN EDUCATOR, MUSICIAN, AND SCHOLAR; AND GOTTFRIED THEODOR ERXLEBEN, GERMAN MORAVIAN MINISTER AND MUSICOLOGIST

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Here I Stand   Leave a comment

January 19, 2016

Above:  One of My Crucifixes, Hanging in the Biblical Studies Section of My Library, January 19, 2016

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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For with you is the well of life,

and in your light we see light.

–Psalm 36:9, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Each of us is, to some extent, a product of his or her upbringing.  I, for example, grew up in a bookish family, a fact for which I give thanks.  One should not be surprised that I have converted my living space into a library or that I prefer to consult books for information when possible.  Such tendencies are natural for me.

I grew up as a fish out of water.  My father was a United Methodist minister in rural southern Georgia, U.S.A., in the Bible Belt.  Yet I have never been an Evangelical Christian nor wanted to become one.  In fact, I came into the world predisposed to become an intellectual, ritualistic Episcopalian, which I have been for more years than I was a Methodist.  Experiences from my youth continue to affect me positively and negatively.  I give thanks for my grounding the scriptures as I bristle at every accusation of committing heresy.  Fortunately, few of those come my way these days, for I have chosen a faith community in which I am unlikely to encounter such allegations.

I have noticed that, after my experimental theological phase in the 1990s and early 2000s, I have settled into a theological position slightly to the right of that yet definitely left of the theological center and in close proximity to that center.  I am, according to the standards of traditionalists of various types, heretical.  At the same time I am, according to postmodernists, conservative.  I remain a product of the Northern Renaissance and the Enlightenment, with the former having a greater influence than the latter.  I am closer theologically to N. T. Wright than to John Dominic Crossan.   I seek to respect the image of God in my fellow human beings, a standard which straddles the left-right divide.  I support marriage equality, shun any phobia aimed at human beings, understand the Biblical mandate for economic justice, and have a cautious attitude toward abortion, which I understand to be a medical necessity in extreme cases, in which it is the least bad decision.  In other circumstances I favor alternatives to abortion.  The most effective and ethical way to make that manifest is not always via legislation.  Furthermore, I see no conflict between sound theology and good science.  In that respect I stand in the best of Roman Catholic tradition.

I stand right of the center liturgically.  I favor, for example, The Book of Common Prayer (1979), the use of modern English in liturgies and Biblical translations, and the singing of verbose, theologically dense hymns.  Praise choruses (“seven-eleven songs,” to use a common term), screens, PowerPoint, guitars, and praise bands disturb me deeply.  Worship is worship, and entertainment is entertainment.  To use language from Marva Dawn, the church should not dumb down to reach out.

There is tradition, and there is tradition.  Some are more important and flexible than others.  The fact that a practice is a tradition or an innovation does not constitute a valid reason to embrace or reject it.  The proper standard is function.  How does a practice work?  Is it the most functional practice for a particular purpose?  Some traditions hold up better over time than others.  And, as one learns by reading the history of liturgy, ancient traditions began as innovations.

Just as tradition is not infallible, neither are scripture and reason.  My careful studies of the Bible have revealed inconsistencies, such as many doublets in the Old Testament and minor details in the four Gospels.  For example, one reads two sets of instructions regarding how many animals to take on Noah’s Ark, two stories of Saul and David falling out with other, two stories of creation, two accounts of the announcement of the birth of Isaac, et cetera.  Consider also the anointing of Jesus in the four Gospels.  Did the woman have a name, and how much do we know about her?  In whose house did this happen?  And which parts of Jesus did she anoint?  The Gospels offer differing answers to those questions.  Nevertheless, the core details of those four accounts are identical.  Biblical inconsistencies do nothing to damage my faith, for I have never expected consistency in every detail of scripture.  I emphasize the forest, not the trees.  As for reason, it is a gift from God can take one far.  One ought to make the most of the best possible uses of it.  Nevertheless, since we mere mortals are fallible, so is our reason.  The balance of scripture, tradition, and reason is a virtue.

The great infallible depository knowledge of God is God, whom we can know partially yet intimately.  Regardless of how well one knows God, there remain limits, for the nature of deity is quite different from human realities.  Most of the nature of deity exceeds the human capacity to comprehend it.

In God alone I place my trust regarding matters of salvation, which I understand to be a process, not an event.  As Martin Luther said well, we who turn to God can trust in the faithfulness of God.  I, as a Christian, affirm that the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the historical, incarnated form of the Second Person of the Trinity (whatever that means; I have learned not to try to untangle the knot of the Trinity) constituted a unique event, the breaking of God into human history as one of us.  Our Lord and Savior’s life–complete with the crucifixion and resurrection–was the means of atonement for sins.  Unfortunately, Hell remains a reality, for many people have rejected the offer of redemption and the accompanying responsibilities.

Here I stand.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 19, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SARGENT SHRIVER, U.S. STATESMAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT CAESARIUS OF ARLES, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP, AND SAINT SAINT CAESARIA OF ARLES, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBESS

THE FEAST OF HENRY AUGUSTINE COLLINS, ANGLICAN THEN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF RICHARD ROLLE, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC SPIRITUAL WRITER

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Relying on God’s Power   1 comment

Deborah

Above:  Deborah

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you anointed Jesus at his baptism with the Holy Spirit

and revealed him as your beloved Son.

Keep all who are born of water and the Spirit faithful in your service,

that we may rejoice to be called children of God,

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

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 22

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The Assigned Readings:

Judges 4:1-16 (Monday)

Judges 5:12-21 (Tuesday)

Psalm 106:1-12 (Both Days)

Ephesians 6:10-17 (Monday)

1 John 5:13-21 (Tuesday)

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Though God delivered them many times

they, for their part, went on planning rebellion

and so sank deeper into sin.

Yet he looked kindly on their distress

whenever he heard them cry.

To help them he recalled his covenant with them,

so deep was his devotion that he took pity on them.

He saw to it that they received compassion

even from those who had taken them captive.

Save us, LORD, our God,

gather us in from among the nations

so that we may acknowledge you as the Holy One.

and take pride in praising you.

–Psalm 106:43-47, The Psalms Introduced and Newly Translated for Today’s Readers (1989), by Harry Mowvley

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I know that the portion of Psalm 106 I have quoted follows verse 12, but those verses seem more applicable to the readings from Judges 4 and 5 than Psalm 106:1-12.  If I had quoted from the first 12 verses of Psalm 106 I would have selected verse 10, set in the context of the Exodus from Egypt:

He rescued them from their foes,

he reclaimed them from enemy hands.

–Harry Mowvley translation

The story in Judges 4 and 5 is consistent with a motif in that book:

  1. The Israelites have fallen into pervasive sin.
  2. YHWH permits a foreign group to oppress the Israelites.
  3. The Israelites cry out to YHWH.
  4. YHWH sends a leader or leaders to resist the oppressors.
  5. The oppression ceases.
  6. The Israelites follow God for a time.
  7. The cycle repeats.

As a note in The Jewish Study Bible–Second Edition (2014) informs me, nowhere does the text of Judges 4 and 5 identify any of the human protagonists–Deborah the prophetess, Barak the army commander, and Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite–as the deliverer of the Israelites.  Each of those individuals played a crucial role in the liberation, but God delivered the Israelites from oppression.  That theme occurs elsewhere in the Book of Judges and other portions of the Bible, as in the Exodus and the end of the Babylonian Exile.

A motif in the Bible is that God works through people much of the time.  These might be upstanding individuals or they might be scoundrels, at least on their bad days.  Some of these instruments of God are not even believers.  These realities point toward the power and sovereignty of God.

As much as I find Martin Luther to have been a morally troublesome character, his theology of relying on the faithfulness of God is beyond reproach.  We who follow God are children of God, members of the household of God, so we ought to act boldly and confidently in righteousness.  Such righteous confidence should banish faithless and selfish fears (distinct from well-reasoned fears, such as that of touching hot surfaces), enabling us to love our neighbors (both near and far) selflessly.  We have the spiritual armor of God, of which St. Paul the Apostle  or someone writing in his name imagined as being like the armor of a Roman soldier.  Every piece of the armor is God’s.  If it is good enough for God, it is good enough for mere mortals.  After the reading from Ephesians 6 comes this advice:

Constantly ask God’s help in prayer, and pray always in the power of the Spirit.

–Ephesians 6:18, The Revised English Bible (1989)

After all, we depend on God’s power, not our own.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 21, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MATTHEW THE EVANGELIST, APOSTLE AND MARTYR

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2015/09/21/devotion-for-monday-and-tuesday-after-the-first-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Human Folly and Divine Wisdom   1 comment

probably_valentin_de_boulogne_-_saint_paul_writing_his_epistles_-_google_art_project

Above:  Paul Writing His Epistles, by Valentin de Boulogne

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you anointed Jesus at his baptism with the Holy Spirit

and revealed him as your beloved Son.

Keep all who are born of water and the Spirit faithful in your service,

that we may rejoice to be called children of God,

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

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 22

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The Assigned Readings:

Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

Psalm 29

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

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Bow down to the LORD in his holy splendour.

–Psalm 29:2, The Psalms Introduced and Newly Translated for Today’s Readers (1989), by Harry Mowvley

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The author of Ecclesiastes was a realist.  I, as a student and teacher of history, recognize the truth of 1:10-11 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures, 1985):

Sometimes there is a new phenomenon of which they say, “Look, this one is new!”–it occurred long since, in ages that went by before us.  The earlier ones are not remembered; so too those that will occur later will no more be remembered than those that will occur at the very end.

If all is “futility” (to quote TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures) and “vanity” (to quote The New Revised Standard Version), to whom should we cling?  Is life a morass of postmodern uncertainty or do we have access to a ground for sound theological epistomology?  The author of Ecclesiastes advised trusting in God.

St. Paul the Apostle agreed with Koheleth.  Human wisdom and power are nothing compared to God, St. Paul wrote.  The power of God is saving those who are not perishing.  The only proper boast is in God, whose wisdom is foolishness to many people and whose foolishness is wiser than human wisdom.  God is reliable.  As Martin Luther counseled, may we rely on the faithfulness of God.

This ethos contradicts much “received wisdom” in the United States of America, where rugged individualism is a perceived virtue.  Reality belies rugged individualism, however.  We rely on each other in society.  For example, I drive my car to work.  I rely on mechanics to keep my car in working order.  (Fortunately, the vehicle is reliable, needing mostly routine maintenance.)  I also rely on those who maintain the roads on which I drive to work.  Beyond that concrete example, the social ethos of the Law of Moses is to acknowledge our total dependence on God, our responsibilities for each other, and our duties to each other.  This ethos precludes exploiting any person.

Only God can inaugurate such a society, but we mere mortals can labor to approach it.  We, after all, are society.  If we were to take more seriously our duties to God, to each other, and for each other, I wonder how much better society would be.  Such visions are not futile, if enough people, trusting in God, act faithfully.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 21, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MATTHEW THE EVANGELIST, APOSTLE AND MARTYR

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2015/09/21/devotion-for-thursday-before-the-first-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Humility Before God, Part I   1 comment

house-of-naaman-damascus

Above:  House of Naaman, Damascus, 1900-1920

Image Source = Library of Congress

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The Collect:

O God, our teacher and guide,

you draw us to yourself and welcome us as beloved children.

Help us to lay aside all envy and selfish ambition,

that we may walk in your ways of wisdom and understanding

as servants of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 48

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The Assigned Readings:

2 Kings 5:1-14 (Monday)

2 Kings 11:21-12:16 (Tuesday)

Psalm 139:1-18 (Both Days)

James 4:8-17 (Monday)

James 5:1-6 (Tuesday)

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LORD, you have searched me out and known me;

you know my sitting down and my rising up;

you discern my thoughts from afar.

–Psalm 139:1, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The Temple at Jerusalem was approximately 140 years old.  The Ark of the Covenant was there.  Repairing the structure of the Temple, which, like all buildings, required maintenance, should have been a priority long before King Jehoash made it one.  The lack of upkeep indicated an improper attitude toward God.

The proper attitude toward God includes humility.  God is God; none of us is God.  We depend entirely upon God (and rely upon each other), so any thought to the contrary is mistaken.  Our interdependence and mutual responsibility (to and for each other) leaves no room for sins such as oppression, exploitation, and gossiping.  Our total dependence on God leaves no room for excessive pride.

Naaman learned humility and monotheism.  Unfortunately, the narrative ended with the beginning of his journey back home.  I wonder how the experience at the River Jordan changed him and how that altered reality became manifest in his work and daily life.  I also wonder if that led to any negative consequences for him.

Martin Luther referred to James as an “epistle of straw.”  The letter’s emphasis on works (including justification by them) offended the reformer, who was reacting, not responding, to certain excesses and abuses of the Roman Catholic Church.  The epistle’s emphasis on works was–and remains–necessary, however.  The book’s condemnations of exploitation and hypocrisy have called proper attention to injustices and other sins for millennia.

I am not a wealthy landowner exploiting impoverished workers (James 5:1-6), but part of these days’ composite reading from the epistle speaks to me.  The condemnation of judging others (4:1-11) hits close to home.  My estimate is that judging others is the sin I commit most often.  If I am mistaken, judging others is one of the sins I commit most frequently.  I know better, of course, but like St. Paul the Apostle, I know well the struggle with sin and my total dependence upon God.  Knowing that one has a problem is the first step in the process of resolving it.

Caution against moral perfectionism is in order.  Public statements by relatives of victims of the White supremacist gunman who killed nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Charleston, South Carolina, have been impressive.  The capacity for forgiveness has come quickly to some.  I rejoice that divine grace is so richly evident in their lives.  For some of us (including the author), however, the capacity to forgive those who have committed lesser offenses has arrived later rather than sooner.  For others it remains in transit.  In any circumstance may it arrive in God’s time.  May the rest of us refrain from judging those struggling with that (and other) issues.

The Didache, an essential Christian text from the second century of the Common Era, opens with an explanation of the Way of Life (filling a page and a half in my copy) and the Way of Death (just one paragraph–about one-third of a page).  The accent on the positive aspect of morality is laudable.  The section on the two Ways ends with two sentences:

Take care that nobody tempts you away from the path of this Teaching, for such a man’s tuition can have nothing to do with God.  If you can shoulder the Lord’s yoke in its entirety, then you will be perfect; but if that is too much for you, do as much as you can.

Early Christian Writings:  The Apostolic Fathers (Penguin Books, 1987), p. 193

We, to succeed, even partially, depend on grace.  Even so, I am still trying to do as much as I can, to borrow language from the Didache, for human efforts are not worthless.  I am imperfect; there is much room for improvement.  Much has improved already, by grace.  The potential for spiritual growth excites me.  The only justifiable boast will be in God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 30, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN OLAF WALLIN, ARCHBISHOP OF UPPSALA AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ARTHUR JAMES MOORE, UNITED METHODIST BISHOP IN GEORGIA

THE FEAST OF HEINRICH LONAS, GERMAN MORAVIAN ORGANIST, COMPOSER, AND LITURGIST

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/06/30/devotion-for-monday-and-tuesday-after-proper-20-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Glorifying God III   1 comment

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

Above:  Exorcising a Boy Possessed by a Demon

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Gracious God, throughout the ages you transform

sickness into health and death into life.

Openness to the power of your presence,

and make us a people ready to proclaim your promises to the world,

through Jesus Christ, our healer and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 47

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The Assigned Readings:

Judges 15:9-20

Isaiah 38:10-20

Matthew 17:14-21

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The LORD is at hand to save me;

so let the music of our praises resound

all our life long in the house of the LORD.

–Isaiah 38:20, The Revised English Bible (1989)

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The story in Isaiah 38 is that God has extended the life of King Hezekiah of Judah by fifteen years.  The monarch, grateful that he is no longer at death’s door, writes a poem (the end of which I have quoted above).  Unfortunately, in the next chapter, he shows off to an emissary of the king of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire (not yet a threat to Judah), prompting the ire of God and Isaiah:

Isaiah said to Hezekiah:  “Hear the word of the LORD of Hosts:  The time is coming, says the LORD, when everything is your palace, and all that your forefathers have amassed till the present day, will be carried away to Babylon; not a thing will be left.  And some of your sons, your own offspring, will be taken to serve as eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”  Hezekiah answered, “The word of the LORD is good,” for he was thinking to himself that peace and security would last his lifetime.

–Isaiah 39:5-8, The Revised English Bible (1989)

The Book of Judges speaks of Samson’s connection to God.  The vivid translation in TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) refers to the spirit of the LORD gripping him immediately prior to a feat of physical strength.  Such is the case in Judges 15:9-20.  The spirit of the LORD grips Samson in verse 14.  Samson kills a thousand Philistine men with the jawbone of an ass in verse 15.  In verse 16, however, Samson fails to give credit to God:

Then Samson said:

“With the jaw of an ass,

Mass upon mass!

With the jaw of an ass

I have slain a thousand men.”

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Samson was, as the Book of Judges presents him, a dolt who lived to satisfy his id.  Nevertheless, God worked through him, and he was aware of that reality.  Would giving credit to God when credit was due have been so difficult?

The pericope from Matthew 17 became more interesting the deeper I delved into its background.  The Gospel of Mark is the oldest of the canonical Gospels, dating to no earlier than 67 C.E.  It is one of the sources for the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, both of which contain the “Markan spine,” elaborate upon it, and add material from other sources.  Thus a version of a story from Mark is usually pithier than a version of the same story from Matthew or Luke.  That statement does not apply to Matthew 17:14-21, which is abbreviated from Mark 9:14-29.  It is as if the author of Matthew wanted to get to the point.  He has also changed the meaning of the story from a statement to Christology to the background for a pronouncement regarding the power of faith, faith meaning trust in divine power, in this case.

The pericope from Matthew 17 indicates that the Apostles could not heal the boy, whom the culture said was moonstruck, or afflicted by the moon goddess Selene, because they had insufficient trust in the power of God, which was available to them.  They could have done more, via divine power, of course, had they been more confident in God.

Martin Luther, a morally troublesome character in many ways, was correct much of the time.  For example, his advice when baptized people questioned their salvation was to trust in the faithfulness of God.  That counsel applies to other circumstances also.  And, as we trust in divine faithfulness, may we glorify God, not ourselves.

JUNE 6, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRY JAMES BUCKOLL, AUTHOR AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF SAINT CLAUDE OF BESANCON, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, MONK, ABBOT, AND BISHOP

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM KETHE, PRESBYTERIAN HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/06/06/devotion-for-wednesday-after-proper-18-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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