Archive for the ‘Mutuality’ Tag

Waiting Together for God   2 comments

READING THE GENERAL EPISTLES, PART VI

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James 5:1-20

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The apocalyptic element held the theological imaginations and the psyches of many in the early Church.

That element continues to grasp many psyches and theological imaginations.  I confess, however, that the apocalyptic element grasps neither my psyche nor my theological imagination.  I am a detail-oriented student of the Bible and religious history.  I know too much to believe some doctrines.  I know that the end of the world, according to some canonical Hebrew prophets, was supposed to end centuries prior to the advent of Jesus.  I know that the Second Coming of Jesus, according to certain books of the New Testament, was supposed to happen nearly 2000 years ago.  I know that, according to many people over nearly 2000 years, until the recent past, the Second Coming of Christ was supposed to have have happened already.  The list of alleged Antichrists, the vast majority of them deceased by now, is long.  I leave all details of eschatology to God and place no stock in any human predictions thereof.

Nevertheless, the author of the Epistle of James believed that he lived during the End Times.  How long were the End Times supposed to last?

The function of the apocalyptic element that is of moral usefulness is the confrontation of evil and other forms of injustice.  In so doing, one confronts that which one should confront and tells the enablers there that they fell short of God’s standard.  That is part of what we read in James 5.  Divine judgment of the oppressors is inseparable from divine deliverance of the oppressed.  Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance.

In the meantime (however long that will be), members of Christian faith community must model mutuality.  The swearing mentioned in 5:12, in the context of oppression, expressed bitterness and impatience.  Yet, in the meantime, patience is essential.  People ought to pray for themselves and each other.  And members of Christian faith community ought to bring each other to repentance and restoration.

The necessity of writing this advice in James 5 indicates spiritual failings in some early congregations.

A perhaps-apocryphal story fits this post thematically.

St. John the Evangelist, elderly and frail, visited a house church.  The members, excited, gathered.  Men carried the apostle in on a chair and set him down in front of the congregation.  St. John said:

My children, love one another.

Then the apostle motioned to his helpers, who carried him out.  One member of the congregation chased after St. John and asked the equivalent of

That’s it?

St. John replied:

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

If more members of the original audience of the Epistle of James had loved one another, that text would be much shorter or would not exist.

Sadly, loving one another remains challenging for many Christians.

In 2000 or so, Dr. Donald S. Armentrout (1939-2013), a Lutheran minister, spoke at a Lay Ministries Conference in the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia.  I was present.  Armentrout, at one point, said that if the Epistle of James was one’s favorite book of the Bible, one was

easily pleased.

Contrary to that typically-Lutheran evaluation, I count James as one of my favorite books of the Bible.  This epistle lives where the spiritual rubber meets the road.  Due to the failings of human nature, the Epistle of James remains relevant.  Circumstances change, but timeless principles remain fixed.

Thank you, O reader, for joining me on this journey through the Epistle of James.  I invite you to remain by my side as I set my course for the First Epistle of Peter.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 24, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ANNA ELLISON BUTLER ALEXANDER, AFRICAN-AMERICAN DEACONESS IN GEORGIA, AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF HENRY HART MILMAN, ANGLICAN DEAN, TRANSLATOR, HISTORIAN, THEOLOGIAN, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT JUVENAL OF ALASKA, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX MARTYR IN ALASKA, AND FIRST ORTHODOX MARTYR IN THE AMERICAS, 1796

THE FEAST OF SAINT PETER THE ALEUT, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX MARTYR IN SAN FRANCISCO, 1815

THE FEAST OF SAINT SILOUAN OF MOUNT ATHOS, EASTERN ORTHODOX MONK AND POET

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Building Up the Common Good, Part III   Leave a comment

READING THE GENERAL EPISTLES, PART V

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James 4:1-17

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The Epistle of James, logically, is building argument.  The first chapter establishes the foundation.  Then each subsequent chapter builds on all that preceded it.  4:1 flows directly from 3:18, sensibly.  Peace is absent in 4:1.

The ideal of faith community in the Epistle of James is mutuality under God.  After all, the Church, then a small minority, had to stick together.  Obviously, the ideal was not the reality often enough that the author had to write what he did.  The “you” was plural; James was an epistle addressed to congregations, not a person.

Life is short.  Each of us is as a mist that is here today and gone tomorrow (4:14).  One may know that this intellectually yet not viscerally.  Death teaches one visceral truth.  I know this from experience.

Making long-term plans is a good idea; one may have a long term.  Or one may not.  Either way, one may our love for God and our brother and sister human beings define us as groups and individuals.  Society is people.  Members of a society influence it, just as it shapes them.  May that shape be love.  May that influence be love.  May we–as individuals and groups–care more about being loving than being right.  The quest for vindication is the trail of much destructive activity.

I cannot be at peace with God or anyone else unless I am at peace with myself.  I cannot love God or anyone else unless I love myself.  I can give only what I have.  Likewise, a faith community can give only what it has.  A faith community has only what it receives.

The words of James 4 hit home in another way.  Many nation-states lack internal unity in 2021.  Mutual recriminations abound.  Confronting that which one should confront is necessary and wise; not to do so is to violate 4:17.  Then there is sniping, much of it contrary to objective reality.  When ego defense enters the picture, prying an admission of error from the mistaken party may be impossible.  So, even in the face of evidence, people double down on their false assertions.  Peace is absent.

As much as I loved my grandmother (who died in August 2019) and my girlfriend (who died in October 2019), I am glad they did not live to see the COVID-19 pandemic.  It may have been too much for them to endure.  It feels like too much for me to endure some days.  I mourn the dead.  I mourn those who have fallen ill needlessly yet survived.  I mourn those who have died needlessly.  I mourn those who have lost their livelihoods and homes.  I mourn the loss of the sense of being able to trust the members of my community.

The Reverend Will Campbell (1924-2013) said:

We’re all bastards, but God loves us anyway.

I mourn that I find focusing on the first part of that statement easier than focusing on the second part thereof.

I have much company.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 23, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT FRANCISCO DE PAULA VICTOR, BRAZILIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF CHURCHILL JULIUS, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF CHRISTCHURCH, AND PRIMATE AND ARCHBISHOP OF NEW ZEALAND

THE FEAST OF SAINT EMILIE TAVERNIER GARNELIN, FOUNDER OF THE SISTERS OF PROVIDENCE

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOZEF STANEK, POLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1944

THE FEAST OF JUDITH LOMAX, EPISCOPAL MYSTIC AND POET

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This is post #2600 of BLOGA THEOLOGICA.

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Posted September 23, 2021 by neatnik2009 in James 3, James 4

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Words Matter IV   Leave a comment

READING THE GENERAL EPISTLES, PART IV

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James 3:1-18

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Harlan Ellison, my favorite curmudgeon, argues against the proposition that each person is entitled to his or her opinion.  He said:

No, you are entitled to your informed opinion.

Opinions not rooted in objective reality are unworthy of respect.

The first part of James 3 exists in the context of the second part of James 3.  Therefore, the section about controlling the tongue is really about jealousy and infighting, originally.  Internal struggles in the Church are as as old as the Church, sadly.

According to mythology, YHWH spoke creation into being.  Therefore, whenever one speaks, writes,  leaves a message on a social media outlet, or repeats or shares what someone else has said or written,  one creates something.  I am conscious of the power of my weblogs, which do not attract mass audiences.  Nevertheless, I know that some people are reading.  I attempt to make a positive contribution.  I see that some of my posts have influenced prayers at commencement ceremonies.  This makes me feel good.

Words matter.  They have power.  They can build up or tear down.  For good reasons, not all speech has constitutional protection in the United States of America.  Unprotected speech includes libel, slander, and incitement to violence.  When I read about bullying, I recall James 3.  We are all responsible to and for each other as we stand before God.  May we take care of each other.

Timeless principles are…timeless, for lack of a better word.  We mere mortals always apply them within circumstances; we always have circumstances.  Circumstances change and technology develops, but timeless principles remain.  In the age of COVID-19, spreading misinformation and damn lies about the virus, vaccines, masks, and horse deworming medicine is deadly.  When the definition of objective reality is a controversial matter, public health becomes politicized immediately.  And people die needlessly as the pandemic continues longer than necessary and damages economies.  Peace is difficult to find.

A grandson of a parishioner at my much died recently.  The grandson died of COVID-19, which he contracted from his father, who had refused to get vaccinated.

Misinformation, obliviousness, and damn lies claim lives sometimes.  Make your speech count for the good, O reader.  And take care of your relatives, friends, and neighbors.  By doing so, you will take care of yourself.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 22, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PHILANDER CHASE, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF OHIO, AND OF ILLINOIS; AND PRESIDING BISHOP

THE FEAST OF C. H. DODD, WELSH CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, THEOLOGIAN, AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF CHARLOTTE ELLIOTT, JULIA ANNE ELLIOTT, AND EMILY ELLIOTT, ANGLICAN HYMN WRITERS

THE FEAST OF JUSTUS FALCKNER, LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF STEPHEN G. CARY, U.S. QUAKER HUMANITARIAN AND ANTIWAR ACTIVIST

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Posted September 22, 2021 by neatnik2009 in Genesis 1, Genesis 2, James 3

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Good Religion and Bad Religion, Part II   Leave a comment

READING THE GENERAL EPISTLES, PART II

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James 1:1-27

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This is pure religion, and undefiled before our God and Father, to look after orphans and widows in their affliction, and ever to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

–James 1:27, Helen Barrett Montgomery, Centenary Translation of the New Testament (1924)

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That verse concludes the first chapter and sets up the second chapter.  Textual context is crucial.  I will work my way through the first chapter.

  1. Verse 1 names the author as “James,” presumably St. James of Jerusalem (d. 62 C.E.).  This is a pseudonymonous ascription, a common practice in Biblical times.
  2. There is wordplay in the original Greek text in verses 1 and 2.  Verse 1 reads, in part, “Greetings,” literally, “Be joyful,” or “Rejoice.”  Verse 2 reads, in part, “Regard it as a complete joy.”
  3. Verse 1 identifies the audience as Jewish diaspora Christians.
  4. Rejoicing in “various trials” (verses 2-12) requires grace, which suffices.
  5. The theme of attitudes toward wealth and status debuts in verse 9.  It recurs later in the first chapter and the book.
  6. During trials, remain anchored in God (verse 6) for stability.
  7. God does not tempt us (verses 13-18).  Times of trial, therefore, are not temptations God has sent.
  8. Unrighteous anger (as opposed to righteous anger) is dangerous to oneself and others.  It also belies true religion.  The Law of Love works against unrighteous anger.  Grace liberates us to be our best possible selves in God (verses 19-25).
  9. The use of speech and writing manifests both positive and negative tendencies.  Taming one’s words, whether spoken or written, is essential (verse 26).  Ergo, true religion is to care for the vulnerable and to reject secular standards of success and status, grounded in power and wealth.

More about language and the control of it will ensue in a subsequent chapter.

Impious deeds must not belie pious words.  In Jewish terms, God is like what one has done and does.  Likewise, we mere mortals are like what we have done to the extent that we continue to commit those deeds.

I, as a student of history, understand that I cannot always determine the motivation of a group or an individual.  I can, however, point to what a group or an individual did, said, did not say, and did not do.  That information frequently leads to a moral evaluation, and renders the lack of information about motivation irrelevant.

Political-social context is crucial.  Commentaries inform me that the Epistle of James targeted religious prophets of doom–political agitators who imagined they could hasten God’s righteous judgment.  One may understand why such people were perilous when the Church was young and small, albeit growing.  One may grasp that such agitators attracted unwelcome imperial attention.  The Epistle of James favors constructive, counter-cultural morality (as in the Beatitudes), not agitation that threatened to bring the imperium down upon the Church.

I, as a student of history, know that religious communities who have practiced James 1:27 have frequently incurred the wrath of governments and the scorn of societies, however.  I think immediately of the Quakers, the Amish, the Mennonites, and the Hutterites, for example.  Governments often react badly when they go to war, and when pacifistic dissenters refuse to cooperate.

James 1:27 also cautions against becoming enmeshed in unholy intrigues.  This theme unfolds in subsequent chapters, too.

How do you, O reader, think of “the world”?  Do you identify it as Satan’s domain?  Or do you think of it as your neighborhood, for which you are partially responsible?  God–in both the Old and New Testaments–mandates that the people of God transform the world, not give up on it and seek to flee from it.  The people of God have divine marching orders to be a light to the nations and to function as salt.  Confronting evil is part of that mandate.  Telling the truth is essential.  Consult the record of the prophets and Jesus, O reader.

Offering a positive alternative is also crucial.

Mutuality informed the Law of Moses, the examples of the Hebrew prophets, the lived and uttered teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, and the culturally-specific writings of the New Testament.  These sages knew what many moderns never learned or have forgotten–that whatever one does to others, one does to oneself.  They grasped that human beings are responsible to and for each other, under God.  These sages understood the importance of orthopraxy, grounded in an inseparable from orthodoxy.

Reading these ancient texts in historical, cultural, and political contexts tells us what they originally meant.  Then we can properly apply these texts to our contemporary situations.

I write these words during the COVID-19 pandemic.  I witness the economic disparities the pandemic has made worse.  I see needless suffering.  I notice that many people have fallen though the cracks in the social safety net.  I witness cynical, opportunistic, fearful, and selfish people refusing to do what is necessary and proper to take care of each other, especially those too young to get vaccinated.  I also notice much shameful behavior (such as I have described in this paragraph) coming from self-identified Christians.

Lord Jesus, save me from your followers!

Timeless principles may seem vague.  This is why the Bible includes many culturally-specific examples of them.  In that spirit, I offer a new, updated version of James 1:27, just for these times:

Pure, undefiled religion, in the eyes of God our Father, during this pandemic, is this:  getting vaccinated when eligible (unless one has a legitimate medical reason not to do so), wearing masks, practicing social distancing, coming to the help of the elderly, the young, and those with compromised immune systems.  It is living in accordance with the Golden Rule and the Lukan Beatitudes.

How is that for a sound and a radical standard?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 20, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRI NOUWEN, DUTCH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND SPIRITUAL WRITER

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH KENNY, AUSTRALIAN NURSE AND MEDICAL PIONEER

THE FEAST OF JOHN COLERIDGE PATTESON, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF MELANESIA, AND HIS COMPANIONS, MARTYRS, 1871

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIE THERESE OF SAINT JOSEPH, FOUNDER OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE CARMELITE SISTERS OF THE DIVINE HEART OF JESUS

THE FEAST OF NELSON TROUT, FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN LUTHERAN BISHOP

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The Sixth Vision of First Zechariah   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Zechariah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING HAGGAI-FIRST ZECHARIAH, PART X

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Zechariah 5:1-4

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The contents of Zechariah 1:7-6:15 date to early February 519 B.C.E. (1:7).

The sixth vision (5:1-4) was of a flying scroll about 30 feet long and about 15 feet wide.  The scroll was about the size of the portico of the Great Hall of the First Temple (1 Kings 6:3).  The purpose of the curse on this remarkable scroll was to remove all crime–namely, theft and perjury–from the land.  There was no room such transgressions in the ideal society to come–in either Judah or the world, depending on the translation of 5:3.

Zechariah 5:1-4 get us, O reader, into the realm of curses.  I, as a modern person grounded in science, give them barely a thought, except to dismiss them as superstitions.  I do not think, therefore, as the authors of Zechariah 5:1-4; Judges 17:2; Numbers 5; and Deuteronomy 29:19 did.  The importance of a curse, Biblically, relates to that of an oath.  (See Leviticus 5:20-24; Proverbs 29:24; Exodus 22:9-11/22:8-10; Judges 11:29-40; Matthew 5:33-37; et cetera.)  The importance of curses also relates to that of blessings, as in Numbers 27:1-45; Numbers 22-24; et cetera.

The emphasis on maintaining the integrity of the community of Zechariah 5:1-4 is a timeless principle, though.  May more people act according to mutuality, one of the pillars of the Law of Moses.

The importance of blessings, curses, and oaths in the Bible points to another timeless principle:  words matter.  Notice the mention of perjury in Zechariah 5:1-4, O reader.  One may recall Daniel 13, the story of Susanna, in which perjury almost cost an innocent woman her life.  The penalty for perjury in the Law of Moses is:

If the witness is a false witness, and has falsely accused the other, you shall do to the false witness just as that false witness planned to do to the other.  Thus you shall purge evil from your midst.

–Deuteronomy 19:18b-19, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

For more commentary about the importance and power of words, read James 3:1-12.  That which the author of that epistle wrote goes double or triple in the age of social media.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 14, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JUSTIN DE JACOBIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY BISHOP IN ETHIOPIA; AND SAINT MICHAEL GHEBRE, ETHIOPIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT CAMILLUS DE LELLIS, ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND FOUNDER OF THE MINISTERS OF THE SICK

THE FEAST OF LEON MCKINLEY ADKINS, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF MATTHEW BRIDGES, HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAMSON OCCUM, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MISSIONARY TO NATIVE AMERICANS

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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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Individual Responsibility Before God   1 comment

Above:  Icon of Ezekiel

Image in the Public Domain

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READING EZEKIEL, PART III

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Ezekiel 3:18-21

Ezekiel 14:12-23

Ezekiel 18:1-32

Ezekiel 33:1-20

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For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for the ancestors’ wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation; but showing love down to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

–Exodus 20:5b-6; Deuteronomy 5:9b-10, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

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Maybe not, not withstanding 1 Kings 21:29; Exodus 34:7; Nehemiah 9:17; Numbers 14:18; Psalm 103:9; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2; Jeremiah 11:21-23; Jeremiah 15:1; Jeremiah 35:18-19.  To the list of passages arguing against intergenerational reward and punishment I add Jeremiah 31:29-30.  (The Book of Jeremiah contains layers of composition and editing.  Parts of that book contradict each other, as in the cases of intergenerational reward and punishment, and whether the deadline for repentance has passed.)

Sin, responsibility, reward, and punishment, in the Bible, are both collective and individual.  The collective varieties are consistent with mutuality.  Individual varieties exist within the context of mutuality, too.

Intergenerational influences are real.  If you, O reader, know enough about yourself and your ancestors for a few generations, perhaps you can identify intergenerational influences, both positive and negative, in your life.  I can identify some in my life.

For the purpose of this post, I bring together four readings on the same theme.  Three of them predate the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B,B.E.).  Ezekiel 33 postdates the Fall of Jerusalem.

Ezekiel 14:12-23 follows a section of threats against false prophets and diviners, and echoes Leviticus 26.  Certain individuals may be pious, but, if the population is rebellious against God, these holy people will save only themselves.  Divine punishment and reward are individual, we read.

I loved my father, now deceased.  He had his virtues and vices, like all human beings.  He was responsible for his actions.

I am responsible for my actions, not his.

This message of individual responsibility seems to have fallen primarily on deaf ears, despite repetition, within the Book of Ezekiel.

Imagine, O reader, that you were a Jew born an exile in the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  Think about how hearing these words would have resonated with you.  Imagine, perhaps, that this teaching would have given you hope that God would not judge you for what your ancestors had done wrong.  Imagine, maybe, that these words would have encouraged your spiritual journey.

Imagine, O reader, that you were a Jew born in Judea after the end of the Babylonian Exile.  Imagine how you may have welcomed the news that, as you strove to live piously, God would judge you based on yourself, not your ancestors.

I am a Christian.  As one, I read passages about individual responsibility, reward, and punishment through the prism of atonement via Jesus.  The atonement–three theories of which exist in Patristic writings–is the game-changer in my theology regarding the topic of this post.  Nevertheless, I affirm that what I do matters.  The atonement does not give me a license to act as I choose.  I am still morally accountable to God and other human beings.  Faithful response to grace is a constant moral principle in Judaism and Christianity.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 22, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALBAN, FIRST BRITISH MARTYR, CIRCA 209 OR 305

THE FEAST OF DESIDERIUS ERASMUS, DUTCH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, BIBLICAL AND CLASSICAL SCHOLAR, AND CONTROVERSIALIST; SAINT JOHN FISHER, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC CLASSICAL SCHOLAR, BISHOP OF ROCHESTER, CARDINAL, AND MARTYR, 1535; AND SAINT THOMAS MORE, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC CLASSICAL SCHOLAR, JURIST, THEOLOGIAN, CONTROVERSIALIST, AND MARTYR, 1535

THE FEAST OF GERHARD GIESHCEN, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF JAMES ARTHUR MACKINNON, CANADIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, 1965

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAULINUS OF NOLA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF NOLA

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Jeremiah’s Sermon in the Temple, With His Trial and Death Sentence   Leave a comment

Above:  Statue of Jeremiah, Salisbury Cathedral

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART V

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Jeremiah 7:1-8:3

Jeremiah 26:1-24

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Jeremiah 7:1-20:18 consists of oracles primarily from the reign (608-598 B.C.E.) of Jehoiakim (born Eliakim) of Judah.  For more about Jehoiakim, read 2 Kings 23:36-24:7; 2 Chronicles 36:5-8; 1 Esdras 1:39-42.

The Assyrian Empire had consumed the (northern) Kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C.E. then the Kingdom of Aram in 720 B.C.E.  In 612 B.C.E., the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire had conquered the Assyrian Empire.  In 608 B.C.E., Judah was struck between two powerful neighbors–Egypt and Babylonia, themselves enemies.  After the death of King Josiah (r. 640-609 B.C.E.) in combat against Pharaoh Neco II of Egypt (r. 610-595 B.C.E.), Judah had become a vassal state of Egypt.  Neco II had appointed the next King of Judah, Jehoahaz, also known as Jeconiah and Shallum (2 Kings 23:31-35; 2 Chronicles 36:1-4; 1 Esdras 1:34-38).  Jehoahaz had reigned for about three months in 609 B.C.E. before Neco II had replaced him with another son of Josiah and taken him into captivity in Egypt.  Neco II had also appointed Eliakim and changed his name to Jehoiakim in 608 B.C.E.  He served as an Egyptian vassal until 605 B.C.E., when he became a Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian vassal.

Jeremiah spent most of his prophetic career speaking difficult truths to a nation under foreign domination.  This context was extremely politically dangerous.

This sermon is thematically consistent with Hosea 6:4-6; Micah 3:9-12; and Amos 2:4-6.  It is also thematically consistent with many other passages of Hebrew scripture.  The link between idolatry and social injustice (especially economic injustice) is clear.  Sacred rituals, even those the Law of Moses mandates, are not talismans.  The joining of lived collective piety and justice on one hand and sacred ritual on the other hand is imperative.  The combination of social injustice and sacred ritual makes a mockery of sacred ritual.

Mend your ways and your actions,

Jeremiah preached at the Temple.  Then he unpacked that statement:

…if you execute justice between one man and another; if you do not oppress the stranger, the orphan, and the widow; if you do not shed the blood of the innocent in this place; if you do not follow other gods, to your own hurt–then only will I [YHWH] let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers for all time.  See, you are relying on illusions that are of no avail….

–Jeremiah 7:5-8, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Pay attention to 7:11, O reader:

Do you consider this House, which bears My name, to be a den of thieves?  As for Me, I have been watching–declares the LORD.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

This is an allusion in Jesus’s mouth during the Temple Incident/the Cleansing of the Temple in Matthew 21:13; Mark 11:17; and Luke 19:46.  Notice that Jeremiah predicted the destruction of the First Temple.

Chronology is not the organizing principle in the Book of Jeremiah.  The Temple Sermon of Jeremiah is a case in point.  We return to it and read of its aftermath in Jeremiah 26:1-24.

Idols abound.  They may be tangible or intangible.  If an activity, idea, or object functions as an idol for someone, it is an idol for that person.  Money is one of the more common idols.  Greed contributes greatly to economic injustice, and corruption is one of the major causes of institutionalized poverty.  Obliviousness to participation in the violation of God’s moral commandments, including mutuality, will not shield us from the consequences of those sins any more than keeping sacred rituals will do so.

Circa 608 B.C.E. God was still holding out the possibility of repentance, prompting the cancellation of divine punishment, according to Jeremiah 26:3.  This contradicts other passages from the Book of Jeremiah and other Hebrew prophetic books composed or begun prior to the Book of Jeremiah.  Perhaps one reason for the contradiction is the addition of later material to the early Hebrew prophetic books, as late as the Babylonian Exile.  I suppose that maintaining the hard line of the time for repentance having passed was difficult to maintain after the Fall of Babylon (539 B.C.E.).

The priests and prophets said to all the people, “This man deserves the death penalty, for he has prophesied against this city, as you yourselves have heard.

–Jeremiah 26:11, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Jeremiah prophesied against a government and a population under foreign domination.  There was no separation of religion and state either.  The prophet worked in a dangerous milieu.

Jeremiah had allies, though.  Some cited the example of Micah, who had issued a dire prophesy (Micah 3:12) and had not received a death sentence.  Fortunately for Jeremiah, the court’s sentence remained unfulfilled.  Ahikam, a high-ranking royal official (2 Kings 22:12), saved him.  Ahikam was also the father of Gedaliah, the assassinated governor of Judah after the Fall of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 40:1-41:18).

Uriah ben Shemiah, from Kiriath-jearim, was not as fortunate as Jeremiah was.  Uriah, also prophesying in the name of YHWH, said what Jeremiah proclaimed.  Uriah fled to Egypt for safety because King Jehoiakim wanted him dead.  Royal agents found Uriah in Egypt and returned him to Judah, to die.

One may legitimately wonder why God protected Jeremiah from threats to his life yet did not spare faithful Uriah ben Shemaiah.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 7, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MATTHEW TALBOT, RECOVERING ALCOHOLIC IN DUBLIN, IRELAND

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTHONY MARY GIANELLI, FOUNDER OF THE MISSIONARIES OF SAINT ALPHONSUS

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK LUCIAN HOSMER, U.S. UNITARIAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HUBERT LAFAYETTE SONE AND HIS WIFE, KATIE HELEN JACKSON SONE, U.S. METHODIST MISSIONARIES AND HUMANITARIANS IN CHNA, SINGAPORE, AND MALAYSIA

THE FEAST OF SEATTLE, FIRST NATIONS CHIEF, WAR LEADER, AND DIPLOMAT

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Indictment for Apostasy and Call to Repentance   Leave a comment

Above:  Jeremiah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART III

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Jeremiah 2:1-4:4

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Has any nation changed its gods

Even though they are no-gods?

But My people has exchanged its glory

For what can do no good.

–Jeremiah 2:11, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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God had liberated the Hebrew slaves from Egypt.  Then the former slaves had quickly started grumbling.  No member of that generation had entered Canaan.  In Canaan, the Hebrews had practiced idolatry.  The practice of idolatry had continued through the time of Jeremiah.  The abandonment of the covenant, with the common good built into it, constituted infidelity to God.  The irony of self-serving religion was that it could “do no good,” as TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) masterfully renders 2:11.

I like the translation of Jeremiah 2:11 in TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985).  The wordplay of “no-gods” and “no good” is wonderful.  “Do no good” is not a literal translation, though.  The New Revised Standard Version (1989) uses “does not profit,” not “do no good.”  The germane Hebrew verb is ya’al, or “to confer or gain profit of benefit.”  Ya’al also occurs in Jeremiah 2:8:

The priests never asked themselves, “Where is the LORD?”

The guardians of the Teaching ignored Me,

And the prophets prophesied by Baal

And followed what can do no good.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Ya’al sounds like “Baal,” as in Baal Peor, the Canaanite fertility and storm god.  The connotation of ya’al (profit) is almost entirely negative in the Hebrew Bible, and frequently occurs in the context of idolatry.  This verb occurs 23 times:  1 Samuel 12:21; Job 15:3; Job 21:15; Job 30:13; Job 35:3; Proverbs 10:2; Proverbs 11:4; Isaiah 30:5-6; Isaiah 44:9-10; Isaiah 47:12; Isaiah 48:17; Job 57:12; Jeremiah 2:8 and 11; Jeremiah 12:13; Jeremiah 16:19; Jeremiah 23:32; and Habakkuk 2:18.

The metaphor of the covenant as a marriage should be familiar to anyone who has read the Book of Hosea attentively.  That metaphor plays our in this portion of Jeremiah, too.  Idolatry is, metaphorically, infidelity to God.  And this infidelity entails economic injustice, hence the reference to “the blood of the innocent poor” (Jeremiah 2:34).  The metaphor of irreversible divorce (Jeremiah 3:105) draws from Deuteronomy 24:1-4, in which the husband may not take back his wife after she has remarried.  Can the sinful population return to YHWH?  (The Book of Jeremiah, with its layers of composition and authorship, is inconsistent in the answer to this question.)  The people, not YHWH, have broken the relationship.  Yes, we read in this part and other segments of the Book of Jeremiah, the sinful population can return if it will repent, we read.  It can return if it will turn its back to its sins and return to God, we read.  The text mixes metaphors.  The adulterous wife becomes rebellious children.  Yet the call to repent remains.

We know that the (northern) Kingdom of Israel and the (southern) Kingdom of Judah fell, however.  Knowing this adds melancholy to our understanding of these verses.  Nevertheless, we also know that the Babylonian Exile ended.  That detail should add some joy to the mix as we read Jeremiah 2:1-4:4.

To return to my opening theme, the irony of idolatry in the name of self-serving religion is that it is in vain.  The Law of Moses, with its ethical core, builds up the common good and teaches mutuality.  Whatever affects one person, affects others.  We are all responsible to and for each other as we stand together, completely dependent upon God.  Selfish gain, the sort that enriches some while impoverishing others, works against the common good and harms the one who benefits the one who benefits from that selfish gain.  This selfish gain turns into a liability in the long term.

God longs to heal our afflictions, even the ones we have inflicted on ourselves.  We must turn back toward God, however.  If we refuse to do so, we judge and condemn ourselves.  This truth applies on more than one level.  There is the individual level, of course.  Yet may we not forget that Jeremiah 2:1-4:4 addresses populations, not individuals or one person.  Sin is both collective and individual.  So are forgiveness and restoration.  We may feasibly apply this call to collective repentance to neighborhoods, families, congregations, denominations, societies, nation-states, et cetera.

God is the source of the best stuff, for lack of a better word.  Do we want the best stuff or inferior stuff?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 7, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MATTHEW TALBOT, RECOVERING ALCOHOLIC IN DUBLIN, IRELAND

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTHONY MARY GIANELLI, FOUNDER OF THE MISSIONARIES OF SAINT ALPHONSUS

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK LUCIAN HOSMER, U.S. UNITARIAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HUBERT LAFAYETTE SONE AND HIS WIFE, KATIE HELEN JACKSON SONE, U.S. METHODIST MISSIONARIES AND HUMANITARIANS IN CHNA, SINGAPORE, AND MALAYSIA

THE FEAST OF SEATTLE, FIRST NATIONS CHIEF, WAR LEADER, AND DIPLOMAT

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Divine Judgment on Judah, Part II   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Zephaniah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING ZEPHANIAH, PART II

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Zephaniah 1:2-2:3

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Certain ambiguities exist in the Hebrew text.  These give rise to competing scholarly and theological interpretations.  Yet the text is clear about other matters:  God was mad, idolatry continued to be rampant and intolerable, divine judgment on the people and the royal family was on the way, social injustice (especially economic injustice) was ubiquitous and still intolerable to God, and there was still no time to repent.  This last point contrasts with First Isaiah (Isaiah 6), in which the time to repent had passed.  Overall, the imagery of Zephaniah 1:2-2:3, set in the context of the Day of the LORD, should be familiar to one who has recently read Hosea, Amos, Micah, and First Isaiah recently.

Certain details require explanation:

  1. Milcom (1:5) was the chief deity of the Ammonite pantheon (1 Kings 11:5, 7, 33; 2 Kings 23:13).
  2. The alternative translation to “Milcom” is “Malcam,” or “their king.”  This may be a human monarch, YHWH, or a false god.
  3. “The king’s sons” (1:8) refers to the royal family, the House of David.  Those responsible for leading the people astray bear greater accountability before God.
  4. Idolatry is apparent in 1:4-6, 8-9.
  5. People are foolish and sinful to commit fraud, exploit others, and be complacent.
  6. Another theme from earlier in Hebrew prophetic literature repeats:  Circumstances may seem good and pleasant.  The kingdom may be faring relatively well.  Nevertheless, the circumstances are about to get very bad.
  7. 1:14-16 is the basis of the Latin Dies Irae, formerly part of the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass.
  8. The imagery of the Day of the LORD is vivid.  The powerful language addresses a situation of long-term, collective, and unrepentant violation of the Law of Moses, despite many messengers of God having called for repentance.  Divine patience is not infinite.  Neither is divine judgment.

Seek the LORD,

all you humble of the land,

who have observed his law;

Seek justice,

seek humility;

Perhaps you will be sheltered

on the day of the LORD’s anger.

–Zephaniah 2:3, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

That “perhaps” is ominous.

The Hebrew text in 2:1-3 is somewhat ambiguous and, in scholarly terms, corrupt.  Therefore, an exegetical debate about the identity of the “shameless nation” (2:1) is robust; the text is vague.  2:1-3 sits between a section condemning Judah and a section condemning foreign nations.  Also, the Hebrew word translated as “shameless” can also mean “not desiring God” or “not desired by God.”  Circumstantially, the position of The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014), that Judah is the addressed nation makes sense to me.  Yet other study Bibles I consult interpret 2:1-3 to apply to foreign nations instead.

This ambiguity does not disturb me.  Even if I err in interpreting 2:1-3 to have applied to Judah, my ultimate point remains unaltered.  These texts, in the Hebrew language, indicate editing that has created confusion about historical interpretation.  I acknowledge this reality; I do not ignore or seek vainly to reconcile the irreconcilable.  Yet I remain focused on the text’s meanings for today.  When is too late to repent?  And why might not repentance shelter people from the wrath of God?

Certainly, one person’s actions affect other people.  Also, membership in a society means that one suffers and benefits based on what other members of that society do or do not do.  This may seem unfair.  It may even be unfair.

Stating the obvious may answer a question partially.  Such a partial answer may prove unsatisfactory.  So be it.  I wrestle with the two questions I asked:

  1. When is too late to repent?
  2. Why might not repentance shelter people from the wrath of God.

Certainty is antithetical to faith.  I, as an Episcopalian, welcome doubt, my old friend, and greet questions warmly.  I affirm that “I don’t know,” is frequently the best and most honest answer.  Faith is about walking humbly with God, not knowing the answers.  My model of faith is Jewish, not Muslim.  Jews get to wrestle and argue with God; Muslims submit to God.

I agree that repentance should shield one from the wrath of God.  It does not always do so, however.  I also argue that no time should be too late for repentance.  I disagree with Isaiah 6 in so doing.

God calls people and peoples into a positive relationship with each other and Him.  God does not call us to shut down our minds.  No, God calls us to bring ourselves to the relationship.  God calls us to trust Him, acknowledge our complete dependence on Him, and take care of each other.  Trusting does not entail a lack of arguments and misunderstandings.  We can know of God what God has revealed.  The fullness of God, however, is a glorious mystery.  The proper response includes awe.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 3, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN XXIII, BISHOP OF ROME

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN GOTTFRIED GEISLER AND JOHANN CHRISTIAN GEISLER, SILESIAN MORAVIAN ORGANISTS AND COMPOSER; AND JOHANNES HERBST, GERMAN-AMERICAN ORGANIST, COMPOSER, AND BISHOP

THE FEAST OF FRANCES RIDLEY HAVERGAL, ENGLISH HYMN WRITER AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF OLE T. (SANDEN) ARNESON, U.S. NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF WILL CAMPBELL, AGENT OF RECONCILIATION

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