Archive for the ‘Parable of the Prodigal Son’ Tag

The Faithfulness and Generosity of God, Part VII   1 comment

Above:  The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, by Rembrandt Van Rijn

Image in the Public Domain

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

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Isaiah 55:6-9

Psalm 27:1-13 (LBW) or Psalm 27:1-9 (LW)

Philippians 1:1-5 (6-11), 19-27

Matthew 20:1-16

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Lord God, you call us to work in your vineyard

and leave no one standing idle. 

Set us to our tasks in the work of your kingdom,

and help us to order our lives by your wisdom;

through your Son, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 28

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Keep, we pray you, O Lord, your Church with your perpetual mercy;

and because without you we cannot but fall,

keep us ever by your help from all things hurtful

and lead us to all things profitable for our salvation;

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

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 81-82

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Grace does not discriminate based on when one accepts it; all who accept grace receive the same rewards and the same duties to God and other human beings.  The call to repentance from immediately before the end of the Babylonian Exile (Isaiah 55) remains current.  Repentance is an appropriate response to grace.  St. Paul the Apostle’s call for the Philippian congregation always to

behave in a manner that is worthy of the gospel of Christ

(1:27)

remains current for congregations, all levels of the institutional church, and individuals.

Resentment is a motif in some of the parables of Jesus.  Think O reader, of the Prodigal Son’s older brother, for example.  Recall that he honored his father and fulfilled his duty.  So, why was that disrespecful wastrel getting an extravagant party upon returning home?  One may easily identify with the grumbling of laborers who thought they should receive more than a day’s wages because people who started working later in the day also received the promised payment of a denarius.

Are you envious because I am generous?  

–Matthew 15:15b, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

That is God’s question to grumbling, dutiful people today, too.  All people depend completely on grace.  Those who grumble and harbor resentment over divine generosity need to repent of doing so.  To refuse to repent of this is to behave in a manner unworthy of the gospel of Christ.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 16, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN DIEFENBAKER AND LESTER PEARSON, PRIME MINISTERS OF CANADA; AND TOMMY DOUGLAS, FEDERAL LEADER OF THE NEW DEMOCRATIC PARTY

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALIPIUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF TAGASTE, AND FRIEND OF SAINT AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO

THE FEAST OF JOHN COURTNEY MURRAY, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF JOHN JONES OF TALYSARN, WELSH CALVINISTIC METHODIST MINISTER AND HYMN TUNE COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF MATTHIAS CLAUDIUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN WRITER

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Adapted from this post

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Restoring the Apostolic Community   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Christ and the Twelve Apostles

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART LIV

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Acts 1:12-26

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The Twelve had become the Eleven after the death of Judas Iscariot.  The Eleven had plenty of company, though; they belonged to a community of about one hundred twenty people–enough to constitute a new Sanhedrin.  And both men and women counted.

The account of the death of Judas Iscariot in Matthew 27:3-10 contradicts the version in Acts 1:16-20.  The Judas Iscariot of Matthew 27 was a penitent who committed suicide while overcome with guilt.  In contrast, the Judas Iscariot of Acts 1:16-20 was an unapologetic man who died when his bowels burst out.  The manner of Judas Iscariot’s death in Acts 1:16-20 echoed stories of the deaths of wicked people (2 Samuel 20:4-13; 2 Maccabees 9:5-6).  Another nuance may relate to the bowels metaphorically being the seat of emotions.  In Greek, “bowels” is splanchnon; “pity” or “compassion’ is splanchnizomai.  In Luke 10:33, the Good Samaritan, “moved by pity,” helped the man by the side of the road.  In Luke 15:20, the father of the Prodigal Son, “filled with compassion,” welcomed his son home.  Another implication, then, may be that Judas Iscariot lacked pity/compassion.

The metaphor of the bowels as the seat of emotions persisted in English for a long time.  In 1742, Charles Wesley wrote a hymn, “Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown.”  Two lines, in the original form, were:

To me, to all, thy bowels move,

Thy nature, and thy name is love.

Since 1893, however, God’s mercies have moved instead.

(Thanks to Brian Wren, Praying Twice:  The Music and Words of Congregational Song, 2000, for bringing this to my attention.)

Echoes of the metaphor remain in English.  We still have “gut feelings,” for example.

Restoring the Twelve had symbolic importance.  The candidates were some of the Seventy (or Seventy-Two).  St. Matthias won the election.  Symbolically, twelve (the number of tribes) indicated the restoration of Israel.  This restoration of the Twelve occurred shortly before God did something astounding.

May we never underestimate the value of symbols.  A symbol carries the meaning(s) people assign to it.  Symbols are, therefore, powerful.  Objectively, a flag is merely a piece of cloth.  Symbolically, however, people infuse flags with meanings, for example.  Symbols are tangible signs of that which is intangible.

Consider the symbols of the sacraments, O reader.  Something intangible is at work in a sacrament.  Yet we hear words in a ritual.  We see the water of baptism and the laying on of hands at an ordination.  We receive bread and wine at Eucharist.  All these are symbols and signs.  They are tangible; grace is intangible.  In the case of bread and wine, of course, the symbols become what they symbolize.  I leave the mystery as it is and thank God for it.

What symbols indicate grace for you, O reader?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 28, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JAMES SOLOMON RUSSELL, EPISCOPAL PRIEST, EDUCATOR, AND ADVOCATE FOR RACIAL EQUALITY

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH RUNDLE CHARLES, ANGLICAN WRITER, HYMN TRANSLATOR, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT GUNTRAM OF BURGUNDY, KING

THE FEAST OF KATHARINE LEE BATES, U.S. EDUCATOR, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF RICHARD CHEVNIX TRENCH, ANGLICAN ARCHBISHOP OF DUBLIN

THE FEAST OF SAINT TUTILO, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK AND COMPOSER

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Lost and Found, Part V   Leave a comment

Above:  The Return of the Prodigal Son, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART XXXVIII

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Luke 15:1-32

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Given that I have already written about these three parables (the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost/Prodigal Son) at this weblog already, I make no attempt to repeat all that I have written regarding them.  I do, however, refer you, O reader, to those posts, tagged accordingly and in the “Luke 15” category.

In the Lucan narrative, chapter 15 flows directly from chapter 14.  Imagine the scene, O reader.  See it with your mind’s eye.  See Jesus, a dinner guest at the home of a leading Pharisee one Sabbath, criticizing his host and expounding on the cost of discipleship.  Imagine the scene as notorious sinners, including Roman tax thieves, crowded in to listen.  Imagine the scorn evident on the faces of Christ’s critics–perhaps including his host–as they condemned him for dining with the moral riffraff.

Then, in Luke 15, we read three parables.

Notice, O reader, that:

  1. The sheep, drachma, and son are precious to God,
  2. God seeks out the sheep and the drachma, and
  3. God waits for the errant son to return.

These are parables of human repentance and extravagant divine grace.  Rejoicing follows the finding in two parables and the return of the son in the third.  Yet the rejoicing is not unanimous.  We read of the resentful, older, dutiful brother, the father’s heir.

Some exegetes argue that the text does not portray the Prodigal Son as having repented, but as having made an economic decision to return home.  This is an overblown argument.  The parable tells us that the Prodigal (wasteful) Son did return home.  Repentance, by definition, is turning one’s back to one’s sins–some of them, at least.

The literal scene in Luke 15:11-32 is Jesus telling a parable in the home of a leading Pharisee, a prominent member of his society.  Given the content of chapters 14 and 15, one may suppose that this last parable may have stung Jesus’s host.

If you, O reader, have been reading this series of posts, you know that I have no interest in lambasting long-dead people and congratulating myself for my righteousness.  Let us–you, O reader, and I–be honest.  We may be prime candidates to be the older brother.  Yet we are precious to God, too.  May we act like it and rejoice with God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 18, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE CONFESSION OF SAINT PETER, APOSTLE

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Lost and Found, Part IV   1 comment

Above:  The Parable of the Prodigal Son, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Third Sunday in Lent, Year 2

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

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

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Almighty God, who hast been the hope and confidence of thy people in all ages;

mercifully regard, we beseech thee, the prayer with which we cry unto thee out of the depths,

and stretch forth the right hand of thy majesty and defense;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 150

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Jeremiah 26:1-22

Psalm 56

Ephesians 5:1-9

Luke 15:11-32

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The Gospel of Mark hits the audience over the head with the message that those who think they are insiders may be outsiders and that they really be insiders.  The Gospel of Matthew and Luke pick up that theme, too.  This message also permeates much of the Hebrew prophetic tradition.  Jeremiah, for example, was about as marginal as possible.  His death sentence in Chapter 26 reflected official displeasure with him.  The prophet had a human protector, at least.

Be among the children of light, we read in Ephesians 5.  One may think of oneself as a child of light, but one may be mistaken.  (See Matthew 25:31-46, O reader.)  Resentment is an obstacle to being in the light.  One may think, as the dutiful older brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (or whatever one calls that story).

Where is my party?  Don’t I deserve recognition for obeying the rules?

Positive feedback is pleasant.  So is rejoicing at the repentance of one sinner, in the style of Luke 15:7 and 10.  The parable in Luke 15:11-32 remains unresolved on the page.  This is deliberate.  The parable continues with each person who contemplates it.

Would you, O reader, attend the party for the recently returned younger brother and be happy to do so?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 7, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF FRANÇOIS FÉNELON, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF CAMBRAI

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALDRIC OF LE MANS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANGELA OF FOLIGNO, PENITENT AND HUMANITARIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT GASPAR DEL BUFALO, FOUNDER OF THE MISSIONARIES OF THE PRECIOUS BLOOD

THE FEAST OF SAINT LUCIAN OF ANTIOCH, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR, 312

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Lost and Found, Part III   1 comment

Above:  Parable of the Lost Coin

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Second Sunday in Lent, Year 2

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

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

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Almighty God, who seest the helpless misery of our fallen life;

vouchsafe unto us, we humbly beseech thee, both the outward and inward defense of thy guardian care;

that we may be shielded from the evils which assault the body,

and be kept pure from all thoughts that harm and pollute the soul;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 148

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Exodus 14:13-31

Psalm 143

2 Corinthians 3:1-18

Luke 15:1-10

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2 Corinthians 3:5 reminds us that God qualifies the called, that God does not call the qualified.  God’s choices are an old topic in Jewish and Christian theology.  God’s choices favorable to any person or group are pure grace.  The covenant with the Jews is pure grace, as Judaism recognizes.  And the acceptance of grace requires ethical obligations, as Covenantal Nomism acknowledges.

People are precious to God.  Luke 15 contains parables about the lost and the found.  Livestock are financial assets in real life.  A small amount of money is extremely valuable to one who is poor.  The first two parables in Luke 15 conclude the same way:  God is rejoicing because of one sinner repenting.

One sinner is precious in the sight of God because God says so.  Repentance is cause for a party in Heaven because God says so.

People are precious in the sight of God.  All people are precious in the sight of God.  Are they precious in my sight?  Are they precious in your sightl O reader?  If not, there is another reason to repent.

To make my point more plainly, I move deeper into Luke 15.  The responsible, older brother did not consider his penitent young brother precious.  At the end of that parable, who was really lost?  We all have reasons to repent.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 6, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST

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The Scandal of Grace VIII   1 comment

Above:  The Return of the Prodigal Son, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

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

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

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

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

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

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Acts 13:1-12

Psalm 67

1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11

Luke 15:11-32

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Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, as indeed you do.

–1 Thessalonians 5:11, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

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That verse is a fitting counterpoint to the attitude of the elder brother in the story traditionally called the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  Or is it the Parable of the Resentful Older Brother?  Or is it the Parable of the Lost Son?  If so, which son was lost?  Or is the Parable of the Loving Father?  The text is too rich for one label to describe it adequately.  Psalm 67 begins, in the translation of Mitchell J. Dahood, S.J.:

May God have pity on us and bless us;

may he cause his face to shine,

may he come to us.

That fits well with the parable.  On the other hand, it does not mesh with the blinding of Elymar the sorcerer in Acts 13.

Back to the father with two sons, a formula for trouble since Cain and Abel…

Which son was really lost?  The younger one–the wastrel–came to his senses and acted accordingly.  The resentful, dutiful older son–a character easy with whom to identify–played by the rules and expected commensurate rewards.  Yet could he not have rejoiced that his brother had returned?  Perhaps the older brother was the lost one.

The parable ends with unresolved tension.  The ambiguous conclusion invites us to ask ourselves what we would do in the place of the older brother.

Grace is scandalous.  It does not seem fair, by our standards, much of the time.  It violates our definition of fairness frequently.  Grace may not be fair, but it is just.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 9, 2020 COMMON ERA

MAUNDY THURSDAY

THE FEAST OF DIETRICH BONHOEFFER, GERMAN LUTHERAN MARTYR, 1945

THE FEAST OF JOHANN CRUGER, GERMAN LUTHERAN ORGANIST, COMPOSER, AND HYMNAL EDITOR

THE FEAST OF JOHN SAMUEL BEWLEY MONSELL, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND POET; AND RICHARD MANT, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF DOWN, CONNOR, AND DROMORE

THE FEAST OF LYDIA EMILIE GRUCHY, FIRST FEMALE MINISTER IN THE UNITED CHURCH OF CANADA

THE FEAST OF MIKAEL AGRICOLA, FINNISH LUTHERAN LITURGIST, BISHOP OF TURKU, AND “FATHER OF FINNISH LITERARY LANGUAGE”

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2020/04/09/devotion-for-the-sixth-sunday-of-easter-year-c-humes/

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Yet Another Chance, Part II   Leave a comment

Above:  The Return of the Prodigal Son, by Leonello Spada

Image in the Public Domain

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

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O God, you have joined together diverse nations in the confession of your name:

Grant us both to will and to do what you command, that your people,

being called to an eternal inheritance, may hold the same faith in their hearts

and show the same godliness in their lives;

through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 154

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Isaiah 55:1-7

Psalm 45

Philemon 1-3, 10-16

Luke 15:11-32

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God extends us second, third, fourth, fifth, et cetera chances.  Do we welcome these?

Consider the Letter to Philemon, O reader.  It is a text a long line of exegetes reaching back into antiquity has misinterpreted.  It is not, as St. John Chrysostom, a man fearful of the possibility that people in the Roman Empire would associate Christianity with the emancipation of slaves, thought, an argument for returning fugitive slaves to their masters.  Neither is the text a defense of slavery, as many defenders of chattel slavery in the antebellum United States argued.  Furthermore, nowhere does the letter indicate that Onesimus was a thief; the conditional tense makes a difference.  And, as certain scholars of the New Testament note, the correct translation of verse 16 is actually

…as if a slave,

not the usual

…as a slave.

The conditional tense makes a difference.  Tradition of which I have no reason to doubt the veracity holds that the rest of the story was a second chance for both Onesimus and Philemon, both of whom became bishops.  That point aside, I enjoy the pun, for Onesimus means “useful,” and he will be useful again, we read.  Also, the manipulation of Philemon is at its positive full force:  I could tell you to do the right thing, but I know that I do not have to do that because of the kind of man you are, the letter says.  One might conclude that Philemon did not have much of a choice in this scenario.

The story traditionally labeled the Parable of the Prodigal Son offers three compelling characters:  a father and two sons.  An observant student of the Bible might think of the motif of a father having two sons; something bad will happen.  Consider, O reader, the brothers Cain and Abel (Genesis 4), Isaac and Ishmael (Genesis 16, 18, 21), and Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25-28, 32, 33, 35, 36), for example.  In this case we have a loving father and two sons–an ungrateful, disrespectful wastrel and his dutiful older brother.  The father knows and loves both of his sons.  He does not force them to do the right thing.  The father lets his younger son go in the expectation that he will return.  The father is jubilant when the younger son returns.  The older brother should also rejoice, but he wonders why he receives so little attention.  He is actually in a much better state than the returned younger brother, who will have to live with the concrete consequences of his folly for the rest of his life.  The older brother will still inherit the estate, however.

Each of us, throughout his or her life, might fill all three roles in the parable.  Many of us might identify most easily with the resentful and dutiful older brother, who does as her father tells him to do.  This resentful, holier-than-thou attitude is a gateway to Donatism, however.  We should actually rejoice when the penitent return.  We ought to welcome divine grace showered upon those we do not like.  When we do not do this, we commit a particular sin.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 11, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MARY SLESSOR, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN MISSIONARY IN WEST AFRICA

THE FEAST OF GEORGE FOX, FOUNDER OF THE RELIGIOUS SOCIETY OF FRIENDS

THE FEAST OF MIEP GIES, RIGHTEOUS GENTILE

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAULINUS OF AQUILEIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC PATRIARCH

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Concerning Wheat, Tares, and Donatism, Part I   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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God Cares, Part I   1 comment

Good Shepherd

Above:  The Good Shepherd

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

God of compassion, you welcome the wayward,

and you embrace us all with your mercy.

By our baptism clothe us with garments of your grace,

and feed us at the table of your love,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 28

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The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 32:7-14

Psalm 32

Luke 15:1-10

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How blest is he whose transgression is forgiven,

whose sin has been remitted.

How blest the man

to whom Yahweh imputes no guilt,

And in whose spirit there is no guile.

But I had become like a potsherd,

my bones had wasted away

through my groaning all day long.

For day and night, O Most High,

your hand was oppressive;

I was ravaged, O Shaddai,

as by the drought of summer.

My sin I made known to you,

and did not hide my guilt from you.

I said, “I shall confess, O Most High,

my transgressions, O Yahweh!”

Then you forgave my sinful guilt.

–Psalm 32:1-5, Mitchell Dahood, The Anchor Bible (1966)

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Acknowledging one’s sins is pat of the process of repentance, or turning away from them.

The key word in the assigned reading from Luke 15 is repentance.  Jesus answers criticisms for welcoming and dining with sinners by telling parables of being lost then found and welcomed.  Sheep were essential to the livelihood of shepherds in verses 3-6, just as the small amount of money in verses 8 and 9 probably constituted the woman’s entire savings.  In each case a penitent sinner is as precious to God as the lost sheep is to the shepherd and the ten silver coins are to the woman.  Heavenly celebration ensues after the return of the newly penitent.  This theme continues in verses 11-32, traditionally the Parable of the Prodigal Son, although the loving father and the dutiful yet resentful older brother are equally compelling characters.

I detect a difference in the portrayal of God in Luke 15 and Exodus 32.  God seeks the lost in two parables in Luke 15 and waits for the return of the penitent in the third parable.  In Exodus 32, however, Moses has to persuade God not to destroy the Israelites.  Granted, they probably did not know the error of their ways, but the God of Luke 15 would have responded differently than the God of Exodus 32.  The God of Luke 15 would have, like the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (for lack of a better name), waited for them to realize their sins then repent.

In universe, then, did the ten silver coins know that they were lost?  The Prodigal Son came to his senses in time.  And the lost sheep was an especially stupid animal.  Yet all of these were precious in Luke 15.

I acknowledge that both judgment and mercy exist in God.  The balance of them is beyond my purview.  Yet I rely on divine mercy, which I understand to be vast.  That mercy, extended to me, requires much of me.  I am, for example, to act mercifully toward others and to respond gratefully to God.  Grace is free, not cheap.

Principles are easy to state, but coming to understand how best to apply them in daily life is frequently difficult.  A well-meaning person might, out of faithfulness and compassion, act in such a way as to make a bad situation worse accidentally.  The most effective method of helping might not be obvious to one.  What is a person who seeks to apply the Golden Rule properly to do?  May you, O reader, find the proper answers in your circumstances.

May each of us, precious in the sight of God, remain faithful, repent when we depart from the proper path, and function as the most effective agents of divine mercy possible, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 30, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANDREW THE APOSTLE, MARTYR

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2015/11/30/devotion-for-saturday-before-the-fourth-sunday-in-lent-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Numbers and Luke, Part I: Respecting God   1 comment

return-of-the-prodigal-son-leonello-spada

Above:  The Return of the Prodigal Son, by Leonello Spada

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

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

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

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Numbers 3:1-16, 39-48 (36th Day of Easter)

Numbers 8:5-26 (37th Dayof Easter)

Psalm 93 (Morning–36th Day of Easter)

Psalm 97 (Morning–37th Day of Easter)

Psalms 136 and 117 (Evening–36th Day of Easter)

Psalms 124 and 115 (Evening–37th Day of Easter)

Luke 14:25-15:10 (36th Day of Easter)

Luke 15:11-32 (37th Day of Easter)

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Some Related Posts:

Luke 14-15:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/sixteenth-day-of-lent/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/05/22/fourth-sunday-in-lent-year-c/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/18/week-of-proper-26-wednesday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/18/week-of-proper-26-thursday-year-1/

Prayer of Praise and Adoration:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/03/04/prayer-of-praise-and-adoration-for-the-sixth-sunday-of-easter/

Prayer of Dedication:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/03/04/prayer-of-dedication-for-the-sixth-sunday-of-easter/

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I belong to a wonderful congregation in Athens, Georgia.  It is friendly, generous, socially progressive, and open to free intellectual and spiritual inquiry.  The parish has become a community leader in environmental stewardship, with plans to improve according to this standard.  Of all the churches to which I have belonged, it is the closest fit for me.  Yet I think that my parish is too casual.  This is not a deal breaker for me, but the place is too casual.  So I come to church most Sundays dressed in a suit, a tie, and a fedora.  I stand out.  In a place where I, once the resident heretic in southern Georgia, am now relatively orthodox (without having changed my mind much), I stand out in another way.  Blending in is overrated.

The concept of one’s Sunday Best is a dated one in my increasingly casual North American culture.  Without turning church into an occasion for a fashion show, I affirm the underlying principle of Sunday Best:  One ought not approach God with a casual attitude.  That principle also undergirded the purity and Levitical codes in the Law of Moses.

This God whom we should not approach casually is the one whom we should love more than any person, possession, or other attachment.  This is the God who seeks us out when we are lost.  This is the God who listens to our insults, waives the death penalty from the Law of Moses, awaits our return, and welcomes us home.  (The son in the parable had told his father, via his early request for his inheritance,

I wish that you were dead.

This met the definition of cursing or insulting a parent, an offense which carried the death penalty.)

This is God, worthy of all our respect.  May our manner and attitude of approaching God in public and private reflect that reality.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 16, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF RUFUS JONES, QUAKER THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN FRANCIS REGIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH BUTLER, ANGLICAN BISHOP

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Adapted from this post:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/06/16/devotion-for-the-thirty-sixth-and-thirty-seventh-days-of-easter-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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