Archive for the ‘Philip Yancey’ Tag

Discomfort and Holiness   1 comment

Above:  Historic American Sheet Music, “I’m goin’ to fight my way right back to Carolina”

Music B-633, Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library

Image Source = Duke University via the Library of Congress

(http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/h?ammem/dukesm:@field(NUMBER+@band(b0775)))

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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:

Zechariah 14:1-21

Psalm 103 (Morning)

Psalms 117 and 139 (Evening)

Titus 2:7-3:15

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Some Related Posts:

A Franciscan Blessing:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/07/17/a-franciscan-blessing/

Titus 2-3:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/11/11/week-of-proper-27-tuesday-year-2-and-week-of-proper-27-wednesdayyear-2/

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My discomfort with Zechariah and Titus continues.  (See http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/04/11/devotion-for-february-2-lcms-daily-lectionary/.)  As for the former, God’s reign of holiness arrives only after rapes, battles, and plagues.  And, in Titus, instructions for slaves to obey their masters coexist with a beautiful summary of God’s saving love.  When one thinks that Christ might return soon, reforming one’s society and emancipating slaves seems unimportant, I suppose.  But that was nearly 2,000 years ago.  History has rendered its verdict, has it not?

To be holy is to be “called out.”  In the name of being holy many people have committed and/or condoned violence.  In the name of being holy many people have looked down upon their neighbors.  In the name of being holy many people have obsessed over minor details–such as ritually pure pots, long skirts, and short hair–while ignoring social injustice, such as racism and economic exploitation.

The kindness and love of God our Saviour for humanity (Titus 3:4, The New Jerusalem Bible)

requires us to move, by grace, toward thinking of our fellow human beings in those terms.  Thus the length of a skirt or one’s hair ought to matter less than whether the courts are corrupt or economic exploitation is a current problem.    I think of Philip Yancey’s comments about the Bible college he attended in the 1960s.  Civil rights were not on the agenda, but his hair had to be short and women’s skirts had to be long.  And, judging from pictures of Jesus, the Lord’s haircut would have kept him out of the college.

Holiness ought to be a high standard, not a petty one.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 12, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALFRED LEE, PRESIDING BISHOP OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH

THE FEAST OF ALAN PATON, NOVELIST AND WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS IN SOUTH AFRICA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JULIUS I, BISHOP OF ROME

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM OF OCKHAM, PHILOSOPHER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM SLOANE COFFIN, SOCIAL ACTIVIST

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Adapted from this post:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/04/12/devotion-for-february-3-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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Tested in the Fire   1 comment

Above:  Fire

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Revelation 3:1-6, 14-22 (Revised English Bible):

To the angel of the church at Sardis write:

These are the words of the One who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars:  I know what you are doing; people say you are alive, but in fact you are dead.  Wake up, and put some strength into what you still have, because otherwise it must die!  For I have not found any work of yours brought to completion in the sight of my God.  Remember therefore the teaching you received; observe it, and repent.  If you do not wake up, I will come upon you like a thief, and you will not know the moment of my coming.  Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not polluted their clothing, and they will walk with me in white, for so they deserve.  Anyone who is victorious will be robed in white like them, and I shall never strike his name off the roll of the living; in the presence of my Father and his angels I shall acknowledge him as mine.  You have ears, so hear what the Spirit says to the churches!

To the angel of the church at Laodicea write:

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful of God’s creation:  I know what you are doing; you are neither cold nor hot.  How I wish you were either cold or hot!  Because you are neither one nor the other, but just lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth.  You say, “How rich I am!  What a fortune I have made!  I have everything I want.”  In fact, though you do not realize it, you are a pitiful wretch, poor, blind, and naked.  I advise you to buy from me gold refined in the fire to make you truly rich, and white robes to put on to hide the shame of your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so that you may see.  All whom I love I reprove and discipline.  Be wholehearted therefore in your repentance.  Here I stand knocking at the door; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and he and I will eat together.  To anyone who is victorious I will grant a place beside me on my throne, as I myself was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.  You have ears, so hear what the Spirit says to the churches!

Psalm 15 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 LORD, who may dwell in your tabernacle?

who may abide upon your holy hill?

Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right,

who speaks the truth from his heart.

3 There is no guile upon his tongue;

he does no evil to his friend;

he does not heap contempt upon his neighbor.

In his sight the wicked is rejected,

but he honors those who fear the LORD.

5 He has sworn to do no wrong

and does not take back his word.

6 He does not give his money in hope of gain,

nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.

Whoever does these things

shall never be overthrown.

Luke 19:1-10 (Revised English Bible):

Entering Jericho Jesus made his way through the city.  There was a man there named Zacchaeus; he was superintendent of taxes and very rich.  He was eager to see what Jesus looked like; but, being  a little man, he could not see him for the crowd.  So he ran on ahead and climbed a sycomore tree in order to see him, for he was to pass that way.  When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said,

Zacchaeus, be quick to come down, for I must stay at your house today.

He climbed down as quickly as he could and welcomed him gladly.  At this time there was a general murmur of disapproval.

He has gone in to be the guest of a sinner,

they said.  But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord,

Here and now, sir, I give half my possessions to charity; and if I have defrauded anyone, I will repay him four times over.

Jesus said to him,

Today  salvation has come to this house–for this man too is a son of Abraham.  The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what is lost.

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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 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.

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Some Related Posts:

Week of Proper 28:  Tuesday, Year 1 (More About Zacchaeus):

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/26/week-of-proper-28-tuesday-year-1/

Lord, Help Us Walk Your Servant Way:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/07/01/lord-help-us-walk-your-servant-way/

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My Son, if you aspire to be a servant of the LORD,

prepare yourself for testing….

Bear every hardship that is sent you,

and whenever humiliation comes, be patient;

for gold is assayed in the fire,

and the chosen ones in the furnace of humiliation.

–Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 2:1, 4-5, Revised English Bible

The church at Laodicea  was lukewarm and overconfident in its wealth.  It was really nothing but a chapel of complacency.  But the church is not supposed to function as a chapel for the complacent.  At least the church at Sardis tried to so something.  Unfortunately, it did not finish anything.  Zacchaeus, in contrast, committed to a course of action, one which exceeded the minimum qualifications under the Law of Moses.

There is frequently a cross-fertilization between religion and culture.  Sometimes culture dilutes excellent religious principles.  Consider racism, for example.  One of the classics is H. Shelton Smith’s In His Image, But…, a book about racism in Southern U.S. religion.  That title summarizes the hypocrisy of racism in religion, does it not?  And Philip Yancey, in Soul Survivor:  How My Faith Survived the Church (2001), beginning on page, 11, writes about recovering from the racism he learned in church and culture in the Deep South of the 1950s and 1960s.  He writes:

As a child I did not question the system we lived under because no one around me questioned it.  (page 13)

Bigotry of any form has no legitimate place in Christianity.  It might be acceptable within one’s culture or subculture, but ought never find approval within the church.  When religion soaks up the worst of culture, religion has ceased to be salt in the world.

So, embracing love for our fellow human beings and devotion to Jesus, may we follow him.  We will stick out when we do this, and may we do so positively.  And may we complete what we have begun, regardless of the humiliation and other hardship we may face because of our actions for God.  Then we will be true to the crucified one.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 14, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE CONSECRATION OF SAMUEL SEABURY, FIRST EPISCOPAL BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT GREGORY PALAMAS, ORTHODOX BISHOP OF THESSALONIKI

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/11/14/week-of-proper-28-tuesday-year-2/

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Compassion is the Trump Card   1 comment

Above:  Playing Cards

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Colossians 1:21-23 (The Jerusalem Bible):

Not long ago, you were foreigners and enemies in the way that you used to think and the evil things that you did; but now he has reconciled you, by his death an in that mortal body.  Now you are able to appear before him holy, pure, and blameless–as long as you persevere and stand firm on the solid base of the faith, never letting yourselves drift away from the hope promised by the Good News, which you have heard, which has been preached to the whole human race, and of which I, Paul, have become the servant.

Psalm 54 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Save me, O God, by your Name;

in your might, defend my cause.

Hear my prayer, O God;

give ear to the words of my mouth.

For the arrogant have risen up against me,

and the ruthless have sought my life,

those who have no regard for life.

Behold, God is my helper;

it is the Lord who sustains my life.

5 Render evil to those who spy on me;

in your faithfulness, destroy them.

6 I will offer you a freewill sacrifice

and praise your Name, O LORD, for it is good.

7 For you have rescued me from every trouble,

and my eye has seen the ruin of my foes.

Luke 6:1-5 (The Jerusalem Bible):

Now one sabbath he happened to be taking a walk through the cornfields, and his disciples were picking ears of corn, rubbing them in their hands and eating them.  Some of the Pharisees said,

Why are you doing something that is forbidden on the sabbath day?

Jesus answered them,

So you have not read what David did when he and his followers were hungry–how we went into the house of God, took the loaves which only the priests are allowed to eat?

And he said to them,

The Son of Man is master of the sabbath.

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The Collect:

Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

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The law has two components–the spirit and the letter.  It is more important to honor the spirit of the law than its letter.  Besides, one can honor the letter of the law while trampling its spirit.  In the case of the Bible, there are so many contradictory passages that one cannot keep all the commandments while honoring the spirit of the law.  And the spirit of the law of this:  Love God.  Love yourself.  And love your neighbor as yourself.

There were many sabbath laws governing activities on that day, some of them related to food gathering.  But there was also a greater principle:  Breaking any of these laws was acceptable for the purpose of not making a bad situation worse.  The critics of our Lord in Luke 6:1-5 ignored this.

I think of a more recent example of legalism run amok.  Philip Yancey is the only Evangelical writer I read with any regularity.  He grew up in a fundamentalist home in the U.S. South in the 1950s and 196os.  Social justice was not a priority in the religion of his youth.  For example, his Atlanta church decided to open a private school because of the 1954 Brown decision.  And, in the 1960s, Yancey attended a Bible college with strict rules about men’s grooming habits.  Then Yancey noticed something:  ”It dawned on me that virtually all portrayals of Jesus, including the Good Shepherd of my Sunday school and the United Nations Jesus of my Bible college, showed him wearing a mustache and beard, both of which were strictly banned from the Bible college.”  (The Jesus I Never Knew, Zondervan, 1995, page 14)

Faith and morality are not matters of nit-picky rules of grooming on any day, food gathering on the sabbath, or anything else.  No, they are matters of attitudes.  And the proper basis for them is that God is love.  So we ought to love God.  So we ought to love ourselves.  So we ought to love each other as we ourselves.  Compassion is the trump card.  The fulfillment of basic human needs matters more than obedience to any legalistic rule.

And Jesus is the ultimate expression of the love of God.  In Jesus there are not friends and enemies, just friends (despite the vindictiveness of the psalm).  In Jesus there are not men and women, just siblings in the family of God.  In Jesus there are not Jews and Gentiles, just people.  In Jesus the labels we use separate ourselves from others melt away.  In Jesus we are able to stand before God.

This is a great hope, which is open to all by either Single Predestination or the witness of the Holy Spirit.  It is a glorious hope.  May we embrace it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 11, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT EULOGIUS OF SPAIN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF TOLEDO, CORDOBA; AND SAINT LEOCRITA, MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF ALEXANDER FLEMING, SCIENTIST

THE FEAST OF HARRIET MONSELL, FOUNDER OF THE COMMUNITY OF SAINT JOHN BAPTIST

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/03/11/week-of-proper-17-saturday-year-1/

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Priorities, Misplaced and Otherwise   2 comments

Above: Samuel Anoints David, Syria, 3rd Century C.E.

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1 Samuel 16:1-13 (New Revised Standard Version):

The Lord said to Samuel,

How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.

Samuel said,

How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.

And the Lord said,

Take a heifer with you, and say, “I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.” Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.

Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said,

Do you come peaceably?

He said,

Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.

And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought,

Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.

But the Lord said to Samuel,

Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.

Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said,

Neither has the Lord chosen this one.

Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said,

Neither has the Lord chosen this one.

Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse,

The Lord has not chosen any of these.

Samuel said to Jesse,

Are all your sons here?

And he said,

There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.

And Samuel said to Jesse,

Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.

He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said,

Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.

Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

Psalm 23 (New Revised Standard Version):

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures;

he leads me beside still waters;

he restores my soul.

He leads me in right paths

for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,

I fear no evil;

for you are with me;

your rod and my staff–

they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me

in the presence of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD

my whole life long.

Ephesians 5:8-14 (New Revised Standard Version):

For once you were in darkness, but now in the Lord you are light.  Live as children of light–for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.  Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.  Take no part in unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.  For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light.  Therefore it says,

Sleeper, awake!

Rise from the dead,

and Christ will shine on you.

John 9:1-41 (New Revised Standard Version):

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him,

Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?

Jesus answered,

Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.

When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him,

Go, wash in the pool of Siloam

(which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask,

Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?

Some were saying,

It is he.

Others were saying,

No, but it is someone like him.

He kept saying,

I am the man.

But they kept asking him,

Then how were your eyes opened?

He answered,

The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, “Go to Siloam and wash.’”Then I went and washed and received my sight.

They said to him,

Where is he?

He said,

I do not know.

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them,

He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.

Some of the Pharisees said,

This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.

But others said,

How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?

And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man,

What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.

He said,

He is a prophet.

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them,

Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?

His parents answered,

We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.

His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said,

He is of age; ask him.

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him,

Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.

He answered,

I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.

They said to him,

What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?

He answered them,

I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?

Then they reviled him, saying,

You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.

The man answered,

Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.

They answered him,

You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?

And they drove him out.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said,

Do you believe in the Son of Man?

He answered,

And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.

Jesus said to him,

You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.

He said,

Lord, I believe.

And he worshiped him. Jesus said,

I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.

Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him,

Surely we are not blind, are we?

Jesus said to them,

If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see,” your sin remains.

The Collect:

Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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I read little from evangelical writers, for almost nothing from that genre of nonfiction interests me.  (I have had some unfortunate encounters with self-described evangelicals over the years.  These are par for the course when one is an intellectual liberal with High Church (in my case, progressively Anglican-Lutheran-Catholic over time) leanings in the Bible Belt.  Yet Philip Yancey is one evangelical whose books I feel comfortable reading.  Two of these volumes are Soul Survivor and The Jesus I Never Knew.  In these books I have read that Yancey grew up in a Southern U.S. white culture in which Christian fundamentalism blended easily with overt racism.  His family’s church in Atlanta decided to open a Christian school very shortly after the 1954Brown v. Board of Education ruling, for example.  And, in the 1960s, when Yancey was slightly older, he went off to a Bible college where civil rights for African Americans were not considered important, but the length of a man’s hair (short) and of a woman’s skirt (long) were major priorities.  Yancey wrote that college administrators would not have admitted Jesus based on his haircut (too long), as artists have depicted it.

Cultural blinders are difficult to recognize, and every acculturated person has them.  Often these cultural blinders lead us to spiritual blindness, so that, even when we believe we are acting righteously, we deceive ourselves.  In 1962 the Presbyterian Church in United States (1861-1983), the old “Southern Presbyterian Church,” approved a revised Brief Statement of Belief.  The paragraph on total depravity follows:

Sin permeates and corrupts our entire being and burdens us more and more with fear, hostility, guilt, and misery.  Sin operates not only within individuals but also within society as a deceptive and oppressive power, so that even men of good will are unconsciously and unwillingly involved in the sins of society.  Man cannot destroy the tyranny of sin in himself or in his world; his only hope is to be delivered from it by God.

As one reads the four canonical gospels, one notices that many (not all) Pharisees come across as the bete noires of those compositions.  This is true of John 9:1-41.  At the time and place there was a common belief that physical difficulties resulted from sins.  These things could never just happen, could they?  That was the attitude.  So we have the case of Jesus, a man born blind, his parents, and some Pharisees.  Jesus gave the man sight, an act which vexed the Pharisees.  They spoke to the man’s parents, who referred them to their adult son.  The formerly blind man, not understanding the Pharisees’ agenda, asked naively if they wanted to follow Jesus, too.  (If this were a cartoon steam would rise from the Pharisees ears at that point.)  The Pharisees drove the man out, and he encountered Jesus again.  The Pharisees were spiritually blind, but the formerly blind man had clear spiritual vision.  And the Pharisees did not recognize their blindness.

1 Samuel reminds us that God looks on the heart, but that we humans are frequently superficial in our judgments.  Attractive people seem to rise to the top, do they not?  When physical beauty and handsomeness are paired with qualifications, talents, and skills, this is not a problem.  But I cannot help but think about the example of U.S. President Franklin Pierce (in office 1853-1857), who competes with Warren G. Harding and James Buchanan for the “worst president” slot in historians’ ratings.  The nicest statement I have read about Pierce is that he was the most handsome president.

David, 1 Samuel tells us, was not handsome, at least compared to his elder brothers.  No, he was ruddy.  But he had leadership skills, which were more important than his appearance.

By grace may we can approach more closely a state in which we see as God sees, and therefore follow Jesus.  May we lay aside our fixations on trivial religious matters, embrace goodness, and love one another.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 19, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SADHU SUNDAR SINGH, TEACHER AND EVANGELIST

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Adapted from this post:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/fourth-sunday-in-lent-year-a/

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