Archive for the ‘Polytheism’ Tag

The Family of Hosea and the Restoration of Israel   Leave a comment

Above:  Hosea and Gomer

Image in the Public Domain

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READING HOSEA, PART II

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Hosea 1:2-2:1 (Anglican, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox)

Hosea 1:2-2:3 (Jewish and Roman Catholic)

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When I began my preparation for writing this post, I read the text aloud.  While doing so, I got theological whiplash.  Late in the reading, I also detected evidence of subsequent, Judean editing of the text, as in 1:7 and 1:10-2:1/2:3.  (I wrote about reasons for subsequent, Judean editing in the original text of the Book of Hosea in the previous post.)

Adultery and prostitution, in the Bible, are sometimes simply adultery and prostitution.  On other occasions, they are not literal references, but metaphors for idolatry.  And, on other occasions, they are both literal and metaphorical.  Regarding Gomer, the third option is germane.

Idolatry was widespread in ancient Israel.  Polytheism was ubiquitous in the ancient world, so monotheism was an outlying theological position.  Canaanite religion was popular in ancient Israel, much to the consternation of God, God’s prophets, and pious priests.  Pious priestly religion and folk religion were quite different from each other.  The cult of Baal Peor, the Canaanite storm and fertility god, entailed shrine prostitution, to ensure continued fertility and productivity of the soil, officially.  Gomer (“to complete,” literally) was probably one of these prostitutes.

A competing scholarly opinion in commentaries holds that Gomer was a different type of prostitute.  Some books I consulted suggested that she may have resorted to prostitution out of economic necessity, that her alternatives may have been starvation and homelessness.  These scholars write accurately that many women in patriarchal societies have found themselves in this predicament, and that, in Gomer’s society, women lacked property rights.

Gomer being a shrine prostitute fits the metaphor in the Book of Hosea better.

Metaphorically, God’s covenant with the Jews was a marriage.  Worship of Baal Peor, therefore, constituted infidelity.  God was, metaphorically, her husband, and the Jewish people were God’s wife.

The marriage of Hosea and Gomer dramatized the divine indictment of Israel.  The prophet played the role of God, and Gomer took the role of Israel.  The children of Hosea ben Beeri and Gomer bath Didlaim bore names that revealed God’s terse messages.

  1. The first son was Jezreel, literally “God sows.”  Jezreel was a city (as in Joshua 15:56) and a valley (as in Judges 6:33).  Apart from the Book of Hosea, this place name occurred in Joshua 15, 17, and 19; Judges 6; 1 Samuel 25, 27, 29, and 30; 2 Samuel 2, 3, and 4; 1 Kings 4, 18, and 21; 2 Kings 8, 9, and 10; 1 Chronicles 4; and 2 Chronicles 22.  The city of Jezreel had a bloody past.  There, for example, Queen Jezebel had plotted the murder of Naboth (1 Kings 21).  And, when King Jehu founded the dynasty to which King Jeroboam II belonged, Jehu did so by assassinating the entire royal court at Jezreel.  What had come around was coming around, God warned.  In 747 B.C.E., King Zechariah, son of Jeroboam II, died after reigning for about six months.  His life and the House of Jehu ended violently when King Shallum staged a palace coup.  About a month later, King Shallum died in another palace coup (2 Kings 15:11-15).  Hosea, by the way, disagreed with the perspective of 2 Kings 9-10, the author of which held that God had authorized Jehu’s revolution.
  2. Lo-ruhamah was the daughter of Hosea and Gomer.  The daughter’s name meant “not accepted” and “not shown mercy.”  (Poor girl!)  God refused to accept or pardon the House of Israel.
  3. Lo-ammi was the second son.  His name meant “not My people.”  (Poor boy!)  The House of Israel had ceased to be God’s people.

Pronouncements of divine judgment continued after 1:9.  But first, in 1:10-2:1/2:1-3 (depending on versification), came an announcement of divine mercy.  Those God had just condemned as not being His people would become the Children of the Living God, shown mercy and lovingly accepted.  This passage may have been a subsequent insertion into the Book of Hosea.

The juxtaposition of material serves a valuable theological purpose.  It reminds us that divine judgment and mercy exist in balance.  Therefore, do not abandon all hope or presume on divine mercy; God both judges and forgives.  I recognize this balance without knowing where judgment gives way to mercy, and mercy to judgment.

The marriage of Hosea and Gomer also dramatized God’s continued yearning for Israel.  R. B. Y. Scott wrote:

Hosea speaks of judgment that cannot be averted by superficial professions of repentance; but he speaks more of love undefeated by evil.  The final words remain with mercy.

The Relevance of the Prophets, 2nd. ed. (1968), 80

History offers a complicating factor.  John Adams, while defending the accused British soldiers charged in the so-called Boston Massacre, said,

Facts are stubborn things.

Consider the following stubborn facts, O reader:

  1. The Assyrian Empire absorbed the (northern) Kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C.E.  A mass deportation followed.  This was not the first mass deportation.  A previous one had occured in 733 B.C.E., when that empire had claimed much of the territory of the (northern) Kingdom of Israel.
  2. Many refugees from the (northern) Kingdom of Israel fled south, to the Kingdom of Judah after these events.  These refugees merged into the tribes of Judah and Simeon.
  3. Many other Israelites remained in their homeland.  Many who did this intermarried with Assyrian colonists, producing the Samaritans.
  4. The Ten Lost Tribes assimilated.  Their genetic and cultural heritage spread throughout the Old World, from Afghanistan to South Africa, over time.
  5. The two kingdoms did not reunited, contrary to Hosea 1:11/2:2.

Nevertheless, I like what R. B. Y. Scott wrote:

The final word remains with mercy.

I hope so.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 13, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE ASCENSION OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST

THE FEAST OF HENRI DOMINIQUE LACORDAIRE, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, DOMINICAN, AND ADVOCATE FOR THE SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE

THE FEAST OF FRANCES PERKINS, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF LABOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT GEMMA OF GORIANO SICOLI, ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC ANCHORESS

THE FEAST OF SAINT GLYCERIA OF HERACLEA, MARTYR, CIRCA 177

THE FEAST OF UNITA BLACKWELL, AFRICAN-AMERICAN CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST

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The Reigns of Kings Jehoahaz and Jehoash/Joash of Israel   1 comment

Above:  King Jehoahaz of Israel

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1-2 SAMUEL, 1 KINGS, 2 KINGS 1-21, 1 CHRONICLES, AND 2 CHRONICLES 1-33

PART XCII

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2 Kings 13:1-25

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Be wise therefore:  ye kings the more,

Receive ye wisdom’s lore:

Ye judges strong:  of right and wrong,

advise you now before.

The Lord in fear:  your service bear,

with dread to him rejoice:

Let rages be:  resist not ye,

him serve with joyful voice.

The son kiss ye:  lest wroth he be,

love not the way of rest:

For when his ire:  is set on fire,

who trust in him be blest.

–From Psalm 2, Archbishop Matthew Parker’s Psalter (1567)

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King Jehoahaz of Israel (Reigned 817-800 B.C.E.)

King Jehoash/Joash of Israel (Reigned 800-784 B.C.E.)

King Hazael of Aram (Reigned 842-806 B.C.E.)

King Ben-Hadad II of Aram (Reigned 806-750 B.C.E.)

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According to The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth Edition (2001), King Hazael of Aram had grand imperialistic ambitions.  He proved successful at executing most of them.  His son, King Ben-Hadad II, however, presided over the beginning of the decline of Aram.  Ben-Hadad II’s son, King Rezin (reigned 750-732 B.C.E.), presided over the end of the realm.  Aram became part of the Neo-Assyrian Empire.

That historical summary should contextualize the verses for this post.

I choose to focus on other aspects of this passage.

First, one who reads accounts of the (northern) Kings of Israel closely may notice a pattern.  We see it recur twice in the verses for today.  We have seen it already in previous evaluations of monarchs.  We will continue to see it as we read about Kings of Israel.  Consider 2 Kings 13:11, O reader:

He did what was displeasing to the LORD; he did not depart from any of the sins which Jeroboam son of Nebathad caused Israel to commit; he persisted in them.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Jeroboam I, the first (northern) King of Israel, had led his subjects in committing syncretism and worshiping at local shrines.  He did not want Israelite subjects to make their sacrifices and offerings at the Temple in Jerusalem, in the Kingdom of Judah.  These were political and religious decisions.  Jeroboam I had also made non-Levite priests.  At the time, priests did not have to descend from Aaron, but such descent was preferable.  Also at the time, worship at local shrines were acceptable for Hebrews.  Retrospective condemnations of Jeroboam I and his successors reflected later Deuteronomic theological concerns, such as the Temple in Jerusalem and the Aaronic priesthood.

The second theme on which I focus is the balance of divine judgment and mercy in the Hebrew Bible.  That balance is prominent in the passage for this post.  God judges, punishes, and afflicts.  God also forgives and delivers, often after having judged, punished, and afflicted.  This is classical monotheism.  There is no possibility of the polytheistic dodge of having one deity afflict and anther god deliver from affliction.

As much as I seek to maintain the balance between having an inadequate God concept and portraying God as a bully and a monster, I also derive comfort from monotheistic complexity.  The gods of polytheistic systems are inadequate and frequently incompetent.  They are also powered-down.  And they are imaginary, of course.

I recognize shifting theology within the canon of scripture.  My intellectual honesty requires me to do so.  However, I also affirm that God is constant.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 3, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF RICHARD HOOKER, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF DANIEL PAYNE, AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL BISHOP

THE FEAST OF JOHN WORTHINGTON, BRITISH MORAVIAN MINISTER AND COMPOSER; JOHN ANTES, U.S. MORAVIAN INSTRUMENT MAKER, COMPOSER, AND MISSIONARY; BENJAMIN HENRY LATROBE, SR., BRITISH MORAVIAN BISHOP AND HYMN WRITER; CHRISTIAN IGNATIUS LATROBE AND COMPOSER; JOHANN CHRISTOPHER PYRLAEUS, MORAVIAN MISSIONARY AND MUSICIAN; AND AUGUSTUS GOTTLIEB SPANGENBERG, MORAVIAN BISHOP AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF PIERRE-FRANÇOIS NÉRON, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR IN VIETNAM, 1860

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Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath   1 comment

Above:  Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath, by Bartholomeus Breenbergh

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1-2 SAMUEL, 1 KINGS, 2 KINGS 1-21, 1 CHRONICLES, AND 2 CHRONICLES 1-33

PART LXXI

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1 Kings 17:1-24

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And now, you kings, be wise;

be warned, you rulers of the earth.

Submit to the LORD with fear,

and with trembling bow before him;

Lest he be angry and you perish;

for his wrath is quickly kindled.

Happy are they all

who take refuge in him!

–Psalm 2:10-13, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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King Ahab of Israel (Reigned 873-852 B.C.E.)

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For a while, kings have occupied the forefront in the narrative.  From this point to 2 Kings 13, they will continue to do so much of the time.  However, monarchs will occupy the background instead from this point to 2 Kings 13.  Stories of Elijah start in 1 Kings 17 and terminate in 2 Kings 2.  Stories of Elisha begin in 1 Kings 19 and end in 2 Kings 13.  Some of the most famous Biblical stories come from 1 Kings 17-2 Kings 13.  Some of them are also repetitive, given the overlapping traditions regarding Elijah and Elisha.  1 Kings 17, for example, bears a striking resemblance to 2 Kings 4, the story of Elisha, the Shunammite woman, and her son.

The sneak preview is over.  Now I focus on 1 Kings 17:1-24.

The deification of nature is one of the oldest patterns in religion.  The multiplicity of gods and goddesses with specific portfolios (rain, the Moon, the Sun, et cetera) for thousands of years and in a plethora of cultures proves this assertion.  Old habits can be difficult to break, and monotheism is a relative latecomer to the party.  Also, attempting to appease the gods and goddesses or some of them, at least, without the strictures is relatively easy.  Lest we monotheists rest on our laurels, Psalm 14, Psalm 53, the Law of Moses, the testimony of Hebrew prophets, and the New Testament warn us not to mistake God for an absentee landlord.  The Gospels, for example, contain many cautions to the self-identified insiders that they may actually be outsiders.  

Baal Peor, a storm god, was powerless against a severe, multi-year drought.  Of course he was; Baal Peor was a figment of many imaginations.

The drought of 1 Kings 17:1-18:46 contains a call back to Deuteronomy 11:13-17.  (I like connecting the dots, so to speak, in the Bible.)  Speaking of connecting the dots, Jesus referred to God sending Elijah to the widow of Zarephath in the synagogue in Nazareth, to the great displeasure of his audience, in Luke 4:26.  The Gospel of Luke, addressed to Gentiles, included that reference, absent from parallel accounts of the rejection at Nazareth in Mark 6:1-6a and Matthew 13:54-58.

Zarephath was in Phoenician–Gentile–territory.  King Ahab of Israel had no jurisdiction there, but Queen Jezebel may have been familiar with the territory, given her origin.  The widow was especially vulnerable, given her precarious economic status.  Her faith contrasted with the evil Queen Jezebel and with the faithlessness of many Hebrews.

Whenever I read a text, I seek first to understand objectively what it says.  Then I interpret it.  The text describes Elijah as a wonder-worker.  The refilling jar of flour and jug of oil may stretch credulity, from a post-Enlightenment perspective.  The resurrection of the widow’s son does, certainly.  Yet, in the cultural context of 1 Kings 17, those elements fit in and give Elijah his bona fides.  If we understand that much, we grasp objectively what the text says.

Happy are all they who take refuge in God.  They may even include Gentiles and other alleged outsiders.  And many alleged insiders may really be outsiders.  The grace of God is for all people, although not everyone accepts it.  These are also themes prominent in both the Old and New Testaments.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 26, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALFRED THE GREAT, KING OF THE WEST SAXONS

THE FEAST OF ARTHUR CAMPBELL AINGER, ENGLISH EDUCATOR, SCHOLAR, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF FRANCIS POTT, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER AND TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF HENRY STANLEY OAKELEY, COMPOSER

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Samuel as Judge   Leave a comment

Above: Samuel

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1-2 SAMUEL, 1 KINGS, 2 KINGS 1-21, 1 CHRONICLES, AND 2 CHRONICLES 1-33

PART VII

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1 Samuel 7:2-17

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Keep me as the apple of your eye;

hide me under the shadow of your wings,

From the wicked who assault me,

from my deadly enemies who surround me.

–Psalm 17:8-9, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Unlike as in Chapter 4, the link between fidelity to God and military victory is explicit in Chapter 7.

The problem with idolatry in Israel in the Old Testament was NOT that people were NOT worshiping YHWH.  They were.  No, the problem was that they were NOT worshiping only YHWH.  Polytheism was a difficult habit to unlearn.  Astarte (the Canaanite goddess of fertility and love) was allegedly YHWH’s consort.  Some Biblical authors likened idolatry to sexual infidelity, in fact.

Unfortunately, successive generations of Hebrews were serial idolaters.  This was a theme of which authors, their works later cut and pasted during the post-exilic period, wrote.

Idols are easy to find.  An idol can be anything–an object, an activity, an idea, a person, a pet, or an action.  The test is function.  Whatever or whoever functions as an idol, is an idol.  One can affirm the existence of just one deity and still commit idolatry.  Idols distract one from God.  They receive love one should give to God.  In Augustinian theology, sin is disordered love.  Many people, objects, etc., are worthy of love, but not as much as God.  To love x more than one should and God less than one should is to sin and to commit idolatry.

Loving God as one should does not prevent misfortune, of course.  It does not guarantee wealth and good health, either.  The rain falls on the just and the unjust.  Jesus and the plethora of Christian martyrs prove that suffering may result from proper piety.  However, worshiping only God is the best policy.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 14, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM CROFT, ANGLICAN ORGANIST AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF JOHN BAJUS, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF JOHN HENRY HOPKINS, JR., EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND HYMNODIST; AND HIS NEPHEW, JOHN HENRY HOPKINS, III, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND MUSICIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT MAXIMILIAN KOLBE, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1941; AND JONATHAN MYRICK DANIELS, EPISCOPAL SEMINARIAN AND MARTYR, 1965

THE FEAST OF SARAH FLOWER ADAMS, ENGLISH UNITARIAN HYMN WRITER; AND HER SISTER, ELIZA FLOWER, ENGLISH UNITARIAN COMPOSER

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God of the Jews and the Gentiles, Part II   1 comment

Above:  Elijah Resuscitating the Son of the Widow of Zarephath, by Louis Hersent

Image in the Public Domain

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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 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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Exodus 20:1-20 or 1 Kings 17:8-24

Psalm 57

Hebrews 1:1-2:12

Mark 8:1-13

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Scholars of the Hebrew Bible debate whether the commandment,

You shall have no other god besides me,

in its original context, refutes the existence of other gods or merely places them off limits to Hebrews.  Subsequent monotheistic developments point to refutation of other gods in today’s context, though.

Scholars of the Hebrew Bible agree, however, that Canaanite religion influenced Hebrew religion in more than one way.  The Bible tells us that polytheism influenced Hebrew folk religion, much to the consternation of the orthodox.  We also detect linguistic influences of Canaanite religion in certain names of God, as in Psalm 57.  Furthermore, some of the Psalms are rewritten Canaanite texts.

Three of the assigned readings pertain to Gentiles.

  1. The widow of Zarephath and her son were Gentiles.
  2. The 4000 or so people Jesus fed in Mark 8:1-13 were Gentiles.
  3. The audience for the so-called Epistle to the Hebrews (not an epistle) consisted of Gentiles.

I, as a Gentile, find this comforting.

How likely are we to write off populations as being beyond hope, help, salvation, et cetera?  Take courage; God has not, does not, and will never write you, O reader, off.  But will you write yourself off?  I pray that you will not.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 25, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES BAR-ZEBEDEE, APOSTLE AND MARTYR

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2019/07/25/devotion-for-proper-18-year-b-humes/

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Faithfulness and Faithlessness   1 comment

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

Above:  The Exorcism

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:

Deuteronomy 31:30-32:27 or Isaiah 5:8-17

Psalm 142

Matthew 17:9-20 or Mark 9:9-29 or Luke 9:18-27 (28-36) 37-45

Philippians 2:14-30

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A typically Jewish way of speaking and writing about God is to recall what God has done.  After all, God is like what God has done.  Furthermore, we are like what we have done, although we are far more than the worst deeds we have committed.  The relevant issue is the pattern of what we have done and of what we are doing.  Repentance is possible, after all, and the past is not necessarily accurate in predicting the future.

Consider with me, O reader, the assigned readings for this Sunday.  The two options for the First Reading proclaim divine judgment upon the faithless, for whom God has done much.  The faithless should know better.  Perhaps they do know better, but they are not acting as if they do.  The lection from Isaiah 5 follows the famous passage likening rebellious Israel to a well-tended vineyard that yields wild grapes.  God will judge that vineyard, we read.  Likewise, we read of faithless Israel in Deuteronomy.  If Richard Elliott Friedman is correct, lurking in the background of the text is a condemnation of polytheism.  God is, after all, insistent upon monotheism in the Hebrew Bible.  If Dr. Friedman is correct, faithlessness to YHWH entails turning to supposedly subordinate deities, members of the divine council–a concept Hebrew prophets opposed vigorously.

In contrast to those lections we read Psalm 142, the lament of a dying man whom other mortals have abandoned.  This man, contemplating the imminent unknown, turns to God alone.  One may assume safely that God is faithful to those who demonstrate fidelity.

The passage from Philippians belongs to a section of that epistle in which one finds advice regarding how to live faithfully in community.  People are to think about each other and model their lives after Jesus, whose humility and selflessness is certainly challenging to emulate.  In this context the customary verses about people with polysyllabic names take on more importance than they might otherwise; these verses model the attitudes and behaviors the preceding verses extol.  People are like what they do.

The three options for the Gospel reading are parallel versions of the same story, set immediately after the Transfiguration of Jesus.  One might fixate on the typically Hellenistic diagnosis of epilepsy as demonic possession, but to do so would be to miss the point.  In the narrative the Apostles have just learned of Christ’s true identity in all of its glory, yet they have not grasped this revelation, and were therefore ineffective.  The lesson for we who read these stories thousands of years later is to ponder whether we grasp who Jesus is and whether we are as effective as we can be in our discipleship.

Our challenge in this regard is to render proper thanksgiving to God in our lives.  We can do this only be grace, of course, but our desire to pursue this course of action is also essential.  Obstacles include laziness, fear, selfishness, cultural conditioning, the pressure to conform, and simple obliviousness.  If we are to grow into our full spiritual stature, however, we must seek to follow and honor God and to trust in divine grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 16, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTIETH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF GUSTAF AULEN, SWEDISH LUTHERAN THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT FILIP SIPHONG ONPHITHAKT, ROMAN CATHOLIC CATECHIST AND MARTYR IN THAILAND

THE FEAST OF MAUDE DOMINICA PETRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MODERNIST THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF RALPH ADAMS CRAM AND RICHARD UPJOHN, ARCHITECTS; AND JOHN LAFARGE, SR., PAINTER AND STAINED GLASS MAKER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/12/16/devotion-for-proper-4-year-d/

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Idolatry, Part I   3 comments

Above:  Baal

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Judges 2:11-19 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

And the Israelites did what was offensive to the LORD.  They worshiped the Baalim and forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt.  They followed other gods, from among the gods of the peoples around them, and bowed down to them; they provoked the LORD.  They forsook the LORD and worshiped Baal and the Ashtaroth.  Then the LORD was incensed at Israel, and He handed them over to foes who plundered them  He surrendered them to their enemies on all sides, and they could no longer hold their own against their enemies.  In all their campaigns, the hand of the LORD was against them to their undoing, as the LORD had declared and as the LORD had sworn to them; and they were in great distress.  Then the LORD raised up chieftains who delivered them from those who plundered them.  But they did not heed their chieftains either; they went astray after other gods and bowed down to them.  They were quick to turn aside from the way their fathers had followed in obedience to the commandments of the LORD; they did not do right.  When the LORD raised up chieftains for them, the LORD would be with the chieftain and would save them from their enemies during the chieftain’s lifetime; for the LORD would be moved to pity by their moanings because of those who oppressed and crushed them.  But when the chieftain died, they would again act basely, even more than the preceding generation–following other gods, worshiping them, and bowing down to them; they omitted none of their practices and stubborn ways.

Psalm 51:1-10 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness;

in your great compassion blot out my offenses.

2 Wash me through and through from my wickedness

and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,

and my sin is ever before me.

4 Against you only have I sinned

and done what is evil in your sight.

5 And so you are justified when you speak

and upright in your judgment.

Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth,

a sinner from my mother’s womb.

7 For behold, you look for truth deep within me,

and will make me understand wisdom secretly.

Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure;

wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.

Make me hear of joy and gladness,

that the body you have broken may rejoice.

10 Hide your face from my sins

and blot out all my iniquities.

Matthew 19:16-22 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Then it happened that a man came up  to him and said,

Master, what good thing must I do to secure eternal life?

Jesus answered him,

I wonder why you ask me what is good?  Only One is good.  But if you want to enter that life you must keep the commandments.

He asked,

Which ones?

Jesus replied,

Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honor thy father and thy mother; and Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

The young man replied,

I have carefully kept all these.  What is still missing in my life?

Then Jesus told him,

If you want to be perfect, go now and sell your possessions and give the money to the poor–you will have riches in Heaven.  The come and follow me!

When the young man heard that he turned away crestfallen, for he was very wealthy.

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Old habits are hard to break, even when doing so is for the best.  One way of breaking an old and bad habit, such as committing idolatry or relying on one’s own wealth, not God, is developing a new, good habit, such as relying on God alone.  This strategy can prove challenging, however.  None of these facts are excuses, just statements of reality.

Fortunately, we do not have to rely on our own power to make these essential changes.  Grace is available to assist us.  But we must cooperate with God.

Let us consider bad habit #1:  idolatry.  Monotheism is a recent development in human religion, in the grand scheme of history.  In the time in which the events of the Book of Judges are set, most people in that region were polytheists.  Deities were localized, specialized, and tied to nature.  And some members of one pantheon resembled those of other pantheons.  Hence Astarte, Ishtar, and Aphrodite were essentially the same character, a fertility goddess.   So, for the Israelites settled in Canaan, the local religious culture was polytheistic.  And many, if not most, of them, blended into it.

Local religious cultures can prove quite powerful.   One might not realize this until one lives as a member of a religious minority in a place.  The person who is different is set apart.  If one is especially susceptible to peer pressure, this can be difficult to maintain.  I am convinced that the pressure to conform within a culture or subculture is generally negative, for it discourages healthy differences.  (I write as one who has dealt with these issues as a liberal United Methodist then more leftist Episcopalian in some very fundamentalist, Southern Baptist-dominated southern Georgia towns and communities.  Fortunately, I have nurtured the habit of resisting peer pressure.)

But the Israelites were the chosen people of God.  Therefore they had great responsibilities to function as a light to the Gentiles.  A bright light stands out in the darkness.  It cannot do its job if it ignores its purpose.

Wealth can be as much of an idol as Baal or Astarte.  All of them distract one from God.  It is upon God alone that one ought to lean and depend spiritually.  Anything else–whether a habit, a tangible object, a collection of said items, money (which is imaginary and psychological, although reified), or a fictitious deity–is a poor substitute.  The wealthy man in the story from Matthew tried to do well, and he succeeded outwardly.  He had mastered what the Lutheran confessions of faith call civil righteousness.  But, as the Lutheran confessions tell us, civic righteousness cannot save us from sin, from ourselves.  Only God can do that.  And the rich young man had a profound psychological attachment to his wealth.

Whatever we are attached to in lieu of God must cease to distract us from God.  For many people of various economic statuses this is not money.  So it will be something else.  It is sports for some people and the Bible itself for others. Anything (other than God) can be an idol if one treats it as that.  So the challenge for you and for me is to identify our idol or idols then to abandon our idolatry forever.  May we do so sooner rather than later.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 13, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS AQUILA, PRISCILLA, AND APOLLOS, COWORKERS OF THE APOSTLE PAUL

THE FEAST OF ABSALOM JONES, EPISCOPAL PRIEST

THE FEAST OF ANDREAS KATSULAS, ACTOR

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on February 13, 2011

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/02/13/week-of-proper-15-monday-year-1/

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True Life   1 comment

Above:  No Right Turn Sign (U.S.A.)

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Deuteronomy 4:32-40 (Richard Elliott Friedman, 2001):

Because ask of the earliest days that were before you, from the day that God created a human on the earth, and from one end of the skies to the other end of the skies:  has there been anything like this great thing?  or has anything like it been heard of?  Has a people heard God’s voice speaking from inside a fire the way you heard–and lived?  Or has God put it to the test, to come to take for Himself a people from among people with tests, with signs, and with wonders and with war and with a strong hand and with and outstretched arm and with great fears like everything that YHWH, your God, has done for you in Egypt before your eyes?  You have been shown in order to know that YHWH:  He is God.  There is no other outside of Him.  From the skies He had you hear His voice in order to discipline you, and on the earth He showed you His great fire, and you heard His words from inside the fire.  And because He loved your fathers He chose their seed after them, so He brought you out in front of Him from Egypt by His great power, to dispossess bigger and more powerful nations than you in front of you, to bring you, to give you their land as a legacy as it is today.  And you shall know today and store it in in your heart from YHWH:  He is God in the skies above and on earth below.  And you shall observe His laws and His commandments that I command you today so it will be good for you and for your children after you, and so that you’ll extend days on the land that YHWH, your God, is giving you forever.

Psalm 105:1-6 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Give thanks to the LORD and call upon his Name;

make known his deeds among the peoples.

Sing to him, sing praises to him,

and speak of all his marvelous works.

3 Glory in his holy Name;

let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.

Search for the LORD and his strength;

continually seek his face.

Remember the marvels he has done,

his wonders and the judgments of his mouth,

6 O offspring of Abraham his servant,

O children of Jacob his chosen.

Matthew 16:24-28 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Then Jesus said to his disciples,

If anyone wants to follow in my footsteps he must give up all right to himself, take up his cross and follow me.  For the man who wants to save his life will lose it; but the man who loses his life for my sake will find it.  For what good is it for a man to gain the whole world at the price of his real life?  What could a man offer to buy back that life once he has lost it?

For the Son of Man will come in the glory of his Father and in the company of his angels and then he will repay every man for what he has done.  Believe me, there are some standing here today who will know nothing of death till they have seen the Son of Man coming as king.

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The Collect:

Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; 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 proper direction in life comes from listening closely to God.  Living successfully is doing so in God, as God directs us.  For what has God called us, specifically?  Doing that is the road to success.  So what is popular, what others expect of us, what our culturally-defined roles might be, and what we want for ourselves might lead away from our proper destination.

Consider the words of Jesus.  A person who seeks to save his or her life will lose it, and one who loses it will gain it.  This runs contrary to conventional wisdom, does it not?  But consider the source.  Jesus was frequently on the outs with authority figures, and the Roman Empire executed him as an insurrectionist.  The Imperium subjected him to crucifixion, a method reserved for those it considered the worst of the worst.  But who would argue with a straight face that Jesus was a failure?  Are we not still speaking of him after nearly 2,000 years?

(An Aside:  What about the end of the excerpt from Matthew?  By the time of the writing of the Gospel of Matthew, probably circa 85 C.E., Christianity was a vital young religion.  Certainly many people had “seen the Son of Man coming in his kingdom,” as William Barclay translates that verse.  That is, the Kingdom of God, which Jesus inaugurated, was spreading out across the world.  In the canonical gospels Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God in the present tense.  Did it go away after the Ascension?  I think not.)

The passage from Deuteronomy is explicitly monotheistic.  If Professor Richard Elliott Friedman is correct in his insistence that this passage comes from the 600s B.C.E. at the latest, a strong monotheistic strain existed in Judaism prior to the return from Babylonian Exile (500s B.C.E.).  This is old news.  Here is some more old news:  Many Jews did not practice monotheism until after the return from the Babylonian Exile.  Archaeology and the witness of the Hebrew prophets affirm this statement.  Some ancient places of worship in Israel have survived, for archaeologists have excavated many of them.  At some of these sites the archaeologists found two altars–one for YHWH and the other for Astarte, his presumed wife.

Yet the reading from Deuteronomy stands as a defense of worshiping YHWH alone–without Astarte.  Atheism was extremely rare in that part of the world in the 600s-400s BCE, and monotheism was scarce, too.  Polytheism prevailed, so resisting it was difficult for many.  Yet that is what the Deuteronomist (or at least one Deuteronomist), inserting words into the mouth of Moses, says they must do.  This principle holds true today.  You might not be a polytheist, but what are your idols, those things distracting you from God?  Their identities might surprise you.

The rat race is bad for the rats, and keeping up with the Joneses is no good, either.  Seeking status is pursuing something shallow.  This day’s readings say that we must act contrary to all these standards.  Each of us needs to focus on the one God, take up our cross, and follow Jesus–perhaps at the cost of physical life itself.  Maybe the price will slightly less steep, but it will cost us something we value.  But what we receive in return will be of infinitely greater value.

Most of Christ’s Apostles died violently as martyrs.  St. Paul suffered greatly for the Christian faith after his conversion.  During the succeeding centuries countless numbers of Christians have suffered for their faith.  And martyrdom continues into the present day.  “Take up your cross and follow me,” Jesus says.  This is the path to life in God, whatever form the cross takes.  For Dietrich Bonhoeffer it was a noose.  For others it is a destroyed reputation or a prison sentence or both.  Members of an angry mob killed St. Josaphat Kuntsevych with bullets and an ax.  All these are terrible and unjust, but the Kingdom of God is still here, after nearly two thousand years.  It is spread out across the earth, and many of us do not see it.  But those who take up their crosses point to it, and no temporal power can overcome it.

May we follow and love the God who cares for us and guides us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 27, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN CHRYSOSTOM, BISHOP OF CONSTANTINOPLE

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on January 27, 2011 

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/27/week-of-proper-13-friday-year-1/

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Trusting in God, Part I   1 comment

Genesis 12:1-9 (An American Translation):

The LORD said to Abram,

Leave your land, your relatives, and your father’s home, for the land that I will show you; and I will make a great nation of you; I will bless you, and make your name so great that it will be used for blessings.  I will bless those who bless you, and anyone who curses you I will curse; through you shall all the families of the earth invoke blessings on one another.

So Abram departed, as the LORD had told him, and Lot went with him.  Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran.  Abram took his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot, with all the property that they had accumulated, and the persons they had acquired in Haran, and they started out for the land of Canaan; and to the land of Canaan they came.

Abram traveled through the land as far as the sanctuary of Shechem at the terebinth of Moreh, the Canaanites being then in the land.  Then the LORD appeared to Abram, and said,

To your descendants I am going to give this land.

So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him.  From there he moved on to the hills east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east.  There he built an altar to the LORD, and called upon the name of the LORD.  Then Abram set out, continuing on his way to the Negeb.

Psalm 33:12-22 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

12 Happy is the nation whose God is the LORD!

happy the people he has chosen to be his own!

13 The LORD looks down from heaven,

and beholds all the people in the world.

14 From where he sits enthroned he turns his gaze

on all who dwell on the earth.

15 He fashions all the hearts of them

and understands all their works.

16 There is no king that can be saved by a mighty army;

a strong man is not delivered by his great strength.

17 The horse is a vain hope for deliverance;

for all its strength it cannot save.

18 Behold, the eye of the LORD is upon those who fear him,

on those who wait upon his love,

19 To pluck their lives from death,

and to feed them in time of famine.

20 Our soul waits for the LORD;

he is our help and our shield.

21 Indeed, our heart rejoices in him,

for in his holy name we put our trust.

22 Let your loving-kindness, O LORD, be upon us,

as we have put our trust in you.

Matthew 7:1-5 (An American Translation):

[Jesus continued,]

Pass no more judgments upon other people, so that you may not have judgment passed upon you.  For you will be judged by the standard you judge by, and men will pay you back with the same measure you have used with them.  Why do you keep looking at the speck in your brother’s eye, and pay no attention to the beam that is in your own?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Just let me get that speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a beam in your own?  You hypocrite!  First get the beam out of your own eye, and then you can see to get the speck out of your brother’s eye.

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The Collect:

O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving-kindness; 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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I hear and read people use the words “faith” and “believe” in reference to God.  But what do they mean?  I do not know, unless they stop to explain, but I know what I mean.  Just to be clear, faith is active trust in God, that God will keep divine promises.  Actions demonstrate faith.  Faith and belief are identical in my mind.  To believe in God is to trust in God, not merely to accept the existence of God intellectually.

Abram trusted and believed in God as he understood God.  One ought not to assume that Abram belonged to the cult of Yahweh, which originated after his lifetime.  No, Abram was almost certainly a polytheist, a description which applied to most people on the planet at the time.  And the voice that directed him to leave Ur (located somewhere in Mesopotamia; scholars disagree where in the land between the rivers) for Haran then to Canaan belonged to the deity Abram knew as El Shaddai (God of the Mountains).  This was a Mesopotamian and Canaanite god.  El was, in fact, the chief of the Canaanite pantheon the Elohim, or “mighty ones.”  And study of the Bible tells me that Elohim was another early name used for God.  Monotheism is a recent development in the history of religion, and Judaism has never included the doctrine of the Trinity.

(I am a history buff, and this fact does inform my approach to the Bible.)

Anyhow, subsequent tradition associated Yahweh with El Shaddai and Elohim.  And the author of this part of Genesis used the sacred name Yahweh for the deity who spoke to Abram.  Most importantly, Abram listened and obeyed.  He left everything he knew and ventured into the unknown.  He could have stayed home and been comfortable, but he obeyed the voice.

Jesus, in this day’s portion of the Sermon on the Mount, says not to judge others.  Our information is partial, but God knows everything.  So judgment belongs to God.  Each of us has judged others, and perhaps only those who will die immediately will not judge others again.  So we have committed this sin, and will do so again.  We might even be doing it now.  And I am at least as bad about this as are many other people.

So I address myself as much as anyone else when I write that judging others demonstrates a lack of trust in God, that God will keep divine promises.  Do I believe–trust–that someone who has done something terrible to me has thwarted God’s plan for my life, for example?  Do I doubt that God is in control?  Apparently I do, and I am not alone.  We all need more trust in God.  And, by grace, it is available.

Thanks be to God!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 6, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT NICHOLAS, BISHOP OF MYRA

THE FEAST OF PHILIP BERRIGAN, SOCIAL ACTIVIST

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/06/week-of-proper-7-monday-year-1/

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