Archive for the ‘Reinhold Niebuhr’ Tag

Thoughts and Questions About the Temptations of Jesus   2 comments

Above:  The Temptations of Jesus

Image in the Public Domain

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For St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia

Lent 2019

 

Texts:  Mark 1:12-13; Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13

Reading the Bible for spiritual formation is an ancient Benedictine practice.  My primary purpose in writing this short piece is to ask, how do the accounts (mainly the Lukan and Matthean ones) of the temptations of Jesus challenge us, both as individuals and a parish, to follow Jesus better than we do.

The Temptation to Turn Stones into Bread

Bread was especially precious in ancient Palestine, with relatively little arable land.

We are blessed to be able to purchase our bread inexpensively at stores.  Bread is abundant in our context, so we probably take it for granted more often than not.  We can, however, think of some tangible needs related to scarcity.

One challenge is not to permit tangible needs to overtake intangible necessities.  We all depend entirely on God and dwell within a web of mutual responsibility and dependence.  According to the late Henri Nouwen, this temptation is the temptation to be relevant.  Relevance is not necessarily bad; in fact, it is frequently positive.  However, maintaining the proper balance of tangible and intangible needs is essential.  Furthermore, Christ’s refusal to cave into the temptation to use his power to make bread—to cease to depend on God—ought to remind us never to imagine that we do not depend entirely on God.

Questions

  1. Do we permit tangible needs to distract us from intangible necessities?  If so, how?
  2. Do we manifest the vain idea that we do not depend entirely on God?  If so, how?

The Temptation to Jump from the Pinnacle of the Temple

Many scholars of the New Testament have proposed what the pinnacle of the Temple was.

That matter aside, this temptation is, according to Nouwen, the temptation to be spectacular.  It is also the temptation to attempt to manipulate God by trying to force God to intervene in a miraculous way.  That effort, like turning stones into bread, would indicate a lack of faith.

We humans frequently like the spectacular, do we not?  We tell ourselves and others that, if only God would do something spectacular, we will believe.  We are like those who, in the Gospels, only wanted Jesus to do something for them, and not to learn from him.

Questions

  1. Does our attraction to the spectacular distract us from the still, small voice of God?  If so, how?
  2. Does our attraction to the spectacular reveal our lack of faith?  If so, how?
  3. Does our attraction to the spectacular unmask our selfishness?  If so, how?

The Temptation to Worship Satan in Exchange for Earthly Authority

Many Palestinian Jews at the time of Christ thought of Satan as the power behind the Roman Empire and of the Roman pantheon as a collection of demons.  Jesus affirmed God the Father as the only source of his identity.

This temptation is about idolatry, power, and morally untenable compromises.

Many well-intentioned people—ministers, politicians, and appointed office holders, for example—have, in the name of doing good, become corrupt and sacrificed their suitability to do good.  They have sacrificed their moral integrity on the altar of amoral realism.

Some compromises are necessary, of course.  As Reinhold Niebuhr reminded us, we cannot help but commit some evil while trying to do good, for human depravity has corrupted social systems and institutions.

Questions

  1. Have we established our identity apart from God?  If so, how?
  2. How have we, with good intentions, committed or condoned evil?
  3. Have we made morally untenable compromises?  If so, how?

The Good News

The good news is both collective and individual.

I discover the principle, then:  that when I want to do right, only wrong is within my reach.  In my inmost self I delight in the law of God, but I perceive in my outward actions a different law, fighting against the law that my mind approves, and making me a prisoner under the law of sin which controls my conduct.  Wretched creature that I am, who is there to rescue me from this state of death?  Who but God?  Thanks be to him through Jesus Christ our Lord!  To sum up then:  left to myself I serve God’s law with my mind, but with my unspiritual nature I serve the law of sin.

–Romans 7:21-25, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Jesus has modeled the way to resist temptation—to trust God and to understand scripture.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 10, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF MARIE-JOSEPH LAGRANGE, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF SAINT AGRIPINNUS OF AUTUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; SAINT GERMANUS OF PARIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; AND SAINT DROCTOVEUS OF AUTUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN OGLIVIE, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT MACARIUS OF JERUSALEM, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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https://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2019/03/10/thoughts-and-questions-about-the-temptations-of-jesus/

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2019/03/10/thoughts-and-questions-about-the-temptations-of-jesus/

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A Faithful Response, Part XV   Leave a comment

Above:  The Garden of Eden, by Thomas Cole

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Third Sunday of the Season of God the Father, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Almighty God, who hast given us authority to rule the earth according to thy will:

enable us to manage things with reason and love,

that the whole creation may give thee praise;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 127

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Genesis 3:1-15

1 Timothy 2:1-7

Matthew 8:5-13

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And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you are free to eat; but as for the tree of knowledge of good and bad, you must not eat of it; for as soon as you eat of it, you shall die.

–Genesis 2:16-17, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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The woman replied to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the other trees of the garden.  It is only about fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said:  “You shall not eat of it or touch it, lest you die.”

–Genesis 3:2-3, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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Misquoting God is a bad idea.  Notice, O reader, that

or touch it

is absent from Genesis 2:16-17.

“Passing the buck” is another bad idea.  Notice, O reader, the absence of any force feeding of Adam in Genesis 3.

The mythology in Genesis 2 and 3 is what it is.  Interpretations of it vary, however.  Judaism and Eastern Orthodoxy, for example, have no concept of Original Sin.  Western Christianity does, however.  Whether one accepts or rejects Original Sin may inform how one reads 1 Timothy 2:1-7, especially verse 6.

…to win freedom for all mankind….

The Revised English Bible (1989)

Is that freedom from Original Sin?

That freedom, anyway, extends to Gentiles.  This is especially good news to those of us who are Gentiles.

Questions of Original Sin (my concept of which owes more to Reinhold Niebuhr than to St. Augustine of Hippo) aside, God loves everybody.  It follows, then, that everybody should properly love God–not in a transactional relationship, but in a manner of faithful response.  A transactional relationship with God can never really work anyway; we can never repay God.  Yet we can, by grace, respond faithfully.  We can begin by not misquoting God and by not “passing the buck.”

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 13, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE TWELFTH DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL JOHNSON, “THE GREAT MORALIST”

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN FURCHTEGOTT GELLERT, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, EDUCATOR, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ELLA J. BAKER, WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF PAUL SPERATUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN BISHOP, LITURGIST, AND HYMN WRITER

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The Importance of Being Morally Fit for Triumph   1 comment

Above:  The Confession of Captain Benjamin Sisko in In the Pale Moonlight (1998)

A Screen Capture I Took Via PowerDVD

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Or, What Reinhold Niebuhr Has to Do With Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine

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So… I lied. I cheated. I bribed men to cover the crimes of other men. I am an accessory to murder. But the most damning thing of all… I think I can live with it. And if I had to do it all over again, I would. Garak was right about one thing, a guilty conscience is a small price to pay for the safety of the Alpha Quadrant. So I will learn to live with it. Because I can live with it. I can live with it… Computer, erase that entire personal log.

–Captain Benjamin Sisko, In the Pale Moonlight (1998)

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Recently I completed my rewatch of Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine (1993-1999), the best of the Star Trek series.  I had recorded most of the episodes from 1993 to 1999, but I had not sat down and watched the series from beginning to end, skipping certain really bad episodes.  DS9 was the last great Star Trek series–certainly heads and shoulders over Voyager (1995-2001) and Enterprise (2001-2005), two series notable for, among other faults, playing it safe and ignoring continuity much of the time.  DS9 did not play it safe, especially after its troubled first season.  The Dominion War arc certainly took the series into dark and morally ambiguous territory, only part of which I consider in this post.

The Neo-Orthodox theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971), a Cold War liberal, had a strong moral compass and an awareness of human sinfulness.  He opened The Irony of American History (1952) with a statement of the possibility that the means by which the free world, led by the United States, might have to win the Cold War might leave the victors morally unfit to govern.  The use of atomic weapons would not only endanger civilization, kill many people,  and cause much physical destruction, he wrote, but lead to moral complications for the victors:

The victors would also face the “imperial” problem of using power in global terms but from one particular center of authority, so preponderant and unchallenged that its world rule would almost certainly violate basic standards of justice.

–Page 2

As Commander William Adama stated in Resurrection Ship, Part II (2006), an episode of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica (2003-2008),

It’s not enough to survive; one must be worthy of surviving.

In the story lines of Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine the Dominion War raged for years and endangered the great powers of the Alpha and  Beta Quadrants–the Klingon Empire, the Romulan Star Empire, and the United Federation of Planets.  (Aside:  The scripts tended not to mention the Beta Quadrant, but, according to official Star Trek lore, the Klingon Empire, the Romulan Star Empire, and much of the Federation were in the Beta Quadrant.)  Forces of the Dominion, an empire presided over by the shape-shifting Founders, fought to conquer the Alpha and Beta Quadrants.  The body counts were staggering and the Dominion seemed to be on the verge of victory.  Times were desperate.

In In the Pale Moonlight (1998) Captain Benjamin Sisko, with the approval of the Federation Council, conspired to trick the Romulan Star Empire into abandoning its non-aggression treaty with the Dominion.  The plan was to convince one Romulan senator, Vreenak, that the Dominion was plotting to invade the Romulan Star Empire.  There was no evidence of this, so Sisko, with Federation approval, arranged for the forging of evidence.  Certainly the Dominion would invade the Romulan Star Empire in time, given the nature of the Dominion and the Founders’ sense of superiority to solids.  Furthermore, the Federation needed for the Romulans to enter the war on its side.  Vreenak recognized the forgery as such, but Elim Garak, who hired the forger then killed him or had him killed, planted a bomb on Vreenak’s shuttle craft.  The leadership of the Romulan Star Empire blamed the Dominion for Vreenak’s death and declared war.  The Federation had a new ally.  Sisko admitted his crimes in private and confessed that he could live with his guilty conscience.

As I have pondered this episode and others, all the way through the end of the series, I have realized that, as the writers presented the story of the Dominion War, Sisko was correct; his crimes were necessary.  The Romulans were crucial to the defeat of the Dominion, after all.

In The Maquis, Part II (1994) Sisko analyzed the difficult situation of a group rebels-terrorists succinctly:

On Earth, there is no poverty, no crime, no war. You look out the window of Starfleet Headquarters and you see paradise. Well, it’s easy to be a saint in paradise, but the Maquis do not live in paradise. Out there in the Demilitarized Zone, all the problems haven’t been solved yet. Out there, there are no saints — just people. Angry, scared, determined people who are going to do whatever it takes to survive, whether it meets with Federation approval or not!

However, later, in For the Uniform (1997), Sisko poisoned the atmosphere of  Maquis colony world and prepared to do the same to other Maquis colonies.  A vendetta against one Maquis leader, Michael Eddington, inspired this plan.

Above:  Dr. Julian Bashir Confronts Admiral William Ross in Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges (1999)

A Screen Capture via PowerDVD

Sisko, the greatest of all the Star Trek captains, did not live in paradise, neither was he a saint.  Neither was Admiral William Ross, as in Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges (1999).  In a story reminiscent of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold,  a great Cold War thriller, Admiral Ross plotted with Section 31, the Federation’s black operations agency that officially does not exist, to frame an innocent and  patriotic Romulan senator and thereby improve the political standing of a double agent.  After all, as Ross said in Latin, quoting Cicero,

In time of war the law falls silent.

Later in the series Dr. Julian Bashir, who takes his Hippocratic Oath seriously, learns that Section 31 was responsible for infecting the Founders of the Dominion with a fatal virus–that the Federation was responsible for attempted genocide.  The Federation, as Gene Roddenberry conceived of it in the 1960s, was a noble and idealistic organization.  DS9 did more to expose the dark underbelly of the Federation than did any other filmed incarnation of Star Trek.  DS9 gave us Section 31, for example.  The writers seemed to present Section 31 in such a way as to make plain its moral dubiousness as well as its practical necessity.

Roddenberry’s Federation is an analog for the United States of America, just as the Klingon Empire is an analog for the Soviet Union.  Thus, in Star Trek VI:  The Undiscovered Country (1991) the two powers begin to end their cold war.  Since the Federation stands in for the U.S.A., the moral questions the Federation faces during the Dominion War might remind one of morally questionable policies of the U.S. Government over time, especially in the context of the Cold War and events since September 11, 2001.   Overthrowing democratically elected governments that are merely inconvenient to U.S. business interests and installing military dictatorships that victimize their own citizenry for decades contradicts U.S. ideals, does it not?  Supporting brutal regimes–whether fascist or military dictatorships–because they are not communist should trouble one’s conscience, should it not?  Also, committing and condoning torture makes one morally unfit.  Whom would Jesus torture?  As Niebuhr reminds us down the corridors of time, we must be morally fit, not just victorious.

All of this brings me to a point:  How can we defend ideals that are in peril by violating those ideals?  We cannot, of course.  Yes, we might have to get our hands dirty, so to speak, but, if we get them too dirty, we compromise ourselves morally and render ourselves morally unfit to serve the interests of justice.   How we treat others is about our character, not theirs.  We may not live in paradise, but how close to the standard of sainthood can we live?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 17, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF EDITH BOYLE MACALISTER, ENGLISH NOVELIST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT EMILY DE VIALAR, FOUNDER OF THE SISTERS OF SAINT JOSEPH OF THE APPARITION

THE FEAST OF JANE CROSS BELL SIMPSON, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS TERESA AND MAFALDA OF PORTUGAL, PRINCESSES, QUEENS, AND NUNS; AND SANCHIA OF PORTUGAL, PRINCESS AND NUN

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Adapted from this post:

https://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2017/06/17/the-importance-of-being-morally-fit-for-triumph/

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Significance and Insignificance   1 comment

snapshot_20140603

Above:  One of My Favorite Books

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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The Collect:

You are great, O God, and greatly to be praised.

You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.

Grant that we may believe in you, call upon you, know you, and serve you,

through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 41

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The Assigned Readings:

Zechariah 4:1-7

Psalm 145:8-14

Luke 10:21-24

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The LORD is faithful in all his words

and merciful in his deeds.

–Psalm 145:14, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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At that moment Jesus exulted in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the wise, and reveal them to the simple.  Yes, Father, such was your choice.”

–Luke 10:21, The Revised English Bible (1989)

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Those Hebrews who returned to their ancestral homeland to rebuild their society, Jerusalem, and the Temple during the Persian period had to contend with major obstacles.  These included people who plotted, lied, and otherwise obstructed plans.  And Persian kings and/or certain underlings were not always sympathetic to the Hebrews.  Within this context First Zechariah received a message from God for Zerubbabel, the governor of Davidic descent:

Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the LORD of hosts.

–Zechariah 4:6b, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Often that divine spirit falls not upon the prominent and the powerful, but upon the marginalized and other powerless people.  This segue brings me to our Lord and Savior’s prayer in Luke 10:21.  What are we to make of it?

Reinhold Niebuhr, one of the greatest and most influential theologians of the twentieth century, reflected on that prayer in the intellectual autobiography he wrote for the Library of Living Theology volume about his thought (New York:  Macmillan Company, 1961).  He wrote of two dying elderly women who were parishioners at the Bethel Evangelical Church, Detroit, Michigan, which he served fresh out of seminary.  (“Evangelical” here was in the German sense of word, that is Protestant, in this case, a Lutheran-Reformed hybrid.)  The first lady was filled with anxiety and resentment, not serenity, during the illness which took her life.  This woman, Niebuhr wrote,

was too preoccupied with self.

–page 6

The second woman had experienced much difficulty during her life.  She had functioned as both breadwinner and homemaker for her two daughters because her husband, prone to insanity, could not provide for the family.  At the end of the lady’s life, when she was dying of cancer, she was serene and filled with gratitude to God for mercies and her daughters, however.  This contrast, Niebuhr wrote, taught him the meaning of Christ’s prayer.

The major difference between the two women seems to have been the way each approached death and dying.  In that context Niebuhr wrote that

the ultimate problem of human existence is the peril of sin and death in the way that these two perils are so curiously compounded; for we fall into sin by trying to evade or to conquer death  or our own insignificance, of which death is the ultimate symbol.  The Christian faith holds out the hope that our fragmentary lives will be completed in a total and larger plan than any which we control or comprehend, and that a part of the completion is forgiveness of sins, that is the forgiveness of the evils into which we fall by our frantic efforts to complete our own lives or to endow them with significance.

–pages 6 and 7

Then Niebuhr wrote that

we in the churches ought to admit more humbly than is our wont that there is a mystery of grace which no one can fathom.

–page 7

That mystery was available to our Lord and Savior’s Apostles and other disciples, whom N. T. Wright described as

the diverse and motley group

Luke for Everyone (Louisville, KY:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), page 125

with whom he had chosen to associate.

May we recognize that our significance resides in God alone and that the greatest in the Kingdom of God is the servant of all.  Then may we, by grace, act on that reality and succeed.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 2, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MARGARET E. SANGSTER, HYMN WRITER, NOVELIST, AND DEVOTIONAL WRITER

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF LYONS (A.K.A. SAINT BLANDINA AND HER COMPANIONS)

THE FEAST OF REINHOLD NIEBUHR, UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT STEPHEN OF SWEDEN, ROMAN CATHOLIC THEOLOGIAN, BISHOP, AND MARTYR

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Adapted from This Post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2014/06/03/devotion-for-saturday-before-proper-9-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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The Little Gate to God   4 comments

Little Gate to God

Above:  Part of Rauschenbusch’s Text, from Pilgrim Hymnal (1935)

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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Those who know me well are aware of the fact that I collect hymnals, especially old ones.  I have begun to explore a Christmas present, a copy of the 1916 Episcopal Hymnal, to great delight.  And the line of Pilgrim Hymnals interests me.  I have copies copyrighted 1912, 1935, and 1958.  Archive.org provides a method of obtaining a free electronic copy of the 1904 version.

Pilgrim Hymnals

Above:  The 1912, 1935, and 1958 Pilgrim Hymnals

Photograph Dated December 28, 2013 Common Era

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

All of these hymnals stand in the worship lineage of the United Church of Christ (UCC) (1957-), which adopted and authorized The New Century Hymnal in 1995.  As of yesterday, when I checked the UCC website most recently, the church publisher sold not only the 1995 hymnal and a Spanish-language hymnal, but The Hymnal of the United Church of Christ (1974), Pilgrim Hymnal (1958), and The Hymnal (1941) of the former Evangelical and Reformed Church (1934-1957).

Hymnals

Above:  The 1941, 1958, 1974, and 1995 Hymnals

Photograph Dated December 28, 2013 Common Era

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Of these volumes The Hymnal (1941) is the most impressive and Pilgrim Hymnal (1958) is also quite good.  The other two are regrettable books.  That is this Episcopalian’s opinion.

Pilgrim Hymnal 1935 Title

Above:  Part of the Title Page of Pilgrim Hymnal (1935)

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Pilgrim Hymnal (1935) is a revision of Pilgrim Hymnal (1931).

Pilgrim Hymnal 1935 Copyright

Above:  The Copyright Notice in Pilgrim Hymnal (1935)

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

This fact causes me to ponder the economics of hymnal revision, especially during the Great Depression.  I do recall that 1931 was the year the National Council of Congregational Churches of the United States (1871-1931) merged with the General Conference of the Christian Church (1890-1931) to form the General Council of Congregational Christian Churches (1931-1957).  My surmise, then, is that the 1935 revision was not an overhaul of the 1931 volume.  I find a hint of this in the Preface to the 1958 Pilgrim Hymnal:

This book was first conceived as a revision of the Pilgrim Hymnal of 1931, but the recent developments in hymnody, in church life, and in world history have made it necessary to plan our work in larger terms.

–page v

Pilgrim Hymnal 1958 Copyright

Above:  The Copyright Notice in Pilgrim Hymnal (1958)

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

I have read online that the 1935 Pilgrim Hymnal contains the greatest concentration of Social Gospel hymns.  I, being a skilled hair splitter, wonder if the authors of those remarks have distinguished between the Social Gospel and Neo-Orthodoxy, both of which prioritize addressing and correcting societal ills.  Yet my study of the 1935 book does reveal many hymns about societal responsibility–especially on a national level.  And my study of the 1904 and 1912 predecessors reveals that those volumes were Social Gospel (defined narrowly) publications.

The theological orientation of the 1935 Pilgrim Hymnal becomes clear before hymn #1, “Holy, Holy, Holy!  Lord God Almighty.”  Opposite that hymn one finds a text by Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918), the great theologian of the Social Gospel:

In the castle of my soul

Is a little postern gate,

Whereat, when I enter,

I am in the presence of God,

In a moment, in the turning of a thought,

I am where God is.

This is a fact.

—–

The world of men is made of jangling noises.

With God is a great silence.

But that silence is a melody

Sweet as the contentment of love,

Thrilling as a touch of flame.

When I enter into God,

All life has a meaning.

Without asking I know;

My desires are even now fulfilled,

My fever is gone

In the great quiet of God.

My troubles are but pebbles on the road,

My joys are like the everlasting hills.

So it is when I step through the gate of prayer

From time into eternity.

When I am in the consciousness of God,

My fellowmen are not far off and forgotten,

But close and strangely dear.

Those whom I love

Have a mystic value.

They shine as if a light were glowing within them.

—–

So it is when my soul steps through the postern gate

Into the presence of God.

Big things become small, and small things become great.

The near becomes far, and the future is near.

The lowly and despised is shot through with glory.

God is the substance of all revolutions;

When I am in him, I am in the Kingdom of God

And in the Fatherland of my Soul.

Several aspects of that text perk up my theological ears.  The affirmation of the image of God in others is a timeless and sadly necessary message to repeat.  Today, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, is an especially appropriate time to do so.

The recognition of being in the Kingdom of God in the heightened state of awareness of being in the presence of God rings true with me.  To the writing and theology of Rauschenbusch I add the subsequent work and thought of C. H. (Charles Harold) Dodd, who explained Realized Eschatology in The Founder of Christianity (1970):

God, the Eternal, the omnipresent, can hardly be said to be nearer or farther off at this time or that.  If he is king at all, he is king always and everywhere.  In what sense his kingdom does not come; it is.  But human experience takes place within a framework of time and space.  There are particular moments in the lives of men and in the history of mankind when what is permanently true (if largely unrecognized)  becomes manifestly and effectively true.  Such a moment in history is reflected in the gospels….

–pages 56 and 57 of the 1970 paperback edition

The contextualization of one’s circumstances in the presence of God, paired with due awestruck humility (the fear of God, in traditional language) is a healthy spiritual attitude.

And the attachment to others in God is a profoundly Biblical attitude.

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we say you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?  And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”  And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

–Matthew 25:37-40, The New Revised Standard Version

The reverse situation is not happy, however:

Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

–Matthew 25:45, The New Revised Standard Version

There is also this from the Letter of James:

What good is it, my friends, for someone to say he has faith when his actions do nothing to show it?  Can that faith save him?  Suppose a fellow-Christian, whether man or woman, is in rages with not enough food for the day, and one of you says, “Goodbye, keep warm, and have a good meal,” but does nothing to supply that their bodily needs, what good is that?  So with faith; if it does not lead to action, it is by itself a lifeless thing.

–James 2:14-17, The Revised English Bible

Rauschenbusch understood these lessons well in the context of his Baptist congregation in Hell’s Kitchen, New York, New York.  He knew that the fact that tenements were such substandard housing was a sin, one which required correction.  He grasped the communal roots of Christianity and lived accordingly.  He was, however, overly optimistic about how much people could do to change the world.  Yet Rauschenbusch, despite his insufficient theology of sin–which Reinhold Niebuhr corrected–did call necessary and proper attention to the fact that the church has societal duties.  To those who would rebuff this idea, I quote the late Reverend Sherwood Eliot Wirt, a long-time associate of Billy Graham:

James was not wrong when he demanded that Christians show their faith by their works.  Jesus Christ was not wrong when he told his listeners in effect to stop sitting on their hands and to get to work doing God’s will.  He did not come to earth to split theological hairs, but to minister to a world in need and to save men out of it for eternity.  It is time the air was cleared.  To pit social action against evangelism  is to raise a phony issue, one that Jesus would have spiked in a sentence.  He commanded his disciples to spread the Good News, and to let their social concerns be made manifest through the changed lives of persons of ultimate worth.

The Social Conscience of the Evangelical (New York, NY:  Harper & Row, 1968), page 154

And is it not evidence of a changed life, for example, to oppose the exploitation and endangerment of people who have to live in substandard housing?  Should not all human housing meet certain basic standards?  Rauschenbusch understood this point well.

The unfortunate acceptance of the Roman social order–complete with slavery–which we find in much of the New Testament reflects the human authorship of those texts and the widespread expectation of the temporal proximity of the Second Coming of Jesus.  If one thinks that Christ will return soon and wipe away the social structures, problems, and injustices, focusing on individual spiritual preparation is a logical decision.  Yet nearly 2000 years have passed and many of my heroes of Christian faith have challenged and/or changed social systems for the better.  They have been salt and light, the hands and feet of Christ.

In contrast to those go-along-and-get-ready-for-Jesus parts of the New Testament I find others with a different message.  Revelation 18 and 19 come to mind immediately.  Babylon (read:  the Roman Empire, based on slavery, military conquest, and economic exploitation) has fallen.  Heaven rejoices.  Yet certain kings and merchants of the earth lament this change, for they have benefited from the vanquished political and economic arrangements.  Good news for the oppressed is bad news for the oppressors.  And God is the substance of that revolution.

So, O reader, are you one in a position to rejoice or to lament when contemporary Babylons–based on violence and/or economic and other forms of exploitation–fall?  And is your understanding of Christian responsibility overly individualistic?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 28, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FOURTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS:  THE FEAST OF THE HOLY INNOCENTS

Of God, Banquets, and Guests   1 comment

Above: Parable of the Great Banquet, by Jan Luyken (1649-1712)

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FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #1

Exodus 32:1-14 (New Revised Standard Version):

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him,

Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.

Aaron said to them,

Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.

So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said,

These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!

When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said,

Tomorrow shall be a festival to the LORD.

They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.

The LORD said to Moses,

Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”

The LORD said to Moses,

I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.

But Moses implored the LORD his God, and said,

O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, “It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth”? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, “I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.”

And the LORD changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  Halelujah!

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,

for his mercy endures for ever.

2  Who can declare the mighty acts of the LORD

or show forth all his praise>

3  Happy are those who act with justice

and always do what is right?

4  Remember me, O LORD, with the favor you have for your people,

and visit me with your saving help;

5  That I may see the prosperity of your elect

and be glad with the gladness of your people,

that I may glory with your inheritance.

6  We have sinned as our forebears did;

we have done wrong and dealt wickedly.

19  Israel made a bull-calf at Horeb

and worshiped a molten image;

20  And so they exchanged their Glory

for the image of an ox that feeds on grass.

21  They forgot God their Savior,

who had done great things in Egypt,

22  Wonderful deeds in the land of Ham,

and fearful things at the Red Sea.

23  So he would have destroyed them,

had not Moses his chosen stood before him in the breach,

to turn away his wrath from consuming them.

FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #2

Isaiah 25:1-9 (New Revised Standard Version):

O LORD, you are my God;

I will exalt you, I will praise your name;

for you have done wonderful things,

plans formed of old, faithful and sure.

For you have made the city a heap,

the fortified city a ruin;

the palace of aliens is a city no more,

it will never be rebuilt.

Therefore strong peoples will glorify you;

cities of ruthless nations will fear you.

For you have been a refuge to the poor,

a refuge to the needy in their distress,

a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat.

When the blast of the ruthless was like a winter rainstorm,

the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place,

you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds;

the song of the ruthless was stilled.

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all people

a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,

of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.

And he will destroy on this mountain

the shroud that is cast over all peoples,

the sheet that is spread over all nations;

he will swallow up death forever.

Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces,

and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,

for the LORD has spoken.

It will be said on that day,

Lo, this is our God; we have waited on him, so that he might save us.

This is the LORD for whom we have waited;

let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

Psalm 23 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  The LORD is my shepherd;

I shall not be in want.

2  He makes me lie down in green pastures

and leads me beside still waters.

3  He revives my soul

and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.

4  Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I shall fear no evil;

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5  You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me;

you have anointed my head with oil,

and my cup is running over.

6  Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

SECOND READING

Philippians 4:1-9 (New Revised Standard Version):

My brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

GOSPEL READING

Matthew 22:1-14 (New Revised Standard Version):

Once more Jesus spoke to the people in parables, saying:

The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.” But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” For many are called, but few are chosen.

The Collect:

Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Exodus 32:

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

Matthew 22:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/02/18/week-of-proper-15-thursday-year-1/

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Canaanite mythology held that, after the apocalypse, the storm god Baal will become king of the pantheon after defeating Yamm, the god of chaos waters.  So Baal will hold a great banquet on a mountain, but the forces of chaos will reassert themselves and Mot, the god of death, will swallow up Baal and take him to the underworld.

I repeat this story because it is the foundation upon which our reading from Isaiah 25 is based.  One of the strategies of Biblical authors was to rewrite the mythology of others.  We see it in the first creation story and in the Noah’s ark saga, for example.  In this case, YHWH hosts the banquet and destroys death on the mountain.  One way of making the case of YHWH’s supremacy and greatness was to contrast YHWH with weaker deities from the pantheons of the competition.

Paul and the author of Psalm 23 remind us that we have no reason to fear if we are on God’s side, for, as Paul writes, “God is near.”  The nearness of God can be frightening, too, depending on one’s self and one’s circumstances, but Paul, in this case at least, finds it ennobling.  Since God is near, we ought to trust in God, be gentle, and pursue noble enterprises.  We need not react defensively because God is our defender.  Often we commit our worst deeds out of anger and defensiveness.  In these circumstances we lash out against and insult each other.  We might even use violence against each other.  These are not loving and noble ways of acting.

I have been reading and struggling with Anabaptist Biblical ethics.  The Anabaptists are pacifists, of course.  My inner Menno Simons is a pacifist, but my inner Reinhold Niebuhr is a realist with an uneasy conscience.  Can I love my neighbor and rejoice in his execution or the bombing of his village or city?  No, of course not.  The late Robert S. McNamara, in The Fog of War, a brilliant documentary, says that we humans need to think seriously about how much evil we must do in order to do good.  Yet, I wonder, how much evil does one commit before one has condemned one’s self to Hell?  And what would Jesus do?  What would Jesus say about any given situation, based on what we have in the canonical gospels?  I leave myself and you, O reader, with questions, not answers, in these matters.  I intend to continue to struggle with these matters, and I invite you to do likewise.

The original audience of the Gospel of Matthew consisted of Jewish Christians (in the 80s C.E.) living at the margins of Judaism after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.  These were involuntarily marginal people, and the parable reflects their displeasure with their circumstances.  The social custom was to issue two invitations, the second of which consisted of, “We are ready now, so come now.”  Know then, that everybody who refused to attend the wedding banquet had previously announced his or her intention to attend.  These are stand-ins for the Jews who have not become Christians.  The servants who round up people on the streets are missionaries and the replacement guests are Christians.  But some of these servants meet with martyrdom and murder.  Finally, at the banquet itself, one man has not attended in the proper attire.  This was a sign of disrespect, so the king had him removed.

This is a difficult story, but understanding the post-Jewish War context of the writing of the Gospel of Matthew helps explain much about it.  How much of the story comes from Jesus and how much comes from Matthew?  The scholars can sort out that question to their hearts’ content.  I, meanwhile, care about the devotional side of the text.

In Luke 9:51 Jesus “sets his face toward Jerusalem.”  Shortly afterward, in 9:57-62, unnamed people offer excuses why they will not follow him.  So, in 9:62, Jesus says,

No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.

That was what the originally invited wedding guests did.  They said “yes” the first time but “no” the second.  They put their hands to the plow then looked back.  But the banquet would be full one way or another.

Here we have the intersection of judgment and mercy once again.  May we be on God’s side, by grace, without excuses, and lacking undue defensiveness which detracts from the love of Christ.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 2, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT SIGISMUND OF BURGUNDY, KING; SAINT CLOTILDA, FRANKISH QUEEN; AND SAINT CLODOALD, FRANKISH PRINCE AND ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT ATHANASIUS OF ALEXANDRIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF JAMES LEWIS MILLIGAN, HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MERCULF OF NANTEUIL, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/02/proper-23-year-a/

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Good News in the End   1 comment

Above:  An Icon of Baruch

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Baruch 4:5-13, 27-29 (The Jerusalem Bible):

Take courage, my people,

constant reminder of Israel.

You were sold to the nations,

but not for extermination.

You provoked God;

and so were delivered to your enemies,

since you had angered your creator

by offering sacrifices to demons, not to God.

You had forgotten the eternal God who reared you.

You had also grieved Jerusalem who nursed you,

for when she saw the anger fall on you

from God, she said:

Listen, you neighbours of Zion:

God has sent me great sorrow.

I have seen my sons and daughters taken into captivity,

to which they have been sentenced by the Eternal.

I had reared them joyfully;

in tears, in sorrow, I watched them go away.

Do not, any of you, exult over me,

a widow, deserted by so many;

I suffer loneliness because of the sins of my own children,

who turned away from the Law of God,

who did not want to follow his injunctions,

and would not follow the ways of his precepts,

or tread the paths of discipline as his justice directed.

Take courage, my children, call on God:

he who brought disaster on you will remember you.

As by your will you first strayed away from God,

so now turn back and search for him ten times as hard;

for as he brought down those disasters on you,

so will he rescue you and give you eternal joy.

Psalm 69:34-38 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

34  The afflicted shall see and be glad;

you who seek God, your heart shall live.

35  For the LORD listens to the needy,

and his prisoners he does not despise.

36  Let the heavens and the earth praise him,

the seas and all that moves in them;

37  For God will save Zion and rebuild the cities of Judah;

they shall live there and have it in possession.

38  The children of his servants will inherit it,

and those who love his Name will therein.

Luke 10:17-24 (The Jerusalem Bible):

The seventy-two came back rejoicing.

Lord,

they said,

even the devils submit to us when we use your name.

He said to them,

I watched Satan fall like lightning from heaven.  Yes, I have given you power to tread underfoot serpents and scorpions and the whole strength of the enemy; nothing shall ever hurt you.  Yet do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you; rejoice rather that your names are written in heaven.

It was then that, filled with joy by the Holy Spirit, he said,

I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children.  Yes, Father, for that is what it pleased you to do.  Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

Then turning to his disciples he spoke to them in private,

Happy are the eyes that see what you see, for I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see, and never saw it; to hear what you hear, and never heard it.

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The Collect:

O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; 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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Some Related Posts:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/18/proper-9-year-a/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/27/week-of-proper-10-wednesday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/07/week-of-proper-11-thursday-year-1/

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Reinhold Niebuhr wrote of how he came to learn the meaning of the middle paragraph of this day’s Gospel reading.  In the second decade of the twentieth century, when Niebuhr was fresh out of seminary, he served a congregation in Detroit, Michigan.  Two respectable and “equally respectable” women in his church were dying, but they dealt with death differently.  One lady raged against the dying of the light, to steal a line from Dylan Thomas.  She resented her end-of-life illness and related suffering.

Yet the second woman, who had known great suffering (including her husband’s insanity) and whom circumstances had forced out of Victorian and Edwardian domesticity into the role as breadwinner faced her death with great serenity.  She suffered, too, dying of cancer.  Yet, as Niebuhr wrote,

I stood weekly at her bedside while she told me what passages of Scripture, what Psalms and what prayers to read to her; most of them expressed gratitude for all the mercies of God which she had received in life.  She was partially grateful to her two daughters and their love; and she faced death with the utmost peace of soul.

I relearned the essentials of the Christan faith at the bedside of that nice old soul.  I appreciated that the ultimate problem of human existence is the peril of sin and death in the way that these two perils are so curiously compounded; for we fall into sin by trying to evade or to conquer death or our own insignificance, of which death is the ultimate symbol.  The Christian faith holds out the hope that our fragmentary lives will be completed in a total and larger plan than any which we can control or comprehend, and that a part of the completion is the forgiveness of sins, that is, the forgiveness of the evils into which we fall by our frantic efforts to complete our own lives or to endow them with significance.

Significance, of course, comes from God alone.

This is the same God in the Book of Baruch.  The Canadian Anglican lectionary I am following will move along to Jonah beginning with Monday in the week of Proper 22, so I feel obligated to quote the glorious fifth chapter, as The Jerusalem Bible renders it:

Jerusalem, take off your dress of sorrow and distress,

put on the beauty of the glory of God for ever,

wrap the cloak of the integrity of God around you,

put the diadem of the glory of the Eternal on your head:

since God means to show your splendour to every nation under heaven,

since the name God gives you for ever will be,

“Peace through integrity, and honour through devotedness.”

Arise, Jerusalem, stand on the heights

and turn your eyes to the east:

see your sons reassembled from west and east

at the command of the Holy One, jubilant that God has remembered them.

Though they left you on foot,

with enemies for an escort,

now God brings them back to you

like royal princes carried back in glory.

For God has decreed the flattening

of each high mountain, of the everlasting hills,

the filling of the valleys to make the ground level

so that Israel can walk in safety under the glory of God.

And the forests and every fragrant tree will provide shade

for Israel at the command of God;

for God will guide Israel in joy by the light of his glory

with his mercy and integrity.

The oppression of Antiochus IV Epiphanes did end.  Centuries before that, exiles did return from Babylonia.  It does get better in time.  May we persevere in faith through good times and bad times.  Along the way we can learn profound spiritual truths from people who might seem like unlikely teachers.  May we be open to them and to God.

Note:  The Niebuhr source is his Intellectual Autobiography (pages 4-7 of it, to be precise) contained in Reinhold Niebuhr:  His Religious, Social, and Political Thought, edited by Charles W. Kegley and Robert W. Bretall (New York:  Macmillan, 1961).

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 24, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF ARMENIA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN WALTER, COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF THE SEVEN MARTYRS OF THE MELANESIAN BROTHERHOOD

THE FEAST OF TOYOHIKO KAGAWA, TEACHER AND EVANGELIST

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on April 24, 2011 

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/04/24/week-of-proper-21-saturday-year-1/

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Posted October 26, 2011 by neatnik2009 in Baruch, Luke 10, Psalm 69

Tagged with , ,