Archive for the ‘Ritualism’ Tag

Living in Community, Part IV   4 comments

Above:  Anna at the Presentation of Jesus, by Giotto

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Second Sunday after Christmas, Year 1

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

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

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Almighty God, who hast poured upon us the new light of thine incarnate Word;

grant that the same light enkindled in our hearts may shine forth in our lives;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 120

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Joshua 1:1-9

Psalm 91

Philippians 2:1-11

Luke 2:21-32

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George Washington Barrett (1873-1956), one of my great-grandfathers, was a Southern Methodist minister of the old school, including Pietistic condemnations of “worldly amusements” and of ritualism.  He was my opposite.  My great-grandfather also preached that Jesus grew up in a Christian home.  This shocked me when I read his sermon notes, in his handwriting.  Jesus growing up in a Christian home would have surprised St. Luke, certainly.  Our Lord and Savior was Jewish, of course.  He grew up in an observant Jewish home that would have made Joshua, son of Nun, glad.

The essence of much of Judeo-Christian moral teaching is that one, by internalizing and living according to divine law, becomes one’s best possible self in this life.  This does not guarantee a life free of suffering, persecution, and economic hardship, of course.  In fact, one may have to endure much because of one’s piety.  The darkness has not conquered the light, and it has not ceased to try.

The focus in Philippians 2:1-11 is a moral and ethical living in a communal context, with Jesus as a model.  (We all know what happened to him, do we not?)  The following advice applies at all times and places, without any necessity for adjustment from cultural contexts not explicit in texts:

Leave no room for selfish ambition and vanity, but humbly reckon others better than yourselves.  Look to each other’s interests and not merely to your own.

In other words, obey the Golden Rule and the Law of Love, the fulfillment of much of the Law of Moses.  Acting accordingly does not guarantee success in that moral and ethical endeavor, but it is a good start, at least.  Whenever I determine to build up others, I risk tearing them down if I choose the wrong strategy.  Looking to each other’s interests does not necessarily entail doing to them as they want, but it does necessarily involve doing to them as they need.  But what if I do not know what they need?  Good intentions alone are insufficient.

God requires us to be faithful, not successful.  May we heed divine guidance as we make decisions daily.  May we pursue proper goals via correct methods.  And may we succeed in these purposes, for the glory of God and the benefit of others, by grace.  May our lives be beacons of the grace of God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 13, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF YVES CONGAR, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT HELDRAD, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF JAMES THEODORE HOLLY, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF HAITI, AND OF THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC; FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN BISHOP IN THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH

THE FEAST OF SAINTS PLATO OF SYMBOLEON AND THEODORE STUDITES, EASTERN ORTHODOX ABBOTS; AND SAINT NICEPHORUS OF CONSTANTINOPLE, PATRIARCH

THE FEAST OF SAINT RODERIC OF CABRA AND SOLOMON OF CORDOBA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS, 857

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Spiritual Journeys   2 comments

Above:  Landscape with the Parable of the Sower, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

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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2 Kings 2:1-12

Psalm 50:1-6

2 Corinthians 4:3-6

Mark 8:34-9:13

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Pietism is an error-ridden system of thought.  One of its gravest mistakes is the rejection of ritualism, often due to a misinterpretation of Psalm 50.  The sacrificial system, commanded in the Law of Moses, is not the problem in Psalm 50.  No, the divorce between sacrifices and morality is the offense.  Mistaking sacrifices and other acts of public piety for a talisman is wrong.  People need to walk the walk, in other words.  Their acts of public piety will be genuine.

Speaking of sacrifices, the context of the Transfiguration in Mark 8-9 is the foretelling of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  The prose poetry of the account tells us of Elijah (representing the prophets) and Moses (representing the Law) appearing with the glorified Jesus.  This is, in context, an apocalyptic scene, as anyone steeped in the culture of Palestinian Judaism would have known.  The attempt to institutionalize such a moment is always misguided, for one should keep on moving with Jesus, toward Jerusalem.  Faith is a journey, not a permanent shrine.

My journey will not be identical to yours, O reader, nor should it be.  Our journeys will properly contain many of the same landmarks, though.  The destination will also be the same–God in Christ.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 19, 2019 COMMON ERA

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

THE FEAST OF ALFRED RAMSEY, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF CHARITIE LEES SMITH BANCROFT DE CHENEZ, HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM PIERSON MERRILL, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, SOCIAL REFORMER, AND HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2019/06/19/devotion-for-transfiguration-sunday-year-b-humes/

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Compassion and the Sabbath, Part I   1 comment

The Pool

Above:  The Pool, by Palma Giovane

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God,

throughout time you free the oppressed,

heal the sick,

and make whole all that you have made.

Look with compassion on the world wounded by sin,

and by your power restore us to wholeness of life,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 38

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The Assigned Readings:

Leviticus 23:1-8 (Friday)

Leviticus 24:5-9 (Saturday)

Psalm 81:1-10 (Both Days)

Romans 8:31-39 (Friday)

John 7:19-24 (Saturday)

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For this is a statute of Israel,

a law of the God of Jacob,

The charge he laid on the people of Joseph,

when they came out of the land of Egypt.

–Psalm 81:4-5, Common Worship (2000)

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The Sabbath theme continues in the pericopes from Leviticus and John.  The reading from Romans fits well with that from Johannine Gospel.  I adore a well-constructed lectionary!

The lessons from Leviticus speak of sacred time, rituals, and items.  As much as I, as a Christian, disagree with the pervasive sense of the holy as other and God as distant which one finds in the Law of Moses, I respect the efforts expended out of reverence.  God did become incarnate as Jesus (however the Trinitarian theology of that works), walk among people, and eat in homes, but excessive casualness regarding matters of ritual and spirituality is no virtue.  That understanding feeds my ritualism.

On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there shall be a sabbath of complete rest, a sacred occasion.  You shall do no work; it shall be a sabbath of the LORD in all your settlements.

–Leviticus 23:3, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Yet Leviticus 12:3 commands male circumcision on the eighth day–even when that day falls on the Sabbath.  Did Jesus, therefore, sin when he healed on the Sabbath?  And was the desire of hostile of people to kill him for healing on the Sabbath sinful?  If one assumes that they understood his Sabbath day healings as constituting profaning the Sabbath, one must then, to be fair, cite Exodus 31:14-15, which calls for the death penalty.  Nevertheless, the religious laws of our Lord and Savior’s day permitted work (other than circumcision) on the Sabbath.  For example, saving a live was permissible.

Jesus proclaimed by words and deeds that every day is an appropriate time to act with maximum compassion and that no day is a good time to become bogged down in heartless and defensive legalism.  His love for those who needed his help and know it is the love to which St. Paul the Apostle refers in Romans 8.  Nothing can separate us from that love.  Dare we scorn it?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 13, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS PLATO OF SYMBOLEON AND THEODORE STUDITES, EASTERN ORTHODOX ABBOTS; AND SAINT NICEPHORUS OF CONSTANTINOPLE, PATRIARCH

THE FEAST OF SAINT HELDRAD, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINTS RODERIC OF CABRA AND SOLOMON OF CORDOBA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/03/13/devotion-for-friday-and-saturday-before-proper-4-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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In Defense of Ritualism   1 comment

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Above:  The Right Reverend Robert C. Wright, Bishop of Atlanta, at the Cathedral of St. Philip, Atlanta, Georgia, December 14, 2014

Image Source = Bill Monk, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

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The Collect:

Gracious and glorious God, you have chosen us as your own,

and by the powerful name of Christ you protect us from evil.

By your Spirit transform us and your beloved world,

that we may find joy in your Son, Jesus Christ,

our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with and

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 35

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The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 28:29-38 (Monday)

Numbers 8:5-22 (Tuesday)

Psalm 115 (Both Days)

Philippians 1:3-11 (Monday)

Titus 1:1-9 (Tuesday)

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Not to us, O LORD, not to us,

but to your name give glory;

because of your love and because of your faithfulness.

–Psalm 115:1, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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God might be present and imminent, as I concluded in the previous new post, but how we approach God still matters.  We should do so with deep reverence.  That is why the priestly vestments in Exodus 28 were so elaborate and the ritualism of preparation for service to God in Numbers 8 occurred.  Likewise important in the texts is character, for not only must one person perform the rituals dressed properly, but one must do so according to other rules.  One of those rules is not to mistake any sacred ritual for a talisman which protects insincere people from the consequences of their sins.

One of the advantages of belonging to and attending a more formal church is participating frequently in a series of sacred rituals presided over by clergy in vestments.  The air of formality sets the rituals apart from other occasions in life.  With that formality comes reverence.  Many congregations, I am convinced, are too informal, especially with regard to the professional and ritual attire of ministers and to rituals themselves.  All this helps to explain why I am a practicing ritualist.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 20, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTY-FIRST DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINT DOMINIC OF SILOS, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT PETER CANISIUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF KATHARINA VON BORA LUTHER, WIFE OF MARTIN LUTHER

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Adapted from this post:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2014/12/20/devotion-for-monday-and-tuesday-after-the-seventh-sunday-of-easter-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Apostasy and Idolatry   1 comment

Kingdoms of Judah and Israel

Above:  Map of the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Beloved God, from you come all things that are good.

Lead us by the inspiration of your Spirit to know those things that are right,

and by your merciful guidance, help us to do them,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 49

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 2:14-22 (Thursday)

Jeremiah 2:23-37 (Friday)

Jeremiah 6:1-10 (Saturday)

Psalm 80:7-15 (All Days)

Colossians 2:16-23 (Thursday)

Philippians 2:14-18; 3:1-4a (Friday)

John 7:40-52 (Saturday)

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Restore us, O God of hosts;

show us the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

–Psalm 80:7, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The reading for these three days overlap nicely, focusing on the themes of idolatry and apostasy.  To commit apostasy is to fall away from grace.  (Thus grace is not irresistible.  Strict Calvinism is therefore mistaken about that fifth of the TULIP formula.  I am also dubious of the Perseverance of the Saints, which relates to Irresistible Grace.)  An idol is anything which takes the place of God in one’s life.  Thus an idol might be a false deity, an activity, or even a sacred text.  Function in one’s life determines that thing’s status relative to idolatry.  Among the most popular idols is the Bible, which is supposed to function instead as an icon–through which people see God.  But, if one treats it as an idol, that is what it is for that person.

The lessons from Jeremiah condemn idolatry which has led to national apostasy, evident in ill-advised alliances with foreign, predatory empires.

What then do you gain by going to Egypt,

to drink the waters of the Nile?

or what do you gain by going to Assyria,

to drink the waters of the Euphrates?

Your wickedness will punish you,

and your apostasies will convict you.

Know and see that it is evil and bitter

for you to forsake the LORD your God;

the fear of me is not in you,

says the LORD GOD of hosts.

–Jeremiah 2:18-19, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

From the gloom of Jeremiah 2 and 6 we turn to the Pauline tradition, which emphasizes Christ crucified and resurrected.  St. Paul the Apostle rejects, among other things, Gnostic asceticism, a form of Jewish ritualism, and the practice of worshiping angels as methods as obtaining the spiritual upper hand.  Christ is sufficient, the ever-Jewish Paul tells us through the ages.

I understand the Apostle’s objection to Gnosticism, with its reliance on secret knowledge and belief that matter is evil.  If salvation comes from having secret knowledge, as Gnostics insisted, the death and resurrection of Jesus were pointless.  In fact, in Gnostic thought, he did not die because he was not even corporeal, for, in Gnosticism, he could not have had a body, a body being material and therefore evil.  Thus Gnosticism was not Christian.  The exclusion of Gnostic texts from the Bible was not, as some “documentaries” on the History Channel claim, a conspiracy of Church leaders to suppress truth and crush dissent.  No, it was a proper course of action.

As for rituals (especially Jewish ones), I approach the text from Colossians differently than do the authors of some of the commentaries I consulted.  A high proportion of these writers were Presbyterians with little use for ritual.  Their paragraphs screamed between the lines “This is why I am not a Papist!”  I, as an Episcopalian, know the value of ritual and of approaching it properly.  It should be an icon, not an idol, although it functions as the latter for many people.  But so does the Bible, and I do not heap scorn on that sacred anthology either.

Apostasy, a theme from the Jeremiah readings, recurs in John 7.  Temple officials accuse some Temple policemen of it for refusing to arrest Jesus, who had impressed them.  These officials also accuse Nicodemus of the same offense.  I realize that much of the Gospel of John reflects late first-century C.E. Jewish Christian invective, for Jewish Christians had found themselves marginalized within Judaism.  Nevertheless, the stories in John 7:40-52 have the ring of truth, for fearful people in positions of power have attempted to retain it in many places and at numerous times.

Idols come in many varieties, shapes, sizes, and ages.  As I have written in this post, function in one’s life determines status relative to idolatry in that life.  Among the more common idols is attachment to the status quo ante, especially if one benefits from it.  Thus we become upset when God does something we do not expect.  This might threaten just our sense of order (hardly a minor issue), but also our identity (also a major consideration) and socio-economic-political or socio-economic standing (of which we tend to be quite protective).  But when was religion supposed to function as a defense against God?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 25, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MICHAEL FARADAY, SCIENTIST

THE FEAST OF BAYARD RUSTIN, WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

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Adapted from This Post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2014/08/25/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-proper-22-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Of Externals and Internals   2 comments

gfs_7888

Above:  Bishop Robert C. Wright (Episcopalian) and Archbishop Wilton Gregory (Roman Catholic) at the Good Friday Pilgrimage for Immigrants, April 18, 2014

Image Source = Bill Monk, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

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The Collect:

O God our rock, you offer us a covenant of mercy,

and you provide the foundation of our lives.

Ground us in your word, and strengthen our resolve to be your disciples,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 38

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The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 24:1-8 (Thursday)

Deuteronomy 30:1-5 (Friday)

Amos 2:6-11 (Saturday)

Psalm 31:1-5, 19-24 (All Days)

Romans 2:17-29 (Thursday)

Romans 9:6-13 (Friday)

Matthew 7:1-6 (Saturday)

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Be my strong rock, a fortress to save me,

for you are my rock and my stronghold;

guide me, and lead me for your name’s sake.

–Psalm 31:3, Common Worship (2000)

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One of the faults of certain varieties of Protestantism is overemphasizing the internal and unseen while underemphasizing the external and the seen. Pietists, for example, dismiss “externals” frequentlu, as if “externals” are meaningless. They are not necessarily so.

No, a ritual (such as a sacrifice or circumcision) can matter quite a lot, for we humans need visible signs and rites of passage. How else are we to mark the difference between one stage of life and another or to note a covenant to God? We need externals beause we see, touch, feel, hear, and smell; we are not disembodied sentients. The scriptures command many rituals in particular settings, in fact.

The scriptures also make clear that rituals are not supposed to be talismans which protect us from punishment for sins of which we have not repented, individually or collectively. Rituals one performs piously have meaning, but those one performs while disobeying divine commandments, such as how to treat people, offend God.

For crime after crime of Israel

I shall grant them no reprieve,

because they sell honest folk for silver

and the poor for a pair of sandals.

They grind the heads of the helpless into the dust

and push the humble out of their way.

Father and son resort to the temple girls,

so profaning my holy name.

–Amos 2:6-7, The Revised English Bible

God, the Bible tells us, cares deeply about how we act toward our fellow human beings. We ought to seek God’s best for them, not exploit them for our own gain and pleasure. We should seek to raise the status of the powerless, the less powerful, and the marginalized among us. Each of us bears the image of God and therefore deserves respect. When we seek to do those things may we succeed by grace. And may we engage in rituals which create holy atmospheres for our spiritual benefit and glorify—not mock—God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 10, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THEODORE PARKER, ABOLITIONIST AND MAVERICK UNITARIAN PASTOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTONY PIEROZZI, A.K.A. ANTONINUS OF FLORENCE, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF FLORENCE

THE FEAST OF JOHN GOSS, ANGLICAN CHURCH COMPOSER AND ORGANIST; AND WILLIAM MERCER, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF NICOLAUS LUDWIG VON ZINZENDORF, RENEWER OF THE CHURCH

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Adapted from This Post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2014/05/10/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-proper-4-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Mutuality in God I   1 comment

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Above:  A Lenten Logo

This image is available on various websites.  Examples include http://pielover16.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-season-of-lent.htmlhttp://genyhub.com/profiles/blogs/lent-and-the-battlefield, and http://svccgilroy.wordpress.com/tag/lent/.

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The Collects:

Almighty and ever-living God, you hate nothing you have made,

and you forgive the sins of all who are penitent.

Create in us new and honest hearts, so that, truly repenting of all our sins,

we may receive from you, the God of all mercy, full pardon and forgiveness

through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

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

or

Gracious God, out of your love and mercy you breathed into dust

the breath of life, creating us to serve you and our neighbors.

Call forth our prayers and acts of kindness, and strengthen us

to face our mortality with confidence in the mercy of your Son,

Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 26

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The Assigned Readings:

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 or Isaiah 58:1-12

Psalm 51:1-17

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

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Some Related Posts:

Joel 2:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/03/31/devotion-for-january-21-and-22-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/first-day-of-lent-ash-wednesday/

Isaiah 58:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/09/fifth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-a/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/02/24/devotion-for-december-30-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/first-day-of-lent-ash-wednesday/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/third-day-of-lent/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/fourth-day-of-lent/

2 Corinthians 5-6:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/first-day-of-lent-ash-wednesday/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/11/30/week-of-proper-6-monday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/proper-7-year-b/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2012/12/15/devotion-for-august-28-lcms-daily-lectionary/

Matthew 6:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/first-day-of-lent-ash-wednesday/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/02/week-of-proper-6-wednesday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/04/week-of-proper-6-friday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2013/04/20/devotion-for-september-30-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2013/04/20/devotion-for-october-1-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and renew a right spirit within me.

–Psalm 51:10, Book of Common Worship (1993)

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Philip H. Pfatteicher, the noted U.S. Lutheran liturgist, wrote:

The observance of Lent and Easter is characterized by the primacy of community, for baptism incorporates those who are washed in its life-giving water into the community of the faithful people of God.  Anciently, Ash Wednesday was not a time for confession but for excommunication, excluding sinners, for a time, from the community in this world so that they might return from their erring ways and not be excluded forever in the next world.  Later privatized notions led to the emphasis on the confession of one’s sins.

The name Ash Wednesday (dies cinerum) derives from the custom which seems to have originated in Gaul in the sixth century of sprinkling ashes on the heads of penitents.  In the tenth and eleventh centuries the custom was adopted voluntarily by the faithful as a sign of penitence and a reminder of their mortality.

Commentary on the Lutheran Book of Worship:  Lutheran Liturgy in Its Ecumenical Context (Minneapolis, MN:  Augsburg Fortress, 1990), pages 223-224

I detect elements of both the original and modified meanings of Ash Wednesday in the assigned readings.  There are both judgment and mercy in God, who expects certain behaviors from us.  Rituals and fasts–good and spiritually meritorious practices when one engages them with a proper attitude–prove ineffective as talismans to protect one from divine punishment for sins.  To read these passages as dismissive of rituals and fasts as “externals,” as does the Pietist tradition, is to miss the point.  ”Externals,” according to Pietism, are of minimal or no importance; the individual experience of God in oneself takes precedence, minimizing even sacraments.  Although the Pietists are not entirely wrong, their underdeveloped sacramental theology is a major weakness and error.

No, the union of ritual and proper attitude in faithful community is of the essence.  Thus one cares actively for and about others.  Therefore the faithful prove themselves to be

authentic servants of God

–2 Corinthians 6:4a, The New Jerusalem Bible,

even in distressing circumstances.  Thus the faithful people of God glorify God in their words and deeds.  And whatever rituals their tradition embraces function for spiritual edification–as those the Law of Moses specifies were meant to do.

The original practice of Lent came from an understanding that what one does affects others.  This sense of mutuality, present in the Old and New Testaments, receives too little attention in the overly individualistic global West.  Rugged individualism, a great lie, is foreign to biblical ethics.  My branch of Christianity teaches the primacy of Scripture.  We are not Sola Scriptura people; no we are the tribe of the three-legged stool–Scripture, tradition, and reason.  My reason requires me to take seriously the communitarian ethic in the Bible and much of Christianity.  Thus I consider how my deeds and words affect my community, my congregation, and the world.

I invite you, O reader, to apply the same ethic to your life every day and to seek to be especially mindful of it during Lent.  These forty days are a wonderful season during which to nurture a good spiritual habit.  But, regardless of the meritorious spiritual habit you choose to focus on, may you succeed for the glory of God and the benefit of your fellow human beings.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 6, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM TEMPLE, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY

THE FEAST OF TE WHITI O RONGOMAI, MAORI PROPHET

THE FEAST OF SAINT THEOPHANE VENARD, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, MISSIONARY, AND MARTYR IN VIETNAM

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Adapted from this post:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2013/11/06/devotion-for-ash-wednesday-years-a-b-and-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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A Christmas Message: Come, My Heart, Canst Thou Not Hear It   1 comment

Come, My Heart

Above:  Part of a Certain Hymn from Pilgrim Hymnal (1935)

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.

–Luke 2:8, The New Revised Standard Version

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In addition to https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/11/25/advent-and-christmas-message/

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I collect hymnals and service books.  Exploring them and finding treasures is a wonderful hobby, one which brings joy to me.  And sharing those gems sheds that joy abroad.  That is the rationale for my GATHERED PRAYERS weblog, which links into this one.  Some hymns, however, are not prayers, so I seek and fine other venues for sharing them.

William Allen Knight (1863-1957) was a U.S. Congregationalist minister and author.  Yesterday, for example, I found some books he wrote available at archive.org:

Knight also wrote the following Christmas hymn in 1915:

Come, my heart, canst thou not hear it,

Mid the tumult of thy days?

Catch the old sweet song of angels,

Join thy voice to swell their praise!

Hast thou never shared the blessing,

Never known kind Heaven’s gift?

Bethlehem thy Saviour cradled!

Heart of mine, a song uplift.

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First to hear were watching shepherds,

Sore afraid that winter’s night;

Soon their Bethlehem’s low manger

Changed the song to wondrous sight!

Ever since, all they who hear it

Find a Saviour where they dwell;

Sing it, heart!  Who knows what toilers

Thou the Christward way shalt tell!

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Long ago the angels vanished–

But their song is sounding still!

Millions now with hope are singing,

“Peace on earth, to men good will.”

Sing, my heart!  Tho’ peace may tarry,

Sing good will mid human strife!

Till that old sweet song of angels

Shall attune to heav’n our life.

I keep hearing about a war on Christmas.  Yet I note that many, if not most, of those who speak and write at length on that subject seem oblivious to the liturgical calendar and many well-documented facts.  “Xmas” is not a way to remove “Christ” from Christmas.  No, “X” is an abbreviation derived from the Greek alphabet.  I have, for example, squeezed “Xian” into a tiny gap when taking notes and meaning “Christian.”  And I do not hear many of these self-appointed defenders of Christmas against the great secular hordes speak of Advent or twelve days of Christmas often.  Thus many self-appointed defenders of tradition violate the tradition they claim to affirm.  I love the irony.

Talk is cheap and frequently annoying.  But keeping holy seasons quietly and sincerely is where, as an old saying goes, the rubber meets the road.  We can start by dropping out of the rat race or never entering it.  And we can live daily in the awareness that time is sacred–something of which the older, more formalistic Christian denominations tend to engender better than the iconoclastic schools of Protestantism.

The angels’ song is sounding still.  Thanks be to God!  But do we hear it over the din of pointless arguments and of hustle and bustle?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 23, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTY-THIRD DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN OF KANTY, ROMAN CATHOLIC THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT CHARBEL, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MONK

THE FEAST OF GERALD R. FORD, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

THE FEAST OF PERCY SUTTON, CIVIL RIGHTS PIONEER

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http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2014/11/06/a-christmas-message-come-my-heart-canst-thou-not-hear-it/

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Advent and Christmas Message   3 comments

Advent and Christmas Message

Above:  The Beginning of the Draft of This Post

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And Mary said,

My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior….

–Luke 1:46-47, The New Revised Standard Version:  Catholic Edition (1993)

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One of the great virtues of High Churchmanship is having a well-developed sense of sacred time.  So, for example, the church calendars, with their cycles, tell us of salvation history.  We focus on one part of the narrative at a time.  Much of Protestantism, formed in rebellion against Medieval Roman Catholic excesses and errors, has thrown the proverbial baby out with the equally proverbial bath water, rejecting or minimizing improperly the sacred power of rituals and holy days.

Consider, O reader, the case of Christmas–not in the present tense, but through the late 1800s.  Puritans outlawed the celebration of Christmas when they governed England in the 1650s.  Their jure divino theology told them that since there was no biblical sanction for keeping Christmas, they ought not to do it–nor should anyone else.  On the other hand, the jure divino theology of other Calvinists allowed for keeping Christmas.  Jure divino was–and is–a matter of interpretation.  Lutherans, Anglicans, and Moravians kept Christmas.  Many Methodists on the U.S. frontier tried yet found that drunken revelry disrupted services.  Despite this Methodist pro-Christmas opinion, many members of the Free Methodist denomination persisted in anti-Christmas sentiment.  The holiday was too Roman Catholic, they said and existed without

the authority of God’s word.

Thus, as the December 19, 1888 issue of Free Methodist concluded,

We attach no holy significance to the day.

–Quoted in Leigh Eric Schmidt, Consumer Rites:  The Buying and Selling of American Holidays (Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press, 1995), page 180.  (The previous quote also comes from that magazine, quoted in the same book.)

Many Baptists also rejected the religious celebration of Christmas.  An 1875 issue of Baptist Teacher, a publication for Sunday School educators, contained the following editorial:

We believe in Christmas–not as a holy day but as a holiday and so we join with our juveniles with utmost heartiness of festal celebration….Stripped as it ought to be, of all pretensions of religious sanctity and simply regarded as a social and domestic institution–an occasion of housewarming, and heart-warming and innocent festivity–we welcome its coming with a hearty “All Hail.”

–Quoted in Schmidt, Consumer Rites, pages 179 and 180

Presbyterians, with their Puritan heritage, resisted celebrating Christmas for a long time.  In fact, some very strict Presbyterians still refuse to keep Christmas, citing their interpretation of jure divino theology.  (I have found some of their writings online.)  That attitude was more commonplace in the 1800s.  The Presbyterian Church in the United States, the old Southern Presbyterian Church, passed the following resolution at its 1899 General Assembly:

There is no warrant for the observance of Christmas and Easter as holy days, but rather contrary (see Galatians iv.9-11; Colossians ii.16-21), and such observance is contrary to the principles of the Reformed faith, conducive to will-worship, and not in harmony with the simplicity of the gospel in Jesus Christ.

–Page 430 of the Journal of the General Assembly, 1899  (I copied the text of the resolution verbatim from an original copy of the Journal.)

I agree with Leigh Eric Schmidt:

It is not hard to see in this radical Protestant perspective a religious source for the very secularization of the holiday  that would eventually be so widely decried.  With the often jostling secularism of the Christmas bazaar, Protestant rigorists simply got what they had long wished for–Christmas as one more market day, a profane time or work and trade.

Consumer Rites, page 180

I affirm the power of rituals and church calendars.  And I have no fear of keeping a Roman Catholic holy day and season.  Thus I keep Advent (December 1-24) and Christmas (December 25-January 5).  I hold off on wishing people

Merry Christmas

often until close to Christmas Eve, for I value the time of preparation.  And I have no hostility or mere opposition to wishing anyone

Happy Holidays,

due to the concentrated holiday season in December.  This is about succinctness and respect in my mind; I am not a culture warrior.

Yet I cannot help but notice with dismay the increasingly early start of the end-of-year shopping season.  More retailers will open earlier on Thanksgiving Day this year.  Many stores display Christmas decorations before Halloween.  These are examples of worshiping at the high altar of the Almighty Dollar.

I refuse to participate in this.  In fact, I have completed my Christmas shopping–such as it was–mostly at thrift stores.  One problem with materialism is that it ignores a basic fact:  If I acquire an item, I must put it somewhere.  But what if I enjoy open space?

I encourage a different approach to the end of the year:  drop out quietly (or never opt in) and keep nearly four weeks of Advent and all twelve days of Christmas.  I invite you, O reader, to observe these holy seasons and to discover riches and treasures better than anything on sale on Black Friday.

Pax vobiscum!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 25, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SQUANTO, COMPASSIONATE HUMAN BEING

THE FEAST OF JAMES OTIS SARGENT HUNTINGTON, FOUNDER OF THE ORDER OF THE HOLY CROSS

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http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/nineteenth-century-evangelical-support-for-a-secular-christmas/

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http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2014/11/06/advent-and-christmas-message/

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Deeds and Rituals   1 comment

cuci_tangan_pakai_sabun

Above:  Washing Hands With Soap

Image Source = Serenity

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cuci_tangan_pakai_sabun.jpg)

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The Collect:

Lord God, with endless mercy you receive

the prayers of all who call upon you.

By your Spirit show us the things we ought to do,

and give us the grace and power to do them,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 22

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 29:1-12 (Friday)

Isaiah 29:13-16 (Saturday)

Psalm 112:1-9 [10] (both days)

James 3:13-18 (Friday)

Mark 7:1-8 (Saturday)

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Some Related Posts:

Isaiah 29:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/devotion-for-december-12-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/devotion-for-december-13-lcms-daily-lectionary/

James 3:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2011/06/29/week-of-7-epiphany-monday-year-2/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/06/29/week-of-proper-2-monday-year-2/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/10/24/proper-20-year-b/

Mark 7:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/11/week-of-5-epiphany-tuesday-year-1/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2011/06/20/week-of-5-epiphany-tuesday-year-2/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/05/15/devotion-for-the-thirteenth-and-fourteenth-days-of-lent-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/proper-17-year-b-3/

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Light shines in the darkness for the upright;

the righteous are merciful and full of compassion.

It is good for them to be generous in lending

and to manage their affairs with justice.

–Psalm 112:4-5, Book of Common Worship (1993)

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Ritualism, in and of itself, is positive.  It, paired with lived faith in God–the kind of faith which finds expression in, among other things, an active concern for what James 3:18 (The New Jerusalem Bible) calls

a harvest of justice,

is consistent with the witness of Hebrew prophets who decried judicial and political corruption and economic exploitation.  In fact, the instructions for the house of worship in the Law of Moses indicate a space designed for ritualism.  But the Law of Moses (when it does not call for stoning people or reflect a negative view of female biology) speaks of lived holiness for the community.

Many activities are positive.  Among these is washing one’s hands before eating–certainly a sanitary action.  Yet sanitation was not the concern Jesus addressed in Mark 7.  No, our Lord and Savior discussed tradition for its own sake and the sake of making some people appear holier than others.  He knew that washing hands could not purify one’s self-righteous attitude.  So rituals ought not to function as totems, which people imagine vainly will protect them from the wrath of God or merely from the consequences of their bad deeds and sins of omission.

May each of us engage in good deeds and rituals.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 10, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN LEONARDI, FOUNDER OF THE CLERKS REGULAR OF THE MOTHER OF GOD; AND SAINT JOSEPH CALASANCTIUS, FOUNDER OF THE CLERKS REGULAR OF RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAULINUS OF YORK, ARCHBISHOP

THE FEAST OF VIDA DUTTON SCUDDER, WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2013/10/10/devotion-for-friday-and-saturday-before-the-fifth-sunday-after-epiphany-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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