Archive for the ‘Salt and Light’ Tag

Salt and Light   1 comment

Above:  Corinth,  Greece

2 Corinthians 1:18-22 (An American Translation):

As surely as God can be relied on, there has been no equivocation about our message to you.  The Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed to you, Silvanus, Timothy, and I, you have not found wavering between “Yes” and “No.”  With him it has always been “Yes,” for to all the promises of God he supplies the “Yes” that confirms them.  That is why we utter the “Amen” through him, when we give glory to God.  But is God who guarantees us and you to Christ; he has anointed us and put his seal upon us and given us his Spirit in our hearts, as his guarantee.

Psalm 119:129-136 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

129 Your decrees are wonderful;

therefore I obey them with all my heart.

130 When your word goes forth it gives light;

it gives understanding to the simple.

131 I open my mouth and pant;

I long for your commandments.

132 Turn to me in mercy,

as you always do to those who love your Name.

133 Steady my footsteps in your word;

let no iniquity have dominion over me.

134 Rescue me from those who oppress me,

and I will keep your commandments.

135 Let your countenance shine upon your servant

and teach me your statutes.

136 My eyes shed streams of tears,

because people do not keep your law.

Matthew 5:13-16 (An American Translation):

[Jesus continued:]

You are the salt of the earth!  But if salt loses its strength, how can it be made salt again?  It is good for nothing but to be thrown away and trodden underfoot.  You are the light of the world!  A city that is built upon a hill cannot be hidden.  People do not light a lamp and put it under a peck-measure; they put it on its stand and it gives light to everyone in the house.  Your light must burn in that way among men so that they will see the good you do, and praise your Father in heaven.

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The Collect:

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth:  Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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The Christian congregation at Corinth contained some difficult personalities, to state the case mildly.  This remained true for some time after the apostle’s death, unfortunately.  For evidence of this, read St. Clement’s (first) Letter to the Corinthians, written around the year 100 C.E.  As a reading of the 2 Corinthians 1 makes clear, Paul had planned to pay a second visit to Corinth but had delayed it.  The tension in that church was so high that Paul, as he stated the matter, did not want to visit in grief.  In his absence, some Corinthians were saying that Paul was not reliable, not faithful to his promises.

This context is essential to understanding 2 Corinthians 1:18-22.  Paul was not vacillating (verse 17).  Furthermore, God is faithful, that is reliable.  Likewise, Paul’s word to the Corinthians has always been “Yes.”  And God’s answer in the context to all divine promises has always been “Yes.”  In fact, the answer has been “Yes” through Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, active among people, guarantees the trustworthiness of Paul’s message to the Corinthians.

Here we have a statement of a glorious truth:  that God is faithful, and that we see this reliability in human form, the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  Jesus is the Word of God, as the Gospel of John (written after the death of Paul) reminds us.  So God is far more reliable than we are.

This day’s reading from Matthew 5 contains familiar passages.  There is a potential danger in reading familiar texts.  One might nod one’s head and think, “Yes, I know this passage well.  Next!”  This is an excellent time to slow down and read the text with fresh eyes.  So consider the following information:

  • People used salt not only to make food taste better but to preserve food.
  • Salt was a valuable commodity.
  • Most Judean houses were dark, lacking many windows.  So a good source of light was essential.
  • Relighting such a lamp was not a simple task.  So, for the sake of safety, people covered a burning lamp when they left their house.

So, if we Christians are to be salt and light, we must do the following:

  • Emulate the example of Jesus
  • Have lived faith which is evident to all who are paying attention
  • Bring glory to God, not ourselves
  • Give positive flavor to the world, or at least our corner of it
  • Preserve goodness

And we cannot do this if we are spreading rumors and slanders, and questioning groundlessly the motivations of others.  Such activities do not quality as keeping God’s law.  No, the summary of the law of God is to love God with everything one has and is, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself.  There is regulation in divine law against such deeds.

There is an important lesson for Christian communities here.  Will we act out of love, or will we withdraw into pettiness and bitterness?  It is indeed a rare church that lacks any feature of the Corinthian congregation, but what is the personality of any given assembly?  Without naming any churches, I can rank churches I have known on this scale.  Perhaps you can, too.

And, as individuals, do we contribute to making our communities and neighborhoods better than we have found them?  If we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem.

Think about this:  Jesus came, in part, to leave the world better than he found it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 22, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CECILIA, MARTYR

THE FEAST OF C. S. LEWIS, NOVELIST

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/11/22/week-of-proper-5-tuesday-year-1/

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Regarding Devotions   2 comments

Old First United Methodist Church, Seattle, Washington

Image Source = Joe Mabel

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Seattle_First_Methodist_14.jpg)

Confirmation of This Identification Available from The Seattle Times

(http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/thearts/2008895369_zart23daniels.html)

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Methodism began as a revival movement in The Church of England.  Along the way it abandoned The Book of Common Prayer, even though U.S. Methodist Communion rituals prior to the 1989 United Methodist Hymnal were based on the English Prayer Book tradition.  My point is this:  I, raised a United Methodist, converted to The Episcopal Church in 1991 and embraced the Prayer Book.  Yes, as a friend of an acquaintance stated the case a few months ago, I left the church John Wesley made for the church that made John Wesley.  Now, when I say “Prayer Book” to most United Methodists I encounter, I receive mostly confused looks.

The Methodist Church (1939-1968), a predecessor of The United Methodist Church (1968-present), issued its first Book of Worship in 1945 and the second BOW twenty years later.  Each volume was for public and private use, much like the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.  Yet Methodism’s character was already forged; it did not become a Prayer Book tradition.  So the Book of Worship lived in church offices, not pews.  The United Methodist Book of Worship (1992) is likewise a mystery to many, if not most, United Methodists.

Among my many prized thrift-store book section finds is the Companion of The Book of Worship, Edited for the Commission on Worship for The United Methodist Church by William F. Dunkle, Jr., and Joseph D. Quillian, Jr. (Nashville, TN:  Abingdon Press, 1970).  M. Lawrence Snow, then pastor at Community United Methodist Church, Poughkeepsie, New York, contributed the chapter about using the BOW with home and small groups.  Yes, Rev. Snow was a ritualist.  During Internet searches I discovered his fondness for Ash Wednesday ashes here (http://www.nytimes.com/1993/02/24/nyregion/for-more-protestants-new-rite-for-lent-growing-number-congregations-accept-use.html) and his 2009 obituary here (http://www.nyac.com/obituaries/detail/12).   In four paragraphs on page 181 of the Companion Snow analyzed what he considered “Problems of Methodist Worship.”  He wrote:

Methodists especially should not ignore the public implications of their private devotions.  (As already indicated, “public” means both the services of the church and the affairs of the world.)

On one hand, the end of the class meeting and the decline of the prayer meeting in Methodism have further loosed the ties of intimate discipline and personal devotion from the public services (work and worship) of the church.  On the other hand, pivotal events, such as the “wet-dry controversy destroyed in the minds of many supporters of Prohibition any sense of the proportionate importance of social [i.e., public, worldly] issues” other than pietistic ones like abstinence.

One of the consequences in recent times has been a dilution of Methodist notions of worship and particularly “devotions.”  Our devotional literature is deprived; our devotional practices are in a state of disrepair.  They are individualistic, subjective, and faintly effeminate.  They tend to be overly moralistic, “psychological”; sometimes an acrostic of mystical classics.  They seem artificial because they are not public; they are unchurchly and unworldly.  They are private to the point of unreality.

Interestingly, the sermon, which Protestants have come to regard as the most important part of public worship, often mirrors the congregation’s deprived spirituality.  Widely popular preaching deals with how persons can “get along” and “be good.”   These themes narrow the responsibilities of worship and the humanity of the worshiper.  They make God and his world too small.

I am not certain how Methodist worship in 1969-1970 was “faintly effeminate,” according to Snow, nor do I find “faintly effeminate” worship bothersome or offensive.  As for the rest, I conclude that Snow did not find the rise of contemporary worship and “seven-eleven” praise choruses (ones with seven words one sings eleven times) comforting.  I consider them even worse than annoying; they are theological tide pools.

Snow did grasp correctly the shortcomings of pietism and Jesus-and-meism.  The world, you see, is not the enemy camp, the damned domain of Satan for which you and I have no responsibility.  No, the world is our neighborhood.  We and our forebears, by our actions and inactions, have made it what it is, for better and for worse.  We are supposed to be lights to the nations, as well as our neighbors and coworkers and friends and acquaintances, et cetera.  Do we put our lamps under a bushels, or do we let them shine?  Do we focus so much on pietistic obsessions, such as alcohol and sex, that we excuse, actively or passively, economic and racial injustice?  When we say that we love God fully and our neighbors as ourselves, do we try to act accordingly?  Or do we content ourselves with mere words?

I have begun a multi-year practice of writing devotional blog posts, according to lectionaries.  Many of these posts flow from the conviction that we will transform the world, or at least our corner of it, by our actions or inactions, and that we ought to do this for the good.  These devotions exist at three blogs, which, together, cover the church year:  ADVENT, CHRISTMAS AND EPIPHANY DEVOTIONS (http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/), LENTEN AND EASTER DEVOTIONS (http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/), and ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS (http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/).  Pondering texts and writing devotions is a great spiritual exercise for me as I try, with more success on some days than on others, not, in the words of Rev. Snow, to “make God and his world too small.”

As for the current state of United Methodist devotional life, I defer to the judgment of those better informed than I am.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 9, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT COLUMBA OF IONA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY AND ABBOT

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Published originally at SUNDRY THOUGHTS OF KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR