Archive for the ‘Separation of Church and State’ Tag

Freedom in Christ   Leave a comment

Above:  Good Shepherd

Image in the Public Domain


For the Second Sunday after Easter, Year 2


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)


Almighty God, who hast given thine only Son to be unto us

both a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life;

give us grace that we may always most thankfully receive his inestimable benefit,

and also daily endeavor ourselves to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life;

through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 168


Ezekiel 34:11-16, 30, 31

Psalm 147

1 Peter 2:11-25

John 10:11-16


I confess without any reluctance that my personality contains a wide streak of rebellion.  I enjoy poking my fingers in the eyes of authority figures, so to speak.  Logically, then, I enjoy the portions of scripture (Hebrew prophets and apocalyptic literature, especially) that lower the boom on certain potentates–bad shepherds, figuratively–and on kingdoms and empires.  I bristle at 1 Peter 2:17.  Why should I honor “the emperor” or any modern tyrant?  After all, I recognize those Christians who, in the name of Jesus, resisted Adolf Hitler as moral giants.  And the theme of submission that runs through 1 Peter is foreign to me.

And don’t get me started on the acceptance of slavery in 1 Peter 2:18-20, O reader.

The First Letter of Peter comes from a social context quite different from mine.  Context is crucial.  I, as a student of history, affirm that principle.  One needs to consider that, in Asia Minor, in the late first century of the Common Era, Christians constituted a vulnerable minority subject to laws they had no hand in making.  And how should one translate the principles of 1 Peter into life in a republic?

The key may be that we are free in God.  We are slaves only to God.  We are not properly slaves to the state.  The Church must never be an arm of the state.  No, the Church must serve God.  To quote David L. Bartlett:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, and a host of less famous stand as constant reminders that sometimes Christian freedom means freedom from society’s rules, and not merely freedom to obey willingly.

The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume XII (1998), 278

John 10 applies the language of the Good Shepherd from Ezekiel 34 to Jesus.  We read in Ezekiel 34 that God is the Good Shepherd who will replace bad human shepherds with better ones.  (Most of the Kings of Judah were bad shepherds.)  The use of the imagery of the Good Shepherd in John 10 takes on an apolitical approach, though.  In John 10, the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  In other words, Jesus will die.

May we never forget that the Roman Empire executed Jesus on a charge of which he was innocent.

At least 1 Peter does not advise us to revere the emperor.  No, the letter tells us to revere God.  God outranks the emperor.

We are free in Christ to follow him, who died and rose again.  We are free to serve Christ in “the least of these.”  We are free to work for social justice and resist tyranny.  And we are free to take up our crosses and follow him.  We may even be free to die for our faith.  Very little seems to increase one’s likelihood of suffering more than obeying the Golden Rule consistently and applying it to institutions, governments, policies, and societies.









National Holiness   2 comments

Above:  Nablus, Palestine, Ottoman Empire, 1898 (Built on the Site of Shechem)


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


Joshua 24:14-29 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

Joshua said,

Now, therefore, revere the LORD and serve Him with undivided loyalty; put away the gods that your forefathers served beyond the Euphrates and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.  Or, if you are loath to serve the LORD, choose this day which ones you are going to serve–the gods that your forefathers served beyond the Euphrates, or those of the Amorites in whose land you are settled; but I and my household will serve the LORD.

In reply, the people declared,

Far be it from us to forsake the LORD and serve other gods!  For it was the LORD our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, the house of bondage, and who wrought those wondrous signs before our very eyes, and guarded us all along the way we traveled and among all the peoples through whose midst we passed.  And then the LORD drove out before us all the peoples–the Amorites–that inhabited the country.  We too will serve the LORD, for He is our God.

Joshua, however, said to the people,

You will not be able to serve the LORD, for He is a holy God.  He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions and your sins.  If you forsake the LORD and serve alien gods, He will turn and deal harshly with you and make an end of you, after having been gracious to you.

But the people replied to Joshua,

No, we will serve the LORD!

Thereupon Joshua said to the people,

You are witnesses against yourselves that you have left your own act chosen to serve the LORD.

They responded,

Yes, we are!

Joshua replied,

Then put away the alien gods that you have among you and direct your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel.

And the people declared to Joshua,

We will serve none but the LORD our God, and we will obey none but Him.

On that day at Shechem, Joshua made a covenant for the people and he made a fixed rule for them.  Joshua recorded all this in a book of divine instruction.  He took a great stone and set it at the foot of the oak in the sacred precinct of the LORD; and Joshua said to all the people,

See, this very stone shall be a witness against us, for it heard all the words that the LORD spoke to us; it shall be a witness against you, lest you break faith with your God.

Joshua then dismissed the people to their allotted portions.

After these events, Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of one hundred and ten years.

Psalm 16:1, 5-11 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you;

I have said to the LORD, “You are my Lord,

my good above all other.”

5 O LORD, you are my portion and my cup;

it is you who uphold my lot.

6 My boundaries enclose a pleasant land;

indeed, I have a goodly heritage.

I will bless the LORD who gives my counsel;

my heart teaches me, night after night.

I have set the LORD always before me;

because he is at my right hand I shall not fall.

9 My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices;

my body also shall rest in hope.

10 For you will not abandon me to the grave,

nor will your holy one see the Pit.

11 You will show me the path of life;

in your presence there is fullness of joy,

and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.

Matthew 19:13-15 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Then some little children were brought to him, so that he could put his hands on them and pray for them.  The disciples strongly disapproved of this but Jesus said,

You must let little children come to me, and you must never stop them.  The kingdom of Heaven belongs to little children like these!

Then he laid his hands on them and walked away.


The Collect:

Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Links to posts covering Jesus and children:


The Hebrew Bible assumed its current form in stages.  Among these was the editing together of documents (among them J, E, P, and D) into various books, including Joshua.  This process reached completion after the return from the Babylonian Exile, hence the strong foreshadowing in certain books, such as Joshua.  Those who came out of exile and relocated to an ancestral homeland in which they had not lived understood that national apostasy had led to the decline and fall of the Jewish kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

The Enlightenment and U.S. history inform my views on the proper relationship between religion and state.  I know that colonial New England Puritans did not tolerate religious dissent, for the exiled Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson.  They also expelled the Quakers they did not execute.  The Enlightenment value of the separation of church and state is wise.  It also protects the church from state interference and religious dissidents from execution as alleged traitors.

So national holiness is not a matter of theocracy.  It is not so much an issue of policy as it is of personal behavior fostered in community.  The main principle of holiness in a social context is the Golden Rule.  How we treat others reveals much about how we value God and ourselves.  This is an affirmative statement, one intended only to point to the light.  There is no wrong in acting according to the Golden Rule, although obeying it constitutes at least what the Lutheran confessions of faith call civic righteousness, which is good yet cannot save us from ourselves.  Only God can do that, but we have an abiding obligation to serve this deity with undivided loyalty.  May we do so, by grace.

By doing this we will improve our communities, societies, and nations.  National holiness is a matter of attitudes, which translate into actions.  By reforming the way we act toward one another we can change society.  May we do so for the better.  This is what God commands us to do.







Adapted from this post:


Not For the Sake of Appearances   3 comments

Above:  A Trappist Monk Praying

Image Source = Daniel Tibi


2 Corinthians 9:6-11 (An American Translation):

Remember this:  The man who sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and the man who sows generously will reap generously.  Everyone must give what he has made up his mind to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion; God loves a man who is glad to give.  God is able to provide with every blessing in abundance so that you will always have enough for every situation, and ample means for every good enterprise:  as the Scripture says,

He scatters his gifts to the poor;

His uprightness will never be forgotten.

He who supplies the sower with seed and so with bread to eat will supply you with seed, and multiply it and enlarge the harvest of your uprightness.  You will grow rich in every way, so that through me you can show perfect liberality that will make men thank God for it.

Psalm 112:1-9 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Hallelujah!

Happy are they who fear the Lord

and have great delight in his commandments!

2 Their descendants will be mighty in the land;

the generation of the upright will be blessed.

3 Wealth and riches will be in their house,

and their righteousness will last for ever.

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.

6 For they will never be shaken;

the righteous will be kept in everlasting remembrance.

7 They will not be afraid of any evil rumors;

their heart is right;

they put their trust in the Lord.

8 Their trust is established and will not shrink,

until they see their desire upon their enemies.

They have given freely to the poor,

and their righteousness stands fast for ever;

they will hold up their head with honor.

Matthew 6:1-18 (An American Translation):

[Jesus continued,] “But take care not to do your good deeds in public for people to see, for, if you do, you will get no reward from your Father in heaven.  So when you are going to give to charity, do not blow a trumpet before yourself, as the hypocrites do, in the synagogues and the streets, to make people praise them.  I tell you, that this is all the reward they will get!  But when you give to charity, your own left hand must now know what your right hand is doing, so that your charity may be secret, and your Father who sees what is secret will reward you.

When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, for they like to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the squares, to let people see them.  I tell you, that is all the reward they will get!  But when you pray, go into your own room, and shut the door, and pray to your Father who is unseen, and your Father who sees what is secret will reward you.  And when you pray, do not repeat empty phrases as the heathen do, for they imagine that their prayers will be heard if they use words enough.  You must not be like them.  For God, who is your Father, knows what you need before you ask him.  This, therefore, is the way you are to pray:

Our Father in heaven,

Your name be revered!

Your kingdom come!

Your will be done

On earth as well as in heaven!

Give us today bread for the day,

And forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors.

And do not subject us to temptation,

But save us from the evil one.

For if you forgive others when they offend you, your heavenly Father will forgive you too.  But if you do not forgive others when they offend you, your heavenly Father will not forgive you for your offenses.

When you fast, do not put on a gloomy look, like the hypocrites, for they neglect their personal appearance to let people see that they are fasting.  I tell you, that is all the reward they will get.  But when you fast, perfume your hair and wash your face, that no one may see that you are fasting, except your Father who is unseen, and your Father who sees what is secret, will reward you.”


The Collect:

Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.


Sincerity is the heart of this day’s readings.  It is not enough to do the right thing, such as to pray, fast, or give alms; no, one must do these for the right reason(s).  These include the following:

  1. One is grateful and devoted to God.
  2. One seeks to obey God’s commands faithfully.
  3. One is filled with genuine concern for others.
  4. One seeks one’s own spiritual improvement.

And none of this praying, fasting, and giving of alms must be for show.

Multiple Hebrew texts teach the divine imperative of caring for the less fortunate.  Aside from this day’s psalm, I think immediately of Deuteronomy 15:7-11, which Paul references.  There are also too many passages from the Hebrew prophets to quote here and to remain succinct.  The Bible does teach a divine preference for the poor and condemnation of those who keep them that way and exploit them.

Many or most of us can recall incidents of politicians who rarely attend church becoming Sunday morning regulars during weeks preceding an election.  Attending church is good, of course, but we must do this sincerely, not for show.  Going to keep up appearances is inadequate.  I have never sought public office, but I can recall a few times I have attended church out of habit but, for my sake and that of others, should have stayed home that day.  My heart was not in it.  To refer to a line from the previous day’s reading from Matthew, I was not ready to make offering to God.

Neither should prayer be for show, or vain.  The Reverend Roger Williams, Puritan minister, founder of Rhode Island, and founder of the oldest Baptist congregation in the United States, objected strenuously to anyone (especially, in his case, the government of the Massachusetts Bay colony) compelling someone to pray involuntarily.  The only prayers worth anything, he said, are those offered sincerely and voluntarily.

Praying and fasting had become outward signs of respectability for certain professional religious people in Jesus’ day.  These men did not sacrifice anything when they fasted, which they did often.  Oddly enough, fasting was a luxury for them.  And one might recall the parable of Jesus in which two men pray in the Temple.  One is a humble tax collector beseeching God for mercy, and the other is a Pharisee who boasts of his deeds and who has contempt on the tax collector.  Jesus favored the prayer of the tax collector.

As to the matter of vain words, let us not think that simplicity of worship equals sincerity of it.  Anyone can go through the motions, regardless of the number of them.  If you attend a church with a regular pattern of Sunday worship, no matter how simple it might be, you go to a liturgical church.  I attend an Episcopal parish, so I go through a fairly elaborate weekly pattern of worship.  I would use a Prayer Book except for the fact that I have memorized Holy Eucharist Rite II over the years.  My words have been vain only on those days that I, for personal reasons, would have been better off staying home.  My heart has not always been in it.

Consider the following twice-told story:

There was a community worship service in a county seat town in the U.S. South.  The host congregation for this service was the First Baptist Church, and most of the local ministers helped lead the worship.  When the host pastor introduced the local Episcopal priest, who was to say a prayer, the Southern Baptist minister said, “Now Father Jones will say one of his written prayers.”  The priest walked to the pulpit and said, “Let us pray.  Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name….”

Sincerity in prayer expresses itself in many ways.  I know through reading that different styles of prayer appeal to various personality types, for example.  So one size does not fit all.  And the South Georgia Baptist cadence I heard while growing up does not appeal to me.  No, give me a Prayer Book any day.  I mean that sincerely.

All of these lessons from Matthew flow naturally out of the end of Chapter 5 and the command of Jesus to be perfect (that is, suited to one’s intended purpose), just as God is.  Think about it:  What does ostentation benefit anyone spiritually?  Can it prepare one for service to God and others?  No, of course not!  So let us be sensitive and sincere.  May we think more about others and God than ourselves.  Sincere and sensitive actions will from such attitudes.







Adapted from this post: