Archive for the ‘St. Augustine of Hippo’ Tag

The Book of Consolation   Leave a comment

Above:  Jeremiah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART XIX

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Jeremiah 30:1-31:40

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The Book of Jeremiah contains distinct sections.  30:1-31:40 is the Book of Consolation.  After all the recent doom and gloom in Jeremiah, some consolation is welcome.

Layers of authorship exist in the Book of Consolation:

  1. A layer dating to the prophet himself,
  2. A layer of the editing of statements dating to the prophet himself,
  3. A layer dating to the Babylonian Exile, and
  4. A layer dating to after the Babylonian Exile.

I acknowledge this and focus on themes.

We read of a divine promise of the end of the Babylonian Exile, with collective spiritual renewal attached the return to the ancestral homeland.

We read of God chastising the covenant community for its sins and devouring those who wanted to devour the covenant community.  Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance.

The image of God as the Good Shepherd, reversing exile, occurs in Jeremiah 31:10-14.  For other occurrences, read Jeremiah 23 and Ezekiel 34:11-16.  The image of the Good Shepherd applies to Jesus in John 10:1-21.

Jeremiah 31:15 is one of the verses dubiously quoted in reference to Jesus (Matthew 2:18).  (The Gospel of Matthew frequently quotes the Hebrew Bible dubiously in reference to Jesus.)  Jeremiah 31:15 uses the name of Rachel, wife of Jacob, and alludes to Genesis 35:16-21 and 1 Samuel 10:2.  In Jeremiah 31:15, “Rachel” (Jerusalem personified) weeps for those who have gone into exile.  Yet these exiles–or their descendants–will return, we read.  Matthew 2:18 interprets Jeremiah 31:15 as a prediction of the Massacre of the Innocents at Bethlehem, circa 4 B.C.E.

We also read of the remnant of the (northern) Kingdom of Israel reincorporating into Zion.  This element is either historically troublesome or potentially so.

  1. It may refer to those people of Israel who retained their faith joining the spiritually renewed community.  This is not historically troublesome.  The historical record mentions people fleeing Israel, as well as their descendants moving to the ancestral homeland.
  2. However, if the prophecy in Chapter 30 is a version of the prophecy in Chapter 31, we may have a historical problem, O reader.  The historical record tells us that the descendants of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah never reunited.  The combination of genetics and cultural anthropology tells us that Ten Lost Tribes scattered across the Old World–from South Africa to Afghanistan.  And, with the advent of widespread global travel, we can state with certainty that the descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes have scattered across the world.
  3. We do not have a historical problem if the fulfillment of this prophecy has yet to occur.

Whenever God will reunite the remnants of Israel and Judah, we read, God will establish a new covenant–one written on human hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Early Christian interpretation of this passage as referring to Jesus explains why the New Testament bears the label it does.  We can thank Tertullian (in full, Quintus Septimus Florens Tertullian, c. 160-c. 225 B.C.E.) for that.  In the context of Jeremiah 31, though, the prophecy refers to the internalization of the Torah, therefore, to a spiritual state in which disobedience to God will cease to be an option.

This topic reminds me of an abbreviation of an extended passage from St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430):

Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.

The too-abbreviated version is:

Love God and do whatever you please.

The rest of the quote is essential for proper context and understanding.

Anyhow, the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31-34 has yet to come true communally.  Some especially holy men and women may have, by grace, achieved the spiritual state St. Augustine described.  I am not one of them.

Jeremiah 31 concludes with the repetition of divine faithfulness to the covenant people.  God may punish them for their sins, but will never destroy them.  The Jews will remain the Chosen People for all time.  Jeremiah 31:38-40 reverses Jeremiah 1:10.

See, I appoint you this day

Over nations and kingdoms:

To uproot and pull down,

To destroy and to overthrow,

To build up and to plant.

–Jeremiah 1:10, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

This is the beginning of one thread.  Then we read Jeremiah 31:38-40:

See, a time is coming–declares the LORD–when the city shall be rebuilt for the LORD from the tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate; and the measuring line shall go straight out to the Gareb Hill, and then turn toward Goah.  And the entire Valley of the Corpses and Ashes, and all the fields as far as the Wadi Kidron, and the corner of the Horse Gate on the east, shall be holy to the LORD.  They shall never again be uprooted or overthrown.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

This description of the rebuilding of Jerusalem speaks of a promising future.  Yet I know of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.  We may be reading a yet-unfulfilled prophecy.

Or Jeremiah may have gotten this one wrong.  He also predicted the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian conquest of Egypt (46:1-6).  The Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire never conquered Egypt.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 13, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 6:  THE THIRD SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINT SPYRIDON OF CYPRUS, BISHOP OF TREMITHUS, CYPRUS; AND HIS CONVERT, SAINT TRYPHILLIUS OF LEUCOSIA, CYPRUS; OPPONENTS OF ARIANISM

THE FEAST OF DAVID ABEEL, U.S. DUTCH REFORMED MINISTER AND MISSIONARY TO ASIA

THE FEAST OF ELIAS BENJAMIN SANFORD, U.S. METHODIST THEN CONGREGATIONAL MINISTER AND ECUMENIST

THE FEAST OF SIGISMUND VON BIRKEN, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT, U.S. POET, JOURNALIST, AND HYMN WRITER

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Israel’s Punishment and Restoration, Part I: The Fruits of Idolatry and Punishment for Rebellion   1 comment

Above:  Small Waterfall, Poss Creek, Ben Burton Park, Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, October 29, 2017

Photographer = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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…Like foam upon water.

–Hosea 10:7, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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READING HOSEA, PART VIII

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Hosea 10:1-15

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St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) defined sin as disordered love.  The great theologian and Bishop of Hippo Regius explained that God deserves the most love.  Furthermore, people, as well as certain items, ideas, institutions, and activities deserve less love than God.  Furthermore, some some ideas, items, institutions, and activities deserve no love.  The Bishop of Hippo Regius taught that to give God less love than proper and anything or anyone else more love than proper is to have disordered love–sin.  This sin is also idolatry, for it draws love away from God.

Hosea 10:1-15 employs metaphors for the (northern) Kingdom of Israel.  10:1-10 describes Israel as a vine.  The vine’s days of economic prosperity and military security during the reign (788-747 B.C.E.) of Jeroboam II are over in the vision.  Also, we read, the golden calf at Bethel (“House of God”), or as Hosea called the place, Beth-aven (“House of Evil;” see 4:15 also), will become an object of tribute hauled off to the Assyrian Empire.  And

Samaria’s monarchy is vanishing

Like foam upon the water….”

–10:7, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011) offers an alternative translation:

Samaria and her king will disappear,

like a twig upon the waters.

Israel is like a heifer in 10:11-15.  Israel, trained to sow righteousness and, therefore, to reap the fruits of goodness, instead plows wickedness.  Therefore, Israel reaps iniquity and eats the fruits of treachery.  Israel’s reliance on its way has led to its preventable fate.

I detect what may be evidence of subsequent Judean editing of 10:11:

I will make Ephraim do advance plowing;

Judah shall do [main] plowing!

Jacob shall do final plowing!

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Hosea 10:13-14 refers to military threats.  The immediate threat was from either Tiglath-pileser III (r. 745-727 B.C.E.), Shalmaneser V (r. 727-722 B.C.E.), or Sargon II (r. 722-705 B.C.E.) of the Assyrian Empire.  Shalmaneser V began the siege of Samaria; Sargon II finished it.  This detail seems to have been lost on the author of 2 Kings 17:1-6.  Perhaps Hosea 10:13-14, in referring to Shalman having destroyed Betharbel, means Shalmaneser III (r. 858-824 B.C.E.), from the time of King Jehu of Israel (r. 842-814 B.C.E.).  (See 2 Kings 9:1-10:30; 2 Chronicles 22:5-9.)  The reference to the battle at Betharbel is obscure, but the warning is plain.  The collective consequences of collectively forsaking the divine covenant are terrible, we read.

Perhaps James Luther Mays summarized the situation best:

Yahweh will be the one who acts in gruesome devastation against those whose faith makes them secure against his judgment and independent of his power.  Autonomy as a state of violation of their existence as the covenant people is the “evil of their evil.”  The king to whom the army belongs and who therefore incarnates their independence of Yahweh will be the first to fall.  In the dawn’s first light, when the battle has hardly begun, he shall be cut off.

Hosea:  A Commentary (1969), 150

After all, as R. B. Y. Scott wrote:

If the righteousness of Yahweh could not find realization in a social order, it must destroy the order of life men built in its defiance.

The Relevance of the Prophets, 2nd. ed. (1968), 188

The prophets Hosea and Amos were contemporaries with different foci.  As Rabbi Abraham J. Heschel wrote, Amos saw episodes yet Hosea saw a drama.  Also, Amos focused on social injustice (especially economic injustice), but Hosea focused on idolatry.  Injustice and idolatry were related to each other.  The people and their kings, by straying from God, strayed also from the divine covenant, of which social justice was an essential part.

That is a timeless message that should cause many people to tremble.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 18, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MALTBIE DAVENPORT BABCOCK, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, HUMANITARIAN, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT FELIX OF CANTALICE, ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC FRIAR

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN I, BISHOP OF ROME

THE FEAST OF MARY MCLEOD BETHUNE, AFRICAN-AMERICAN EDUCATOR AND SOCIAL ACTIVIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT STANISLAW KUBSKI, POLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1945

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False Significance and True Significance   Leave a comment

THE QUEST FOR FALSE SIGNIFICANCE IS A FORM OF IDOLATRY.

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, “Master, when did we see you hungry and feed you; or thirsty and give you drink?  When did we see you a stranger and take you in; or naked and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison, and come to see you?”  “In solemn truth I tell you,” the King will answer them, “that inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these, my brothers, you had done it unto me.”

–Matthew 25:37-40, Helen Barrett Montgomery, the Centenary Translation of the New Testament (1924)

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And lo, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last.

–Luke 13:30, Helen Barrett Montgomery, the Centenary Translation of the New Testament (1924)

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The ethics and morals of Jesus of Nazareth shape my ethics and morals.  I am a professing Christian, after all.  

The increase in political extremism defined by hatred, xenophobia, nativism, and conspiracy theories concerns me deeply.  This is a global problem.  As one hears in this video clip, the “quest for significance” is one of the “pillars of radicalization.”  

We are dealing with idolatry.  Sin, in Augustinian terms, is disordered love.  God deserves the most love.  Many people, activities, ideas, et cetera, deserve lesser amounts of love.  Others deserve no love.  To love that which one should not love or to love someone or something more than one ought to do is to deny some love to God.  One bears the image of God.  One is, therefore, worthy of much love.  In fact, Judaism and Christianity teach that one has a moral obligation to love others as one loves oneself, assuming that one loves oneself as one should (Leviticus 19:18; Tobit 4:15; Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 31:15; Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31).  After all, the other human beings also bear the image of God.  Judaism and Christianity also teach people to love God fully, and link love of God and love of other people (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Matthew 22:36-40).  Therefore, true significance comes from loving God fully and loving God, as God is present in human beings, especially the “least of these.”

Two stories from 1 Maccabees pertain to my theme.  

In 1 Maccabees 5:55-64, two Hasmonean military commanders named Zechariah and Azariah sought to make a name for themselves.  They succeeded; they caused military defeat and won ignominy to define their names.  However, in 1 Maccabees 6:42-47, Eleazar Avaran acted selflessly, in defense of his oppressed people and the Law of Moses.  He died and won an honored name from his people.  Those who sought honor earned disgrace.  He who sacrificed himself gained honor.

I could quote or mention a plethora of Biblical verses and passages about the folly of seeking false significance.  The Bible has so many of them because of the constancy of human nature.  I could quote or mention more verses and passages, but to do so would be triply redundant.

Simply, true human significance comes from God, compared to whom we are all insignificant.  That significance comes from bearing the image of God.  The sooner more of us accept that truth, the better off the rest of us will be.  The social, societal, economic, and political costs of the quest for false significance to extremely high.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 24, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MATTHIAS THE APOSTLE, MARTYR

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Stoicism and Platonism in Fourth Maccabees   Leave a comment

Above:  Zeno of Citium

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART IV

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4 Maccabees 1:1-3:18; 13:1-14:10; 18:20-24

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The Fourth Book of the Maccabees, composed in 20-54 C.E., perhaps in Antioch, is a treatise.  It interprets Judaism in terms of Greek philosophy–Stoicism and Platonism, to be precise.  4 Maccabees elaborates on the story of the martyrdom of the seven brothers and their mother, covered relatively succinctly in 2 Maccabees 7:1-42, and set prior to the Hasmonean Rebellion.

Fourth Maccabees, composed by an anonymous Hellenistic Jew and addressed to other Hellenistic Jews, has two purposes:

  1. To exhort them to obey the Law of Moses (18:1), and
  2. To proclaim that devout reason is the master of all emotions (1:1-2; 18:2).

Cultural assimilation was a common temptation for Hellenistic Jews.  “Keep the faith,” the author urged more verbosely than my paraphrase.  For him, devout reason was a reason informed by the Law of Moses.  Devout reason, in the author’s mind, the highest form of reason was the sole province of faithful Jews.

Vicarious suffering is also a theme in 4 Maccabees.  In this book, the suffering and death of the martyrs purifies the land (1:11; 6:29; 17:21), vindicates the Jewish nation (17:10), and atones for the sins of the people (6:29; 17:22).  The last point presages Penal Substitutionary Atonement, one of several Christian theologies of the atonement via Jesus.

The blending of Jewish religion and Greek philosophy is evident also in the treatment of the afterlife.  The Second Book of the Maccabees teaches bodily resurrection (7:9, 11, 14, 23, and 29).  One can find bodily resurrection elsewhere in Jewish writings (Daniel 12:2; 1 Enoch 5:1-2; 4 Ezra/2 Esdras 7:42; 2 Baruch 50:2-3).  The Fourth Book of the Maccabees, however, similar to the Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-4, teaches instant immortality, with reward or punishment.  The martyrs achieve instant instant immortality with reward (4 Maccabees 9:9, 22; 10:15; 14:15; 15:7; 16:13, 25; 17:12, 18; 18:23).  Antiochus IV Epiphanes, however, goes to everlasting torment (9:9, 29, 32; 10:11, 15; 11:3, 23; 12:18; 18:5).

Stoicism, in the Greek philosophical sense, has a different meaning than the average layperson may assume.  It is not holding one’s feelings inside oneself.  Properly, Stoicism teaches that virtue is the only god and vice is the only evil.  The wise are indifferent to pain and pleasure, to wealth and poverty, and to success and misfortune.  A Stoic, accepting that he or she could change x, y, and z, yet not t, u, and v.  No, a Stoic works to change x, y, and z.  A Stoic, therefore, is content in the midst of difficulty.  If this sounds familiar, O reader, you may be thinking of St. Paul the Apostle being content in pleasant and in unpleasant circumstances (Philippians 4:11-12).

Stoicism shows up elsewhere in the New Testament and in early Christianity, too.  It is in the mouth of St. Paul in Athens (Acts 17:28).  Stoicism is also evident in the writings of St. Ambrose of Milan (337-397), mentor of St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430).  Why would it not be in the writings of St. Ambrose?  Greek philosophy informed the development of early Christian theology.  Greek philosophy continues to exist in sermons, Sunday School lessons, and Biblical commentaries.  Greek philosophy permeates the Gospel of John and the Letter to the Hebrews.  Greek philosophy is part of the Christian patrimony.

Platonism was the favorite form of Greek philosophy in the Roman Catholic Church for centuries.  Platonism permeated the works of St. Clement of Alexandria (circa 150-circa 210/215) and his star pupil, Origen (185-254), for example.  Eventually, though, St. Albert the Great (circa 1200-1280) and his star pupil, St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), successfully made the case for Aristotle over Plato.  Holy Mother Church changed her mind after the deaths of Sts. Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas. The Church, having embraced Aristotle over Plato, eventually rescinded the pre-Congregation canonization of St. Clement of Alexandria.  And the Church has never canonized Origen.  I have, however, read news stories of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland trying to convince The Episcopal Church to add Origen to the calendar of saints.  (The Episcopal Church already recognizes St. Clement of Alexandria as a saint.)

Platonism and Stoicism have four cardinal virtues–rational judgment, self-control, justice, and courage.  These appear in 4 Maccabees 1:2-4.  As I read these verses, I recognize merit in them.  Some emotions do hinder self-control.  Other emotions to work for injustice and obstruct courage.  News reports provide daily documentation of this.  Other emotions further the causes of justice and courage.  News reports also provide daily documentation of this.

I also affirm that reason should govern emotions.  I cite news stories about irrationality.  Emotions need borders, and must submit to objectivity and reason, for the best results.

4 Maccabees takes the reader on a grand tour of the Hebrew Bible to support this conclusion.  One reads, for example, of Joseph (Genesis 39:7-12; 4 Maccabees 2:1-6), Simeon and Levi (Genesis 49:7; 4 Maccabees 2:19-20), Moses (Numbers 16:1-35; Sirach 45:18; 4 Maccabees 2:17), David (2 Samuel 23:13-17; 1 Chronicles 11:15-19; 4 Maccabees 3:6-18).

Reason can effect self-control, which works for higher purposes.  One of these higher purposes is

the affection of brotherhood.

–4 Maccabees 13:19, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

In the case of the seven martyred brothers, as the author of 4 Maccabees told their story, these holy martyrs used rational judgment and self-control to remain firm in their faith.  Those brothers did not

fear him who thinks he is killing us….

–4 Maccabees 13:14, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

That is the same courage and conviction present in Christian martyrs, from antiquity to the present day.

One may think of another passage:

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

–Matthew 10:28, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

Not surprisingly, many persecuted Christians derived much comfort and encouragement from 4 Maccabees.  These Christians had to rely on each other, just as the seven brothers did in 4 Maccabees.

Mutuality is a virtue in the Law of Moses and in Christianity.

I have spent the first four posts in this series laying the groundwork for the First, Second, and Fourth Books of Maccabees.  I have provided introductory material for these books.

Next, I will start the narrative countdown to the Hasmonean Rebellion.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 4, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CORNELIUS THE CENTURION

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Idolatry, Part V   Leave a comment

Above:  Luggage Icon

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity, Year 2

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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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O Lord, we beseech thee, let thy continual pity cleanse and defend thy Church;

and because it cannot continue in safety without thy succor,

preserve it evermore by thy help and goodness;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 212

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1 Kings 17:1-16

Psalm 1

Acts 16:19-40

Matthew 6:24-34

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Do we–collectively and individually–trust in God?  Or do we trust in idols?

As St. Augustine of Hippo told us very long ago, sin is disordered love.  Idolatry–one sin in particular–is loving God less than we–or one–should, and loving something or someone more than we–or one–should.  Wealth (Matthew 6:24) is morally neutral.  However, an unhealthy attachment to it is not.  Attachments to imaginary deities constitute another variety of idolatry.

St. Lydia of Thyatira, introduced in Acts 16:14 and present in today’s assigned portion of Acts, offers an example of how to be wealthy without idolizing wealth.  The narrative tells us that she received the Gospel gratefully, then that she extended hospitality to St. Paul the Apostle and St. Silas.  Acts 16:40 records that St. Lydia hosted the evangelists, who

saw and encouraged the brothers….

The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

Each of us needs a daily idolatry check, for each one of us as at least one spiritually unhealthy attachment.  Letting go may prove psychologically challenging.  So be it.  Carrying around too much luggage is burdensome.  It is a self-imposed burden.  By grace, we can let go of that luggage and find our full freedom in Christ.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 22, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN JULIAN, ANGLICAN PRIEST, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMNOLOGIST

THE FEAST OF ALEXANDER MEN, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1990

THE FEAST OF SAINT LADISLAO BATTHÁNY-STRATTMANN, AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PHYSICIAN AND PHILANTHROPIST

THE FEAST OF LOUISE CECILIA FLEMING, AFRICAN-AMERICAN BAPTIST MISSIONARY AND PHYSICIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT VINCENT PALLOTTI, FOUNDER OF THE SOCIETY FOR THE CATHOLIC APOSTALATE, THE UNION OF CATHOLIC APOSTOLATE, AND THE SISTERS OF THE CATHOLIC APOSTOLATE

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Can These Dry Bones Live?   Leave a comment

Above:  Vision of the Valley of Dry Bones

Image in the Public Domain

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For Easter Sunday, Year 2

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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 through the resurrection of thine only begotten Son Jesus Christ,

hast overcome death and opened unto us the gate of everlasting life;

assist and support us, we beseech thee, the aspirations of thy heavenly grace,

that dying unto sin always, and living unto righteousness,

we may at last triumph over death and the grave, in the full image of our risen Lord:

to whom, with thee and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, world without end.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 163

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Ezekiel 37:9-14

Psalm 115

1 Corinthians 15:12-20

Luke 24:13-35

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There is always hope in God.  In the case of Ezekiel 37, an allegory of the restoration of Judah from the Babylonian Exile, the hope was legitimate.  God was faithful.  Jesus was dead.  Then he was alive again.  The resurrection of the dead will occur.  Without the resurrection of Jesus being real, we Christians are the most pitiable people.

The resurrection of Christ is a mandatory doctrine in Christianity.  Some doctrines are optional.  One can be a Christian while refuting the Virgin Birth, for example.  About one quarter of Christianity rejects Original Sin.  (The Eastern Orthodox did not have St. Augustine of Hippo.)  But the resurrection of Jesus is mandatory.  Without it we have a dead Jesus.  Dead Jesus cannot save anybody from anything.

Know, O reader, that I am not an especially doctrinaire person.  At least one member of my family is concerned about my salvation because she thinks I am wrong on too many points of doctrine.  So be it.  Therefore, when I write that the resurrection of Christ is a mandatory doctrine, that statement carries greater weight than if a more doctrinaire Christian had written it.

I accept the resurrection of Jesus on faith.  I also accept the resurrection of the dead on faith.  I have no evidence for or against those propositions.  I must, therefore, accept them on faith, or reject them.

My spiritual struggles regard the resurrection of myself in this life, not the resurrection of Jesus nearly 2000 years ago and the resurrection of the dead in the next life.  Since the sudden, violent death of Bonny, my beloved, on October 14, 2019, I have been less alive than I used to be.  Part of me died with her.

I await a particular resurrection in this life.  Depending on the day or time thereof, I either affirm or reject that resurrection of that part of me that died on October 14, 2019, will occur.  Those dry bones may yet live.  They remain dead today.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 10, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FIRST SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN THE GOOD, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF MILAN

THE FEAST OF ALLEN WILLIAM CHATFIELD, ANGLICAN PRIEST, HYMN WRITER, AND TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF IGNATIOUS SPENCER, ANGLICAN THE  ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND APOSTLE OF ECUMENICAL PRAYER; AND HIS PROTEGÉE, ELIZABETH PROUT, FOUNDRESS OF THE SISTERS OF THE CROSS AND PASSION

THE FEAST OF MARY LUNDIE DUNCAN, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM GAY BALLANTINE, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, EDUCATOR, SCHOLAR, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

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Mutuality in God V   1 comment

Above:  Icon of Amos

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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Amos 3:1-8 or Proverbs 1:1-19

Psalm 115:1-11

1 Timothy 1:1-2, 12-17

John 1:35-42

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The Humes lectionary provides two options for the First Reading.  I will write about both of them.

Amos 3:1-8 includes a variation on the old saying that great responsibility accompanies great privilege.  Grace is free, not cheap.  One can never purchase it, but accepting it entails taking on duties.  To tie Proverbs 1:1-19 into that principle, one has a duty to show love for God by doing love to one’s fellow human beings.  Elsewhere in Amos, we read of greedy, exploitative people, as we do in Proverbs 1:8-19.

These men lie in wait for their own blood,

they set a trap for their own lives.

This is the fate of everyone greedy of loot:

unlawful gain takes away the life of him who acquires it.

–Proverbs 1:18-19, The New American Bible (1991)

Whatever we do to others, we do also to ourselves.

The audience in Amos 3 is collective; it is the people of Israel.  To be precise, it is the people of Israel during the reigns of King Azariah (Uzziah) of Judah (785-733 B.C.E.) and King Jeroboam II of Israel (788-747 B.C.E.).  The  Deuteronomic theology of the Book of Amos teaches that actions have consequences.  Obey the Law of Moses, please God, and reap the benefits.  Alternatively, disobey the Law of Moses, displease God, and reap the negative consequences.  Many of those commandments pertain to social justice, especially economic justice.

Our Western culture, with its pervasive individualism, easily overlooks collective responsibility.  Politically, the Right Wing emphasizes individual responsibility.  Meanwhile, the Left Wing stresses collective responsibility.  Both sides err in so far as they give short shrift to or ignore either type of responsibility.  Just as divine judgment and mercy exist in balance, so do individual and collective responsibility.  Mutuality holds them in balance.

Psalm 115 condemns idolatry.  The real idols are ideas, not objects.  A statue of a god, for example, can be a work of art to display in a museum.  Idolatry is about misplaced, disordered love, to go Augustinian on you, O reader.  In the case of the greedy people in Proverbs 1, their idol was attachment to wealth.

The reading from 1 Timothy 1 reminds us that God embraces repentance.  Remorse is an emotion that enables repentance, a series of actions.

Regardless of who wrote or dictated the First Letter to Timothy (probably not St. Paul the Apostle), St. Paul seemed unlikely to have become what he became in God.  Saul of Tarsus certainly did not expect it.  And, to turn to John 1:35-42, calling St. Simon “Peter,” or “Rock,” may have seemed ironic at first.  But Jesus recognized potential in him.  St. Simon Peter eventually grew into that potential.  St. Paul the Apostle grew into his potential, as well.

If we are to grew into our potential individually, we need the help of God and other people.  St. Paul had Ananias.  St. Simon Peter had Jesus.  Who do you have, O reader?

Likewise, if we are to grow into our potential collectively, we need the help of God and other groups of people.  We live in a web of mutuality.  We know this, do we not?  Globalization, at least, should have taught us that the communities and nation-states can affect the fates of our communities and nation-states.  

Will we work for the common good?  Or will we persist in delusions of amoral rugged individualism and isolationism?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 28, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FOURTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN THE EVANGELIST (TRANSFERRED)

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2020/12/28/devotion-for-the-second-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-d-humes/

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Mutuality in God IV   Leave a comment

Above:  St. Augustine of Hippo, by Ambito Lombardo

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year 2

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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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O God, who in the glorious Transfiguration of thy only begotten Son,

hast confirmed the mysteries of the faith by the testimony of the fathers,

and who, in the voice that came from the bright cloud,

didst in a wonderful manner vouchsafe to make us co-heirs with the King of his glory,

and bring us to the enjoyment of the same;

through the same Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord,

who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit,

ever one God, world without end.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 134

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Job 28:1-28

Psalm 119:49-64

1 Corinthians 10:1-14

Matthew 15:14-29

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How should one interpret Job 28?  It does not flow from Chapter 27.  “He” (God) in 28:3 has no antecedent in Job 27.  And the identity of the speaker is uncertain.  Chapter 28 sits between Job 27 and Job 29, of the titular character.  Is the speaker Job, one of his alleged friends, or someone else?

The identity of the speaker is crucial.  To know who speaks in a particular passage of the Book of Job is to know how to read or hear that passage.  Job’s alleged friends are objectively wrong on many points within the Book of Job and within the full canon of Jewish scripture.  Yet they are right sometimes, too.  To quote a cliché, 

A broken clock is right twice a day.

A note in The Jewish Study Bible hypothesizes that the speaker is Elihu, a character shoe-horned into the Book of Job between Job’s concluding argument to God (at the end of Chapter 31) and the beginning of God’s reply to job in Chapter 38.  The epilogue to the Book of Job names Eliphz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite (42:9) yet never Elihu.

[God] said to man,

“See!  Fear of the Lord is wisdom;

To shun evil is understanding.

–Job 28:28, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

That verse is consistent with Psalm 119.

The trials you have had to bear are no more than people normally have.  You can trust God not to let you be tried beyond your strength, and with any trial he will give you a way out of it and the strength to bear it.

–1 Corinthians 10:13, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

I have heard a consistent misinterpretation of that verse for many years.  

To read “you” as singular is wrong.  1 Corinthians is a letter to a congregation, not an individual.  Individualistic assumptions of my Western culture may lead one to misread and mishear “you” as singular.  Reading the passage in a romance language helps to clear up the matter, too.

Aucune tentation ne vous est survenue qui n’ait été humaine; Dieu est est fidèle et ne permettra pas que vous soyez téntes au-delà de vos forces….

–1 Corinthiens 10:13a, Nouvelle Version Segond Révisée (1978)

Vous is plural, not formal singular, in this case.

Within the context of faith community, all the necessary spiritual resources exist.  The variety of spiritual gifts and the presence of God can fulfill each person’s spiritual needs.  Mutuality remains a theme.

Regarding Matthew 15:21-28, I refer you, O reader, to the category for Matthew 15.  Follow it to find my analysis of that story.

I prefer to focus on another aspect of the Gospel reading.  The dark side of human nature defiles one–makes one unclean–makes one “common,” as J. B. Phillips translated the Greek word.  The list in Matthew 19 is representative, not comprehensive.  One may ask what fornication, theft, perjury, and slander have in common.  They are ways to harm others–emotionally, legally, socially, economically, and physically.  They work against the model of mutuality in 1 Corinthians 10:13.

To tie up the readings with a figurative bow, mutuality fits with Job 28:28 and Psalm 119.  We should shun evil, individually and collectively.  And standing in awe of God (a better translation than “fearing God”) is wisdom.

As St. Augustine of Hippo wrote at length and more eloquently than I write, those who love God as they should can do whatever they want and still please God.  They want to live in faith community defined by mutuality.  These spiritual giants want to help, not harm.  They are in tune with God.

I make no pretense of being one of these spiritual giants.  I do, however, know in visceral, practical terms how mutuality works in a congregation.  I know how to give and receive.  Both are blessings from God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 10, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE TWELFTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF KARL BARTH, SWISS REFORMED MINISTER, THEOLOGIAN, AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR; AND HIS SON, MARKUS BARTH, SWISS LUTHERAN MINISTER AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF HOWELL ELVET LEWIS, WELSH CONGREGATIONALIST CLERGYMAN AND POET

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN ROBERTS, WELSH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYR, 1610

THE FEAST OF PAUL EBER, GERMAN LUTHERAN THEOLOGIAN AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ROBERT MURRAY, CANADIAN PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

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King Nebuchadnezzar II’s Dream of the Composite Statue   Leave a comment

Above:  The Composite Statue

Image in the Public Domain

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READING DANIEL

PART II

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Daniel 2:1-49

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The internal chronology of the Book of Daniel goes awry again in 2:1.  One may recall the passage of three years in Chapter 1.  Chapter 2 occurs after the events of Chapter 1.  So, how could the events of Chapter 2 have occurred in the second year of the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar II?  If I were a fundamentalist, I would try to rationalize that contradiction.  Yet I am not, so I do not.  Instead, I ask myself,

What is really going on here?

This is a story about the sovereignty and power of God.  The courtiers (“Chaldeans”) could not interpret the king’s dream vision.  So, he nearly killed them all, including Daniel and his Judahite friends.  Daniel, by the power of God, provided the correct interpretation.  People continued to live.  Daniel became the governor of the province of Babylonia.  His friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (introduced in Chapter 1 and prominent in Chapter 3) administered the province under Daniel’s guidance.

I have found two proposed lists of the four empires in the dream vision.  They repeat in Chapter 7, the vision of the four beasts.  The first list, in order, is:

  1. the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire;
  2. the Median Empire of “Darius the Mede,” a fictional character (Daniel 6, 9, and 11);
  3. the Persian Empire; and
  4. the Macedonian Empire of Alexander III “the Great.”

The minority, alternative list is:

  1. the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire;
  2. the Persian Empire;
  3. the Macedonian Empire of Alexander III “the Great;” and
  4. the Roman Empire.

According to Daniel 6, 9, and 11, “Darius the Mede” conquered the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire and preceded King Cyrus II of the Persians and the Medes (reigned 559-530 B.C.E.).  In reality, however, Cyrus II conquered the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire in 539 B.C.E.

Anyhow, the bottom line in the dream vision is that, after a sequence of increasingly inferior empires, God would finally inaugurate the fully-realized Kingdom of God on Earth.  This has yet to happen.

Civilizations, nation-states, kingdoms, and empires have risen.  Many have also fallen.

Nothing human lasts forever.  To go full Augustinian on you, O reader, much of that which is temporary (even if long-term) is worthy of love.  But we have an obligation to love God the most.  To love something or someone more than we ought is to take love away from God.  It is to commit idolatry.  We may love our countries, but we should never deify them.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 14, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL SEABURY, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF CONNECTICUT AND PRESIDING BISHOP OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH

THE FEAST OF SAINTS NICHOLAS TAVELIC AND HIS COMPANIONS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS, 1391

THE FEAST OF PETER WOLLE, U.S. MORAVIAN BISHOP, ORGANIST, AND COMPOSER; THEODORE FRANCIS WOLLE, U.S. MORAVIAN ORGANIST AND COMPOSER; AND JOHN FREDEREICK “J. FRED” WOLLE, U.S. MORAVIAN ORGANIST, COMPOSER, AND CHOIR DIRECTOR

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM ROMANIS, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

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Samuel as Judge   Leave a comment

Above: Samuel

Image in the Public Domain

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

PART VII

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1 Samuel 7:2-17

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Keep me as the apple of your eye;

hide me under the shadow of your wings,

From the wicked who assault me,

from my deadly enemies who surround me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 14, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM CROFT, ANGLICAN ORGANIST AND COMPOSER

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

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

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

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

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