Archive for the ‘St. Clement of Rome’ Tag

Temples of God   Leave a comment

Above:  Ruins of Corinth, Greece, 1898

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-07406

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For the Third 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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Almighty and Everliving God, mercifully look upon our infirmities,

and in all our dangers and necessities stretch forth Thy right hand to help and defend us;

through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 129

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Jeremiah 33:6-9

Psalm 34

1 Corinthians 3:1-23

Matthew 8:1-13

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Ne savez-vous pas que vous êtes le temple de Dieu, et que l’Esprit de Dieu habite en vous?

–1 Corinthiens 3:16, Nouvelle Version Segond Révisée (1978)

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The “you” in 1 Corinthians 3;16 is plural.  (Notice the French text, O reader.  It reads, vous, not tu.  Also, 1 Corinthians is a letter to a congregation, not an individual.)  This means that even the fractious Corinthian congregation, with which St. Paul the Apostle had problems, was a temple of God.  We know from the (First) Letter of St. Clement of Rome to the Corinthians that, at the end of the first century C.E. and the beginning of the second century C.E., the Corinthian church had not changed its ways and followed St. Paul’s advice.  We may also assume that the Corinthian church remained a temple of God nevertheless.

Congregations and individuals are temples of God in Pauline theology.  Also in Pauline theology, no person has a body.  No, a person is a body.  Likewise, a congregation is also a body, as the larger church is a body, too.

Christians belong to Christ, who is God and belongs to God.  (Don’t get me started on the deliberate confusion built into Trinitarian theology, O reader.  I am content to leave the divine mystery and the violations of human philosophical norms in place lest I commit a heresy by attempting to explain them.)  We belong to God, who judges and pardons.  We belong to God, who reaches out to and finds faith in Gentiles and Jews alike.  The praise of God should always be in our mouths, individually and collectively.

How many of us can, without issuing an “ahem,” affirm that the congregation to which we belong is a temple of God?  I can.  I do.  I think, however, of some of the congregations to which I have belonged.  I recall some of the rural, provincial, and narrow-minded congregations my father served as a minister in the South Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church.  I have difficulty recognizing certain congregations in which I grew up as temples of God.  Yet I must affirm that if there was hope for the Corinthian church, there was also hope for the unpleasant, anti-intellectual congregations I knew as a youth and have happily relegated to my past.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 7, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE NINTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIA JOSEPHA ROSSELLO, COFOUNDER OF THE DAUGHTERS OF OUR LADY OF PITY

THE FEAST OF ANNE ROSS COUSIN, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EMMA FRANCIS, LUTHERAN DEACONESS IN THE U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS AND HARLEM

THE FEAST OF GEORG FRIEDRICH HELLSTROM, DUTCH-GERMAN MORAVIAN MUSICIAN, COMPOSER, AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM GUSTAVE POLACK, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, LITURGIST, AND HYMN WRITER AND TRANSLATOR

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The Defeat of Arphaxad   Leave a comment

Above:  Arphaxad

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JUDITH

PART I

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Judith 1:1-16

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The Book of Judith is a novella, like the Books of Tobit and Esther.  This story exists in two parts.  Chapters 1-7 establish the crisis facing the Jews of Bethulia.  Chapters 8-16 contain the story of the titular character.  The Book of Judith, composed between 135 and 100 B.C.E., during or shortly after the reign (134-104 B.C.E.) of John Hyrcanus I (named in 1 Maccabees 13:53, 16:1-23), includes details and characters from five centuries, mixed and matched in odd combinations.  The Book of Judith also exists in four Greek recensions, four ancient translations, and a Hebrew translation from the Vulgate version.

The Book of Judith, although never in the Jewish canon of scripture, has canonical status in the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches.  Certain early Christian writings attest to the high esteem in which some saints held that text.  One can, for example, read St. Jerome (347-419), the great, frequently moody translator of the Vulgate, describing Judith as (1) a model widow, and (2) a type of the Church.  One can also read of St. Jerome describing St. Mary of Nazareth, the Mother and Bearer of God, as a new Judith.  One can also read St. Clement (I) of Rome, Bishop of Rome from 88/91 to 97/101, writing in his (First) Epistle to the Corinthians, cite Esther and Judith as examples of heroic love of their people.  

“Judith,” literally “Jewish woman,” echoes other Jewish women.  These include Jael (Judges 4), Deborah (Judges 4-5), and Sarah (Genesis 11, 12, 16-18, 20-22).

Now, for Judith 1:1-16….

Do not bother trying to keep track of historical dates, O reader; they are all over the chronology.  Likewise, the measurements of the wall of Ectabana are hyperbolic.  Who has ever seen a wall 105 feet high and 75 feet thick, with tower gates 150 feet high and 60 feet wide?

On the surface, this is a story about the warfare between King Arphaxad of the Medes and King Nebuchadnezzar II (allegedly of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, but really of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire).  Chapter 1 ends with Jews in Samaria and Judah dreading the wrath of Nebuchadnezzar II for not supporting his campaign against Arphaxad.

A careful reader may know that King Nebuchadnezzar II governed from Babylon, not Nineveh.

Chapter 1 sets up the rest of the Book of Judith.  One theme is already evident.  That theme is whether one should be loyal to a tyrant.  The answer is “no.”

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 6, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT

THE EIGHTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAINT NICHOLAS OF MYRA, BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT ABRAHAM OF KRATIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK, ABBOT, BISHOP, AND HERMIT

THE FEAST OF ALICE FREEMAN PALMER, U.S. EDUCATOR AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HENRY USTICK ONDERDONK, EPISCOPAL BISHOP, LITURGIST, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF PHILIP AND DANIEL BERRIGAN, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND SOCIAL ACTIVISTS

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Seeing and Believing   Leave a comment

Above:   The Miraculous Draft of Fishes, by Konrad Witz

Image in the Public Domain

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For the First Sunday after Easter, Year 2, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Grant, we pray thee, O God, that we who have celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

may demonstrate his victory in our daily conduct and face the future unafraid;

through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 122

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Exodus 15:1-13

1 Corinthians 15:12-20

John 20:19-31

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I choose to focus on the New Testament readings, with a brief analysis of Exodus 15:1-13 before I start in earnest.  The foreshadowing of subsequent grumbling and punishment is not accidental, given that the editors know how the story ended.  The necessity of responding faithfully to (free) grace is a timeless principle.

St. Clement I of Rome, writing to the church in Corinth circa 100 C.E., argued against doubting the resurrection of Jesus.  He cited natural cycles and the myth of the phoenix (which he apparently thought was real) to support his position.

I understand why many of the close associates of Jesus doubted the resurrection at first; how often does something like that happen?  I also read that they they encountered him again.  I do not have the luxury of meeting Jesus in the flesh.  I must, therefore, have faith to affirm the resurrection.

Encountering Jesus again dramatically proved insufficient for some of the Apostles.  After the encounter in John 20, some of them tried to return to fishing in Chapter 21.  They had seen him again yet acted that way just a few days later.

We are not so different from those Apostles as we may imagine.  Do we tell ourselves that seeing is believing?  And, when we see something much less dramatic than Jesus walking through a locked door, do we really believe?

Martin Luther was correct; we must and can rely on the faithfulness of God, for human behavior frequently indicates a lack of fidelity.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 27, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CORNELIUS HILL, ONEIDA CHIEF AND EPISCOPAL PRIEST

THE FEAST OF HUGH THOMSON KERR, SR., U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND LITURGIST; AND HIS SON, HUGH THOMSON KERR, JR., U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, SCHOLAR, AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF JAMES MOFFATT, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, SCHOLAR, AND BIBLE TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN THE GEORGIAN, ABBOT; AND SAINTS EUTHYMIUS OF ATHOS AND GEORGE OF THE BLACK MOUNTAIN, ABBOTS AND TRANSLATORS

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Wrestling with God, Part II   1 comment

Above:  Jacob Struggles with the Angel, from the Gutenberg Bible

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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Genesis 32:3-31 or Isaiah 14:5-20

Psalm 15

1 Corinthians 3:10-23

Matthew 10:1-15

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Jacob had been wrestling all his life.  In the womb he and his brother Esau had struggled with each other.  Jacob had, so to speak, wrestled with Esau during childhood and adulthood.  Jacob had also been wrestling with himself.  On the eve of what turned out to be reconciliation with Esau, Jacob literally wrestled with God or an angel in human form and received a blessing, as well as a limp.  Jacob, literally “supplanter,” also became Israel, literally “may God rule.”

I admire Judaism, from which I learn much.  One aspect of Judaism I find especially helpful is struggling with God as part of a relationship with God.  One finds evidence of that collective struggle throughout the Hebrew Bible.  One also finds evidence of divine judgment and mercy, hence restoration following exile.  The reading from Isaiah 14 is a song of taunting against the defeated Babylonian/Neo-Chaldean monarch.

According to the high standards of Psalm 15, not one of we mere mortals has any hope, except via grace.  Moral perfectionism is an impossible standard, but we should still strive to be the best versions of ourselves we can be.

St. Paul the Apostle wrote to the quarrelsome Corinthian church that it was God’s temple.  (The “you” is plural in the reading.)  That congregation needed to shape up and come closer to its spiritual potential.  Unfortunately, as anyone who has studied the (First) Letter to the Corinthians from St. Clement (I) of Rome (circa 100) should know, the congregation remained quarrelsome and troublesome for at least a generation after St. Paul’s demise.

As my father taught me, troubled people cause trouble..  They are like Jacob.  They are wrestling, metaphorically, with themselves and others.  Perhaps they are wrestling with God also.  In the meantime, in the context of congregational life, are holding a church back, and other members of that community are permitting them to do so.  This is a dynamic present in come congregations I have observed.

One progression in the Gospel of Matthew is the expansion of the audience for the message.  The audience in 7:6 consists of Jews.  Yet, in 28:19, the audience is

all nations.

I, as a Gentile, am grateful for this expansion of the audience.  Through it the wisdom of Judaism, has come to me.  As I struggle with God, others, and myself, I hope that I cause no trouble in churches.  I hope that I am improving spiritually.  I hope that people will recognize the light of Christ in me.  To the extent any of this comes true, God deserves all the glory.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 24, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THOMAS À KEMPIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK, PRIEST, AND SPIRITUAL WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHN NEWTON, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WALTER RAUSCHENBUSCH, U.S. BAPTIST MINISTER AND THEOLOGIAN OF THE SOCIAL GOSPEL

THE FEAST OF SAINTS VINCENTIA GEROSA AND BARTHOLOMEA CAPITANIO, COFOUNDERS OF THE SISTERS OF CHARITY OF LOVERE

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2018/07/24/devotion-for-proper-12-year-a-humes/

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The Suffering of the Innocent, Part II   1 comment

Above:  A Crucifix

Photograph by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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The Collect:

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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The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 11:1-6; 12:29-36

Psalm 69:19-21

1 Corinthians 11:17-22, 27-34

John 15:18-25

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The Corinthian congregation was fractious during and after the time of St. Paul the Apostle.  A generation after St. Paul, for example, St. Clement of Rome wrote his letter, called 1 Clement, to that church, which had recently deposed all of its presbyters.  Reinstate them, he instructed.  The issue at hand in 1 Corinthians 11 was the potluck meal, an early version of the Holy Eucharist.  The poorer members of the congregation depended on that meal, which some of the more fortunate members were abusing by eating ahead of time and/or taking the occasion of the potluck meal to become intoxicated.  These individuals were not contributing their fair share of the menu.

Jesus, unlike them, gave of himself selflessly and sacrificially.  He understood well that following God might make one unpopular to the point of persecution and even execution.  To make a mockery of the Holy Eucharist was (and is) to take Jesus lightly.

The author of the canonical Gospels were clear that Jesus was innocent of the charge (insurrection) upon which Roman imperial officials crucified him.  Also innocent were the firstborn Egyptian sons in Exodus; they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Maundy Thursday is an especially appropriate time, guided by these readings, to ponder the suffering of the innocent, whether at the hand of the state, selfish individuals, or any other actors.  It is also a fine time to consider how our religious tradition continues to ascribe much of this suffering of the innocent to God.  What are we accusing God of being like anyway?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 10, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE INAUGURATION OF THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH (U.S.A.), 1983

THE FEAST OF THE INAUGURATION OF THE UNITED CHURCH OF CANADA, 1925

THE FEAST OF SAINT LANDERICUS OF PARIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2017/06/10/devotion-for-maundy-thursday-ackerman/

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Scolding Unto Repentance   1 comment

probably_valentin_de_boulogne_-_saint_paul_writing_his_epistles_-_google_art_project

Above:  Paul Writing His Epistles, by Valentin de Boulogne

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

 Loving God, by tender words and covenant promise

you have joined us to yourself forever,

and you invite us to respond to your love with faithfulness.

By your Spirit may we live with you and with one another

in justice, mercy, and joy,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 37

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The Assigned Readings:

Hosea 14:1-9 (Protestant versification)/Hosea 14:2-10 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox versification)

Psalm 45:6-17

2 Corinthians 11:1-15

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Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever,

a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of your reign;

you love righteousness and hate iniquity.

–Psalm 45:6-7a, Book of Common Worship (1993)

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The arrangement of 2 Corinthians is not chronological, so Chapter 11 is part of a painful letter which St. Paul the Apostle wrote prior to Chapters 1 and 2.  The tone of Chapters 10-13–scolding and sometimes threatening (as in 10:6)–comes from a place of disappointment.  Sometimes a scolding is appropriate, for it can bring us back to our senses.  Underlying the scolding is hope that it will have a positive effect.

Hope of return and restoration drives the conclusion of the Book of Hosea.  God is willing to forgive Israel, a nation, which God calls to repent–to change its mind, to turn around–and to accept God’s generous love.

St. Paul loved the Corinthian Church, so he scolded it even as he stayed away to avoid causing needless pain.  He called them to repent.  The historical record indicates, however, that the Corinthian Church struggled with factionalism as late as a generation after the martyrdom of St. Paul.  St. Clement of Rome wrote a letter to the congregation circa 100 C.E.  In the opening of that document he made the following statement:

Because of our recent series of unexpected misfortunes and set-backs, my dear friends, we feel there has been some delay in turning our attention to the causes of dispute in your community.  We refer particularly to the odious and unholy breach of unity among you, which is quite incompatible with God’s chosen people, and which a few hot-headed and unruly individuals have inflamed to such a pitch that your venerable and illustrious name, so richly deserving of everyone’s affection, has been brought into such disrepute.

Early Christian Writings:  The Apostolic Fathers (Penguin Books, 1987, page 23)

When God calls us to repent–even scolds us–may we respond more favorably.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 1, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF DANIEL MARCH, SR., U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST AND PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, POET, HYMN WRITER, AND LITURGIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT MAXIMILLIAN OF TREVESTE, ROMAN CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT THEOPHANES THE CHRONICLER, DEFENDER OF ICONS

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/03/01/devotion-for-tuesday-after-proper-3-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Warnings and Judgments   1 comment

Neo-Assyrian Empire Map

Above:  Map of the Neo-Assyrian Empire

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty and eternal God, you show perpetual lovingkindness to us your servants.

Because we cannot rely on our own abilities,

grant us your merciful judgment,

and train us to embody the generosity of your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 48

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The Assigned Readings:

Nahum 1:1, 14-2:2 (Thursday)

Nahum 2:3-13 (Friday)

Zephaniah 2:13-15 (Saturday)

Psalm 145:1-8 (All Days)

2 Corinthians 13:1-4 (Thursday)

2 Corinthians 13:5-10 (Friday)

Matthew 19:23-30 (Saturday)

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The LORD is gracious and full of compassion,

slow to anger and of great kindness.

–Psalm 145:8, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Death, desolation and destruction.

–Nahum 2:10a, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Those four words summarize the Old Testament readings for these days.  The (Neo-)Assyrian Empire, notorious for its violence, had fallen.  The Chaldeans/Neo-Babylonians, who had conquered them, were almost as bad, but two Biblical authors rejoiced at the fall of Assyria and declared that event to be God’s judgment.

Warnings precede judgments much of the time, especially in the Bible.  2 Corinthians 13, for example, contains a warning (verse 2) and calls for repentance.  The Corinthian congregation was a notoriously troublesome assembly.  Indeed, it remained so for decades (at least).  You, O reader, might wish to consult the (First) Letter to the Corinthians (circa 100 C.E.) of St. Clement I of Rome (died circa 101 C.E.), which is authentic, for evidence of continued difficulties.  A major problem was factionalism, one variety of attachment.

Attachments are of the essence in this post.  The Assyrian rulers were attached to violence.  One man in Matthew 20 was attached to money and possessions.  Others were attached to relationships.  No attachment should interfere with recognizing one’s total dependence on God and one’s reliance on other human beings and responsibilities to them.

These texts, among others, function as warnings to us today.  Will we heed the notice and amend our ways as necessary and proper?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 16. 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN DIEFENBAKER AND LESTER PEARSON, PRIME MINISTERS OF CANADA; AND TOMMY DOUGLAS, FEDERAL LEADER OF THE NEW DEMOCRATIC PARTY

THE FEAST OF JOHN JONES OF TALYSARN, WELSH CALVINISTIC METHODIST MINISTER AND HYMN TUNE COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF BROTHER ROGER OF TAIZE, FOUNDER OF THE TAIZE COMMUNITY

THE FEAST OF THE HOLY WOMEN OF THE NEW TESTAMENT

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2014/08/16/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-proper-20-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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1 Kings and 2 Corinthians, Part I: Potential   1 comment

solomons_wealth_and_wisdom

Above:  Solomon’s Wealth and Wisdom

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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 everlasting 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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The Assigned Readings:

1 Kings 3:1-15

Psalm 130 (Morning)

Psalms 32 and 139 (Evening)

2 Corinthians 1:1-22

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2 Corinthians is an interesting epistle so far as its internal structure is concerned.  The letter is a composite document with odd seems indicating editing, cutting, and pasting.  And Paul might not have been responsible for all the words.  Those are details which a serious student of the New Testament should want to know.  But, for today, they have no impact on devotional reading.

Paul had a difficult relationship with the Corinthian congregation.  Yet he wrote of suffering then of receiving divine consolation, which  would help him to console the Corinthian Christians.  In other words, he thought of their benefit after he had a brush with death.

The benefit of others was the heart of the matter in God granting Solomon wisdom, for David’s son was no constitutional monarch.  The observant reader of that part of the Old Testament knows that the Kingdom of Israel broke apart shortly after Solomon’s death for reasons flowing from oppressive royal policies, which his son and successor continued against counsel.  So the observant reader of 1 Kings 3 cannot help but notice the unrealized potential of Solomon in that text.

Paul recognized potential in the troublesome Corinthian Church.  Circa 100 CE, at the time of St, Clement of Rome’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, a fascinating, authenticated, and non-canonical text of great historical value, the Corinthian Christians had not improved.  Solomon had potential, which he squandered by losing his way.  May we learn from these bad examples and not emulate them.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 30, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANDREW THE APOSTLE, MARTYR

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2012/11/30/devotion-for-august-23-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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Salt and Light, Part I   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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