Archive for the ‘St. Paul the Apostle’ Tag

The Rededication and Purification of the Temple: The First Hanukkah   1 comment

Above:  A Menorah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART XIX

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1 Maccabees 4:36-61

2 Maccabees 10:1-9

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God, the pagans have invaded your heritage,

they have defiled your holy temple,

they have laid Jerusalem in ruins,

they have left the corpses of your servants as food for the birds of the air,

the bodies of your faithful for the wild beasts.

Around Jerusalem they have shed blood like water,

leaving no one to bury them.

We are the scorn of our neighbours,

the butt and laughing-stock of those around us.

How long will you be angry, Yahweh?  For ever?

Is your jealousy  to go on smouldering like a fire?

Pour out your anger on the nations who do not acknowledge you,

and on the kingdoms that do not call on your name;

for they have devoured Jacob and devastated his home.

Do not count against us the guilt of forever generations,

in your tenderness come quickly to meet us,

for we are utterly weakened;

help us, God our Saviour,

for the glory of your name;

Yahweh, wipe away our sins,

rescue us for the sake of your name.

Why should the nations ask,

“Where is their God?”

Let us see the nations suffer vengeance

for shedding your servants’ blood.

May the groans of the captive reach you,

by your great strength save those who are condemned to death!

Repay our neighbours sevenfold

for the insults they have levelled at you, Lord.

And we, your people, the flock that you pasture,

will thank you for ever,

will recite your praises from age to age.

–Psalm 79, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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Psalm 79 is a text from the Babylonian Exile.  One can easily imagine Judas Maccabeus and company reciting it or parts of it, at least mentally, at the first Hanukkah, on Kislev 25 (December 14), 164 B.C.E.  Many of the themes fit.  

My cultural patrimony includes the Scientific Revolution and the ensuing Enlightenment.  I, therefore, have the intellectual category “laws of nature.”  My default understanding of a miracle is a violation of or an exception to at least one law of nature.  That definition does not apply to the Bible, though.  Its authors, who lived and died long prior to the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment, lacked the intellectual category “laws of nature.”  We moderns need to be careful not to misread the Bible anachronistically.

In Biblical times, people did have a category I call, for lack of a better label, “We don’t see that every day.”  They recognized the extraordinary.  The traditional Hanukkah miracle (absent from 1 and 2 Maccabees yet mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud) of the oil lasting as long as it did was extraordinary.  The miracles in 1 and 2 Maccabees were that proper Temple worship resumed and that the Temple was suitable for such worship again.

King Antiochus IV Epiphanes had profaned the Temple about three years prior, in 1 Maccabees 1:54f and 2 Maccabees 5:1-27.  King Antiochus IV had died about the time of the first Hanukkah–either before (2 Maccabees 9:1-29) or after (1 Maccabees 6:17).  As Father Daniel J. Harrington, S. J.. wrote in The New Collegeville Bible Commentary:  Old Testament (2015), news of the king’s death may have reached Jerusalem after the rededication and purification of the Temple.

The Jewish war for independence had not ended.  King Antiochus V Eupator, just seven years old, was the new Seleucid monarch, with Lysias as the regent.  And Judas Maccabeus was no fool.  He ordered Mount Zion and Beth-zur fortified.

The Hasmonean Rebellion began as a fight against the Seleucid imperial policy of forced Hellenization.  The rebellion became a war for national independence.  The Hasmonean Rebellion was always a struggle to maintain Jewish communal life, which was under a great and terrible threat.

Communal life is a relatively low priority in a culture that preaches rugged individualism.  Yet communal life is one of the moral pillars of the Law of Moses, which the Hasmoneans guarded and obeyed.  And communal life was a pillar of the moral teachings of Hebrew prophets.  Furthermore, communal life was a moral pillar of the teachings of Jesus and the epistles of St. Paul the Apostle.

Robert Doran, writing in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IV (1996), asks,

But how are we to keep a sense of community when we are not under attack?

–258

He proposes taking the answer from 1 Corinthians 13:4-5.  The answer is love:

Love is always patient and kind; love is never jealous; love is not boastful or conceited, it is never rude and never seeks its own advantage, it does not take offence or store up grievances.

The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

In other words, in ecclesiastical-theological terms, Donatism is not an option.  One of my favorite cartoons (probably under copyright protection) depicts a group of people holding really big pencils and drawing lines on the floor.  That single-cell cartoon also depicts Jesus standing among those line-drawers.  He is holding his really big pencil upside-down and erasing lines, though.

Love, in the context of communal life, eschews Donatism and self-aggrandizement.  Love, in the context of communal life, seeks only what is good for the community.  Love, in the context of communal life, embraces mutuality.  We are all responsible to and for each other other.  We all depend upon each other.  We all depend upon each other.  And we all depend entirely on God.  Whatever one does to harm anyone else also damages that one.  Whatever one does to or for anyone else, one does to or for oneself.

If my culture were to recognize these truths and act on them, that would be a miracle.  It would not constitute a violation of or an exception to any law of nature.  It would, however, be extraordinary.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 11, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ONESIMUS, BISHOP OF BYZANTIUM

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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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Eschatological Ethics IX   Leave a comment

Above:  Thessaloniki (Formerly Thessalonica), Greece

Image Source = Google Earth

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For the Sunday Next Before Advent, 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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Absolve, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy people from their offenses;

that from the bonds of our sins which, by reason of our frailty,

we have brought upon us, we may be delivered by thy bountiful goodness;

through 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), 236

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Isaiah 35:3-10

Psalm 148

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Luke 12:35-43

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The two primary themes of the Hebrew Bible are exile and exodus.  Both themes are present in Isaiah 35:3-10.  The exile is the Babylonian Exile.  The exodus is the return from the Babylonian Exile.  Placing this reading at the end of the church year makes sense, for the language transitions neatly into texts for Advent.

Psalm 148 is a beautiful hymn.  It reads like reality after God has finally vanquished evil.

Speaking of eschatology, the background of St. Paul the Apostle’s First Letter to the Thessalonians includes the realization that Jesus may not be returning as soon as many people expected.  The question in Chapter 5, then, is how to live while waiting.  The answer is to continue to live according to the Golden Rule, both collectively and individually.  Build each other up.  Repay evil with good.  Support one another.  Do not become discouraged in behaving properly.  The reading from Luke 12:35-43 agrees.

Even when dashed eschatological expectations are not a factor, many people may become discouraged.  For example, compassion fatigue is a real and labeled phenomenon in the context of serial appeals for assistance in the wake of disasters.  Having compassion and behaving compassionately can be emotionally exhausting.

The readings tell us not to give up, however.  However eschatology shakes out, may God find us living righteously, both collectively and individually, at any given moment.  We–as communities and individuals–have vocations from God.  We have work to do.  May we complete it well and faithfully, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 3, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ANSKAR AND RIMBERT, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOPS OF HAMBURG-BREMEN

THE FEAST OF ADELAIDE ANNE PROCTER, ENGLISH POET AND FEMINIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALFRED DELP, GERMAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1945

THE FEAST OF JEMIMA THOMPSON LUKE, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST HYMN WRITER; AND JAMES EDMESTON, ANGLICAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL DAVIES, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

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Kudzu and the Kingdom of God   Leave a comment

Above:  Kudzu, Atlanta, Georgia

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Twenty-Fifth 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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Almighty God, we beseech thee, show thy mercy unto thy humble servants,

that we who put no trust in our own merits may not be dealt with

after the severity of thy judgment, but according to thy mercy;

through 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), 231

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Job 14:1-5

Psalms 112 and 113

Romans 10:1-21

Luke 17:20-33

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The readings from the Hebrew Bible cohere well, speaking in Job 14:1-5, reflects on the brevity of a human lifespan, even a relatively long one.  Psalms 112 and 113, taken together, encourage people to imitate God in behaving justly toward other people, such as the poor.  Our lives are brief, but they can be meaningful and positive.  We can use our time to leave the world better than we found it.  We can live according to the Golden Rule, by grace.  To do so is to respond faithfully to God.  Obey divine laws, Covenantal Nomism teaches.  By doing so, one retains one’s place in the covenant.

St. Paul the Apostle’s critique of Second Temple Judaism, contrary to popular misconception, was not that it was a legalistic, works-based righteousness religion.  No, his critique was that Second Temple Judaism lacked Jesus.  For St. Paul, Jesus was the game changer of all game changers.

The partially realized Kingdom of God has long been present on the Earth.  Certain events have made it more obvious than it was, though.  The life of Jesus on the Earth was a series of such events.  The partially realized Kingdom of God has set the stage for the fully realized Kingdom of God, still in the future.

God remains faithful.  Many people remain faithless.  The Golden Rule continues to be a teaching more people prefer to quote than to practice.  “None” continues to be the fastest-growing religious affiliation in much of the world.  Jesus keeps facing rejection.

Yet the Kingdom of God remains like kudzu, a plant commonplace where I live.  Kudzu grows where it will.  And God will win in the end.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 1, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT HENRY MORSE, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1645

THE FEAST OF SAINT BENEDICT DASWA, SOUTH AFRICAN ROMAN CATHOLIC CATECHIST AND MARTYR, 1990

THE FEAST OF CHARLES SEYMOUR ROBINSON, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMNOLOGIST

THE FEAST OF GIOVANNI PIERLUIGI DA PALESTRINA, ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC COMPOSER AND MUSICIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT SIGEBERT III, KING OF AUSTRASIA

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Deeds and Creeds VI   1 comment

Above:  The Last Judgment, by Fra Angelico

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 19:1-26 or Ruth 3

Psalm 142

Revelation 20:11-15

John 14:15-31

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NSFW Alert:  “Feet” in Ruth 3 are not feet.  No, they are genitals.  The Hebrew Bible contains euphemisms.  In the case of Ruth 3, we have a scene that is unfit for inclusion in a book of Bible stories for children.

The Reverend Jennifer Wright Knust offers this analysis of the Book of Ruth:

To the writer of Ruth, family can consist of an older woman and her beloved immigrant daughter-in-law, women can easily raise children on their own, and men can be seduced if it serves the interests of women.

Unprotected Texts:  The Bible’s Surprising Contractions About Sex and Desire (2011), 33

Speaking or writing of interpretations you may have read or heard, O reader, I turn to Genesis 19.  Open an unabridged concordance of the Bible and look for “Sodom.”  Then read every verse listed.  You will find that the dominant criticism of the people of Sodom was that they were arrogant and inhospitable.  The willingness to commit gang rape against angels, men, and women seems inhospitable to me.

The author of Psalm 142 described the current human reality.  That author descried Christ’s reality in John 14:15-31.  Christ was about to die terribly.  Yet that same Christ was victorious in Revelation 20.

The standard of judgment in Revelation 20:14 may scandalize many Protestants allergic to any hint of works-based righteousness:

…and every one was judged according to the way in which he had lived.

The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

This is not a new standard in the Bible.  It exists in the Hebrew Bible.  Matthew 25:31-46 its people over the head, so to speak, with this standard.  The Letter of James keeps hitting people over the head with it for five chapters.  Deeds reveal creeds.  The standard of divine judgment in Revelation 20:14 makes sense to me.

So, what do I believe?  What are my creeds?  What are your creeds, really?  I refer not to theological abstractions, but to lived faith.  Theological abstractions matter, too.  (I am not a Pietist.)  Yet lived faith matters more.  Do we live according to the love of God?  God seems to approve of doing that.  Do we hate?  God seems to disapprove of doing that.

As St. Paul the Apostle insisted, faith and works are a package deal.  The definition of faith in the Letter of James differs from the Pauline definition.  Faith in James is intellectual.  Therefore, joining faith with works is essential, for faith without works is dead.  In Pauline theology, however, faith includes works.  If one understands all this, one scotches any allegation that the Letter of James contradicts Pauline epistles.

Deeds reveal creeds.  If we value one another, we will act accordingly.  If we recognize immigrants as people who bear the image of God, we will resist the temptation of xenophobia, et cetera.  Knowing how to act properly on our creeds may prove challenging sometimes.  Practical consideration may complicate matters.  Political actions may or may not be the most effective methods to pursue.

By grace, may we–collectively and individually–act properly, so that our deeds may reveal our creeds, to the glory of God and for the benefit of our fellow human beings.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 28, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALBERT THE GREAT AND HIS PUPIL, SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS, ROMAN CATHOLIC THEOLOGIANS

THE FEAST OF DANIEL J. SIMUNDSON, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF HENRY AUGUSTINE COLLINS, ANGLICAN THEN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH BARNBY, ANGLICAN CHURCH MUSICIAN AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF SOMERSET CORRY LOWRY, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2021/01/28/devotion-for-proper-24-year-d-humes/

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Building Up Each Other in Christ, Part IX   Leave a comment

Above:  King Hezekiah

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Twenty-First 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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Lord, we beseech thee to keep thy household, the Church, in continual godliness;

that through thy protection it may be free from all adversities,

and devoutly given to serve thee in good works, to the glory of thy Name;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 223

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2 Chronicles 30:1-21

Psalms 128 and 129

Romans 1:1-17

John 4:46-54

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For I long to see you, that I may share with you some spiritual gift so that you may be strengthened, that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by one another’s faith, yours and mine.

–Romans 1:11-12, The New American Bible (1991)

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Faith thrives in faithful company.  That theme runs through the four assigned readings this Sunday.

  1. King Hezekiah’s great Passover celebration was part of a program of national religious reform.
  2. The author of Psalm 128 knew about home as a place to nourish faith.
  3. The author of Psalm 129 celebrated divine deliverance of the people of Israel prior to the Falls of Samaria and Jerusalem.  That author also encouraged faith among the people of Israel.
  4. St. Paul the Apostle longed to spend time with Christians in Rome.  (He got his wish a few years later.)
  5. Somebody’s faith was a component in stories of Jesus healing.  In this case, it was a father’s faith.

I write this post during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The last time I attended a worship service in a building in my parish was March 2020.  I have become accustomed to a church service being a livestream on YouTube.  I have, however, maintained some sense of ecclesiastical community via Zoom; I have kept teaching my weekly lectionary class.  Nevertheless, none of this has been as good as being in person, in church.  Behaving in a socially and morally responsible manner–a virtue–has come at a high cost.

Yet the work of the parish has not come to screeching halt.  We members have continued to build each other up.  We have continued to be faces of Christ to one another.

After all, faithful Christian community is about building each other up in Christ.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 27, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JEROME, PAULA OF ROME, EUSTOCHIUM, BLAESILLA, MARCELLA, AND LEA OF ROME

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANGELA MERICI, FOUNDRESS OF THE COMPANY OF SAINT URSULA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CAROLINA SANTOCANALE, FOUNDRESS OF THE CAPUCHIN SISTERS OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION

THE FEAST OF CASPAR NEUMANN, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF PIERRE BATIFFOL, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, HISTORIAN, AND THEOLOGIAN

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Good and Evil   Leave a comment

Above:  Parable of the Wicked Tenants

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Twentieth 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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Grant, we beseech thee, merciful Lord, to thy faithful people pardon and peace,

that they may be cleansed from all their sins,

and serve thee with a quiet mind.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 221

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1 Kings 21:17-25

Psalm 92

Acts 26:1-32

Matthew 21:28-44

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Your enemies, LORD, your enemies will perish;

all evildoers will be scattered.

–Psalm 92:9, The Revised English Bible (1989)

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That was cold comfort for Naboth and his family.

We have evildoers in the readings this week.  Those of us who know the stories realize that justice eventually came for King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, that St. Paul the Apostle died as a martyr in Rome, and that the targets of Christ’s justifiably harsh words did not take those words well.

I tell you solemnly, tax collectors and prostitutes are making their way into the kingdom of God before you.

–Matthew 21:31b, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

Those are harsh words to direct at conventionally pious religious leaders.  After reading the four canonical Gospels many times, I conclude that our Lord and Savior, although capable of being very forgiving, had a low tolerance for malarkey.  Good for him!

Anyhow, punishment and reward in the afterlife are emotionally satisfying.  Given the injustice rife in this world, reversal of fortune in the hereafter (perhaps not the sweet hereafter) makes good the divine promise to punish the evil and to reward the righteous.

Evildoers come in three varieties:

  1. Those who know what they are doing is wrong,
  2. Those who think what they are doing is right, and
  3. Those who cannot tell the difference between right and wrong.

Circumstances are not always black-and-white.  Frequently, circumstances are gray.  Sometimes the choices are bad and worse.  In such cases, people need to do the best they can in a fallen world.

Yet evil remains evil, objectively.

May you, O reader, and I, by grace, pursue just and righteous courses in life.  May we do so regardless of the costs to us.  And, when we must choose between bad and worse, may we opt for God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 26, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS TIMOTHY, TITUS, AND SILAS, COWORKERS OF SAINT PAUL THE APOSTLE

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Apocalypse and Hope, Part III   Leave a comment

Above:  Healing of the Paralytic

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Nineteenth 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 Almighty and most Merciful God, of thy bountiful goodness keep us,

we beseech thee, from all things that may hurt us;

that we, being ready, both in body and soul,

may cheerfully accomplish those things that thou wouldst have done;

through Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 220

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1 Kings 19:1-18

Psalm 29

Acts 21:39-22:21

Matthew 9:1-8

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“Son of Man” is an apocalyptic title.  The self-application of it by Jesus in Matthew 9:6 indicates the presence of the partially realized Kingdom of God.  To be more precise, this application indicates the heightened presence of the partially realized Kingdom of God in the life and ministry of Jesus.  If one accepts Realized Eschatology, one affirms, as C. H. Dodd argued, that the Kingdom of God does not come, but is.  If one accepts Realized Eschatology, one affirms that certain events make the presence of the Kingdom of God more oblivious, from a human perspective.

Heaven is breaking out on the Earth.  That is a recurring theme in the Bible, from Jacob’s Ladder (Ramp, actually) to apocalyptic literature.  That theme exists also in 1 Kings 19 and Psalm 29.  Yet one may ask about religious persecution, as in the case of St. Paul the Apostle.  Persecution, also a theme in apocalyptic literature, is not inconsistent with Heaven breaking out on the Earth.

Heaven is breaking out on the Earth, despite appearances to the contrary.  Can I see it each day?  Can you see it, O reader?  News can be depressing.  I try to avoid it as much as possible.  More Hell than Heaven seems to be breaking out on the Earth.  Yet some faith–even a little–proves helpful.  A key theme of apocalyptic literature encourages:  Keep the faith; God will win in the end.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 25, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE CONVERSION OF SAINT PAUL THE APOSTLE

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To Glorify and Enjoy God III   Leave a comment

Above:  Some of My Great-Grandfather’s Sermon Notes, Dated 1905

“Reared in a Christian home.”  Really?

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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For the Eighteenth 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 God, forasmuch as without thee we are not able to please thee;

mercifully grant, that thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 218

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2 Kings 18:1-18

Psalm 114

Acts 20:17-38

Matthew 22:34-36

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Jesus stood within Judaism, not outside of it.  Much of Christian tradition missed that point for a very long time–well into the twentieth century.  At the beginning of the twentieth century, my great-grandfather, the Reverend George Washington Barrett, of the North Georgia Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, preached that Jesus grew up in a Christian home.  (I have the notes for that sermon.)  Despite advances in New Testament scholarship along the lines of Jesus being a devout Jew, much Gentile discomfort with “Jesus the Jew,” as Geza Vermes referred to our Lord and Savior in book titles, has persisted.

Jesus seems to have belonged to the school of Rabbi Hillel, based on Matthew 22:34-40.  Our Lord and Savior, quoted the great rabbi, stopping prior to

The rest is commentary.  Go and learn it.

Jesus knew the Law of Moses well.

The readings from 2 Kings 18 and Psalm 114 speak of God acting on behalf of the people of Israel.  2 Kings 18 (in its entirety) describes God defending Judah against Assyrian invaders.  Psalm 114 recalls the Exodus from Egypt.

Above:  The Ancient City of Miletus

Image Source = Google Earth

The reading from Acts 20 closes St. Paul the Apostle’s sojourn in Miletus.  He had functioned as an agent of grace to the Christian congregation there for three years.  To spend three years in the company of St. Paul must have been quite an experience.

St. Paul’s parting device at Miletus, combined with the words of Jesus in Matthew 22:34-40, constitute sound advice for any faith community.  That counsel is to love God fully, love neighbors (all people) as one loves oneself, and preserve the truth (in love).  Christianity is a faith in which doctrines matter.  Loving orthodoxy is good; orthodoxy minus love is no virtue.  I am not doctrinaire.  In fact, I fail most doctrinal purity tests spectacularly.  Nevertheless, I insist on at least a few doctrines as being essential.  These include:

  1. The existence of God,
  2. The Holy Trinity,
  3. The jealousy of God,
  4. The sovereignty of God,
  5. The Incarnation,
  6. The crucifixion of Jesus, and
  7. The Resurrection of Jesus.

Keep the faith, in other words, but be sure to do so lovingly.  Doctrine matters, but keeping orthodoxy does not constitute a saving work.

We Christians will do well to remember another fact:  each of us is a heretic, according to many other Christians.  Even fundamentalists of one stripe are heretics, according to fundamentalists of other stripes.  Can we Christians bring ourselves to admit that what we do not know outweighs what we do know?

Besides, we are all heretics, in the light of God.  Much of theology–even classical Christian theology–consists of best guesses.  Ultimate, divine reality exceeds the human capacity for comprehension.

May we mere mortals enjoy and glorify God forever, by grace.  May relatively unimportant doctrinal disputes and differences fall away.  And may we affirm what is essential.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 24, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE THIRD SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF THE ORDINATION OF FLORENCE LI-TIM-OI, FIRST FEMALE PRIEST IN THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION

THE FEAST OF GEORGE A. BUTTRICK, ANGLO-AMERICAN PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR; AND HIS SON, DAVID G. BUTTRICK, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN THEN UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST MINISTER, THEOLOGIAN, AND LITURGIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIE POUSSEPIN, FOUNDRESS OF THE DOMINICAN SISTERS OF CHARITY OF THE PRESENTATION OF THE VIRGIN

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF PODLASIE, 1874

THE FEAST OF SAINT SURANUS OF SORA, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AND MARTYR, 580

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Agents of Divine Grace   Leave a comment

Above:  The Parable of the Fig Tree, by Jan Luyken

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Sixteenth 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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Lord, we pray thee, that thy grace may always go before and follow after us,

and make us continually to be given to all good works;

through 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), 214

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1 Kings 17:17-24

Psalm 116

Acts 17:16-34

Luke 7:11-17

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The readings from 1 Kings 17 and Luke 7 share a theme:  the raising of a widow’s son.

Widows were some of the most vulnerable members of society during the times of Elijah and Jesus.  On top of the usual grief of a parent for a child was the dread of,

What will happen to me now?

God is gracious, Psalm 116 tells us.  God has been patient, St. Paul the Apostle said in Athens, Greece, in Acts 17.  Recognition of God and faithfulness to God has never been a guarantee against harm and disaster.  However, as Psalm 116 tells us, the faithful do not suffer alone.  Those oblivious to God do not know what they are missing.  They condemn themselves.

One may legitimately ask how God is present with the faithful who suffer.  God is present both directly and indirectly.  I know from experience that God speaks directly sometimes.  More frequent, though, is the experience of others–humans, mainly, but cats, also–functioning as agents of divine grace.  The existence and the caring nature of God does not absolve anyone of the responsibility to function as an agent of divine grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 23, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN THE ALMSGIVER, PATRIARCH OF ALEXANDRIA

THE FEAST OF CHARLES KINGSLEY, ANGLICAN PRIEST, NOVELIST, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EDWARD GRUBB, ENGLISH QUAKER AUTHOR, SOCIAL REFORMER, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JAMES D. SMART, CANADIAN PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF PHILLIPS BROOKS, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF MASSACHUSETTS, AND HYMN WRITER

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