Archive for the ‘The United Methodist Church’ Tag

From Alexander the Great to Antiochus IV Epiphanes   Leave a comment

Above:  Map Showing Asia Minor, the Seleucid Empire, and the Ptolemaic Empire, 188 B.C.E.

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART I

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1 Maccabees 1:1-19

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Reading the Bible in more than one translation is a positive spiritual and literary practice.  One may decide that a particular translation is best for reading a certain book or certain books of the Bible.  For example, I propose that Job reads best in The Jerusalem Bible (1966), that the Song of Songs reads best in TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985), and that First Maccabees reads best in The Revised English Bible (1989).

I am an Episcopalian with strong Roman Catholic and Lutheran tendencies.  I am an also an Episcopalian who grew up a Low Church Protestant and a preacher’s kid–Southern Baptist for my first seven years, followed by United Methodist for the next eleven years.   I tell you, O reader, this so that you will appreciate the significance of my affirmation of the Roman Catholic definition of the canon of scripture.  The first two books of the Maccabees are Deuterocanonical, not Apocryphal.

First Maccabees probably dates to about 100 B.C.E.  The anonymous author’s composition is contemporary with Tobit, Judith, and most of Daniel.  The agenda of 1 Maccabees is the affirmation of the Hasmonean Dynasty.  After all, why were members of the Davidic Dynasty not on the throne of independent Judea?  That was the question of political legitimacy the author of 1 Maccabees addressed.

1 Maccabees 1:1-19 establishes the historical and cultural context:  Hellenism.  The passage names Alexander the Great (d. 323 B.C.E.) then moves along quickly to Antiochus IV Epiphanes (reigned 175-164/163 B.C.E.), King of the Seleucid Empire, one of the successors to Alexander’s expansive Macedonian Empire.  One may or may not recall the references to Antiochus IV Epiphanes in Daniel 7, 8, 9, and 11.  One may or may not also remember the allusion to the notorious monarch in 3 Maccabees 2-4.

The struggle against imposed Hellenism formed the backdrop of the Hasmonean Rebellion.  To make matters worse, some Jews turned apostate.

1 Maccabees 1:16-19 lays down another historical marker.  It mentions the successful Seleucid invasion of the Ptolemaic Empire during the reign (180-145 B.C.E.) of King Ptolemy VI Philometor in 169 B.C.E.  The reader who may be unfamiliar with this part of ancient history ought to know that the Seleucid and Ptolemaic Empires, successors to the sprawling Macedonian Empire of Alexander the Great, fought each other.  Such a reader should also understand that ancient Palestine kept changing imperial masters, depending on the most germane military victory.  

Palestinian Jews still lived under occupation  Antiochus IV Epiphanes was an especially cruel imperial master.

How could Jews, even those dwelling in their ancestral homeland, live faithfully under the Seleucid Empire?

I clue you, O reader, in on a recurring motif in 1 Maccabees.  Keeping the divine covenant and the Law of Moses is essential, as the book teaches.  So is being pragmatic in faithful communal life.  But when does pragmatism cross the line over into the territory of unjust and faithless compromise?  This is a timeless question and a quandary.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 4, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CORNELIUS THE CENTURION

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Hard of Hearing   1 comment

 

Above:  Cooks Union United Methodist Church, Miller County, Georgia

Image Source = Google Earth

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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 21:1-19 or Zechariah 7:4-14

Psalm 144:1-4, 9-15

Revelation 21:1-8

John 15:18-25

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My father served as the pastor of Cooks Union United Methodist Church, outside Colquitt, Georgia, from June 1985 to June 1986.  One of the parishioners was Don, an elderly man.  Don was hard of hearing.  He frequently missed much of the contents of my father’s sermons and misheard other parts of those sermons.  Don also missed much context, so, when we correctly heard what my father said, Don often misunderstood the meaning.  Don frequently became upset with my father, accusing my father of having said X when my father had said Y.  This was unfair, of course; my father had done nothing wrong.

Many people have been hard of hearing in matters pertaining to morality.  Many still are.  Morals need not be abstract.  How do we treat one another?  How do governments treat vulnerable people?  What kinds of policies do politicians support?  Living according to the Golden Rule is one way to earn the world’s enmity.

God is kinder to the vulnerable than many people and governments are.  The divine preference for the poor recurs throughout the Bible.  And economic injustice and judicial corruption frequently occur on lists of collective and individual sins, alongside idolatry, that God judges harshly.  Yet, to hear many ministers speak, one would know that the Biblical authors spilled more ink condemning economic injustice and judicial corruption than various sexual practices.

May we, by grace, not be hard of hearing in matters of the Golden Rule.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 30, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF LESSLIE NEWBIGIN, ENGLISH REFORMED MISSIONARY AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT BATHILDAS, QUEEN OF FRANCE

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK OAKELEY, ANGLICAN THEN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF SAINTS GENESIUS I OF CLERMONT AND PRAEJECTUS OF CLERMONT, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS; AND SAINT AMARIN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT JACQUES BUNOL, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1945

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2021/01/30/devotion-for-proper-26-year-d-humes/

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Rich in Good Deeds   2 comments

Above:  The Pool of Bethesda

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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Zephaniah 1:1-18 or Proverbs 25:6-22

Psalm 119:73-77, 103-105

1 Timothy 6:9-21

John 5:1-18

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Idols abound.  They include wealth, power, prestige, and foreign religions.  Even the most well-meaning people are vulnerable to these temptations.

As we read in 1 Timothy 6, we should be rich in good deeds.  As we read in Psalm 119, we should delight in the Law of God.  And, as even much of Second Temple Judaism affirmed, performing a good deed on the Sabbath is acceptable.

Those who criticized Jesus for healing on the Sabbath in John 5:16f seemed not to have cared about that final detail.  Sabbath laws were flexible in Second Temple Judaism, or at least in portions thereof.  There were schools of Judaism.  And, within each school, personal agendas informed how some people responded and reacted to various deeds on the Sabbath.

None of this should surprise us–especially Gentiles.  I recall a saying from my formative years (as a United Methodist) in southern Georgia, U.S.A., in the Bible Belt:

There are Baptists, then there are Baptists.

So, may we lay aside the stereotype of Second Temple Judaism as a legalistic religion with works-based righteousness.  May we do so as we follow the advice (from 1 Timothy 6) to be rich in good works.  After all, one knows a tree by its fruits.

We can take nothing with us when we die.  We can, at that time, however, leave a legacy of faithful, active love.  We can leave a legacy of trust in God, love of God, and love of our fellow human beings.  We can leave the world better than we found it.  We can leave this life rich in good deeds.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 4, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE ELEVENTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS

THE FEAST OF SAINT ELIZABETH ANN SETON, FOUNDRESS OF THE AMERICAN SISTERS OF CHARITY

THE FEAST OF FELIX MANZ, FIRST ANABAPTIST MARTYR, 1527

THE FEAST OF SAINTS GREGORY OF LANGRES, TERTICUS OF LANGRES, GALLUS OF CLERMONT, GREGORY OF TOURS, AVITUS I OF CLERMONT, MAGNERICUS OF TRIER, AND GAUGERICUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS

THE FEAST OF JOHANN LUDWIG FREYDT, GERMAN MORAVIAN COMPOSER AND EDUCATOR

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Adapted from these posts:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2021/01/04/devotion-for-the-ninth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-d-humes/

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2021/01/04/devotion-for-proper-7-year-d-humes/

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Deeds and Creeds III   Leave a comment

Above:  King Josiah of Judah

Image in the Public Domain

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For the First Sunday Before Lent, 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, who hast taught us that all our doings without love are nothing worth;

send thy Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love,

the very bond of peace and of all virtues,

without which whosoever liveth is counted dead before thee.

Grant this for thine only Son Jesus Christ’s sake.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 141

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2 Kings 22:8-20

Psalms 15 and 16

Romans 5:13-25

Luke 7:1-16

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God calls Jews.  God calls Gentiles, too.  God also cares deeply about how we humans treat each other.  Orthopraxy is the practical side of orthodoxy.  Deeds reveal creeds.  Faith without works is dead.

I grew up around an evangelical subculture in small towns and communities in rural Georgia, mostly in the southern part of the state.  The cultural milieu was primarily racist, provincial, conservative, conformist, homophobic, anti-intellectual, anti-scientific, and anti-Roman Catholic.   I grew up United Methodist in a subculture the Southern Baptist Convention defined.  My latent Roman Catholic tendencies ceased to be latent after a while.  My intellectualism and acceptance of science added to my marginalization.  My rebelliousness in the face of continuous pressures to conform increased.  Fortunately, my parents raised me to think for myself.  They also raised me to oppose racism.

So, O reader, know that I am a churchy person with a sometimes jaundiced view of the institutional church.  I recall examples of life-long church members protesting they were not racists as they opposed funding a denominational scholarship fund for African-American college students.  I know the pressures to fit into an ecclesiastical subculture in violation of my personality type.  I know the feeling of having people indicate that my preference for contemplative prayer over oral, extemporaneous prayer (which they preferred) is inherently defective.  A difference is not necessarily a defect.  I know that the church has shot many of its own, so to speak.  It has shot me, so to speak.

Deeds reveal creeds.  Works reveal active faith.  God has created an astounding variety of personalities.  Each of us has received spiritual gifts.  All of them are essential.  So are all the personalities.

Deeds reveal creeds.  Do we believe that diversity is crucial in the church?  Do we believe that there are no outsiders and marginal characters in Christ?  Some of us do.  Others do not, based on their deeds.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 13, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT

THE FIFTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL JOHNSON, “THE GREAT MORALIST”

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN FURCHTEGOTT GELLERT, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, EDUCATOR, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ELLA J. BAKER, WITNESS FOR CIVIIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF PAUL SPERATUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN BISHOP, LITURGIST, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF PIERSON PARKER, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, EPISCOPAL PRIEST, AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

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Judith’s Hymn of Deliverance, with Her Renown and Death   Leave a comment

Above:  Blanche Sweet as Judith in Judith of Bethulia (1914)

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JUDITH

PART VIII

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Judith 16:1-25

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O Lord, thou are great and glorious,

wondrous in strength, invincible.

Let thy creatures serve thee,

for thou didst speak, and they were made,

thou didst sent thy Spirit, and it formed them;

there is none that can resist thy voice.

For the mountains shall be shaken to their foundations with the waters;

at thy presence the rocks shall melt like wax.

But to those who fear thee, thou wilt continue to show mercy.

For every sacrifice as a fragrant offering is a small thing,

and all fat for burnt offerings to thee is a very little thing,

but he who fears the Lord shall be great forever.

–Judith 16:13b-16, a.k.a. Canticle 69 in The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965) and Canticle 622 in The Methodist Hymnal (1966)

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But the Lord Almighty has foiled them by the hand of a woman.

For their mighty one did not fall by the hands of the young men;

nor did the sons of the Titans strike him down,

nor did tall giants set upon him;

but Judith daughter of Merari with the beauty of her countenance undid him.

–Judith 16:5-6, The New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha (1989)

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The hymn of Judith acknowledges what Achior, soon to convert to Judaism (14:6-10), said in Chapter 5:  God is the strength of the Israelites.  The hymn of Judith places her accomplishment in proper context.  That context is God.

The rest of the story:

  1. Judith refused all offers of marriage.
  2. She freed her maid/servant.
  3. She lived to a ripe old age (Job 42:16; Proverbs 16:31 and 20:29).
  4. People held her in high esteem.
  5. Her grave was next to that of her late husband.

The end of Chapter 16 likens her to various heroes in the Book of Judges.  Judith 16:25 tells us that nobody spread terror among the Israelites for a long time after her death.  For a similar motif, read Judges 3:11; 3:30; 5:31; 8:28.

Interestingly, the Hasmonean period (168-63 B.C.E.) lasted 105 years, the lifespan of Judith.  Given the composition of the Book of Judith circa 100 B.C.E., we have a coincidence.

Judith placed God at the center of her life.  She revered God and acted to protect her community.  She was a fictional military heroine long before a historical military heroine, St. Joan of Arc (1412-1431).

The Book of Judith also contains a warning to fatuous gas bag, authoritarian leaders, and their enablers.

[Holofernes’s] bloated self-image clouds his judgment, so that he not only sees in himself what he wants to see, but also sees in Judith what he chooses.  If Holofernes had been clever enough to catch Judith’s irony, he would have been clever enough to avoid her trap, even get the best of her.  But he was not.

–Lawrence M. Wills, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume III (1999), 1089

The warning is that they leave themselves open to their own undoing.  Their fate is in themselves, not in their stars, to paraphrase William Shakespeare.

At the end of the Book of Judith, Nebuchadnezzar II, not a major character since Chapter 2, is still on the throne.  I suppose the fictional version of that monarch in this book gave up his plan to take revenge on disloyal servants.  After all, he is not the king of all the Earth.  No, God is.

So, fatuous gas bags, authoritarian leaders, and their enablers, beware.  God is the king.  God is sovereign.  Even fatuous gas bags, authoritarian rulers, and their enablers are subject to the judgment of God.

Thank you for joining me on this journey through the Book of Judith, O reader.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 13, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT

THE FIFTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL JOHNSON, “THE GREAT MORALIST”

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN FURCHTEGOTT GELLERT, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, EDUCATOR, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ELLA J. BAKER, WITNESS FOR CIVIIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF PAUL SPERATUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN BISHOP, LITURGIST, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF PIERSON PARKER, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, EPISCOPAL PRIEST, AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

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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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Life Does Not Consist of the Abundance of Possessions   Leave a comment

Parable of the rich man *oil on panel *31.9 x 42.5 cm *signed b.l.: RH. 1627.

Above:  The Parable of the Rich Fool, by Rembrandt van Rijn

Image in the Public Domain

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Luke 12:13-21 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition, 2002):

One of the multitude said to him [Jesus],

Teacher, bid my brother divide my inheritance with me.

But he [Jesus] said to him,

Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?

And he [Jesus] said to them,

Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist of his possessions.

And he [Jesus] told them a parable, saying,

The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, “What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops.?”  And he said, “I will do this; I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  And I will say to my soul ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, and be merry.'”  But God said to him, “Fool!  This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”  So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.

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Luke 6:20, 21, 24, 25a (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition, 2002):

And he [Jesus] lifted up his eyes on his disciples and said:

Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied.

But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation.

Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger.

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The quote from which I have taken the title of this post comes from the Parable of the Rich Fool, the entirety of which I have quoted above.  The Rich Fool has more than enough food at the same time that many people in his vicinity lack a sufficient supply thereof.  He could keep enough food to meet his own needs and share the rest with the hungry, but he chooses not to do that.  He trusts in material possessions, not God.  His wealth is his security blanket; his abundance shelters him psychologically from the prospect of hunger and poverty.  In the end he dies (as we all will do) and cannot take anything with him.

Life does not consist of the abundance of possessions.  One way to learn this lesson is to move.  Having to pack up one’s belongings, transport them, and unpack them can teach one how much one has and how inconvenient (even detrimental to one’s quality of life) too many of them can be.  I have moved often during my life, going back to my childhood; my father was a minister in the South Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church.  I recall moving every two or three years (on average) and realizing that I moved with more possessions each time.  I also recall that, as I prepared to leave East Dublin, Georgia, for Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, in 2005, I donated many possessions to a thrift store and felt proud of myself for doing that.  Furthermore, I recall that, after I arrived in Athens-Clarke County, I wondered why I had not been more generous to that thrift store.

I have reduced my appetites for material possessions and become fonder of open space in recent years.  The largest category of my possessions is and has long been books.  I have come by this naturally, given the bookishness of my family.  I reduced my library from its height at more than 2500 volumes to about 1000 books a few years ago.  Then, over time, I added to the library before reducing it to about 1000 volumes again a few months ago.  Those nearly 1000 books fill seven tall book cases and a smaller one.  I have concluded that approximately 1000 volumes is the proper size of my library.  Given the size of my living space, having space for a sofa is more important to me than keeping more books.  Living in a relatively small space does help to provide one with a useful sense of discipline in these matters.

I have been inside the home of a hoarder, a woman with a mental illness.  (She has an emotional attachment to her trash.)  Her disorder has placed her health and that of her son at risk and detracted from the quality of their lives.  Certainly, to be able to walk easily in every room of the house and sleep on more than one side of one’s bed (because of the possessions occupying the rest of the bed) would improve the quality of life.  I avoid that house, for the messiness annoys me and something in the air makes me feel ill.

Life certainly does not consist of clutter.  In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), the loose basis of Blade Runner (1982), which is not as dark as its source material, Philip K. Dick has a character, J. S. Sebastian, explain a theory of clutter:  it reproduces asexually.  Sometimes clutter seems to do that, does it not?  A problem with clutter is that it is in the way.  I know of a large, two-story home in Athens-Clarke County.  The wide corridors function as storage space, as do some of the downstairs rooms.  There is no more room in the storeroom.  Much of the contents of the storeroom is inaccessible.  The resident is not a clinical hoarder, however.  She has many possessions, a physical disability, a lifelong tendency toward disorder, and a desire to clean up her home.  I help her off-and-on to rein in the problem.  There is so much to do until we make the interior of the house resemble something other than an anarchistic warehouse.   She is, however, making plans to sell some large pieces of furniture and not to replace them.  Furthermore, I have carried many items away and donated them to thrift stores on her behalf.

I look around my living space and thank God for open space and horizontal surfaces lacking clutter.

One might do well to think of clutter metaphorically also.  To simplify one’s interior life–to avoid the temptation to fill the rooms, corridors, nooks, and crannies of one’s being with activities that get in the way of a healthy spiritual life–is a virtue.  One should not be so busy that one cannot stop and listen to God.  God speaks to us, but we do not hear Him if we do not listen.  We do not stop to listen for God’s voice if we are doing something else.  We do not make room for God in our spiritual interiors if we clutter those spaces.  Many people who do not attend religious services on a regular basis report that they are too busy to do so.  Too busy for God is too busy.

The Rich Fool was not rich toward God.  He was one of those who had received his consolation (Luke 6:24) and was the subject of one of the Woes following the Beatitudes in the Gospel of Luke.  The Rich Fool was a man with misplaced priorities–toward possessions, human beings, and God.  The Rich Fool crowded out God with, for lack of a better word, stuff.  He chose poorly.

Life is in God, not the abundance of possessions.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

THE FEAST OF ALL CHRISTIAN EDUCATORS AND INTELLECTUALS

THE FEAST OF SAINT TERESA OF AVILA, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN

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Taking Difficult Passages of Scripture Seriously   1 comment

tamar-and-judah

Above:  Tamar and Judah, by Aert de Gelder

Image in the Public Domain

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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:

Genesis 38:1-30 or Ecclesiastes 5:1-20

Psalm 10

Matthew 22:23-33 or Mark 12:18-27 and Luke 20:39-40

2 Corinthians 7:2-16

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I recall that, in 1996, my father began his tenure as pastor of the Asbury United Methodist Church, north of Baxley, in Appling County, Georgia.  Shortly after this I began to attend to services at St. Thomas Aquinas Episcopal Church in town, for I had been an Episcopalian for a few years.  Nevertheless, I was never a stranger at Asbury Church during my father’s tenure there.

One of the adult Sunday School classes at Asbury was discussing the Book of Genesis at the pace of a chapter a week.  On one Sunday morning in the summer of 1996 the leader of the group, having covered Chapter 37 the previous week, skipped over Chapter 38 to Chapter 39, with little explanation.  The story of Judah, Tamar, levirate marriage (the background of the question in the readings from the Gospels), and temple prostitution was a really hot potato, so to speak.  The narrative in Genesis 38 does not criticize a young, childless widow for having sexual relations with her father-in-law at a pagan temple and becoming pregnant with twins.  In her situation she did what she needed to do to secure her future.

Deuteronomy 25:5-10 commands the practice of levirate marriage, for the benefit of a childless widow in a patriarchal society without a government-defined social safety net.  In the case of Genesis 38 the practice, applied to a particular set of circumstances, makes many modern readers of the Bible squirm in their theological seats.  This is no excuse for ignoring the chapter, of course.  Whenever a portion of scripture makes one uncomfortable, one should study it more closely and, in the highest meaning of the word, critically.

The Sadducees in the parallel readings of Matthew, Mark, and Luke did not ignore levirate marriage, but they did employ it in a question meant to entrap Jesus.  They did not affirm the resurrection of the dead.  That is why, according to a song for children,

they were sad, you see.

For the Sadducees the emphasis on this life helped to justify the accumulation of wealth in a society in which economic injustice was ubiquitous.  They, like others, failed to ensnare Jesus verbally.  He was that capable.

Koheleth, writing in Ecclesiastes, noted that economic injustice and other forms of social injustice ought not to surprise anyone.  After all, he mentioned, perpetrators of injustice protect each other.  Nevertheless, as the author of Psalm 10 understood, those who exploited the poor (in violation of the Law of Moses) could not escape divine justice.

Just as the painful letter of St. Paul the Apostle to the Corinthian congregation led to the changing of hearts there, the study of difficult passages of scripture can lead people to learn more about the Bible, ask vital questions, think more critically about scripture, and grow spiritually.  It can also change hearts and minds for the better.  May we who call ourselves followers of God neither ignore nor use such passages flippantly, but take them seriously instead.  Then may we act accordingly.  We might even learn that we are committing or condoning social injustice, perhaps that of the economic variety.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 11, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PHILIP THE EVANGELIST, DEACON

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2016/10/11/devotion-for-the-fourth-sunday-of-easter-year-d/

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Troublemakers   1 comment

Judah and Tamar--School of Rembrandt van Rijn

Above:   Judah and Tamar, by the School of Rembrandt van Rijn

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

O God, our eternal redeemer, by the presence of your Spirit you renew and direct our hearts.

Keep always in our mind the end of all things and the day of judgment.

Inspire us for a holy life here, and bring us to the joy of the resurrection,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 52

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The Assigned Readings:

Deuteronomy 25:5-10 (Thursday)

Genesis 38:1-26 (Friday)

Psalm 17 (Both Days)

Acts 22:22-23:11 (Thursday)

Acts 24:10-23 (Friday)

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Let my vindication come forth from your presence,

let your eyes be fixed on justice.

–Psalm 17:2, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Genesis 38 serves several functions.  One is to mark the passage of time between Genesis 37 and 39.  Another is to make people squirm.  What should one make of a story in which Tamar, the heroine, the wronged woman denied what was due her according to levirate marriage (described in Deuteronomy 25), had to resort to posing as a pagan temple prostitute to seduce her father-in-law to get the child(ren) she deserved, according to social customs meant to protect childless widows?  Due to problems with her first husband’s brothers the duty fell to Judah, her father-in-law.

I remember that, in 1996, at Asbury United Methodist Church, north of Baxley in Appling County, Georgia, an adult Sunday School class read the Book of Genesis at the rate of a chapter per week.  One Sunday that summer the time came to ponder Chapter 38.  The leader of the class skipped to Genesis 39, for he found the contents to be too hot a potato, so to speak.

The story of Judah and Tamar continues to make many readers of the Hebrew Bible uncomfortable.  Tamar remains a troublemaker of sorts, long after her death.  Perhaps modern readers who struggle with the tale should think less about our comfort levels and more about the lengths to which certain people need to go to secure basic needs.

St. Paul the Apostle got into legal trouble (again) in Acts 21.  The trumped-up charge boiled down to him being a troublemaker, a disturber of the peace.  As Tertullus, the attorney for chief priest Ananias and Temple elders argued before Felix, the governor:

We found this man to be a pest, a fomenter of discord among the Jews all over the world, a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.  He made an attempt to profane the temple and we arrested him.

–Acts 24:5-6, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Were not those who plotted and attempted to kill St. Paul the real troublemakers?  He planned or committed no violence toward those with whom he disagreed.  The Apostle knew how to employ strong language, but he avoided resorting to violence after his conversion.

How we deal with alleged troublemakers reveals much about our character.  What, then, does this standard reveal about your character, O reader?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 3, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILL CAMPBELL, AGENT OF RECONCILIATION

THE FEAST OF SAINTS LIPHARDUS OF ORLEANS AND URBICIUS OF MEUNG, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOTS

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF UGANDA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MORAND OF CLUNY, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK AND MISSIONARY

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/06/03/devotion-for-thursday-and-friday-before-proper-27-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Four Banquets   2 comments

St. Edward's, Lawrenceville

Above:  St. Edward’s Episcopal Church, Lawrenceville, Georgia, October 19, 2014

Image Source = Bill Monk, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

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The Collect:

Gracious God, you have placed within the hearts of all your children

a longing for your word and a hunger for your truth.

Grant that we may know your Son to be the true bread of heaven

and share this bread with all the world,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 43

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 25:6-10a

Psalm 111

Mark 6:35-44

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He has provided food for his worshippers;

he remembers his covenant for ever.

–Psalm 111:5, Harry Mowvley, The Psalms Introduced and Newly Translated for Today’s Readers (1989)

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This is a post about four banquets:  the divine coronation feast in Isaiah 25:6-10a, the sordid feast of Herod Antipas in Mark 6:14-29, the Feeding of the 5000 (Plus) in Mark 6:30-44, and the Holy Eucharist.

The reading from Isaiah 25 speaks of a time immediately after Yahweh has defeated pride, evil, and sorrow, and established the Kingdom of God, in its fullness, on the Earth.  This is a time in our future.  All people are welcome at Yahweh’s coronation feast, to take place on Mount Zion, in Jerusalem.  All is well, except for those whom God has vanquished, namely the Moabites (25:10).

Our next two banquets, which stand is stark contrast to each other, come from Mark 6.  The first is a sordid event, with Herod Antipas lusting after the seductive Salome (whose name and image come to us via archaeology, not the Bible) and making a hasty promise which leads to the execution of St. John the Baptist.  The Herodian family tree was complicated, for both Herodias and her daughter, Salome, were granddaughters of Herod the Great via different women.  Herod Antipas, a son of Herod the Great via a third woman, married Herodias, who had been the wife of a half-brother of Herod Antipas.  Thus Salome was the step-daughter and a cousin of Herod Antipas.

I will not attempt to explain the Feeding the 5000 (Plus) rationally, for doing that constitutes seeking an answer to the wrong question.  (And I am more of a rationalist than a mystic.)  Neither will I try to explain Jesus walking on water (next in Mark 6) logically, for the same reason.  No, I am interested in answering the question which compelled one of my spiritual mentors whenever he studied any passage of scripture:

What is really going on here?

The Markan account of the Feeding of the 5000 men (no word about the number of women and children) uses imagery from elsewhere in the Bible.  Jesus is the Good Shepherd feeding the flock.  His feeding of the multitude exceeds Elisha’s feeding of 100 men (2 Kings 4:42-44) and Elijah’s miracle of the refilling jug of oil (1 Kings 17:8-16).  The messianic banquet, an echo of Isaiah 25:6-10a, recurs in the wilderness motif in subsequent pseudipigraphal works, such as in 2 Baruch 29:4 and 4 Ezra 6:52.  Two main ideas stand out in my mind:

  1. Jesus is greater than Elijah and Elisha (see Mark 6:15, in which some people thought that Jesus was Elijah), and
  2. Nothing we bring to Jesus is inadequate in his capable hands.  There will be leftovers after he has finished working with it.  We are insufficient by ourselves yet more than sufficient in Christ.  That is what grace can effect.

The eucharistic imagery in Mark 6 points to the fourth banquet, which I, as an Episcopalian, celebrate at least once weekly.  The Holy Eucharist has constituted the core of my spiritual life since childhood.  One reason I left the United Methodism of my youth was to have the opportunities to partake of the sacrament more often.  In the Holy Eucharist I meet Jesus in the forms of bread and wine and swear loyalty to him again.  No, I am not worthy on my merit (such as it is) to do this, but I rely on his merits to make me worthy to do so.  The first step to becoming worthy is acknowledging one’s unworthiness.

The contrast between human systems built on the foundation of violence, exploitation, and oppression on one hand and the Kingdom of God on the other hand is clear.  Injustice and artificial scarcity characterize the former, but justice and abundance for all distinguish the latter.  We can experience a foretaste of the Kingdom of God, which is partially present already, but we await the fullness of the Kingdom.  Until then we can, at least, leave the world better off than we found it.  No effort toward this goal is too little in Christ’s capable hands.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 6, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARCELLINUS OF CARTHAGE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR

THE FEAST OF DANIEL G. C. WU, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND MISSIONARY TO CHINESE AMERICANS

THE FEAST OF FREDERIC BARKER, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF SYDNEY

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/04/06/devotion-for-wednesday-after-proper-12-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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