Archive for the ‘Violence’ Tag

Human Agents of God, Part III   1 comment

Above:  Jeremiah

Image in the Public Domain

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According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)

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Jeremiah 20:7-13

Psalm 69:1-20 (LBW) or Psalm 91 (LW)

Romans 5:12-15

Matthew 10:24-33

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O God our defender,

storms rage about us and cause us to be afraid. 

Rescue your people from despair,

deliver your sons and daughters from fear,

and preserve us all from unbelief;

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 25

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O Lord, whose gracious presence never fails to guide

and govern those whom you have nurtured

in your steadfast love and worship,

make us ever revere and adore your holy name;

through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 66

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Following God is frequently a guarantee that one will experience rejection, often from devout people.  The Golden Rule exists in most of the world’s religions.  Yet, O reader, practice the Golden Rule and notice how much criticism you receive from some adherents to some of these religions, including your own.

Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)

Faith has the power to transform people.  Religion often reinforces positive and negative tendencies people have.  God or a deity frequently functions as a justification for what one wants to do anyway.  People often create God in their image.

Jeremiah did not create God in his image.  The Weeping Prophet struggled with God, complaining while obeying.  The authors of the assigned texts from the Hebrew Bible wrote of divine protection.  Divine protection kept Jeremiah alive yet did not prevent his involuntary exile in Egypt.  And Jesus died horribly via crucifixion.

Martyrs populate Christian calendars of saints.  This is consistent with various sayings of Jesus from the canonical Gospels.  Commandments to deny oneself, take up one’s cross, and follow Jesus dovetail with Matthew 10:24:

No disciple is above his teacher, no slave above his master.

The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

Yet, in sovereignty, God makes unjust suffering work for a positive end.  Persecutions and martyrdoms water the church.  Redemption comes via the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.  Often, social injustice prompts a backlash in favor of social justice.  The New Testament depicts the violent, oppressive Roman Empire as an involuntary tool of God.  God works with what is available.

As much as I enjoy forces of evil functioning involuntarily as agents of God, I assert that being a voluntary agent of God is superior.  I try to be one of these voluntary agents of God.  To the extent I succeed, I do so by grace.  May you, O reader, succeed by grace, in that effort, too.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 4, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CEFERINO JIMENEZ MALLA, SPANISH ROMANI MARTYR, 1936

THE FEAST OF ANGUS DUN, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF WASHINGTON, AND ECUMENIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT BASIL MARTYSZ, POLISH ORTHODOX PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1945

THE FEAST OF SAINT JEAN-MARTIN MOYË, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, MISSIONARY IN CHINA, AND FOUNDER OF THE SISTERS OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE AND THE CHRISTIAN VIRGINS

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JOHN HOUGHTON, ROBERT LAWRENCE, AUGUSTINE WEBSTER, HUMPHREY MIDDLEMORE, WILLIAM EXMEW, AND SEBASTIAN NEWDIGATE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS, 1535

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Adapted from this post

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St. Paul the Apostle in Jerusalem   Leave a comment

Above:  St. Paul

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART LXXI

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Acts 21:17-23:22

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St. Paul’s Third Missionary Journey spanned 53-58 C.E.  He was back in Jerusalem for Passover in 58 C.E.

St. Paul’s reputation preceded him.  He agreed to St. James of Jerusalem’s plan for damage control.  St. Paul accompanied four men to the Temple, where they made their Nazarite vows.  He also sponsored sacrifices, consistent with the Law of Moses.  This strategy failed.  A Jewish mob beat St. Paul outside the Temple.  They would have killed him had Roman soldiers not rescued him.  The mob’s cries of “Kill him!” echoed another mob’s cries of “Crucify him! Crucify him!” (Luke 23:21).

Notice the sympathetic portrayal of the Romans, O reader.  It is consistent with the Lucan motif of identifying good Roman officials even though Luke-Acts presents the Roman Empire as being at odds with God.  Alas, Luke-Acts presents the empire as being an unwitting tool of God sometimes.

St. Paul had impeccable Jewish credentials as well as Roman citizenship.  As a citizen, he had the legal right to appeal to the emperor.  This fact led him to Rome.

Roman soldiers had to save St. Paul from a Jewish conspiracy a second time.  The soldiers transferred him to Caesarea.

Keep in mind, O reader, that I have been writing this weblog for more than a decade.  During those years, I have made many opinions abundantly clear and repeated myself at least a zillion times, lest someone who reads a post without having read other posts or many other posts mistake me for someone who holds positions I find abhorrent.

For the sake of clarity, I repeat for time number zillion plus one that I reject and condemn anti-Semitism.  Really, I should not have to keep repeating myself in this matter and many other matters.  Yet I do, for even a dispassionate statement of objective historical reality may seem hateful to certain people.  I live in an age of ubiquitous hyper-sensitivity, which I find as objectionable as ubiquitous insensitivity.  I favor ubiquitous sensitivity instead.

As I keep repeating ad nauseum in this series, I have no interest in condemning long-dead people and resting on self-righteous laurels.  I may condemn long-dead people, but I refuse to stop there.  No, I examine myself spiritually and draw contemporary parallels, too.  Sacred violence is an oxymoron, regardless of who commits it.  And I should never approve of it.  Also, my Christian tradition has a shameful legacy of committing and condoning “sacred violence” against targets, including Jews, Muslims, and Christians.

By this point in the narrative, St. Paul was taking a circuitous route to Rome, to bear witness for Jesus there.  The Roman soldiers and officials, as well as the homicidal Jews of Jerusalem, were tools to get him to the imperial capital.

Ask yourself, O reader:  What would push you over the edge into homicidal tendencies?  Answer honestly.  Then take the answer to God in prayer and repent.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 2, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALEXANDER OF ALEXANDRIA, PATRIARCH; AND SAINT ATHANASIUS OF ALEXANDRIA, PATRIARCH AND “FATHER OF ORTHODOXY”

THE FEAST OF CHARLES SILVESTER HORNE, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN FRIEDRICH HASSE, GERMAN-BRITISH MORAVIAN COMPOSER AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF ELIAS BOUDINOT, IV, U.S. STATESMAN, PHILANTHROPIST, AND WITNESS FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE

THE FEAST OF JULIA BULKLEY CADY CORY, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT SIGISMUND OF BURGUNDY, KING; CLOTILDA, FRANKISH QUEEN; AND CLODOALD, FRANKISH PRINCE AND ABBOT

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St. Paul’s First Missionary Journey   Leave a comment

Above:  St. Paul the Apostle

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART LXVII

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Acts 13:1-14:28

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Terminology and context matter.  A reading of Acts 13:1-14:28 reveals a few mentions of “the Jews.”  Recall, O reader, that Sts. (Joseph) Barnabas and Paul the Apostle were Jewish.  Remember, also, that many of the people they converted were Jews.  “The Jews,” therefore, refers to Jews hostile to Christianity–sometimes, violently so.

We have the same issue in the Gospel of John, a book with mostly Jewish characters and composed during a time of conflict between Jewish Americans and non-Christian Jews.  Another wrinkle in the Johannine Gospel, though, is that “the Judeans” may be the correct translation sometimes.

The hostility of “the Jews” toward Christian Jews and Sts. Paul and Barnabas, in particular, should inspire spiritual examination in the reader or listener.  I think of the shameful record of violence Christians have committed in the name of Christ against Jews, Muslims, other Christians, and other people.  I understand that I am not immune to the dark side of human nature.  How dare I fall into complacent self-righteousness and mistake myself for someone who would never commit or condone such an act, given different circumstances?

Such violence arises from hatred, which flows from fear, which comes from a lack of understanding.  Such violence also indicates the severity of the perceived threat Sts. Paul and Barnabas allegedly posed.

We also notice a pattern in evangelism–taking the message to the Jews first then to the pagans.  This is consistent with St. Paul’s outreach to Gentiles while including Jews in his mission.

For St. Paul, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus ended one epoch and inaugurated another one.  Therefore, in his mind, outreach to the Jewish population made sense.

We read of two miraculous works–a healing and a blinding.  I am happy for the man born crippled, for I rejoice in his healing.  Yet I cannot rejoice in the blinding of Elymas Magus (Bar-Jesus), a magician and a false prophet.  The physical blindness indicated spiritual blindness, mixed with fear of losing influence with Proconsul Sergius Paulus.

Perhaps the magician’s temporary blindness is a metaphor of the failure he and others like him have in blinding people to the course of God’s salvation.

–Robert W. Wall, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 10 (2002), 190

A relevant matter is the name “Bar-Jesus.”  “Jesus” is simply “Joshua,” a common name.  Yet the irony of “Son of Joshua” opposing nascent Christianity is ironic.  We read that St. Paul described Bar-Jesus as

son of the devil

instead.  The implication here is that opposition to the Gospel was a moral failing.  We readers are supposed to recall the conflict between Jesus and Satan and evil spirits in the Gospel of Luke.  Also, we are supposed to contrast St. Paul, blinded on the road to Damascus, with Elymas/Bar-Jesus.

Speaking of the name “Bar-Jesus,” another rendering is “Bariesou,” similar to “Barieu,” or “wrongdoer.”

Luke-Acts dates to circa 85 C.E.  Recall, O reader, that Gentiles were the intended audience.  Consider, also, the rising tensions between Christians (both Jews and Gentiles) and non-Christian Jews at the time.  Read in context, we may reasonably guess how members of the original audience related Acts 13:1-14:28 to their lives.

This seems like an appropriate setting in which to repeat myself from previous posts:

  1. Judaism at the time understood that God accepted righteous Gentiles.
  2. Luke-Acts documented some Gentiles who had positive relationships with their local Jewish communities.
  3. Intra-Jewish arguments occurred in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles.
  4. Anti-Semitism has always been wrong.
  5. Legalists have always distorted non-legalistic religions.

I have made these points in writing many times.  I tire of the necessity of repetition, but I feel obligated to commit it sometimes, just in case someone has missed all of the ten zillion times I have condemned anti-Semitism, for example.

Recall the Parable of the Mustard Seed, O reader.  The Kingdom of God is like a really big weed–an unwanted plant, by definition–derived from a tiny seed.  The Kingdom of God goes where it will.  I live in Georgia, so I understand the “kudzu theory” of the Kingdom of God.  This kingdom’s shape may not necessarily be what one expects, but the kingdom is present and tenacious.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 23, 2022 COMMON ERA

SATURDAY IN EASTER WEEK

THE FEAST OF TOYOHIKO KAGAWA, RENEWER OF SOCIETY AND PROPHETIC WITNESS IN JAPAN

THE FEAST OF MARTIN RINCKART, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT TERESA MARIA OF THE CROSS, FOUNDER OF THE CARMELITE SISTERS OF SAINT TERESA OF FLORENCE

THE FEAST OF WALTER RUSSELL BOWIE, EPISCOPAL PRIEST, SEMINARY PROFESSOR, AND HYMN WRITER

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St. Stephen, the First Christian Martyr   Leave a comment

Above:  Saint Stephen, by Luis de Morales

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART LX

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Acts 6:8-8:3

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…but they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke.

–Acts 6:10, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

St. Stephen, one of the original seven deacons (Acts 6:1-7), had a simple job–to provide social services in the name of Christ.  Simply put, he, as a deacon, was supposed to provide the ancient equivalent of Meals on Wheels (Acts 6:2).  He died for his preaching, though.

Rather than focus on the reported contents of that fateful sermon, or on the politics of it circa 85 C.E. (when St. Luke composed the Acts of the Apostles), I choose other emphases:

  1. St. Stephen’s martyrdom resembles the crucifixion of Jesus.  The servant is not greater than the master, after all.
  2. We meet Saul of Tarsus, still a persecutor of the nascent Church.
  3. We read of sacred violence, one the most egregious oxymorons.

Those who behave violently toward the nonviolent do not impress me.  I understand that violence is sometimes the lesser evil; I am a realist.  Yet I contend that violence is usually unnecessary.  Violence in defense of another person, other human beings, and oneself is necessary at times, sadly.  yet violence against the nonviolent is never morally justifiable.

Nevertheless, violence in the name of God, especially against the nonviolent, is a repeating theme in history.  I, as a Christian, regret that violence in the name of Jesus, crucified despite being innocent of the charges against him, is a dark stain in Christian history.  And I, as a citizen of the United States of America, know that my nation-state, not exempt from human nature, has a record of incarcerating and martyring pacifists during wartime.  My Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days (available at SUNDRY THOUGHTS) includes some of these martyrs.  I also know about the four Quakers the Puritan government of the Massachusetts Bay Colony executed for merely being Quakers.  My Ecumenical Calendar also lists these four martyrs.

The variety of theological certainty that, in one’s imagination, justifies violence against the nonviolent is morally unjustifiable.  Consider the Lucan presentation of the execution of Jesus, O reader.  Remember that the Lucan account emphasizes the innocence of Jesus, hence the injustice of his death.  We have a similar murder here, in Acts 7:54-60.

I, as a Christian, have an obligation to follow Jesus.  I do not recall the verse in which he called for smiting the heretics and evildoers.  That verse does not exist.  I do recall reading about Jesus dying for the heretics and evildoers, though.  And I remember reading about Jesus praying that God would forgive them.

As for pacifists, they are harmless at worst and beneficial at best.  If one disagrees with them, one has the right to do so.  Yet nobody has the moral right to harm them, to seek to harm them, or to consent to their harm.  Why not permit them to lead their nonviolent lives without harassment and persecution?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 15, 2022 COMMON ERA

GOOD FRIDAY

THE FEAST OF SAINT OLGA OF KIEV, REGENT OF KIEVAN RUSSIA; SAINT ADALBERT OF MAGDEBURG, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; SAINT ADALBERT OF PRAGUE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP AND MARTYR, 997; AND SAINTS BENEDICT AND GAUDENTIUS OF POMERANIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS, 997

THE FEAST OF SAINTS DAMIEN AND MARIANNE OF MOLOKAI, WORKERS AMONG LEPERS

THE FEAST OF SAINT FLAVIA DOMITILLA, ROMAN CHRISTIAN NOBLEWOMAN; AND SAINTS MARO, EUTYCHES, AND VICTORINUS OF ROME, PRIESTS AND MARTYRS, CIRCA 99

THE FEAST OF SAINT HUNNA OF ALSACE, THE “HOLY WASHERWOMAN”

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Reception and Rejection in the Kingdom of God   Leave a comment

Above:  Herod’s Gate, Jerusalem

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART XXXV

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Luke 13:22-30

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Two prominent Lucan themes exist in this passage.  They are: (1) the inclusion of Gentiles, and (2) the reversal of fortune.

Consider the narrative context, O reader:  Jesus was en route to Jerusalem to die.  For all the mixed metaphors, 13:22-30 is about the Jewish rejection of Jesus and the inclusion of faithful Gentiles.  Judgment and mercy coexist in 13:22-30, and many people will be shocked that they do not pass through the narrow door or gate to enjoy the heavenly banquet.

I reject anti-Semitism, an unjustifiable Christian tradition.  Let us–you, O reader, and I–be clear about that as we move forward in this post.  And let us not take the easy way out in (mis)interpreting 13:22-30.

The ultimate message of caution is not to presume on grace.  Our efforts to obey God matter, as faithful response.  They are spiritual fruits.  Yet passage through the narrow gate depends on grace.  Many people exclude themselves by closing themselves to receiving grace.

Consider the context circa 85 C.E., O reader.  The Church was young, small, and growing.  Christianity was still a Jewish sect, albeit one with many Gentile members.  Tensions between Jewish Christians and non-Christian Jews were rising.  And many Christian Jews argued that Gentile Christians must convert to Judaism.  Judaism and Christianity were careening toward a schism, which occurred in 137 C.E., during the Second Jewish War.

The four canonical Gospels, which exist in the shadow of the First Jewish War, include the language of invective, often aimed at non-Christian Jews.  I admit that some of this may be historical in relation to Jesus clashing with religious authorities.  Co-religionists arguing remains a current practice, after all.  Yet I, trained in historical methodology, know that people recount the past through the lens of their present day–circa 85 C.E. for Luke-Acts.  Therefore, we read some circumstances circa 85 C.E. projected onto Jesus’s time.

Invective disturbs me.  Read in historical context, it makes sense.  One can dispassionately interpret invective, especially if one does not have a dog in the fight, so to speak.  Yet, read out of context, invective becomes justification for bigotry and violence, as in the case of Christian anti-Semitism.  I understand the link between centuries of Christian anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.

I dare not pretend to know who will enter through the narrow door or gate and who will not; I am not God.  Besides, not all people who profess of follow Jesus will make the cut anyway.  I do, however, notice a common thread in Covenantal Nomism (of Second Temple Judaism) and Luke 13:22-30:  Salvation is by grace, with the obligation to obey moral and ethical mandates.  Repeatedly and unrepentantly violating and disregarding those mandates leads to damnation.  God damns nobody, but people damn themselves

So, what are we supposed to make of grace?  In the U.S. South, we say that grace is like grits; it comes with everything.  (I dislike grits, by the way.)  I recall a t-shirt I wore until I washed it too many times.  It read:

GRACE HAPPENS.

BLOGA THEOLOGICA is a PG-related weblog, so I will not name what, in the vernacular, usually happens.  After that usual thing happens, grace happens.  Yet scripture keeps warning against behaving badly and presuming on grace; this is a theme in both Testaments.  Furthermore, as the the late Episcopal Bishop Henry Irving Louttit, Jr., said in my hearing:

Baptism is not fire insurance.

As for the Jews, I affirm that God’s covenant for them remains.  I, as a Gentile, come in via a second covenant.  Covenants are, by definition, about grace.  A covenant is not a contract; it is not a transactional relationship.

Grace is free yet not cheap.  Grace requires much of its recipients; they may even die because they fulfill these duties.  Grace also imposes the responsibility to extend grace to each other.  Saying and writing that last sentence is easy.  Living it is difficult, though.  But living grace is possible via grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 14, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MACRINA THE ELDER, HER FAMILY, AND SAINT GREGORY OF NAZIANZUS THE YOUNGER

THE FEAST OF ABBY KELLEY FOSTER AND HER HUSBAND, STEPHEN SYMONDS FOSTER, U.S. QUAKER ABOLITIONISTS AND FEMINISTS

THE FEAST OF EIVIND JOSEF BERGGRAV, LUTHERAN BISHOP OF OSLO, HYMN TRANSLATOR, AND LEADER OF THE NORWEGIAN RESISTANCE DURING WORLD WAR II

THE FEAST OF KRISTEN KVAMME, NORWEGIAN-AMERICAN HYMN WRITER AND TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF RICHARD MEUX BENSON, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE SOCIETY OF SAINT JOHN THE EVANGELIST; CHARLES CHAPMAN GRAFTON, EPISCOPAL PRIEST, CO-FOUNDER OF THE SOCIETY OF SAINT JOHN THE EVANGELIST, AND BISHOP OF FOND DU LAC; AND CHARLES GORE, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF WORCESTER, BIRMINGHAM, AND OXFORD; FOUNDER OF THE COMMUNITY OF THE RESURRECTION; THEOLOGIAN; AND ADVOCATE FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE AND WORLD PEACE

THE FEAST OF SAVA I, FOUNDER OF THE SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH AND FIRST ARCHBISHOP OF SERBS

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Eschatological Ethics XIII   1 comment

Above:  Cedars of Lebanon

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USZ62-75016

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According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)

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Isaiah 11:1-10

Psalm 72:1-14 (15-19)

Romans 15:4-13

Matthew 3:1-12

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Stir up in our hearts, O Lord, to prepare the way for your only Son. 

By his coming give us strength in our conflicts

and shed light on our path through the darkness of the world; 

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 13

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Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to make ready the way of your only-begotten Son

that at his second coming we may worship him in purity;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 11

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For improved comprehension of Isaiah 11:1-10, O reader, back up to 10:32b-34.  There we read that God will destroy the Neo-Assyrian Empire, built on militarism, cruelty, and exploitation.  Isaiah 10:34 likens that empire to majestic cedars of Lebanon, cut down by God.  Then Isaiah 11 opens with the image of the Messiah, depicted as a twig sprouting from a tree stump.

The Messiah–the ruler of the fully-realized Kingdom of God in Isaiah 11–has much in common with the ideal king in Psalm 72.  Both monarchs govern justly.  They come to the aid of the oppressed and punish the oppressors.  Judgment and mercy remain in balance.

The ethics of the Kingdom of God–whether partially-realized or fully-realized–contradict the conventional wisdom of “the world” and its great powers.  The Roman Empire, built on militarism, cruelty, and exploitation, continues as a metaphor to apply to oppressive powers–not only governments–in our time.  Spiritual complacency remains a problem.  And how we mere mortals treat each other continues to interest God.

Real life is frequently messy and replete with shades of gray.  Sometimes one must choose the least bad option, for no good options exist.  Whatever one does, somebody may suffer or perhaps die, for example.  We live in an imperfect world.  But we can, by grace, make the best decisions possible then act accordingly.  We can, by grace, love one another selflessly and self-sacrificially.  We can, by grace, act based on mutuality and the Golden Rule.  We can, by grace, welcome those whom God welcomes.  We can, by grace, confront those whom God confronts.  We can, by grace, make the most good from an imperfect situation.

May we do so.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 6, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST

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Adapted from this post

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“Come, Lord Jesus.”   1 comment

Above:  Alpha and Omega

Image in the Public Domain

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READING REVELATION, PART XVI

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Revelation 22:6-21

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How soon is soon?  We read that, in a text from the 90s C.E., that Christ will return “soon.”  We may safely assume that John of Patmos understood “soon” be within the lifetimes of many members of the original audience.

The passage of time has handed down a verdict on that expectation, as well as many other expectations regarding the timing of the Second Coming of Jesus.

If we assume Amillennialism to be true (see Revelation 20), we accept that the “millennium” has been in progress for thousands of years.  Given that numbers are symbolic in Revelation (except in the case of the seven churches in the first three chapters), why not interpret “millennium” is a non-literal way?

Details of the Second Coming reside with God.  I am content to leave them there.  In the meantime, I have faithful living in which to engage.  Trying to understand how to live faithfully in concrete terms, can prove challenging sometimes.  I suspect that God cares about how I live faithfully, within circumstances, than about how I understand any detail of an ancient apocalyptic text.

I do focus on broad strokes, though.  Serve only God, who is sovereign.  Reject the bad value systems (exploitation, militarism, slavery, et cetera) of “Roman Empires.”  Stick close to Jesus.  Resist evil.  Trust in the faithfulness of God.

God will handle the rest.

Thank you, O reader, for joining me on this journey through Revelation.  May something you read along the way have benefited you spiritually.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 21, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF GEORGE MCGOVERN, U.S. SENATOR AND STATESMAN; AND HIS WIFE, ELEANOR MCGOVERN, HUMANITARIAN

THE FEAST OF DAVID MORITZ MICHAEL, GERMAN-AMERICAN MUSICIAN AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF EMILY GARDINER NEAL, EPISCOPAL DEACON, RELIGIOUS WRITER, AND LEADER OF THE HEALING MOVEMENT IN THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH

THE FEAST OF SAINT LAURA OF SAINT CATHERINE OF SIENA, FOUNDER OF THE WORKS OF THE INDIANS AND THE CONGREGATION OF MISSIONARY SISTERS OF IMMACULATE MARY AND OF SAINT CATHERINE OF SIENA

THE FEAST OF WALTER SISULU AND ALBERINA SISULU, ANTI-APARTHEID ACTIVISTS AND POLITICAL PRISONERS IN SOUTH AFRICA

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The Pouring of the Seven Bowls   Leave a comment

Above:  The Whore of Babylon

Image in the Public Domain

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READING REVELATION, PART XIII

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Revelation 16:1-19:21

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In this installment, replete with allusions to the plagues on Egypt, God destroys the empire.  As I have mentioned, Revelation is a text that originally constituted high treason.

“Babylon,” is Rome, of course.  Let us ponder the state of the literal Babylon in the middle 90s C.E., O reader.  Reference works tell me that Babylon, ancient by then, had been a great city and the capital of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  These books also inform me that Babylon had become a mere village, pillaged for building materials.  Human greatness may last a long time, in some cases, but it fades, inevitably.

Some Biblical authors–including John of Patmos–used fornication and adultery as metaphors for idolatry.  The Roman Empire was corrupt.  The society was decadent.  The empire’s foundations included slavery, exploitation, and violence.  The Roman Empire was, symbolically:

Babylon the Great, the Mother of all prostitutes and all filthy practices on the earth.

–Revelation 17:5, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

Those who identified with, traded with, and accepted the value system of “Babylon the Great” mourn the empire’s fall in Revelation 18.  Yet, in chapter 19, there is rejoicing in Heaven.  God’s creative destruction is nearly complete.

What are the “Roman Empires” around us?  To what extent do we accept their value systems?  If any one of these “Roman Empires” were to fall, would we–you–I–mourn its passing?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 18, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT LUKE THE EVANGELIST, PHYSICIAN

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The Woman, the Red Dragon, and the Two Beasts   Leave a comment

Above:  The Death of the Dragon, by Evelyn de Morgan

Image in the Public Domain

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READING REVELATION, PART XII

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Revelation 12:1-15:8

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THE SHADOW OF KING ANTIOCHUS IV EPIPHANES

Seleucid King Antiochus IV Epiphanes (reigned 175-164/163 B.C.E.) was notorious.  He persecuted Jews and became the chief boogeyman of First, Second, and Fourth Maccabees.  The Daniel apocalypse (chapters 7-12), composed in the first century B.C.E., referred to him.  Revelation added more references to le roi terrible.  For example, the three and a half years (forty-two months) before the fall of “Babylon” (Rome) called back to the time King Antiochus IV Epiphanes desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem and persecuted Jews.

Revelation 12 and 13 unfold during those symbolic forty-two months.  The vivid accounts, replete with symbolism drawn from regional mythology, the Hebrew Bible, 2 Esdras/4 Ezra, 1 and 2 Enoch, and 2 Baruch, among other sources.  For example, the following sources are germane to Revelation 12-15:

  1. 1 Enoch 40:7; 54:6
  2. 2 Enoch 7; 18; 29:5
  3. The Ascension of Isaiah 7:9; 10:29
  4. 2 Esdras/4 Ezra 6:49-42; 12:22-25
  5. The Sybilline Oracles 4:119-127, 137-139; and
  6. 2 Baruch 29:4.

THE EVOLVING THEOLOGY OF SATAN IN JUDAISM

Revelation 12:7-9 reflects a relatively late development in the theology of Satan.  Careful study of the evolution of Jewish and Christian theology reveals that, until the Persian period, “the Satan”–“the Adversary”–worked for God, usually as a loyalty tester.  Satan as a free agent is an idea imported from Zoroastrianism, in which Ahriman is the chief evil force, and the opposite number of Ahura-Mazda.  One may conclude that Jewish and Christian theology finally arrived at the correct theology of Satan.  Regardless of what one decides regarding this theological matter, the historical record remains objectively accurate and not subject to dispute.

HIGH TREASON

If the Roman censors had understood Revelation, they would have correctly identified chapters 12-15 as treasonous.  The woman (12:1-6), resembling the goddess Isis, is the Church.  The great, red dragon, with dominion in the known world, is Satan.  The dragon pursues the woman, but she survives.  The Archangel Michael defeats the dragon in Heaven and casts him down to the Earth.  That is bad news for the Earth.  Horns represented power.  Ten horns represented complete power.  So, in Revelation 13, the beast rising out of the sea had complete power.  The horns were Emperors of Rome.

Can you say “treason,” O reader?

One emperor–Nero (d. 68)–received special attention in 13:3.  He had supposedly not died–not really.  He would supposedly return to life and lead an army out of Parthia and ravage the Roman Empire.  Nero was the original figure of the Antichrist.

Revelation 13 labels the Roman Empire a force of evil.  When civil authority becomes an expression of evil, the only proper Christian response, in Revelation, is to disobey it and to obey God.

666

The number “666” is symbolic.  Seven is the number of perfection.  Six, therefore, is less than perfect; it represents evil.  “666” represents ultimate evil.  “666” is, as Donald Richardson said:

godless political power allied with godless religion.

–Quoted in Ernest Lee Stoffel, The Dragon Bound:  The Revelation Speaks to Our Time (1981), 75

Stoffel offered:

There is also a warning here for Christians and for any who would speak in the name of God.  Any church or religion that allows itself to overlook injustice may have the number of the beast.  This speaks to me as an individual Christian.  In order to prosper I might be tempted to condone or overlook injustice, and so be wearing the “number” myself.

–76

We read in Revelation 14 that all who followed God in Christ will find redemption and that all who worshiped the Roman Empire and its value system will find damnation.  Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance.  Those damnable values include exploitation and militarism.  These have no place in the Kingdom of God.

Revelation 15 includes praise of God.  The chapter concludes by setting up the next few chapters with seven bowls of judgment.

What are our contemporary Roman Empires?  To what extend to we buy into their erroneous value systems?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 17, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 24:  THE TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF CHARLES GOUNOD, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF BIRGITTE KATERINE BOYE, DANISH LUTHERAN POET, PLAYWRIGHT, HYMN TRANSLATOR, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHN BOWRING, ENGLISH UNITARIAN HYMN WRITER, SOCIAL REFORMER, AND PHILANTHROPIST

THE FEAST OF RICHARD MCSORLEY, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, PROFESSOR, AND PEACE ACTIVIST

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The People’s Lament and God’s Response   Leave a comment

Above:  Valley of Hinnom

Image in the Public Domain

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READING THIRD ISAIAH, PART V

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Isaiah 63:1-66:24

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Isaiah 63:1-6 depicts God as a warrior taking vengeance on Edom (Amos 1:11-12; Isaiah 21:11-12; Ezekiel 25:12-14; Ezekiel 35:1-15; Jeremiah 49:7-22; Obadiah; Isaiah 34:5-17).  For more about Edom, follow the links.  Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance, as in the previous section.

Most of Isaiah 63 and 64 consist of a grand tour of Biblical history, in the form of a lament in the voice of Third Isaiah.  It is a recounting of divine faithfulness, human faithlessness, and divine punishment.  Third Isaiah’s questions of why God has allowed terrible events to occur and not prevented them stand the test of time.  One may ask them, for example, about millennia of anti-Semitic violence, especially the Holocaust.

Nevertheless, Isaiah 64 concludes on a combination of trust and uneasiness.  This makes sense, too.

The divine response, at the beginning of Isaiah 65, is consistent with Covenantal Nomism.  Those who disregarded the mandates of the covenant consistently and unrepentantly dropped out of the covenant and condemned themselves.  God will punish sins, we read.  We also read that God will also regard faithful servants.  Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance.

In the new divine order (65:1-66:24), circumstances will be idyllic and the relationship between God and the faithful population will be close.  The process of getting to that goal is underway, we read.  The old prophecies of heaven on earth will come to pass, we read.  And Jews and Gentiles will recognize the glory of God, we read.  Yet not all will be puppies and kittens, we read:

As they go out they will see the corpses of those who rebelled against me, where the devouring worm never dies and the fire is not quenched.  All mankind will view them with horror.

–Isaiah 66:24, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Isaiah 66:24 refers, literally, to Gehenna, in the Valley of Hinnom, outside the walls of Jerusalem.  Commentaries tell me that, when Jewish Biblical authors (perhaps including Third Isaiah) sought a properly terrifying metaphor for Hell, they used the Jerusalem garbage dump, where corpses of criminals either burned or decomposed, without receiving burial.  Yet, in Isaiah 66:24 (perhaps of later origin than 66:22-23, the bodies of those who rebel against God will neither burn nor decompose.

Regardless of when someone composed 66:24, as well as whether 66:23 originally ended the chapter, I push back against the desire to end the Book of Isaiah on an upbeat note.  I read that, in Jewish practice (as in The Jewish Study Bible), people reprint 66:23 after 66:24, to have an upbeat ending:

And new moon after new moon,

And sabbath after sabbath,

All flesh shall come to worship Me

–said the LORD.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Yet 66:23-24, taken together, balance divine judgment and mercy.  Brevard S. Childs, conceding the possibility of the later composition of 66:24, argues that 66:24 fits the theme of

the division between the righteous and the wicked.

Isaiah (2001), 542

This division exists elsewhere in Third Isaiah, too.

In spite of God’s new heavens and death, the exaltation of Zion, and the entrance of the nations to the worship of God, there remain those outside the realm of God’s salvation.

–Brevard S. Childs, Isaiah (2001), 542

They remain outside the realm of God’s salvation because they have condemned themselves.  As C. S. Lewis wrote, the doors of Hell are locked from the inside.

Thank you, O reader, for joining me on this journey though Third Isaiah.  I invite you to remain by my side, so to speak, as I move along next to the Book of Joel.  This journey through the Hebrew prophetic books is much closer to its conclusion than to its beginning.  Nevertheless, much to learn remains.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 16, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE RIGHTEOUS GENTILES

THE FEAST OF CATHERINE LOUISA MARTHENS, FIRST LUTHERAN DEACONESS CONSECRATED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 1850

THE FEAST OF GEORGE ALFRED TAYLOR RYGH, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HENRY WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY IN NEW ZEALAND; HIS WIFE, MARIANNE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; HER SISTER-IN-LAW, JANE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; AND HER HUSBAND AND HENRY’S BROTHER, WILLIAM WILLAMS, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF WAIAPU

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARY MAGDALEN POSTEL, FOUNDER OF THE POOR DAUGHTERS OF MERCY

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