Archive for the ‘Zoroastrianism’ Tag

Building Up Our Neighbors, Part I   1 comment

Witch of Endor--Nikolai Ge

Above:  Witch of Endor, by Nikolai Ge

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Gracious God, your blessed Son came down from heaven

to be the true bread that gives life to the world.

Give us this bread always,

that he may live in us and we in him,

and that, strengthened by this food,

may live as his body in the world,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 44

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The Assigned Readings:

1 Samuel 28:20-25

Psalm 34:1-8

Romans 15:1-6

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I called in my affliction and the LORD heard me

and saved me from all my troubles.

–Psalm 23:6, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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That verse from Psalm 34 functions as a counterpoint to King Saul’s situation in 1 Samuel 28:20-25.

Saul was at the end of his reign and at war with Philistine forces.  He had, according to 1 Samuel 28, disguised himself and gone to a necromancer (some translations say “witch”) at Endor, so that she would summon Samuel, who had anointed the monarch then announced God’s rejection of him.  The necromancer was in a difficult situation, for Saul had outlawed her profession.  (So, according to the monarch’s own standards, by what right was he there?)

The story in 1 Samuel 28 reflects an old understanding of the afterlife in the Hebrew Bible.  Concepts of postmortem reward and punishment came later, by means of Zoroastrianism, for forces of the Persian Empire ended the Babylonian Exile.  (This does not mean, of course, that Heaven and Hell are figments of imagination, just that Zoroastrians had the concepts before Jews and, in time, Christians.  God’s agents come from many backgrounds.)  The understanding of the afterlife in 1 Samuel 28 is Sheol, the underworld.

In 1 Samuel 28 the necromancer, whose profession was, according to the Bible, forbidden due to its heathen nature, summoned Samuel successfully.  The prophet and judge, who was irritated with Saul, stated that the monarch had no more than a day left on the earth.  Saul took this badly, so he refused to eat for a while, until the necromancer and some countries convinced him to consume food.  The woman, who had risked her life to help Saul, cared about his well-being and fed him and his entourage.

God’s agents come from many backgrounds.  Sometimes they save us from our afflictions.  On other occasions, however, they simply provide aid and compassion until fate arrives.

Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor.

–Romans 15:2, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Our neighbors include those similar to us and different from us.  Some like us, others are hostile to us, and still others are neutral or apathetic.  We like some of our neighbors, despise others, and have little or no knowledge of the existence of still others.  Yet we are all in this life together; that which we do to others, we do to ourselves.  We are, in the ethics of the Law of Moses, responsible to and for each other as we stand side-by-side in a state of responsibility to and total dependence upon God.  Certain attitudes, therefore, fall outside the realm of righteousness.  These include greed, bigotry, rugged individualism, self-reliance, and Social Darwinism.  There is no divine law against compassion, however.  And, since whatever we do to others, we do to ourselves, caring for others effectively and selflessly (at least as much as we can) is to our benefit.  Whenever we build up our neighbors, we build up ourselves.

MAY 27, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALFRED ROOKER, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST PHILANTHROPIST AND HYMN WRITER; AND HIS SISTER, ELIZABETH ROOKER PARSON, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF CHARLES WILLIAM SCHAEFFER, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, HISTORIAN, THEOLOGIAN, AND LITURGIST

THE FEAST OF CLARENCE DICKINSON, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN ORGANIST AND COMPOSER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/05/27/devotion-for-thursday-before-proper-14-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Waiting for God II   1 comment

Noah's Ark

Scan Source = Lawrence G. Lovasik, S.V.D., New Catholic Picture Bible:  Popular Stories from the Old and New Testaments (New York Publishing Company, 1960), page 14

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The Collect:

O God, rich in mercy, by the humiliation of your Son

you lifted up this fallen world and rescued us from the hopelessness of death.

Lead us into your light, that all our deeds may reflect your love,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 28

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The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 9:8-17 (Thursday)

Daniel 12:5-13 (Friday)

Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22 (Both Days)

Ephesians 1:3-6 (Thursday)

Ephesians 1:7-14 (Friday)

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“O give thanks, for the Lord is gracious:

God’s steadfast love endures for ever.”

So let the people say whom the Lord has redeemed:

whom the Lord has redeemed from the hand of the enemy,

and gathered out of the lands,

from the east and from the west:

from the north and from the south.

–Psalm 107:1-3, A New Zealand Prayer Book (1989)

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Sometimes that deliverance–from exile, tyranny, religious persecution, foreign occupation, et cetera–does not come soon enough according to our human expectations.  That is part of the context of the epilogue to the Hebrew version of the Book of Daniel.  That version (distinct from the one with Greek additions) ends:

Many will be purified and purged and refined; the wicked will act wickedly and none of the wicked will understand….But you, go on to the end; you shall rest, and arise to your destiny at the end of days.

–12:10, 13, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

A sense of living between the pronouncement of the divine promise and the end of days also pervades the assigned reading from Ephesians 1.  That letter, probably Pauline without being of St. Paul the Apostle, encourages faithful Christians to live for the praise and glory of Christ.  That counsel is as sound today as it was in the late first century C.E.  God will act when God will act.  I refuse to predict when that might be, for

  1. I can do nothing to change the divine schedule, into which I have no insight, and
  2. the list of failed prophets and prophecies (especially of the Second Coming of Jesus) is long.

But what of the character of this God, whom the author of Psalm 107 described as gracious?  We mere mortals are wise to proceed in theological humility, but we are not entirely lacking in knowledge on this point.  One lens through which to consider this topic is the story of the Great Flood and Noah’s Ark.  It is an oft-told tale with many inconsistencies within the Biblical narrative itself, due to the number of sources cut and pasted together.  The composite Biblical account is also just one variation on a much older story, which probably goes back to a massive flood in the area of the Black Sea.  (The world, as the ancient authors of the Bible understood it, was much smaller than the planet I see represented on globes today.)

A myth is a story which communicates a truth without being literally accurate.  So what does the composite Biblical account of Noah’s Ark tell us about God?  A rival version of the tale, of Zoroastrian origin, says that Ahriman (read:  Satan in post-Exilic Jewish and in Christian theology) started the flood, which Ahura-Mazda (the chief deity) ended.  But there is one actor–God–responsible for starting and ending the flood in Genesis.  In a monotheistic system the deity commits all that people perceive as good or bad; God is always on the hook for the theological problem of good and evil.

This is God for whom we wait and whom many people profess to stand in awe of, to love, and to follow.  This is God, who encompasses judgment and mercy.  This is God, properly a mystery.  This is God, whose schedule is not ours.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 14, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FIFTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR B

THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINT VENANTIUS HONORIUS CLEMENTIUS FORTUNATUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF POITIERS

THE FEAST OF CARL PHILIPP EMANUEL BACH, COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN OF THE CROSS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MYSTIC

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Adapted from this post:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2014/12/14/devotion-for-thursday-and-friday-before-the-fourth-sunday-in-lent-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Lamps of God–With Oil from Unexpected and Unlikely Sources   1 comment

Above:  Map of the Persian Empire

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Ezra 1:1-6 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, when the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah was fulfilled, the LORD roused the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia to issue a proclamation throughout his realm by word of mouth and in writing as follows:

Thus said King Cyrus of Persia:  The LORD God of Heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and has charged me with building Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah.  Anyone of you all His people–may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem that is in Judah and build the house of the LORD God of Israel, the God that is in Jerusalem; and all who stay behind, wherever he may be living, let the people of his place assist him with silver, gold, goods, and livestock, besides the freewill offering to the House of God that is in Jerusalem.

So the chiefs of the clans of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites, all whose spirit had been roused by God, got ready to go up to build the House of the LORD that is in Jerusalem.  All their neighbors supported them with silver vessels, with gold, with goods, with livestock, and with precious objects, besides what had been given as a freewill offering.

Psalm 126 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,

then were we like those who dream.

2 Then was our mouth filled with laughter,

and our tongue with shouts of joy.

3 Then they said among the nations,

“The LORD has done great things for them.”

The LORD has done great things for us,

and we are glad indeed.

5 Restore our fortunes, O LORD,

like the watercourses of the Negev.

6 Those who sowed with tears

will reap with songs of joy.

7 Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed,

will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.

Luke 8:16-18 (The Jerusalem Bible):

[Jesus continued,]

No one lights a lamp to cover it with a bowl or put it under a bed.  No, he puts it on a lamp-stand so that people may see the light when they come in.  For nothing is hidden but it will be made clear, nothing secret but it will be known and brought to light.  So take care how you hear; for anyone who has will be given more; from anyone who has not, even what he thinks he has will be taken away.

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The Collect:

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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The united Kingdom of Israel divided in 928 B.C.E., with Jerusalem continuing as the capital city of Judah and a new, northern kingdom, becoming Israel.  The Assyrian Empire conquered the northern kingdom in 722 B.C.E.  Then, in 609 B.C.E., the Assyrians fell to the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire, which ended the existence of the Kingdom of Judah in 586 B.C.E.  The conquerors deported many–but not all–inhabitants of Judah to Babylon.

Decades passed.  Finally, in 539 B.C.E., the Persians and the Medes, led by King Cyrus II, conquered the Chaldeans/Neo-Babylonians.  Cyrus had a policy of religious toleration, which he extended to the Jews.  For the Jews he did more, however; he allowed those Jews in Babylon to return to their ancestral homeland. Cyrus also sponsored the construction of the Second Temple.  He was not even a Jew.  The king was a Zoroastrian, an adherent of a faith system that influenced the course of Judaism, and therefore Christianity, in profound ways.  This ought not to bother a Biblical literalist or to give comfort or ammunition to a scoffer prowling around in search of evidence to discredit the Judeo-Christian traditions, for no single human religion has a monopoly on the truth.  Some just possess more of it than others, and Judaism and Christianity contain far more than any other religions–including Zoroastrianism.

The brief reading from Luke speaks of shedding light.  The image in that text is of an oil lamp on a lamp stand in the middle of a small and otherwise dark house.  Light is especially evident in the dark; how far it reaches becomes obvious.  The final lines in that lesson speak of the imperative of growing in faith, for the consequence of a lack of spiritual growth is atrophy.

So, how does Ezra relate to Luke?  Here is my answer:  It took Cyrus, one of the goyim, to help perpetuate the truth of the Jewish faith.  He provided oil for the Jewish lamps, if you will indulge my analogy.  That light continues to burn within Judaism and Christianity today.  Where might you find oil for your spiritual lamp?  The answers might surprise you.  Likewise, you might provide oil for lamps of people the identities of which might shock you.

There is an inclusive message here.  I note this and accent it because one of the unfortunate aspects of post-Exilic Judaism was exclusiveness.  The Book of Jonah is a powerful satire of that attitude.  We will get to that soon enough–in the Week of Proper 22.  So think about these questions:  Whose Cyrus are you?  And who is your Cyrus?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 1, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS SYRAGIUS OF AUTUN AND ANACHARIUS OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS, AND SAINTS VALERY OF LEUCONE AND EUSTACE OF LUXEUIT, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOTS

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK DENISON MAURICE, ANGLICAN PRIEST

THE FEAST OF SAINT SIDONIUS APOLLINARIS, SAINT EUSTACE OF LYON, AND HIS DESCENDANTS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/04/01/week-of-proper-20-monday-year-1/

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Posted May 4, 2012 by neatnik2009 in Ezra, Luke 8, Psalm 126

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