Archive for November 2010

Week of 8 Epiphany: Tuesday, Year 1   7 comments

Above:  Cross of Peter

Physical Sacrifices and Spiritual Rewards

NOT OBSERVED IN 2019

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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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Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 35:1-11 (Revised English Bible):

To keep the law is worth many offerings;

to heed the commandments is a shared-offering.

A kindness repaid is a grain-offering,

and to give alms is a thank-offering.

The way to please the Lord is to keep clear of evil,

and to keep clear of wrongdoing is to make atonement.

Yet do not appear before the Lord empty-handed;

perform all the sacrifices, for they are commanded.

When the just person brings his offering of fat to the altar,

its fragrance rises to the presence of the Most High.

The sacrifice of the just is acceptable,

and such a memorial will never be forgotten.

Be generous in your worship of the Lord

and do not stint the firstfruits of your labour.

Give all your gifts cheerfully,

and with gladness dedicate your tithe.

Give to the Most High as he has given to you,

as generously as your means allow,

for the Lord always repays

and you will be repaid seven times over.

Psalm 50:7-15 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

7 Hear, O my people, and I will speak:

“O Israel, I will bear witness against you;

for I am God, your God.

8 I do not accuse you because of your sacrifices;

your offerings are always before me.

9 I will take no bull-calf from your stalls,

nor he-goats out of your pens;

10 For all the beasts of the forest are mine,

the herds in their thousands upon the hills.

11 I know every bird in the sky,

and the creatures of the fields are in my sight.

12 If I were hungry, I would not tell you,

for the whole world is mine and all that are in it.

13 Do you think I eat the flesh of bulls,

or drink the blood of goats?

14 Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving

and make good your vows to the Most High.

15 Call upon me in the day of trouble;

I will deliver you, and you shall honor me.”

Mark 10:28-31 (Revised English Bible):

Peter said,

What about us?” We have left everything to follow you.

Jesus said,

Truly I tell you:  there is no one who has given up home, brothers or sisters, mother, father, or children, or land, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive in this age a hundred times as much–houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and land–and persecutions besides; and in the age to come eternal life.  But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

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The Collect:

Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who care for us: Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Christian discipleship requires sacrifice.  Something must go if we are to obey God and follow Jesus.  This is a basic principle.  So is this:  Whatever we offer to God, we must offer it out of gratitude.  We offer to God a portion of that which God has given us.  Forms of sacrifice are myriad.  They include money, talents, time, prayer, possessions, career, and life itself.  Consider Peter, who had left everything to follow Jesus.  He died when people crucified him upside down, hence the picture at the top of this post.

As I write these words, someone I do not know and will never meet is experiencing the pain resulting from the fact that his or her family and disowned him or her for becoming a Christian.  This person is not alone; God is near.  And other Christians will take this person in and become his or her new family.  And other person is dying for converting to Christianity from Islam.  He or she will receive Heaven, where nobody may harm him or her.  “Take up your cross and follow me,” Jesus says.  What is your cross?  And, more immediately, what sacrifices must you make out of gratitude?

I have been sufficiently fortunate not to experience persecution or run the risk of martyrdom.  This is because of where and when I was born.  I come from a Western society blessed with freedom of religion, one of my favorite Enlightenment ideals.  So let us bless the names of Anne Hutchinson (exiled from Massachusetts for questioning her pastor’s theology), Roger Williams (who claimed that the state should not compel anyone to pray), Thomas Jefferson (who disestablished the church in Virginia), Francis Makemie (the American Presbyterian pioneer imprisoned in New York in the early 1700s for preaching without a license), and all others who have stood courageously for freedom of religion and the separation of church and state.  They have made the lives of many people in succeeding generations much easier than they would have been otherwise.  (Read the history of the Byzantine Empire to find many abuses flowing from the union of church and state.)

But I have had to sacrifice bad (albeit enjoyable) habits, and I have done so obediently and thankfully.  Better habits have replaced them.  What I have received is far superior to what I sacrificed.  And I have had so sacrifice my illusion of control, which God has replaced with increased serenity.  I have sacrificed much arrogance, too, and found that listening more to people is quite a blessing.  I could continue, but I trust that I have made my point well.

I have many more sacrifices to make, and I trust that God will show them to me.  I have not “arrived” spiritually, and suspect that I will not do so until I enter the afterlife.  The journey continues.  Thanks be to God!

KRT

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Week of 8 Epiphany: Monday, Year 1   7 comments

Above:  Camels at Giza

To What Do We Cling?

NOT OBSERVED IN 2019

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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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Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 17:24-29 (Revised English Bible):

Yet he leaves a way open for the penitent to return to him

and endows the waverer with strength to endure.

Return to the Lord and have done with sin;

make your prayer in his presence and lessen your offence.

Come back to the Most High,

renounce wrongdoing,

and hate intensely what he abhors.

The living give him thanks,

but who will praise the Most High from the grave?

When the dead cease to be, their gratitude dies with them;

only when alive and well do they praise the Lord.

How great is the Lord’s mercy

and his forgiveness to those who turn to him!

Psalm 32:1-8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven,

and whose sin is put away!

2 Happy are they to whom the LORD imputes no guilt,

and in whose spirit there is no guile!

3 While I held my tongue, my bones withered away,

because of my groaning all day long.

4 For your hand was heavy upon me day and night;

my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.

5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you,

and did not conceal my guilt.

6 I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.”

Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.

7 Therefore all the faithful will make your prayers to you in time of trouble;

when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them.

8 You are my hiding-place;

you preserve me from trouble;

you surround me with shouts of deliverance.

Mark 10:17-27 (Revised English Bible):

As he was starting out on a journey, a stranger ran up, and, kneeling before him, asked,

Good Teacher, what must I do to win eternal life?

Jesus said to him,

Why do you call me good?  No one is good except God alone.  You know the commandments:  “Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not give false evidence; do not defraud; honour your father and your mother.”

He replied,

But Teacher, I have kept all these since I was a boy.

As Jesus looked at him, his heart warmed to him.

One thing you lack,

he said.

Go, sell everything you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come and follow me.

At these words his face fell and he went away with a heavy heart; for he was a man of great wealth.

Jesus looked round at his disciples and said to them,

How hard it is for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!

They were amazed that he should say this, but Jesus insisted.

Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!  It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

They were more astonished than ever, and said to one another,

Then who can be saved?

Jesus looked at them and said,

For men it is impossible, but not for God; everything is possible for God.

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The Collect:

Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who care for us: Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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A commonly-held First Century C.E. Jewish assumption was that the wealthy were closer to God than were common people.  Jesus refuted that point of view.

I have encountered an assumption that there is a checklist of holiness, and that, if one does enough good deeds, one will go to Heaven.  Jesus refuted that point of view, too.

A wealthy man who had observed many commandments asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to win eternal life?”  Jesus told the man to abandon his security blanket, his wealth.  The rich man’s sin was the false assumption of self-sufficiency.  He needed to depend solely on God, a theme consistent with other material from Mark 10.

Then Jesus delivered a striking piece of hyperbole:  “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”  The commentaries I have consulted agree that this most likely what is seems to be:  it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.  The Babylonian Talmud contains a similar expression about an elephant passing through the eye of a needle.

The rich man needed to cease to cling to his wealth to draw nearer to God.  To what do you cling?  What holds you back?  It is possible to draw nearer to God by grace.  Forgiveness and repentance are possible by grace.  And we need to cling only to God.

KRT

Eighth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A   18 comments

Above:  Mother and Baby

(Image from here: http://www.crmcwy.org/services/women_children.aspx?id=1982)

Each of Us is a Child of God’s Womb

(See the Isaiah reading.)

NOT OBSERVED IN 2014

NOT OBSERVED IN 2017

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Isaiah 49:8-16a (New Revised Standard Version):

Thus says the LORD:

In a time of favor I have answered you,

on a day of salvation I have helped you;

I have kept you and given you

as a covenant to the people,

to establish the land,

to apportion the desolate heritages;

saying to the prisoners,

Come out,

to those who are in darkness,

Show yourselves.

They shall feed along the ways,

on all the bare heights shall be their pasture;

they shall not hunger or thirst,

neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down,

for he who has pity on them will lead them,

and by springs of water will guide them.

And I will turn all my mountains into a road,

and my highways shall be raised up.

Lo, these shall come from far away,

and lo, these from the north and from the west,

and these from the land of Syene.

Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;

break forth, O mountains, into singing!

For the LORD has comforted his people,

and will have compassion on all his suffering ones.

But Zion said,

The LORD has forsaken me,

my LORD has forgotten me.

Can a woman forget her nursing child,

or show no compassion for the child of her womb?

Even these may forget,

yet I will not forget you.

See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.

Psalm 131 (New Revised Standard Version):

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up,

my eyes are not raised too high;

I do not occupy myself with things

too great and too marvelous for me.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul,

like a weaned child with its mother;

my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.

O Israel, hope in the LORD

from this time on and forevermore.

1 Corinthians 4:1-5 (New Revised Standard Version):

Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God.

Matthew 6:24-34 (New Revised Standard Version):

Jesus said,

No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you– you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

The Collect:

Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who care for us: Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Did you notice the incongruity between the collect and the first reading?  The dominant gender image for God in the first reading is feminine, but the collect addresses God the Father.  These are just metaphors, so let us not become distracted by them, reifiying them and transforming them into idols.  Instead, may we look through them to the substance behind them.

Yahweh/God the Father is far removed from traditional concepts of the Mother Goddess, but the Judeo-Christian Bible contains images of God as mother.  And let us not forget the personification of divine wisdom as feminine.  Deity exists beyond gendered bounds, containing characteristics we humans associate with both males and females, with fathers and mothers.  So God is our parental figure, and we are as helpless as infants.  (This is not how many of us like to think of ourselves.)

And the truly excellent news is that God is better than any human mother or father, as the reading from Isaiah reminds us.  God is love, and love seeks reciprocation.  Love gives of itself to the point of self-sacrifice.  This describes the God I see in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

Today has enough worries of its own.  I did not ponder this statement until early 2007, when the floor of my life fell out from under me.  I learned then that worrying was truly worthless, especially when life was more difficult than usual.  Instead, I crawled to God, acknowledged the obvious (my helplessness), and did not pretend to be any more than I was.  God, my mother, comforted me with maternal love and rocked me to sleep.  God, my father, extended paternal care.  Jesus, my brother, put his arm around me and supported me emotionally.  All the metaphors came into play.  And I survived another day, at which point the process started over again.

KRT

Written for SUNDRY THOUGHTS OF KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on June 16, 2010

Week of 7 Epiphany: Saturday, Year 1   13 comments

Above:  Parisian Children

The Kingdom of God Belongs to Such as These

MARCH 2, 2019

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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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Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 17:1-15 (Revised English Bible):

The Lord created human beings from the earth

and to it he turns them back again.

He set a fixed span of life for mortals

and gave them authority over everything on earth.

He clothed them with power like his own

and made them in his own image.

He put the fear of them into all creatures

and granted them lordship over beasts and birds.

He fashioned tongues, eyes, and ears for them,

and gave them minds with which to think.

He filled them with understanding and knowledge

and showed them good and evil.

He kept watch over their hearts,

to display to them the majesty of his works.

They will praise his holy name,

proclaiming the grandeur of his works.

He gave them knowledge

and endowed them with the life-bringing law.

He established with them an everlasting covenant

and revealed to them his decrees.

Their eyes saw his glorious majesty,

and their ears heard the glory of his voice.

He said to them,

Refrain from all wrongdoing,

and he taught each his duty towards his neighbour.

Their conduct lies open before him at all times,

never hidden from his sight.

Psalm 103:1-4, 13-18 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Bless the LORD, O my soul,

and all that is within me, bless his holy Name.

2 Bless the LORD, O my soul,

and forget not all his benefits.

3 He forgives all your sins,

and heals all your infirmities;

4 He redeems your life from the grave

and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness.

13 As a father cares for his children,

so does the LORD care for those who fear him.

14 For he himself knows whereof we are made;

he remembers that we are dust.

15 Our days are like the grass;

we flourish like a flower of the field;

16 When the wind goes over it, it is gone,

and its place shall know it more more.

17 But the merciful goodness of the LORD endures for ever on those who fear him,

and his righteousness on children’s children;

18 On those who keep his covenant

and remember his commandments and do them.

Mark 10:13-16 (Revised English Bible):

They brought children for him to touch.  The disciples rebuked them, but when Jesus saw it he was indignant, and said to them,

Let the children come to me; do not try to stop them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  Truly I tell you:  whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.

And he put his arms round them, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

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The Collect:

O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid:  Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 355

Human nature is complex.  It is true that we bear the image of God.  Yet we are deeply flawed.  We cannot pass a day without sinning at least once.  We are capable of caring deeply for one another and of hating each other.  We feed, clothe, and visit each other, yet we commit murder.  We comfort each other, yet some of us bully others.  As the psalmist reminds us poetically, God knows that we are dust.  God has mercy on us; otherwise we would all be doomed.

Ben Sira writes that God has instructed us in what is right and what is wrong, and that God sees all that we do.  We have much power over our fellow species in the Animal Kingdom, and great responsibility accompanies it.  Dominion does not indicate ownership, for Genesis states that we are stewards.  A steward manages what another owns.  So we ought to care deeply and actively for the rest of creation.  Besides, what affects the rest of creation affects us, too.

On a side note, “fear” in Sirach and the psalm refers to a sense of awe.  I wonder if Ben Sira became deeply acquainted with a cat.  I have known several cats very well, and I do not recall perceiving that any of them looked upon me with awe.  I loved all these felines deeply, thinking of them as furry children.  I even gave them my last name.  I have never known a humble cat, and I think that no cat has any reason to be meek.  A cat, an old saying tells me, “may look a king in the eyes.”  And may God bless house cats for that quality.

I confess that I do not like children.  As best I can tell, this derives mostly or entirely from my childhood experiences; many of my age peers were cruel to me.  So human depravity makes sense; if we were noble creatures, this nature would manifest itself more during our formative years.  And I have chosen a lifestyle certain to avoid having any children.  I consider women the better part of the human species, but I live apart from any of them.  My lot is more contemplative and solitary than not.  Children would disturb me, and I lack the patience to deal with them properly.

So the reading from Mark gives me pause.  The Kingdom of God belongs to such as these?  Yes, the Gospels challenge me, too.  William Barclay, in his commentary on the Gospel of Mark, identifies four spiritual values children embody (generally speaking):

  1. humility
  2. obedience
  3. trust
  4. a short memory

Children, Barclay writes, are generally not obsessed with their own importance.  Also, obedience is their natural instinct, as are trust in parental authority and the goodness of others.  Finally, children tend to be slow to hold grudges.  There is no divine law against such characteristics.

Perhaps the most important lesson for we educated adults who like to think matters through deeply and question authority is that, when approaching God, we ought not to think too highly of ourselves.  God is God, and we are not.  Arrogance is endearing in a cat, but it is not a spiritual virtue in a human being.

Here ends the lesson.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2011/08/14/the-kingdom-of-god-belongs-to-such-as-these/

Week of 7 Epiphany: Friday, Year 1   18 comments

Above: Wedding Rings

Proper Human Relations are Grounded in Love

MARCH 1, 2019

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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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Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 6:5-17 (Revised English Bible):

Pleasant words win many friends,

and affable talk makes acquaintance easy.

Live at peace with everyone:

accept advice, however, from but one in a thousand.

When you make a friend, begin by testing him,

and be in no hurry to give him your trust.

Some friends are loyal when it suits them

but desert you in time of trouble.

Some friends turn into enemies

and shame you by making the quarrel public.

Another may sit at your table

but in time of trouble is nowhere to be found;

when you are prosperous, he is your second self

and talks familiarly with your servants,

but if you come down in the world, he turns against you

and you will not see his face again.

Hold your enemies at a distance,

and keep a wary eye on your friends.

A faithful friend is a secure shelter;

whoever finds one, finds a treasure.

A faithful friend is beyond price;

there is no measure of his worth.

A faithful friend is an elixir of life,

found only by those who fear the Lord.

Whoever fears the Lord directs his friendship aright,

for he treats a neighbour as himself.

Psalm 119:17-24 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

17 Deal bountifully with your servant,

that I may live and keep your word.

18 Open my eyes, that I may see

the wonders of your law.

19 I am a stranger here on earth;

do not hide your commandments from me.

20 My soul is consumed at all times

with longing for your judgments.

21 You have rebuked the insolent;

cursed are they who stray from your commandments!

22 Turn from me shame and rebuke,

for I have kept your decrees.

23 Even though rulers sit and plot against me,

I will meditate on your statutes.

24 For your decrees are my delight,

and they are my counselors.

Mark 10:1-12 (Revised English Bible):

On leaving there he came into the regions of Judaea and Transjordan.  Once again crowds gathered round him, and he taught them as was his practice.  He was asked,

Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?

The question was put to test him.  He responded by asking,

What did Moses command you?

They answered,

Moses permitted a man to divorce his wife by a certificate of dismissal.

Jesus said to them,

It was because of your stubbornness that he made this rule for you.  But in the beginning, at the creation, “God made them male and female.”  ‘That is why a man leaves his father and mother, and is united to his wife, and the two become one flesh.’  It follows that they are no longer two individuals:  they are one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, man must not separate.

When they were indoors again, the disciples questioned him about this.  He said to them,

Whoever divorces his wife and remarries commits adultery against her; so too, if she divorces her husband and remarries, she commits adultery.

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The Collect:

O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?

Take it to the Lord in prayer;

In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,

Thou wilt find a solace there.

–Joseph Scriven, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”

Printed in the Cokesbury Worship Hymnal (1938)

Experience has taught me that one knows who one’s friends are when one needs help the most.  Those we think of as friends but who are not really friends reveal their true nature when the chips are down.  These individuals are really hangers-on, I suppose.  But true friends are indeed gifts from God and emissaries thereof.  Count yourself fortunate if you have even one such person in your life, for such individuals demonstrate the best of phileo, or brotherly love.

And who should be better friends than two married people?  That, at least, is the ideal.  With that in mind, let us examine the text of Mark 10:1-12 closely.  Some Pharisees ask Jesus a question as a test of his orthodoxy.  The standard of orthodoxy from which they worked was the Law of Moses.  So consider Deuteronomy 24:1-4 (Revised English Bible):

If a man has taken a woman in marriage, but she does not win his favour because he finds something offensive in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her, and dismisses her, and if after leaving his house she goes off to become the wife of another man, and this second husband turns against her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her, and dismisses her, or dies after making her his wife, then her first husband who had dismissed her is not free to her to be his wife again; for him she has become unclean.  This would be abominable to the LORD, and you must not bring sin upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you as your holding.

According to the Law of Moses, only a man could initiate a divorce (on grounds of “something offensive,” which is to say, usually adultery), but, if he did, he had to grant his ex-wife a certificate of divorce so that she could remarry.  This was for the woman’s protection, for society was strongly patriarchal and women were generally economically dependent on men.  The playing field was uneven, with women having fewer rights than men.  A woman could ask for a divorce, but only a man could grant it.

Schools of thought differed on what constituted “something offensive” in the wife.  Adultery was certainly offensive, but some interpreted this condition to apply even to spoiling a dish of food or speaking disrespectfully of in-laws.  Consequently, many men divorced their wives for trivial reasons and place these women at great economic peril.  So Jesus condemned this practice and affirmed the value of women.  Females, he said, are people to cherish; they are things to throw away casually.

This is an apt setting in which to consider New England Puritan family law.  Puritans have a reputation as very strict and humorless people.  I know that they hanged falsely convicted women as witches and crushed an innocent man to death while trying to convince him to confess to being a warlock in 1692-1693, but Puritan family law was more favorable to women than some might guess.  Puritans believed that marriage exists for the sake of the family, and were sufficiently realistic to understand that preservation of the family requires divorce in some cases.  Professor Edmund Morgan, in The Puritan Family (Second Edition, 1966), wrote, “The grounds for divorce, as revealed by the statement of the ministers, were adultery, desertion, and absence for a length of time to be determined by the civil government.”  (page 36)  Wives sued successfully for divorce from husbands who had abandoned them.  (page 37)  Other legally valid causes of divorce were “natural capacities, and insufficiencies,” bigamy, and incest.  (page 35)  In addition, civil law forbade married men and women to strike each other, and courts enforced this rule.  (page 39)  In brief, lawful divorce flowed from one party disregarding a fundamental duty of marriage, as Puritans defined such matters.  The fundamental duties were  “peaceful cohabitation, sexual union and faithfulness, and economic support of the wife by the husband.”  (pages 41-42) The innocent party in the divorce proceeding was free to remarry.  (page 37) These laws treated women like people, not objects.

I know of a United Methodist clergywoman who divorced her first husband on the grounds of attempted murder.  Would any reasonable person deny her that divorce?

There are two parts of the law:  the letter and the spirit.  Clever legalists know how to manipulate the letter of the law to benefit themselves while violating the spirit of the law.  But let us honor the spirit of the law.  Let us respect one another and treat each other as human beings with dignity, people nobody has the right to throw away casually and place at undue risk.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2011/08/14/grounded-in-love/

Week of 7 Epiphany: Thursday, Year 1   10 comments

Above:  Logo of Lehman Brothers, a Firm Defunct Since 2008

Bad Priorities and Good Priorities

FEBRUARY 28, 2019

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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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Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 5:1-8 (Revised English Bible):

Do not rely on your money

and say,

This makes me self-sufficient.

Do not yield to every impulse you can gratify

or follow the desires of your heart.

Do not say,

I have no master;

the Lord, you may be sure, will call you to account.

Do not say,

I have sinned, yet nothing happened to me;

it is only that the Lord is very patient.

Do not be so confident that of pardon

that you pile up sins on sin;

do not say,

His compassion is so great

he will pardon my sins, however many.

To him belong both mercy and anger,

and sinners feel the weight of his retribution.

Turn back to the Lord without delay,

and do not defer action from one day to the next;

for the Lord’s anger can suddenly pour out,

and at the time of reckoning you will perish.

Do not rely on ill-gotten gains,

for they will not avail on the day of calamity.

Psalm 1 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked,

nor lingered in the way of sinners,

nor sat in the seats of the scornful!

2 Their delight is in the law of the LORD,

and the meditate on his law day and night.

3 They are like trees planted by streams of water,

bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither,

everything they do shall prosper.

4 It is not so with the wicked;

they are like the chaff which the wind blows away.

5 Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes,

nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.

6 For the LORD knows the ways of the righteous,

but the way of the wicked is doomed.

Mark 9:42-50 (Revised English Bible):

[Jesus continued,]

If anyone causes the downfall of one of these little ones who believe, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone around his neck.  If your hand causes your downfall, cut if off; it is better for you to enter into life maimed than to keep both hands and go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.  If your foot causes your downfall, cut if off; it is better to enter into life crippled than to keep both your feet  and be thrown into hell.  And if your eye causes your downfall, tear it out; it is better to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than to keep both eyes and be thrown into hell, where the devouring worm never dies and the fire is never quenched.

Everyone will be salted with fire.

Salt is good; but if the salt loses its saltness, how will you season it?

You must have salt within yourselves, and be at peace with one another.

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The Collect:

O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Self-reliance is a lie and an illusion.  It is one of the most cherished lies and illusions of my North American culture, where “self-made men” are ideals.  The truth, however, is that there is no such thing as a “self-made man” (or woman); everybody relies on God.  And we humans rely on each other.  What affects one affects another,  immediately or in time.  If we get greedy and reckless, this affects a great many people, hence the old Lehman Brothers logo at the top of this post.

So much for Gordon Gecko and Horatio Alger.  These signify bad priorities.

The reading from Mark is a continuation of the discourse of Jesus in which he states he who wants to the greatest must be the servant of all, and in which he says that anyone who receives a child (a vulnerable and powerless member of society) receives not only Jesus himself but YHWH God.  Then our Lord and Savior engages in hyperbole.  No part of the body causes one to sin, and he is not advocating self-mutilation.  Sin arises from inside ourselves, and the point of the hyperbole is to say to flee from sin.  As Ben Sira reminds us in the first reading, God’s patience does have limits.

And then there are lines about salt.  First we have, “Everyone will be salted with fire.”  This is a reference to salt used on a ritual sacrificial item or animal. As William Barclay observes in his commentary on the Gospel of Mark, the salt made the sacrifice acceptable to God.  And fire signifies that which purifies life.  Hence being salted with fire is obeying God and undergoing discipline and the risk (at least the risk) of persecution.

Salt is good; but if the salt loses its saltness, how will you season it?

Salt, in proper quantities, improves the taste of food.  It also preserves food.  Salt was valuable in the ancient world.  Sometimes it was a form of currency, so an underperforming employee was “not worth his salt.”  We Christians, then, are supposed to give to our world a positive flavor and to preserve and promote goodness.  Are you worth your salt?  I cannot answer that question for you, no more than you can answer that question for me.

You must have salt within yourselves, and be at peace with one another.

Salt, in this case, is a metaphor the the purifying Spirit of Christ.  This is not purity of the ritual kind, as the Pharisees practiced.  No, this is the inner variety of purity.  Jesus said that nothing that enters a person defiles (or “makes common”) a person, but that what comes out a person does that.  Ritual purity was about making oneself a member of the spiritual elite, unlike the “impure” rabble.  But Jesus advocated a different understanding of purity:  love, forgiveness, altruism, et cetera.  There is no divine law against such things.  These are good priorities.

The fire will come to you and to me.  Will it consist of flames destroying treasures laid up on earth, or will it be the disciplining fire likened to salt?

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2011/08/14/good-priorities-and-bad-priorities/

Week of 7 Epiphany: Wednesday, Year 1   11 comments

Above:  Wisdom, by Robert Lewis Reed (1896), at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Misguided Possessiveness and Factionalism are Unwise

FEBRUARY 27, 2019

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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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Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 4:11-19 (Revised English Bible):

Wisdom raises her sons to greatness

and gives help to those who seek her.

To love her is to love life;

those who rise early to greet her will be filled with joy.

He who holds fast to her will gain honour;

the Lord’s blessing rests on the house she enters.

To serve her is to serve the Holy One,

and the Lord loves those who love her.

He who is obedient to her will give true judgement,

and, because he listens to her, his home will be secure.

If he trusts her, he will possess her

and bequeath her to his descendants.

At first she will lead him by torturous ways,

filling him with craven fears.

Her discipline will be a torment to him,

and her decrees a hard test,

until he trusts her with all his heart;

then she will come straight back to him,

bringing gladness and revealing to him her secrets.

But if he strays, she will abandon him

and leave him to his fate.

Psalm 119:161-168 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

161 Rulers have persecuted me without a cause,

but my heart stands in awe of your word.

162 I am as glad because of your promise

as one who finds great spoils.

163 As for lies, I hate and abhor them,

but your law is my love.

164 Seven times a day do I praise you,

because of your righteous judgments.

165 Great peace have they who love your law;

for them there is no stumbling block.

166 I have hoped for your salvation, O LORD,

and I have fulfilled your commandments.

167 I have kept your decrees

and I have loved them deeply.

168 I have kept your commandments and decrees,

for all my ways are before you.

Mark 9:38-41 (Revised English Bible):

John said to him,

Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and as he was not one of us, we tried to stop him.

Jesus said,

Do not stop him, for no one who performs a miracle in my name will be able the next moment to speak evil of me.  He is not against us is on our side.  Truly I tell you:  whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you are followers of the Messiah will certainly not go unrewarded.

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The Collect:

O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this wicked and godless age, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

–Jesus in Mark 8:38 (Revised English Bible)

and this:

I now understand how true it is that God has no favourites, but that in every nation those who are god-fearing and do what is right are acceptable to him.

–Simon Peter in Acts 10:34-35 (Revised English Bible)

God works through and speaks to and through a wide variety of people.  Many of them are unlike you, O reader, or me.  Yet they are of God, too.  So, how will we respond to them.  I know how we should respond; we should welcome them and give thanks for them.  We might even be able to collaborate with some of them now and again.  But will we exhibit a positive response or attempt to shut them down, as the Apostles did?

Ben Sira explains that divine wisdom, personified as female, is both comforting and challenging, delightful and capable of tough love.  (The psalmist agrees.)  This writing comes from a place of lived and mature spirituality; it recognizes that discipline is part of God’s love for us.  If we persist faithfully, however, we will learn the lessons God has in mind for us.

The Apostles needed to learn such lessons.  They reported discouraging a successful exorcist who was not of their religious opinion in Mark 9:38.  Yet, in Mark 9:18, they failed in their attempts at exorcism.  Were they protecting their turf and criticizing unjustly one who could do what they could not?  This other fellow’s success did not trouble Jesus, though”  “He who is not against us is on our side.”  Our Lord and Savior did not pay undue attention to divisive labels and artificial categories.  Neither should we.

Human thoughts do not limit divine wisdom.  This is a challenging realization, one that acting upon can lead to scorn, if not persecution.  But, as Jesus said,

Blessed are you when people hate you and ostracize you, when they insult you and slander your very name, because of the Son of Man.  On that day exult and dance for joy, for you have a rich reward in heaven; that is how their fathers treated the prophets.

–Luke 6:22-23 (Revised English Bible)

So be it.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/misguided-possessiveness-and-factionalism-are-unwise/