Archive for the ‘Episcopal Church Lectionary’ Category

Fourth Day of Christmas: Feast of the Holy Innocents (December 28)   2 comments

Above:  Massacre of the Innocents, by Pieter Brueghel the Younger

Image in the Public Domain

The Unfortunate Cheapness of Human Life



Jeremiah 31:15-17

Psalm 124

Revelation 2:13-18

Matthew 2:13-18


Christmas is supposed to be a happy season, right?  Yet darkness exists within it.  Consider, O reader, the sequence of three great feasts:  St. Stephen (December 26), St. John the Evangelist (December 27), and the Holy Innocents (December 28).

The kingdom of the Earth has yet to become the Kingdom of God in its fullness.  Thus we read of exiles in Jeremiah 31.  Then we read the plausible story of the Holy Innocents in Matthew 2.  Herod the Great, we know from both Biblical and extra-Biblical sources, was a disturbed and violent man who had members of his family killed.  One need not stretch credibility to imagine him ordering the murder of strangers, even young children.  Reading the story from Matthew 2 then turning to Psalm 124 creates a sense of jarring irony; one is correct to wonder why God did not spare the Holy Innocents also.

On another note, the account of the Holy Innocents provides evidence for the Magi arriving when Jesus was about two years old.  According to the Western calendar, as it has come down to us, Herod the Great died in 4 B.C.E., placing the birth of Jesus circa 6 B.C.E.  I prefer to use the term “Before the Common Era” for the simple reason that speaking and writing of the birth of Jesus as having occurred “Before Christ”–six years, perhaps–strikes me as being ridiculous.

Back to our main point, while admitting the existence of morally ambiguous and difficult scenarios with only bad choices, and in which doing our best cannot help but lead to unfortunate results….

Human life is frequently cheap.  From abortions to wars, from gangland violence to accidental shootings and crimes of passion, from genocidal governments to merely misguided policies, human life is frequently cheap.  The innocent and the vulnerable suffer.  People who are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time suffer.  May God have mercy on us all, for each of us is partially responsible, for merely being part of the social, economic, and political systems that facilitate such suffering.

The kingdom of the Earth has yet to become the Kingdom of God in its fullness.  Only God can make that happen.  We mere mortals can and must, however, leave the world better than we found it.  We can and must do this, by grace.








We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod.

Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims;

and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and

establish your rule of justice, love, and peace;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with

you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Jeremiah 31:15-17

Psalm 124

Revelation 21:1-7

Matthew 2:13-18

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 143



Third Day of Christmas: Feast of St. John the Evangelist, Apostle (December 27)   5 comments

Above:  Saint John the Evangelist in Meditation, by Simone Cantarini

Image in the Public Domain

The Beloved Apostle



The assigned readings, taken together, speak of the fidelity of God and the imperative of human fidelity to God, whose face Moses did not get to see.  Yet this deity is the same one who became incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth (however those Trinitarian dynamics actually worked; I have learned to avoid trying to explain the Holy Trinity, for attempting to make sense of the Trinity leads to a host of heresies.)

St. John was a brother of St. James (one of the two St. Jameses among the Apostles) and a first cousin of Jesus; Zebedee was the father of Sts. James and John, as well as an uncle (by marriage) of Jesus.  Our Lord and Savior called his first cousins Boanerges, usually translated

sons of thunder.

A now-deceased seminary professor I heard speak decades ago said, however, that the word actually meant

hell raisers.

Jesus and St. John were apparently emotionally close, not that St. John always understood his cousin.  After the resurrection and ascension of Jesus St. John helped to spread the nascent Gospel, a mission that filled the rest of his long life, which ended in exile.  Of the twelve Apostles Jesus called, St. John was, excluding Judas Iscariot, the only one not to die as a martyr.

According to tradition St. John wrote the Gospel of John, the three letters of John, and Revelation, a book with no “s” at the end of its title.  Certainly he did not write all of the above, although how much he wrote has long been a matter of scholarly debate.

Nevertheless, the life of St. John the Evangelist is a good one to consider.  If an overly ambitious hell raiser can learn the value of serving God endure suffering for the sake of righteousness, and survive opportunities for martyrdom only to die in exile, each of us can, by grace, take up his or her cross and follow Jesus, wherever he leads.








Shed upon your Church, O Lord, the brightness of your light, that we,

being illumined by the teaching of your apostle and evangelist John,

may so walk in the light of your truth, that at length we may attain to the fullness of eternal life;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with

you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Exodus 33:18-23

Psalm 92 or 92:1-4, 11-14

1 John 1:1-9

John 21:19b-24

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 141



Second Day of Christmas: Feast of St. Stephen, Deacon and Martyr (December 26)   5 comments

Above:  St. Stephen, by Luis de Morales

Image in the Public Domain

The First Christian Martyr



The readings for the Feast of St. Stephen remind us of the grim reality that suffering for the sake of righteousness is frequently a risk.  We read of one of the many difficulties of the faithful prophet Jeremiah, a man who spoke truth to power when that power was dependent upon hostile foreigners.  The historical record tells us that the Pharaoh of Egypt chose both the King of Judah and his regnal name, Jehoiakim.  Matthew 23, set in the Passion Narrative, reminds us of some of the prophets and teachers, whom God had sent and authorities at Jerusalem had martyred.  Contrary to the wishes of the author of Psalm 31, God does not always deliver the faithful from enemy hands.

St. Stephen, one of the original seven deacons, was probably a Hellenized Jew.  As a deacon, his job in the Church was, in the words of Acts 6:2,

to wait on tables.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

The deacons were to provide social services while the Apostles preached and taught.  St. Stephen also debated and preached, however.  His speech to the Sanhedrin (Acts 7:1-53) led to his execution (without a trial) by stoning.  St. Stephen, like Jesus before him, prayed for God to forgive his executioners (Acts 7:60), who, in their minds, were correct to execute him for blasphemy, a capital offense in the Law of Moses.  Saul of Tarsus, the future St. Paul the Apostle, was prominent in the killing of St. Stephen.  The Apostle recalled the death of St. Stephen and his role in it in Acts 22:20.

Religion, by itself, is generally morally neutral; one can be a moral atheist just as easily as one can be a moral or immoral adherent.  Good religion and bad religion certainly exist.  The test, in moral terms, yet not theological ones, is what kind of adherents they create and nurture.  Regardless of the name of a religion or the content of its tenets, does the reality of living it make one a loving, merciful human being or a judgmental person who might be quick to execute dissenters or consent to that?  This question is always a relevant one.








We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen,

who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ,

who stands at your right hand; where he lives and reigns with

you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting.  Amen.

Jeremiah 26:1-9, 12-15

Psalm 31 or 31:1-15

Acts 6:8-7:2a; 51c-60

Matthew 23:34-39

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 139



Feast of St. Thomas, Apostle and Martyr (December 21)   7 comments

Above:  St. Thomas Episcopal Church, New Windsor, New York

Image Source = Daniel Case

My Favorite Biblical Character


Habakkuk 2:1-4 (The Jerusalem Bible):

I will stand on my watchtower,

and take up my post on my battlements,

watching to see what he will say to me,

what answer he will make to my complaints.

Then Yahweh answered and said,

Write the vision down,

inscribe it on tablets

to be easily read,

since this vision is for its own time only:

eager for its own fulfillment, it does not deceive;

it comes slowly, wait,

for it will come, without fail.

See how he flags, he whose soul is not at rights,

but the upright man will live by his faithfulness.

Psalm 126 (The Jerusalem Bible):

When Yahweh brought Zion’s captives home,

at first it seemed like a dream;

then our mouths filled with laughter

and our lips with song.

Even the pagan started talking

about the marvels Yahweh had done for us!

What marvels indeed he did for us,

and how over joyed we were!

Yahweh, bring all our captives back again

like torrents in the Negeb!

Those who went sowing in tears

now sing as they reap.

They went away, went away weeping,

carrying the seed;

they come back, come back singing,

carrying their sheaves.

Hebrews 10:35-11:1 (The Jerusalem Bible):

Be as confident now, then, since the reward is so great.  You will need endurance to do God’s will and gain what he has promised.

Only a little while now, a very little while,

and the one that is coming will have come; he will not delay.

The righteous man will live by faith,

but if he draws back, my soul will take no pleasure in him.

You and I are not the sort of people who draw back, and are lost by it; we are the sort who keep faithful until our souls are saved.

Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen.

John 20:24-29 (The Jerusalem Bible):

Thomas, called the Twin, who was one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.  When the disciples said,

We have seen the Lord,

he answered,

Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger in the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.

Eight days later the disciples were in the house again and among them.

Peace be with you,

he said.  Then he spoke to Thomas,

Put your finger here; look, here are my hands.  Give me your hand; put it into my side.  Doubt no longer but believe.

Thomas replied,

My Lord and my God!

Jesus said to him:

You believe because you can see me.

Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.

The Collect:

Everliving God, who strengthened your apostle Thomas with firm and certain faith in your Son’s resurrection: Grant us so perfectly and without doubt to believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, that our faith may never be found wanting in your sight; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


My father served as pastor of Cooks Union United Methodist Church, about eight miles outside Colquitt, Georgia, in Miller County, from June 1985 to June 1986.  One Sunday morning during that year, a laywoman whose name I forget delivered a children’s sermon about St. Thomas.  She held a small book about the Apostles.  You, O reader, might have seen this book or even own a copy.  It features color paintings of each of the main Apostles with a brief profile on the facing page.  The book is thin, with a two-tone hard cover.  The church member explained that Thomas had doubted the resurrection of Jesus and that he had later taken the Gospel to India, where he died for the Christian faith.  So, she said, Thomas was not all bad.

But Thomas not all bad, anyway.  The presumption behind her concluding statement was that the Apostle’s doubt constituted a great stain on his character.  This was a great misunderstanding.

Let us back up for a few moments, though.

St. Thomas was a twin, hence the Greek designation Didymus, which means “twin.”  The canonical Gospels contain few details about him, and he did not write the Gnostic, non-canonical Gospel of Thomas.  (I have read the Gospel of Thomas in three translations, and think that its non-canonical status is proper.)  St. Thomas traveled through Persia all the way to India, where he introduced Christianity to the subcontinent by the 50s C.E.  The modern-day Mar Thoma Church is the heir of this efforts.  In India the Apostle met his martyrdom by spearing at Madras; Mylapore is his burial site.  Today one can visit his tomb at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Thomas at Mylapore.

St. Thomas was a healthy skeptic.  The resurrection was hardly a frequent event, so doubting it was natural.  The Apostle was not the only follower of Jesus at the time to harbor doubts.  The canonical Gospels indicate that St. Peter was initially skeptical, too.  Yet I hear about Doubting Thomases, not Doubting Peters.  Anyway, St. Thomas, the healthy skeptic, believed the evidence when he saw it, and dedicated the rest of his life to telling people about Jesus.

I am sufficiently a product of the Enlightenment to accept the premise that doubt is a legitimate path to knowledge.  I ask questions when I harbor doubts, and I seek answers when I ask questions.  Thus I increase the probability of finding answers when I experience and embrace doubt.  Thomas admitted his doubt, received his answer, accepted it, and lived accordingly.

So, let us treat the label “Doubting Thomas” as a great compliment.

Finally, a personal note:  St. Thomas is my favorite Biblical figure.  He was an honest doubter and seeker, a good skeptic.  So am I.  If I were a Biblical character, I would be St. Thomas the Apostle.


JUNE 10, 2010







Seventh Day of Epiphany   10 comments

Above:  Titian’s Painting of John the Baptist

Jesus Must Grow Greater; I Must Grow Less.

JANUARY 12, 2022


1 John 5:13-20 (New Jerusalem Bible):

I have written this to you

who believe in the name of the Son of God

so that you may know that you have eternal life.

Our fearlessness towards him consists in this,

that if we ask anything in accordance with his will

he hears us.

And if we know that he listens to whatever we ask him,

we know that we already possess whatever we have asked of him.

If anyone sees his brother commit a sin

that is not a deadly sin,

has only to pray, and God will give life to this brother

–provided that it is not a deadly sin.

There is a sin that leads to death

and I am not sat saying that you must pray about that.

Every kind of wickedness is sin,

but not all sin leads to death.

We are well aware that no one who is a child of God sins,

because he who was born from God protects him,

and the Evil One has no hold over him.

We are well aware that we are from God,

and the whole world is in the power of the Evil One.

We are well aware also that the Son of God has come,

and has given us understanding

so that we may know the One who is true.

We are in the One who is true

as we are in his Son, Jesus Christ.

He is the true God

and this is eternal life.

Children, be on your guard against false gods.

Psalm 149 (New Jerusalem Bible):

Sing a new song to Yahweh:

his praise in the assembly of the faithful!

Israel shall rejoice in its Maker,

the children of Zion delight in their king;

they shall dance in praise of his name,

play to him on tambourines and harp!

For Yahweh loves his people,

he will crown the humble with salvation.

The faithful exult in glory,

shout for joy as they worship him,

praising God to the heights with their voices,

a two-edged sword in their hands,

to wreak vengeance on the nations,

punishment on the peoples,

to load their kings with chains

and their nobles with iron fetters,

to execute on the the judgment passed–

to the honour of all his faithful.

John 3:22-36 (New Jerusalem Bible):

After this, Jesus went with his disciples into the Judaean countryside and stayed with them there and baptized.  John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, where there was plenty of water, and people were going there and were being baptized.  For John had not yet been put in prison.

Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew about purification, so they went to John and said,

Rabbi, the man who was with you on the far side of the Jordan, the man to whom he bore witness, is baptizing now, and everyone is going to him.

John replied:

No one can have anything

except what is given him from heaven.

You yourselves can bear me out.  I said, ‘I am not the Christ; I am the one who has been sent to go in front of him.’

It is the bridegroom who has the bride;

and yet the bridegroom’s friend

who stands there and listens to him,

is filled with joy at the bridegroom’s voice.

This is the joy I feel, and it is complete.

He must grow greater,

I must grow less.

He who comes from above

is above all others;

he who is of the earth

is earthly himself and speaks in an earthly way.

He who comes from heaven

bears witness to the things he has seen and heard,

but his testimony is not accepted by anybody;

though anyone does not accept his testimony

is attesting that God is true,

since he whom God has sent

speaks God’s own words,

for God gives him the Spirit without reserve.

The Father loves the Son

and has entrusted everything to his hands.

Anyone who believes in the Son has eternal life,

but anyone who refuses to believe in the Son will never see life:

God’s retribution hangs over him.

The Collect:

O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


From misplaced priorities (such as inflated egos) flow terrible results.  Most wars have been preventable and unnecessary, flowing from misunderstandings and wounded pride.  These have been, to borrow an explanation of the Falklands Islands War, like two bald men fighting over a comb.  Yet the proverbial bald men in question have done this out of national pride or the ego of the leader.

Often we humans seek poor substitutes for the God-shaped hole in the soul.  Out of this quest flow addictions, dependencies, preventable interpersonal conflicts, violent crimes, property crimes, and other social ills.  It would be better to seek God, assuming the humble attitude of St. John the Baptist, stating and living according the principle that Jesus must be increase but that we must decrease.


Written on June 9, 2010

Sixth Day of Epiphany   17 comments

Above:  The Praying Hands, by Albrecht Durer

The Imperative of Prayer

JANUARY 11, 2022


1 John 5:5-12 (New Jerusalem Bible):

Who can overcome the world

but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

He it is who came by water and blood,

Jesus Christ,

not with water alone,

but with water and blood,

and it is the Spirit that bears witness,

for the Spirit is Truth.

So there are three witnesses,

the Spirit, water and blood;

and the three of them coincide.

If we accept the testimony of human witnesses,

God’s testimony is greater,

for this is God’s testimony

which he gave about his Son.

Whoever believes in the Son of God

has this testimony within him,

and whoever does not believe

is making God a liar,

because he has not believed

the testimony God has given about his Son.

This is the testimony:

God has given us eternal life,

and this life is in his Son.

Whoever has the Son has life,

and whoever has not the Son of God has not life.

I have written this to you

who believe in the name of the Son of God

so that you may know that you have eternal life.

Psalm 147:12-20 (New Jerusalem Bible):

Praise Yahweh, Jerusalem,

Zion, praise your God.

For he gives strength to the bars of your gates,

he blesses your children within you,

he maintains the peace of your frontiers,

gives you your fill of finest wheat.

He sends his word to the earth,

his command runs quickly,

he spreads the snow like flax,

strews hoarfrost like ashes,

he sends ice-crystals like breadcrumbs,

and who can withstand that cold?

When he sends his word it thaws them,

when he makes his wind blow, the waters are unstopped.

He reveals his word to Jacob,

his statutes and judgments to Israel.

For no other nation has done this,

no other has known his judgments.

Luke 5:12-16 (New Jerusalem Bible):

Now it happened that Jesus was in one of the towns when suddenly a man appeared, covered with a skin-disease.  Seeing Jesus he fell on his face and implored him saying,

Sir, if you are willing you can cleanse me.

He stretched out his hand, and touched him saying

I am willing.  Be cleansed.

At once the skin-disease left him.  He ordered him to tell no one,

But go and show yourself to the priest and make the offering of your cleansing just as Moses prescribed, as evidence to them.

But the news of him kept spreading, and large crowds would gather to hear him and have their illnesses cured, but he would go off to some deserted place and pray.

The Collect:

O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Jesus needed to find solitude and to pray.  If this was a requirement for him, much more do we need to do this, too?

I have lived without cable television voluntarily for years.  This was partially a financial decision:  Why should I pay a bill for a service I barely use and really do not want or need?  Yet it was a spiritual choice, too.  I have chosen to read more books, listen to more Canadian radio online, and play more classical music and jazz.  And I have discs when I want to watch something.  What I watch then is probably better and more interesting than what I could find on cable TV at the time.  And I have thrown myself into blogging, of course.  To think that what I do in private can help others whom I will never meet is gratifying.

Yet I can still distract myself from the imperative of prayer.  I am no spiritual giant.

Prayer can assume many forms, the greatest of which (I am convinced) are non-verbal.  Ultimately prayer is a state of being in which we crave to be conscious of the presence of God and in which the desire for more of this oozes from our pores, so to speak.  Frequently this entails solitude and silence, or at least a suitable environment we create with music.  I have encountered God in silence, classical music, and John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, for example.

We are always in the presence of God.  May we become increasingly conscious of this reality, and recharge our spiritual batteries so that we may serve God better.  In so doing we will realize that we have eternal life–knowing God via Jesus–in the here and now.


Written on June 9, 2010

Posted September 16, 2010 by neatnik2009 in 2021-2022, Episcopal Church Lectionary, January 11

Tagged with , , ,

Fifth Day of Epiphany   20 comments

Above:  Colored Waiting Room Sign, Georgia, 1943

Whom Should I Love?  Everybody!

JANUARY 10, 2022


1 John 4:19-5:4 (New Jerusalem Bible):

Let us love, then,

because he first loved us.

Anyone who says

I love God

and hates his brother,

is a liar,

since no one who fails to love the brother whom he can see

can love God whom he has not seen.

Indeed this is the commandment we have received from him,

that whoever loves God, must also love his brother.

Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ

is a child of God,

and whoever loves the father

loves the son.

In this way we know that we love God’s children,

when we love God and keep his commandments.

This is what the love of God is:

keeping his commandments.

Neither are his commandments burdensome,

because every child of God

overcomes the world.

And this is the victory that has overcome the world–

our faith.

Psalm 72:1-2, 14-19 (New Jerusalem Bible):

God, endow the king with your own fair judgment,

the son of the king with your own saving justice,

that he may rule your people with justice,

and your poor with fair judgment.

From oppression and violence he redeems our lives,

their blood is precious in his sight.

(Long may he live; may the gold of Sheba be given him!)

Prayer will be offered for him constantly,

and blessings invoked on him all day.

May wheat abound in the land,

waving on the heights of the hills,

like Lebanon with its fruits and flowers at their best,

like the grasses of the earth.

May his name be blessed for ever,

and endure in the sight of the sun.

In him shall be blessed every race in the world,

and all nations call him blessed.

Blessed be Yahweh, the God of Israel,

who alone works wonders;

blessed for ever his gracious name.

May the whole world be filled with his glory!

Amen! Amen!

Luke 4:14-22 (New Jerusalem Bible):

Jesus, with the power of the Spirit in him, returned to Galilee; and his reputation spread throughout the countryside.  He taught in their synagogues and everyone glorified him.

He came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day as he usually did.  He stood up to read, and they handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.  Unrolling the scroll he found the place where it is written:

The spirit of the Lord is upon me,

for he has anointed me

to bring the good news to the afflicted.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives,

sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord.

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the assistant and sat down.  And all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him.  Then he began to speak to them,

The text is being fulfilled today even while you are listening.

And he won the approval of all, and they were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips.

The Collect:

O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


The reading from 1 John reminds us of a great spiritual truth:  we cannot love God and hate each other.  It is easy to give lip service to this statement, but acting on it can entail controversy and social transformation, which make many people very uncomfortable and sometimes violent.

The excerpt from Luke seems to have a happy ending, but reading for a few more verses reveals that Jesus’ former neighbors turned on him, becoming enraged and hustling him out of Nazareth, intending to throw him off a cliff.  These were people who, very shortly before, had been in synagogue!  This incident reminds me of a true story from a Methodist revival meeting in a Virginia barn in the late 1700s.  Thomas Coke, one of the original bishops of the Methodist Episcopal Church (1784-1939; now The United Methodist Church) was preaching.  He turned to the topic of slavery, the abolition of which he supported.  On the spot a woman in the congregation offered to hire someone to murder Coke.  The bishop fled the barn, and the revival ended.  Bishop Coke lived for years, fortunately.

I write this post in June 2010.  One hundred years ago de jure segregation was the law of the land in the United States.  In 1896 the Supreme Court had held in Plessy v. Ferguson that racial segregation was constitutional so long as the separate facilities were equal.  Yet these facilities were not equal.  So the Court reversed itself in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), with Chief Justice Earl Warren (one of my heroes, and my favorite Chief Justice) writing that separate is inherently unequal.  In 2010 it is difficult to find a person in the political mainstream who will question the major civil rights milestones–Supreme Court rulings and acts of Congress–although one can locate a few now and again.  Theoretical arguments about the nature of Federalism might seem respectable and concerned with Constitutional imperatives, but they cannot mask racism, insensitivity to injustice, or the errors of hyper-Libertarianism, which opposes federal actions to correct injustices, such as de jure segregation.

We have received a command to love each other actively.  Thus we need to ask some hard questions and perhaps to jettison some assumptions.  No political -ism is immune from error in matters of loving others, hating others, or loving others insufficiently.  I propose, for example, that this command requires not to think of abortion as a casual matter or to excuse bombing civilian populations during wartime.  (During World War II the Allies bombed cities in Axis nations.)  I own a shirt which asks

Who Would Jesus Bomb?

I know that the first word should be “whom,” but question remains a good one.  Gospel imperatives can be challenging, indeed.


Written on June 9, 2010

Fourth Day of Epiphany   9 comments


Image Source = D. Sharon Pruitt

No Fear

JANUARY 9, 2022


1 John 4:11-19 (New Jerusalem Bible):

My dear friends,

if God loved us so much,

we too should love one another.

No one has ever seen God,

but as long as we love another

God remains in us

and his love comes to its perfection in us.

This is the proof that we remain in him

and he in us,

that he has given us a share in his Spirit.

We ourselves have seen and testify

that the Father sent his Son

as Saviour of the world.

Anyone who acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God,

God remains in him and he is God.

We have recognized for ourselves,

and put our faith in, the love God has for us.

God is love,

and whoever remains in love remains in God

and God in him.

Love comes to its perfection in us

when we can face the Day of Judgment fearlessly,

because even in this world

we have become as he is.

In love there is no room for fear,

but perfect love casts out fear,

because fear implies punishment

and no one who is afraid has come to perfection in love.

Let us love, then,

because he first loved us.

Psalm 72:1-2, 10b-13 (New Jerusalem Bible):

God, endow the king with your own fair judgment,

the son of the king with your own saving justice,

so that he may rule your people with justice,

and your poor with fair judgment.

The kings of Sheba and Saba will offer gifts;

all kings will do him homage,

all nations become his servants.

For he rescues the needy who calls to him,

and the poor who has no one to help.

He has pity on the weak and the needy,

and saves the needy from death.

Mark 6:45-52 (New Jerusalem Bible):

And at once he [Jesus] made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side near Bethsaida, while he himself sent the crowd away.  After saying goodbye to them he went off into the hills to pray.  When evening came, the boat was far out on the sea, and he was alone on the land.  He could see that they were hard pressed in their rowing, for the wind was against them; and about the fourth watch of the night he came towards them, walking on the sea.  He was going to pass them by, but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they had all seen him and were terrified.  But at once he spoke to them and said,

Courage!  It’s me!  Don’t be afraid.

Then he got into the boat with them and the wind dropped.  They were utterly and completely dumbfounded, because they had not seen what the miracle of the loaves meant; their minds were closed.

The Collect:

O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Fear can have certain advantages.  For example, I fear the negative consequences of touching hot objects.  So fear protects me in such cases.  Yet fear, when turned against self and others, can cause great harm to self and others.

When I grew up my father imparted pearls of wisdom.  Among them was this:  We fear what we do not understand, and we hate what we fear.  History confirms this.  I point, for example, to interreligious strife rooted in misconceptions, as well as to how many parents and students mistreated Ryan White in the 1980s, the early years of AIDS as a major news story.  The scientists had determined how one does and does not contract AIDS by then, but this fact did not prevent people from acting cruelly toward a hemophiliac teenager and gentle soul.

Out of fear agents of my nation have tortured people, an immoral act which endangers the United States further.  Out of fear people have overgeneralized and blamed innocent people for the crimes of others.  On September 11, 2001, I was a graduate student at Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, Georgia.  Campus police officers had to protect exchange students from certain nations, for these pupils were potential targets of revenge attacks.  They had done nothing!

But love casts out fear.  God casts out fear.  Let us follow the path of love and God.


Written on June 8, 2010

Third Day of Epiphany   14 comments

Above:  Head of the Statue of Christ the Redeemer, South America

Love in God

JANUARY 8, 2022


1 John 4:7-12 (New Jerusalem Bible):

My dear friends,

let us love one another,

since love is from God

and everyone who loves is a child of God and knows God.

Whoever fails to love does not know God,

because God is love.

This is the revelation of God’s love for us,

that God sent his only Son into the world

that we might have life through him.

Love consists in this:

it is not we who loved God,

but God loved us and sent his Son

to expiate our sins.

My dear friends,

if God loved us so much,

we too should love one another.

No one has ever seen God,

but as long as we love one another

God remains in us

and his love comes to its perfection in us.

Psalm 72:1-8 (New Jerusalem Bible):

God, endow the king with your own fair judgment,

the son of the king with your own saving justice,

that he may rule your people with justice,

and your poor with fair judgment.

Mountains and hills,

bring peace to the people!

With justice he will judge the poor of the people,

he will save the children of the needy

and crush their oppressors.

In the sight of the sun and the moon he will endure,

age after age.

Hew ill come down like rain on mown grass,

like showers moistening the land.

In his days uprightness shall flourish,

and peace is plenty till the moon is no more.

His empire shall stretch from sea to sea,

from the river to the limits of the earth.

Mark 6:30-44 (New Jerusalem Bible):

The apostles rejoined Jesus and told him all they had done and taught.  And he said to them,

Come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while;

for there were so many coming and going that there was no time for them even to eat.  So they went off in the boat to a lonely place where they could be by themselves.  But people saw them going, and many recognized them; and from every town they all hurried to the place on foot and reached it before them.  So as he stepped ashore he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he set himself to teach them at some length.  By now it was getting very late, and his disciples came up to him and said,

This is a lonely place and it is getting very late, so sent them away, and they can go to buy themselves something to eat.

He replied,

Give them something to eat yourselves.

They answered,

Are we to go and spend two hundred denarii on bread for them to eat?

He asked,

How many loaves have you?  Go and see.

And when they had found out they said,

Five, and two fish.

Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass, and they sat down on the ground in squares of hundreds and fifties.  Then he took the five loaves and the two fish, raised his eyes to heaven and said the blessing; then he broke the loaves and began handling them to the disciples to distribute among the people.  He also shared out the two fish among them all.  They all ate as much as they wanted.  They collected twelve basketfuls of scraps of bread and pieces of fish.  Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.

The Collect:

O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


The love of God exceeds the bounds of human imagination and definition.  It knows no limits and the full reach of grace, part of the love, can be scandalous.  This love entails self-sacrifice (witness Jesus), and we Christians have the vocation to reflect the love of God to others.

Yet sometimes, in the name of God (and Jesus), we hurt each other emotionally, without any redeeming purpose.  As I write these words I know that I am (and have been) on the receiving end of such attitudes born of a spiritual conversion (in another person) gone horribly wrong.  The other person, although sincere, has engaged in actions which have prompted emotional pain.  So a relationship has ended.  I have determined that no relationship is better than a dysfunctional one, but that a functional one remains a possibility and a favored goal.  The relationship in question can find restoration through the mutual and demonstrated love which comes from God alone.

May it do so.


Written on June 8, 2010

Second Day of Epiphany   13 comments

Above:  A Mosaic of Jesus from the Former Church of Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Resisting the Kingdom of God

JANUARY 7, 2022


1 John 3:18-4:6 (New Jerusalem Bible):


our love must not be just words or mere talk,

but something active and genuine.

This is the proof that we belong to the truth,

and it will convince us in his presence,

even if our own feelings condemn us,

that God is greater than our feelings and knows all things.

My dear friends,

if our own feelings do not condemn us,

we can be fearless before God,

and whatever we ask

we shall receive from him,

because we keep his commandments

and do what is acceptable to him.

His commandment is this,

that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ

and that we should love one another

as he commanded us.

Whoever keeps his commandments

remains in God, and God in him.

And this is the proof that he remains in us:

the Spirit that he has given us.

My dear friends,

not every spirit is to be trusted,

but test the spirits to see whether they are from God,

for many false prophets are at large in the world.

This is the proof of the spirit of God;

any spirit which acknowledges Jesus Christ, come in human nature,

is from God,

and no spirit which fails to acknowledge Jesus

is from God;

it is the spirit of Antichrist,

whose coming you have heard of;

he is already at large in the world.

They are from the world,

and therefore the world inspires what they say,

and listens to them.

We are from God;

whoever recognizes God listens to us;

anyone who is not from God refuses to listen to us.

This is how we can distinguish

the spirit of truth from the the spirit of falsehood.

Psalm 2 (New Jerusalem Bible):

Why this uproar among the nations,

the impotent muttering of the peoples?

Kings of the earth take up their position,

princes plot together

against Yahweh and his anointed,

Now let us break their fetters!

Now let us throw off their bonds!

He who is enthroned in the heavens laughs,

Yahweh makes a mockery of them,

then in his anger rebukes them,

in his rage he strikes them with terror.

I myself have anointed my king

on Zion my holy mountain.

I will proclaim the decree of Yahweh:

He said to me,

You are my son,

today I have fathered you.

Ask of me, and I shall give you the nations as your birthright,

the whole wide world as your possession.

With an iron sceptre you will break them,

shatter them like so many pots.

So now, you kings, come to your senses,

you earthly rulers, learn your lesson!

In fear be submissive to Yahweh;

with trembling kiss his feet,

lest he be angry and your way come to nothing,

for his fury flares up in a moment.

How blessed are all who take refuge in him!

Matthew 4:12-17, 23-25 (New Jerusalem Bible):

Hearing that John had been arrested he [Jesus] withdrew to Galilee, and leaving Nazareth he went and settled in Capernaum, beside the lake, on the borders of Zebulon and Naphtali.  This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:

Land of Zebulon!  Land of Naphtali!

Way of the sea beyond Jordan.

Galilee of the nations!

The people that lived in darkness

have seen a great light;

on those who lived in a country of shadow dark as death

a light has dawned.

From then onwards Jesus began his proclamation with the message,

Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is close at hand.

He went round the whole of Galilee teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing all kinds of disease and illness among the people.  His fame spread throughout Syria, and those who were suffering from diseases and painful complaints of one kind or another, the possessed, epileptics, the paralyzed, were all brought to him, and he cured them.  Large crowds followed him coming from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judaea, and Transjordan.

The Collect:

O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Jesus, fully human and fully divine, ushered in the Kingdom of God, which is around us and inside of us.  Yet many of us do not see it.  The Kingdom of God was an apocalyptic vision of God’s rule on earth, as opposed to the Roman Empire.  Thus talk of the Kingdom of God was subversive until the early Church redefined the Kingdom as a spiritual reality.  But I prefer the subversive nature of the earlier understanding.

Authority figures resisted the Kingdom of God, crucifying Jesus and martyring many Christians.  They had great power, but God’s might was stronger and more impressive. Today the efforts continue, but God’s might remains stronger and more impressive.

Thomas Tallis, the great Sixteenth-Century English composer, wrote tunes for the church psalter of his time.  The Third Psalm Tune, which Ralph Vaughan Williams slowed down and transformed into a happier piece centuries later in the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, fit these words, which I prefer to the familiar version (“Why do the nations so furiously rage together”) from the Authorized (King James) Version:

Why fum’th in sight the Gentiles spite, in fury raging stout?

Why tak’th in hand the people fond, vain things to bring about?

The kings arise, the Lords devise in counsels met thereto,

Against the Lord with false accord, against his Christ they go.

Let us, they say, break their ray of all their bonds and cords:

We will renounce that they pronounce their lores as stately lords.

But God of might in heav’n so bright shall laugh them all to scorn:

The Lord on high shall them defy, they shall be once forlorn.

With iron rod as might God all rebels shalt thou bruise,

And break them all in pieces small, as sherds the potters use.

Be wise therefore ye kings the more, receive ye wisdom’s lore;

Ye judges strong of right and wrong, advise you now before.

The Lord in fear your service bear, with dread to him rejoice;

Let rages be, resist not ye, him serve with joyful voice.

The sun kiss ye, lest wroth he be, lose not the way of rest;

For when his ire is set on fire, who trust in him be blest.

In the 500s Justinian the Great, the Byzantine Emperor, ordered the construction of the beautiful Church of Hagia Sophia, or Holy Wisdom, at Constantinople.  Almost a thousand years later the conquering Ottoman Turks converted the building into a mosque.  And today it is a museum.  But it should be a church.

Despite all appearances to the contrary, God will win, in time.  We need to be patient.


Written on June 8, 2010