Archive for the ‘January 20’ Category

Devotion for Thursday Before the Third Sunday After the Epiphany, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Christ Pantocrator Icon

Above:  Christ Pantocrator

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Our Mission from God

JANUARY 20, 2022

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The Collect:

Blessed Lord God, you have caused the holy scriptures

to be written for the nourishment of your people.

Grant that we may hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that, comforted by your promises,

we may embrace and forever hold fast to the hope of eternal life,

through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 23

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 61:1-7

Psalm 19

Romans 7:1-6

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The law of the LORD is perfect; it restores vitality,

the commandments of the LORD are reliable;

they provide wisdom for those who need it.

–Psalm 19:8, The Psalms Introduced and Newly Translated for Today’s Readers (1989), by Harry Mowvley

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That is true.  Yet what are we readers supposed to do with Romans 7:1-6?

I found the Commentary on Romans (Swedish, 1944; English, 1949) by Swedish Lutheran Bishop Anders Nygren helpful in considering that question.  Nygren’s Commentary has proven to be influential and durable, for other published exegetes have quoted and/or referred to it.  So why not cut out the middle man and go directly to Nygren?

Nygren argued that, according to St. Paul the Apostle, the Law (Torah) never dies.  It has not expired or run its course, and Christ has neither superceded, negated, nor repealed it:

The law does not die.  There is only one way to liberation.  Only in the fact that the Christian has died with Christ is he really and truly set free beyond the realm of the law.  Paul’s emphasis lies on this genuine liberation.

–Page 272

On page 268 Nygren presents in two columns the parallels between Romans 6 and 7:1-6.  In Chapter 6 Christians die to sin so that they might walk in newness of life, in freedom from sin.  When we turn to Chapter 7, we read of dying to the law for the purpose of serving in the new life of the Spirit, in freedom from the law.

This liberation has come through the death of Christ, and through the fact that by baptism we have become sharers in His death.

–Page 269

As a note in The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003) stated well,

The point Paul desires to make is that death ends obligations; the law has lost its claim over Christians, who have transferred their allegiance to Christ.

–Page 2019

The theme of liberation via God to live righteously in the joy of God applies also to Isaiah 61:1-7.  The speaker in that text is most likely the author of the last few chapters of the Book of Isaiah.  The notes in The Jewish Study Bible–Second Edition (2014) identify him as Deutero-Isaiah.  I think that Trito-Isaiah is the accurate label, but that is a minor issue.  The prophet speaks of his mandate from God

To bind up the wounded of heart,

To proclaim release to the captives,

Liberation to the imprisoned;

To proclaim a year of the LORD’s favor

And a day of vindication by our God;

To comfort all who mourn….

–Isaiah 61:1b-2, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The historical context of this pericope is the return of the Hebrew exiles to their ancestral homeland.  Decades of captivity had understandably caused much despondency and prompted much derision, hence the necessity of the prophet’s mission.

In a broader sense, is not the prophet’s mission that of all who have known the love of God?  Grace is free yet definitely not cheap; it requires a positive, faithful response.  The wounded of heart and those who mourn are always around us.  Captives and prisoners (both literal and metaphorical) are numerous also.  The mission of Trito-Isaiah is mine as well as yours, O reader.  Jesus claimed it as part of his mission in Luke 4:16-19.  If he claimed it for himself, should not we who follow him?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 3, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE EVE OF THE FEAST OF SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI:  PROPER FOR THE GOODNESS OF CREATION

THE FEAST OF THEODOR FLIEDNER, PIONEER OF THE DEACONESS MOVEMENT IN THE LUTHERAN CHURCH

THE FEAST OF GEORGE KENNEDY ALLEN BELL, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF CHICHESTER

THE FEAST OF JOHN RALEIGH MOTT, ECUMENICAL PIONEER

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/10/03/our-mission-from-god/

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Devotion for Wednesday After the Second Sunday After the Epiphany, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Jesus Blessing Children

Above:  Jesus Blessing Children

Image Source = Father Lawrence G. Lovasik, S.V.D., New Catholic Picture Bible:  Popular Stories from the Old and New Testaments (New York:  Catholic Book Publishing Company, 1955, 1960)

Image Scanned by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Children and the Kingdom of God

JANUARY 20, 2021

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The Collect:

Thanks be to you, Lord Jesus Christ, most merciful redeemer,

for the countless blessings and benefits you give.

May we know you more clearly,

love you more dearly,

and follow you more nearly,

day by day praising you, with the Father and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 22

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The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 16:1-14

Psalm 86

Luke 18:15-17

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Turn to me and have mercy upon me;

give your strength to your servant

and save the child of your handmaid.

–Psalm 86:16, Common Worship (2000)

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Abram had received a promise from God that he would become the father of nations.  There was just one problem:  he had no children.  Abram and Sarai took matters into their own hands, thereby creating a mess and causing injury immediately to Hagar and later compounding it and extending it to Ishmael.  The boy, whose existence was due to faithlessness, became a pawn.

Children were people without social standing in our Lord and Savior’s cultural context.  Sometimes parents even sold them into slavery to pay off debts.  One function of the Kingdom of God in the Gospels was to point out the ways in which the dominant society fell short of the divine mark.  Hence the Beatitudes (and, in the Gospel of Luke, the corresponding Woes) were counter-cultural.  Blessed are poor?  Woe to the rich?  Blessed are the peacemakers?  In the Kingdom of God, yes!  The description of the way things ought to be condemned the way they were.

That description continues to condemn societies.  For example, the exploitation of children–from child labor to sexual slavery to conscription as soldiers–constitutes current events.  Some patterns never change, although the places, dates, and certain other minor details regarding them do.  I live just outside the Atlanta Metropolitan Area.  Atlanta is a hub of human trafficking, unfortunately.

In the Gospel of Luke the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (18:9-14) and the conversation between Jesus and the rich ruler attached to his wealth (18:18-30) bookend the pericope about receiving the Kingdom of God as a little child does.  The cumulative message, therefore, is that social standing counts for nothing in the eyes of God and that wealth is irrelevant in the same context.  No, pride must go away and we must approach God humbly, aware of our powerlessness and limitations.

The exhortation in Luke 18:15-17 also points to inherent human dignity and links well with the plights of Hagar and Ishmael.  May we never use people as pawns, for that is unfair to them.  It also violates the commandments to care for one another and to be responsible to each other–orders which undergird much of the Law of Moses and are consistent with our Lord and Savior’s ethical teachings and lived example.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 20, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF RICHARD WATSON GILDER, U.S. POET, JOURNALIST, AND SOCIAL REFORMER

THE FEAST OF HENRY FRANCIS LYTE, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF LEO TOLSTOY, NOVELIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT MECHTILD OF MAGDEBURG, ROMAN CATHOLIC MYSTIC

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/11/21/children-and-the-kingdom-of-god/

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Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before the Third Sunday After Epiphany, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   6 comments

Brugghen,_Hendrick_ter_-_The_Calling_of_St._Matthew_-_1621

Above:  The Calling of St. Matthew, by Hendrick ter Brugghen

(Image in the Public Domain)

Vindication and Faithfulness

JANUARY 19-21, 2023

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The Collect:

Lord God, your loving kindness always goes before us and follows us.

Summon us into your light, and direct our steps in the ways of goodness

that come through he cross of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 23

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The Assigned Readings:

1 Samuel 1:1-20 (Thursday)

1 Samuel 9:27-10:8 (Friday)

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13 (Saturday)

Psalm 27:1-6 (all days)

Galatians 1:11-24 (Thursday)

Galatians 2:1-10 (Friday)

Luke 5:27-32 (Saturday)

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One thing I have asked of the LORD;

one thing I seek;

that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life;

to behold the fair beauty of then LORD,

to seek God in the temple.

–Psalm 27:4, Book of Common Worship (1993)

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The readings for these three days tell of faithfulness to God, of faithlessness, and of vindication.  Along the way we read of two different Sauls.

Hannah was childless.  For this her husband’s other wife mocked her.  But Elkanah loved Hannah, his wife.   And God answered Hannah’s prayer for a child, giving her the great prophet Samuel.  He, following divine instructions, anointed two kings of Israel–Saul and David, both of whom went their own sinful ways.  Yet Saul, no less troublesome a figure than David, faced divine rejection.  Saul’s attempts at vindication–some of them violent–backfired on him.

Saul of Tarsus, who became St. Paul the Apostle, had to overcome his past as a persecutor of the nascent Christian movement as well as strong opposition to his embrace of the new faith and to his mission to Gentiles.  Fortunately, he succeeded, changing the course of events.

And Jesus, who dined with notorious sinners, brought many of them to repentance.  He, unlike others, who shunned them, recognized the great potential within these marginalized figures.  For this generosity of spirit our Lord and Savior had to provide a defense to certain respectable religious authorities.

Sometimes our quests for vindication are self-serving, bringing benefit only to ourselves.  Yet, on other occasions, we have legitimate grounds for vindication.  When we are in the right those who cause the perceived need for vindication–for whatever reason they do so–ought to apologize instead.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 6, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALLAN CRITE, ARTIST

THE FEAST OF CHARLES ELLIOTT FOX, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY

THE FEAST OF MADELEINE L’ENGLE, NOVELIST

THE FEAST OF PETER CLAVER, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/09/06/vindication-and-faithfulness/

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An Invitation to Observe a Holy Epiphany and Season after Epiphany   Leave a comment

Above:  Episcopal Church of the Epiphany, Atlanta, Georgia, January 8, 2012

Image Source = Bill Monk, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

Liturgical time matters, for it sacramentalizes days, hours, and minutes, adding up to seasons on the church calendar.  Among the frequently overlooked seasons is the Season after Epiphany, the first part of Ordinary Time.  The Feast of the Epiphany always falls on January 6 in my tradition.  And Ash Wednesday always falls forty days (excluding Sundays) before Easter Sunday.  The Season after Epiphany falls between The Feast of the Epiphany and Ash Wednesday.  In 2013 the season will span January 7-February 12.

This season ought to be a holy time, one in which to be especially mindful of the imperative to take the good news of Jesus of Nazareth to others by a variety of means, including words when necessary.  Words are meaningless when our actions belie them, after all.  Among the themes of this season is that the Gospel is for all people, not just those we define as insiders.  No, the message is also for our “Gentiles,” those whom we define as outsiders.  So, with that thought in mind, I encourage you, O reader, to exclude nobody.  Do not define yourself as an insider to the detriment of others.  If you follow this advice, you will have a proper Epiphany spirit.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 9, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MARTIN CHEMNITZ, GERMAN LUTHERAN THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF BARTON STONE, COFOUNDER OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH (DISCIPLES OF CHRIST)

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Devotion for January 20 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   4 comments

Above:  The Persian Empire in 500 B.C.E.

Inclusion, Foreigners, and God (II)

JANUARY 20, 2023

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Ezekiel 47:1-14, 21-23

Psalm 67 (Morning)

Psalms 46 and 93 (Evening)

Romans 9:19-33

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But suppose that God, although the time he wanted to reveal his retribution and demonstrate his power, has with great patience gone on putting up with those who are the instruments of his retribution and designed to be destroyed; so that he may make known the glorious riches ready for the people who are the instruments of his faithful love and were long ago prepared for that glory.  We are that people, called by him not only out of the Jews but with the gentiles too.

–Romans 9:22-24, The New Jerusalem Bible

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This land you shall divide for yourselves among the tribes of Israel.  You shall allot it as a heritage for yourselves and the strangers who reside among you, you have begotten children among you.  You shall treat them as Israelite citizens; they shall receive allotments along with you among the tribes of Israel.  You shall give the stranger an allotment within the tribe where he resides–declares the Lord GOD.

–Ezekiel 47:21-23, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

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What a difference a day makes!  In the previous day’s entry in this series I wrote of the exclusion of Gentiles from parts of the rebuilt Temple.  Some foreigners had joined the Jews and lived among them, living according to the covenant and embracing monotheism.  Yet they were to be excluded from parts of the Temple complex.  Nevertheless, in Ezekiel 47:21-23, those same foreigners were to receive the same rights of citizenship as Jews and to have the same land rights.  I sense a double standard.

Paul wrote that the faithful people of God included Jews and Gentiles.  In Christ, he wrote elsewhere, the barriers of hostility between the two groups cease to exist.  Recently, over lunch, a friend and I discussed Paul’s inclusive view of Christian identity (transnational and transethnic) and how, for many people in the non-Western world, the sense of Christianity is quite different.  For many of them Christianity and Western civilization are linked closely.  This hinders the spread of Christianity where anti-Western sentiments are widespread.  That is most unfortunate.

Christ is universal.  May we who claim his name act according to that truth.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 30, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN CLIMACUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF SAINT INNOCENT OF ALASKA, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX MONK

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOAN OF TOULOUSSE, AND SAINT SIMON STOCK, CARMELITE FRIAR

THE FEAST OF KARL RAHNER, ROMAN CATHOLIC THEOLOGIAN

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/10/05/inclusion-foreigners-and-god-ii/

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Before a Bible Study   Leave a comment

Above:  An Old Family Bible

Image Source = David Ball

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God of glory,

as we prepare to study the Bible,

may we approach the texts with our minds open,

our intellects engaged,

and our spirits receptive to your leading,

so that we will understand them correctly

and derive from them the appropriate lessons.

Then may we act on those lessons.

For the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Amen.

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KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 7, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRY MELCHIOR MUHLENBERG, SHEPHERD OF LUTHERANISM IN THE AMERICAN COLONIES

THE FEAST OF FRED KAAN, HYMNWRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHN WOOLMAN, ABOLITIONIST

Posted October 7, 2011 by neatnik2009 in December 1, December 10, December 11, December 12, December 13, December 14, December 15, December 16, December 17, December 18, December 19, December 2, December 20, December 21, December 22, December 23, December 24: Christmas Eve, December 25: First Day of Christmas, December 26: Second Day of Christmas/St. Stephen, December 27: Third Day of Christmas/St. John the Evangelist, December 28: Fourth Day of Christmas/Holy Innocents, December 29: Fifth Day of Christmas, December 3, December 30: Sixth Day of Christmas, December 31: Seventh Day of Christmas/New Year's Eve, December 4, December 5, December 6, December 7, December 8, December 9, February 1, February 10, February 11, February 12, February 13, February 14, February 15, February 16, February 17, February 18, February 19, February 2, February 20, February 21, February 22, February 23, February 24, February 25, February 26, February 27, February 28, February 29, February 3, February 4, February 5, February 6, February 7, February 8, February 9, January 10, January 11, January 12, January 13, January 14, January 15, January 16, January 17, January 18, January 19, January 1: Eighth Day of Christmas/Holy Name of Jesus/New Year's Day, January 20, January 21, January 22, January 23, January 24, January 25, January 26, January 27, January 28, January 29, January 2: Ninth Day of Christmas, January 30, January 31, January 3: Tenth Day of Christmas, January 4: Eleventh Day of Christmas, January 5: Twelfth Day of Christmas, January 6: Epiphany, January 7, January 8, January 9, March 1, March 2, March 3, March 4, March 5, March 6, March 7, March 8, March 9, November 27, November 28, November 29, November 30

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Week of 2 Epiphany: Thursday, Year 2   9 comments

Above:  Saul Throws the Spear at David, by George Tinworth

Jonathan, a Good Friend

JANUARY 20, 2022

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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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1 Samuel 18:6-9; 19:1-7 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

As they were coming home, when David returned from slaying the Philistine, the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with timbrels, with songs of joy, and with instruments of music.  And the women sang to one another as they made merry,

Saul has slain his thousands,

and David his ten thousands.

And Saul was very angry, and this saying displeased him; he said,

They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed thousands, and what more can he have but the kingdom?

And Saul eyed David from that day on.

…(Saul tried to kill David, who lives anyway and marries Michal, daughter of Saul.)…

And Saul spoke to Jonathan his son and to all his servants, that they should kill David.  But Jonathan, Saul’s son, delighted much in David.  And Jonathan told David,

Saul my father seeks to kill you; therefore take heed to yourself in the morning, stay in a secret place and hide yourself; and I will go out and stand beside my father in the field where you are, and I will speak to my father about you; an if I learn anything I will tell you.

And Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father, and said to him,

Let not the king sin against his servant David; because he has not sinned against you, and because his deeds have been of good service to you; for he took his life in his hand and he slew the Philistine, and the LORD wrought a great victory for all Israel.  You saw it, and rejoiced; why then will you sin against innocent blood by killing David without cause?

And Saul listened to the voice of Jonathan; Saul swore,

As the LORD lives, he shall not be put to death.

And Jonathan called David, and Jonathan showed him all these things.  And Jonathan brought David to Saul, and he was in his presence as before.

Psalm 56 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  Have mercy on me, O God,

for my enemies are hounding me;

all day long they assault and oppress me.

2  They hound me all the day long;

truly there are many who fight against me, O Most High.

3  When I am afraid,

I will put my trust in you.

4  In God, whose word I praise,

in God I trust and will not be afraid,

for what can flesh do to me?

5  All day long they damage my cause;

their only thought is to do me evil.

6  They band together; they lie in wait;

they spy upon my footsteps;

because they seek my life.

7  Shall they escape despite their wickedness?

O God, in your anger, cast down the peoples.

8  You have noted my lamentation;

put my tears into your bottle;

are they not recorded in your book?

9  Whenever I call upon you, my enemies will be put to flight;

this I know, for God is on my side.

10  In God, the LORD, whose word I praise,

in God I trust and will not be afraid,

for what can mortals do to me?

11  I am bound by the vow I made to you, O God;

I will present to you thank-offerings;

12  For you have rescued my soul from death and my feet from stumbling,

that I may walk before God in the light of the living.

Mark 3:7-12 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great multitude from Galilee followed; also from Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from about Tyre and Sidon a great multitude haring all that he did, came to him.  And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they should crush him, for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him.  And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out,

You are the Son of God.

And he strictly ordered them not to make him known.

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The Collect:

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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A Related Post:

Week of 2 Epiphany:  Thursday, Year 1:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/27/week-of-2-epiphany-thursday-year-1/

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I have been watching Bobby Fischer documentaries recently.  The brilliant chess master was not emotionally, mentally, and psychologically well for most of his life.  And his illness grew worse as he aged.

King Saul reminds of Bobby Fischer in some ways.  The Biblical authors understood the king’s mental disturbance as the result of possession by an evil spirit, but today professionals would offer a clinical diagnosis.  Nevertheless, one fact remains:  Saul had become dangerous to others, especially David.  Fortunately, David benefited (in the short term, at least) from the intercession his good friend, Jonathan, his brother-in-law and a son of Saul.

The lectionary I am following will skip to 1 Samuel 24 for tomorrow’s purposes, so I sense the imperative of explaining part of 1 Samuel 20.  Many translations of the Bible are overly polite in places.  Consider the Psalms, for example.  Whereas a literal translation of Hebrew text might be close to “Look, Yahweh!,” many translators have preferred something closer to “I beseech you, O Lord.”  Even the Hebrew texts use euphemisms for cursing, so many a modern version of the Bible does also.  Then there is The Living Bible (completed in 1971).  This is how Kenneth N. Taylor described a confrontation between Saul and Jonathan, per 1 Samuel 20:30-31:

Saul boiled with rage.  “You son of a bitch!” he yelled at him.  “Do you think I don’t know that you want this son of a nobody to be king in your place, shaming yourself and your mother?  As long as this fellow is alive, you’ll never be king.  Now go and get him, so I can kill him!”

A 1980s printing of The Living Bible in my library substitutes “fool” for “son of a bitch,” but Taylor captured the flavor of Saul’s outburst well the first time.  “You son of a perverse and rebellious woman,” a standard English rendering, does not have the same power.

(Aside:  Pay attention.  This is probably the only time I will say or write anything nice about The Living Bible.  The best way to communicate my attitude toward that version is to tell a story.  A few years ago, in a Bible study of the Matthew Beatitudes, someone read them from The Living Bible.  The ethos of TLB, so evident in that particular text, inspired me to sing, “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony….”  I was, of course, echoing an early 1970s Christmas advertisement for Coca-Cola.)

In the short term, at least, Jonathan was able to shield David from his father’s violent rages.  Jonathan was in a difficult personal and political circumstance, but he did the right thing.  Sometimes doing the right thing is both hard and risky.  Yet mere human decency requires us to act properly.  Are you, O reader, in a difficult and risky situation with conflicting loyalties?  What does mere decency require of you?  And how much might it cost you?

Remember that what I do affects others, as does what you do.  What you do not do affects others, as does what I do not do.  Your circumstance might seem like a small and relatively insignificant one, but it might be more important than appearances indicate, for we are all connected to others.  So make the right decision and stand by it because it is the right thing to do, perhaps for more people than you can imagine.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/01/04/jonathan-a-good-friend/

Week of 2 Epiphany: Friday, Year 1   6 comments

Above:  Coral Reef Biodiversity

Image Source = Richard Ling

The Universal Covenant of Christ

JANUARY 20, 2023

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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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Hebrews 8:6-13 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

But, as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry which is much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises.  For it that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion for a second.

For he finds no fault with them when he says:

The days will come, says the Lord,

when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel

and with the house of Judah;

not like the covenant that I made with their fathers

on the day when I took them by the hand

to lead them out of the land of Egypt;

for they did not continue in my covenant,

and so I paid no heed to them, says the Lord.

This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel

after those days, says the Lord:

I will put my laws into their minds,

and write them on their hearts,

and I will be their God,

and they shall be my people.

And they shall not teach every one of his fellow

or every one of his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’

and all shall know me,

from the least of them to the greatest.

For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,

and I will remember their sins no more.

In speaking of a new covenant he treats the first as obsolete.  And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

Psalm 85:7-13 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

7 Show us your mercy, O LORD,

and grant us  your salvation.

8 I will listen to what the LORD God is saying,

for he is speaking peace to his faithful people

and to those who turn their hearts to him.

9 Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him,

that his glory may dwell in our land.

10 Mercy and truth have met together,

righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

11 Truth shall spring up from the earth,

and righteousness shall look down from heaven.

12 The LORD will indeed grant prosperity,

and our land will yield its increase.

13 Righteousness shall go before him,

and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.

Mark 3:13-19 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

And he went up on the mountain, and called to him those whom he desired; and they came to him.  And he appointed twelve, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons:  Simon whom he surnamed Peter; James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, whom he surnamed Boanerges, that is, sons of thunder; Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus, and Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

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The Collect:

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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The author of the Letter to the Hebrews writes of a new covenant, one which God has instigated for people without regard for human distinctions.  We mere mortals are skilled at labeling ourselves and each other and transforming these into the basis for conflict:  clean vs. unclean, Jew vs. Gentile, White vs. Black, native-born vs. foreign-born, liberal vs. conservative, heterosexual vs. homosexual, male vs. female, Protestant vs. Roman Catholic, et cetera.  We are a tribal bunch, are we not?  Yet our notions of what is proper or clean do not bind God.

This theme runs through the canonical Gospels.  Jesus was on the outs with the religious establishment of his own religion, and he found faith among prostitutes, Roman collaborators, tax collectors (working for Rome), Gentiles attracted to Judaism (yet kept marginal by the orthodox), and notorious sinners.  Shame and honor are social constructs; one has or lacks them according to consensus.  By this standard, Jesus died shamefully.  Yet the instrument of his execution has become a symbol of triumph and a popular symbol for jewelry.

Let us consider the motley crew we call the Twelve Apostles.

  • Simon Peter was impetuous. He went on to deny Jesus three times before finding his sea legs and becoming the leader of the group.
  • Thomas was a healthy skeptic, and thus a good foil to Simon Peter’s tendency to blurt out unfortunate yet well-meant statements.
  • James and John, sons of Zebedee, were cousins of Jesus.  The standard translation of boanerges is “sons of thunder,” but I recall a now-deceased seminary professor saying that “hellraiser” is a better rendering of the word.
  • Matthew had been a tax collector for the Roman Empire.  The tax farming system was set up such that he and other tax collectors gathered more funds than the Empire required.  They passed along the Empire’s taxes and kept the rest for themselves.  They were literal tax thieves, not to mention collaborators.
  • Simon the Cananaean had been a violent revolutionary trying to expel the occupying Romans.
  • Judas Iscariot became disappointed in Jesus, whom he betrayed.
  • Unfortunately, we know little about some of the Apostles.  This is one area in which I would have asked the authors of the canonical Gospels for more information.
  • Ten of the Twelve Apostles died as martyrs.

The canonical Gospels (especially Mark) are clear that the Apostles misunderstood Jesus for years.  Others knew who and what Jesus was and what that meant (at least partially).  Yet the Apostles stand out in the Gospels as not being the brightest crayons in the box.

There is hope in this for you and me.  Jesus did not call he qualified; he qualified the called.  Our Lord and Savior recognized the potential in these men.  And it worked out well in 11 of 12 cases.  It did not work out well immediately, but I have my faith today in large part because of the Apostles and their actions.

The universal covenant of Christ defies human labels.  Jesus had both a former Roman tax collector and a former insurrectionist against Roman imperial rule within his inner circle.  Both Matthew and Simon found their unity in Jesus.

The universal covenant of Christ is written on human hearts and minds.  It is internalized, based on love of God.  This is a healthy spiritual relationship built on terror, but on trust, awe, and respect.  In this context social constructs, such as shame and honor, mean nothing.  Most of the Apostles died shamefully, according to human standards.  Yet their martyrdoms were not shameful, for these men died for the love of God and their fellow human beings.

In the early 1950s, during the McCarthy Era witchhunts, Doris Plenn wrote the following words:

When tyrants tremble, sick with fear,

And hear their death-knell ringing,

When friends rejoice both far and near,

How can I keep from singing?

In prison cell and dungeon vile,

Our thoughts to them go winging;

When friends by shame are undefiled,

How can I keep from singing?

I suspect that we humans like labels, such as “clean” and “unclean” because they help us order our world in ways convenient for us.  We tell ourselves that are “clean,” of course, and those different people are “unclean.”  We heap shame upon the heads of others when they have done nothing wrong and we excuse ourselves when we sin.  But God does not see as we do; God looks on the heart.  And, as Jesus said, certain prostitutes will enter Heaven before some of us, who think ourselves respectable, will.  So, what is certain?  The judgment, mercy, and wisdom of God, which exceed human understanding, are constant.  And, if that makes you uncomfortable, that might be a healthy spiritual sign, depending on what you do with that discomfort.  Will you examine yourself spiritually and be open to God, or will you resist?

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/01/04/the-universal-covenant-of-christ/

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (January 18-25)   Leave a comment

Above:  St. Barnabas Episcopal-Lutheran Worshiping Community, Jefferson City, Tennessee

(Their website is here:  http://stbarnabas.etdiocese.net/)

Let Us Emphasize Our Common Ground and Build On It

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From Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), the hymnal of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:

Isaiah 2:2-4

Psalm 122

Ephesians 4:1-6

John 17:15-23

God our Father, your Son Jesus Christ prayed that his followers might be one.  Make all Christians one with him as he is one with you, so that in peace and concord we may carry to the world the message of your love, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

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Now, for my thoughts….

We Christians have divided ourselves into competing theological and liturgical tribes since the earliest decades of the Jesus movement.  For confirmation of this, read the New Testament epistles.  Sometimes these divisions are silly or based on ego gratification.  Other times, however, the matters are weightier.  Yet the tragedy of schism remains, even after stated issues which people used to justify the schism have become moot points or ceased to points of contention.  Inertia preserves a high degree of divisiveness within Christianity.

Sometimes schisms remain insurmountable.  Yet this fact should not prevent Christians of good will from reaching across boundaries to identify and build upon common ground, to do something positive and for the glory of God together.  I do not expect the Anabaptists and Roman Catholics to reconcile, but they can cooperate.  Last Sunday afternoon I listened to a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) radio interview with a Mennonite pastor who maintains a close faith-based relationship with nearby Catholic monks, often praying with them.

And I believe that when two or more denominations cease to have good reasons to remain separate they should open negotiations to unite organically.  But when issues, such as baptismal theology, prevent a merger, the groups can still cooperate on other matters.  We Christians have more in common with each other than not.  May we build on that.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 11, 2010

THE FEAST OF ST. BARNABAS THE APOSTLE

THE FEAST OF THE REVEREND VERNON JOHNS, U.S. CIVIL RIGHTS PIONEER