Archive for the ‘January 29’ Category

Devotion for the Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany, Year A (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Chapel of the Beatitudes, Galilee, 1940

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-20815

Faithful Servants of God, Part IV

JANUARY 29, 2023


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 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


Ecclesiastes 3:1-14, 20-22 or Ezekiel 18:1-9, 25-32

Psalm 5

Galatians 2:14-21

Matthew 5:1-12


I, as a member of a monthly book group, have been reading Jonathan T. Pennington’s Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew, a volume that overturns more than a century of scholarly consensus.  Pennington rejects the idea, ubiquitous in sermons, Sunday School lessons, commentaries, and study Bibles, that “Kingdom of Heaven” is a reverential circumlocution–a way to avoid saying “God.”  He posits that “Kingdom of Heaven” actually refers to God’s rule on the Earth, that the “Kingdom of Heaven” is essentially the New Jerusalem, still in opposition to the world.  God will, however, take over the world, thereby resolving the tension.

The Kingdom of Heaven, we read in the Beatitudes, belongs to those who know their need for God and who experience persecution for the sake of righteousness.  They would certainly receive the kingdom, I agree.

Justification is a theme in Galatians 2.  There we read an expression of the Pauline theology of justification by faith, not by works or the Law of Moses.  This seems to contradict James 2:24, where we read that justification is by works and not by faith alone.  It is not actually a disagreement, however, given the different definitions of faith in the thought of James and St. Paul the Apostle.  Both of them, one learns from reading their writings and dictations, affirmed the importance of responding to God faithfully.  The theme of getting one’s act together and accepting one’s individual responsibility for one’s actions fits well with Ezekiel 18, which contradicts the theology of intergenerational guilt and merit found in Exodus 20:5.

How we behave matters very much; all of the readings affirm this.  Thus our actions and inactions have moral importance.  Do we comfort those who mourn?  Do we show mercy?  Do we make peace?  Do we seek to be vehicles of divine grace to others?  Hopefully we do.  And we can succeed, by grace.









Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before the Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment


Above:  Josiah

Image in the Public Domain

Something Old, Something New

JANUARY 27-29, 2022


The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God,

increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and love;

and that we may obtain what you promise,

make us love what you command,

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 23


The Assigned Readings:

2 Chronicles 34:1-7 (Thursday)

2 Chronicles 35:20-27 (Friday)

2 Chronicles 36:11-21 (Saturday)

Psalm 71:1-6 (All Days)

Acts 10:44-48 (Thursday)

Acts 19:1-10 (Friday)

John 1:43-51 (Saturday)


I find my security in you, LORD,

never let me be covered with shame.

You always do what is right,

so rescue me and set me free.

Listen attentively to me and save me.

Be my rock where I can find security,

be my fortress and save me;

indeed you are my rock and fortress.

My God, set me free from the power of the wicked,

from the grasp of unjust and cruel men.

For you alone give me hope, LORD,

I have trusted in you since my early days.

I have leaned on you since birth,

when you delivered me from my mother’s womb.

I praise you continually.

–Psalm 71:1-6, The Psalms Introduced and Newly Translated for Today’s Readers (1989), by Harry Mowvley


The story of King Josiah of Judah (reigned 640-609 B.C.E.) exists in two versions, each with its own chronology.  The account in 2 Chronicles 34:1-35:37 is more flattering than the version in 2 Kings 22:1-23:30.  Both accounts agree that Josiah was a strong king, a righteous man, and a religious reformer who pleased God, who postponed the fall of the Kingdom of Judah.  The decline of the kingdom after Josiah’s death was rapid, taking only about 23 years and four kings.

Josiah’s reforms met with opposition, as did Jesus and nascent Christianity.  The thorny question of how to treat Gentiles who desired to convert was one cause of difficulty.  The decision to accept Gentiles as they were–not to require them to become Jews first–caused emotional pain for many people attached to their Jewish identity amid a population of Gentiles.  There went one more boundary separating God’s chosen people from the others.  For Roman officialdom a religion was old, so a new faith could not be a legitimate religion.  Furthermore, given the commonplace assumption that Gentiles making offerings to the gods for the health of the empire was a civic, patriotic duty, increasing numbers of Gentiles refusing to make those offerings caused great concern.  If too many people refused to honor the gods, would the gods turn their backs on the empire?

Interestingly enough, the point of view of much of the Hebrew Bible is that the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah fell because of pervasive idolatry and related societal sinfulness.  The pagan Roman fears for their empire were similar.  How ironic!

The pericope from John 1 is interesting.  Jesus is gathering his core group of followers.  One Apostle recruits another until St. Nathanael (St. Bartholomew) puts up some opposition, expressing doubt that anything good can come out of Nazareth.  St. Philip tries to talk St. Nathanael out of that skepticism.  “Come and see,” he replies.  Jesus convinces that St. Nathanael by informing him that he (Jesus) saw him (St. Nathanael) sitting under a fig tree.  Father Raymond E. Brown spends a paragraph in the first of his two volumes on the Gospel of John listing a few suggestions (of many) about why that was so impressive and what it might have meant.  He concludes that all such suggestions are speculative.  The bottom line is, in the words of Gail R. O’Day and Susan E. Hylen, is the following:

The precise meaning of Jesus’ words about the fig tree is unclear, but their function in the story is to show that Jesus has insight that no one else has…because of Jesus’ relationship with God.

John (2006), page 33

Jesus was doing a new thing which was, at its heart, a call back to original principles.  Often that which seems new is really old–from Josiah to Jesus to liturgical renewal (including the revision of The Book of Common Prayer).  Along the way actually new developments arise.  Laying aside precious old ideas and embracing greater diversity in the name of God for the purpose of drawing the proverbial circle wider can be positive as well as difficult.    Yet it is often what God calls us to do–to welcome those whom God calls insiders while maintaining proper boundaries and definitions.  Discerning what God calls good and bad from one or one’s society calls good and bad can be quite difficult.  May we succeed by grace.









Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before the Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment


Above:  An Exorcism

Image in the Public Domain

Idolatry and the Sovereignty of God

JANUARY 27-30, 2021


The Collect:

Compassionate God, you gather the whole universe into your radiant presence

and continually reveal your Son as our Savior.

Bring wholeness to all that is broken and speak truth to us in our confusion,

that all creation will see and know your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 23


The Assigned Readings:

Deuteronomy 3:23-29 (Thursday)

Deuteronomy 12:28-32 (Friday)

Deuteronomy 13:1-5 (Saturday)

Psalm 111 (All Days)

Romans 9:6-18 (Thursday)

Revelation 2:12-17 (Friday)

Matthew 8:28-9:1 (Saturday)


The works of the Lord are great,

sought out by all who delight in them.

His work is full of majesty and honour

and his righteousness endures for ever.

–Psalm 111:2-3, Common Worship (2000)


We have a batch of overlapping and difficult passages these three days.  Some (such as Moses in Deuteronomy and a herd of swine in Matthew) suffer for the offenses of others.  People also suffer for their own sins in other passages of Scripture.  All of this falls under the heading of the sovereignty of God in Romans 9, in the theological style of God’s speech at the end of the book of Job.

I recognize the mystery of God and am content to leave many questions unanswered.  Comfort with uncertainty is consistent with my Anglican theology.  Nevertheless, I understand that the sovereignty of God can become something it is not supposed to be–a copout and a seemingly bottomless pit into which to pour one’s ignorance and prooftexting tendencies.  We should never use God to excuse slavery, genocide, sexism, homophobia, racism, and a host of other sins.  Whenever God seems to agree with us all of the time, we ought to know that we have created God in our own image.  We have forged an idol.  And God, according to the Hebrew Scriptures, disapproves of idolatry.










Devotion for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday After the Third Sunday After Epiphany, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   6 comments


Above:  Gideon’s Fountain, Between 1900 and 1920

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-11402

The God of Surprises

JANUARY 27-29, 2020


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


The Assigned Readings:

Judges 6:11-24 (Monday)

Judges 7:12-22 (Tuesday)

Genesis 49:1-2, 8-13, 21-26 (Wednesday)

Psalm 27:1-6 (all days)

Ephesians 5:6-14 (Monday)

Philippians 2:12-18 (Tuesday)

Luke 1:67-79 (Wednesday)


You speak in my heart and say, “Seek my face.”

Your face, LORD, will I seek.

–Psalm 27:8, Book of Common Worship (1993)


Gideon, in Judges 6:13-14a, lamented:

Pray, my lord, if the LORD really is with us, why has all this happened to us?  What has become of all those wonderful deeds of his, of which we have heard from our forefathers, when they told us how the LORD brought us up from Egypt?

The Revised English Bible 

He received his answer and won a victory by God’s power, the subsequent narrative tells us.  This saving, delivering deity was the same God of Jacob and of Sts. Mary and Joseph of Nazareth.  This deity is the God of the baby Jesus also.

I do not pretend to have arrived at a complete comprehension of the nature of God, for some matters exist beyond the range of human capacity to grasp.  Yet I do feel confident in making the following statement:  God is full of surprises.  So we mere mortals ought to stay on the alert for them, remembering to think outside the box of our expectations, a box into which God has never fit.  This is easy to say and difficult to do, I know, but the effort is worthwhile.

The Bible is full of unexpected turns.  Gideon’s army needed to be smaller, not larger.  God became incarnate as a helpless infant, not a conquering hero.  The selling of Joseph son of Jacob into slavery set up the deliverance of two nations.  The hungry will filled and the full will be sent away empty, the Gospel of Luke says.  Outcasts became heroes in parables of Christ.  Saul of Tarsus, a persecutor of nascent Christianity, became one of its greatest evangelists.  The list could go on, but I trust that I have made my point sufficiently.

So, following God, however God works in our lives, may we walk in the light, for the glory of God and the benefit of others.









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.







Devotion for January 29 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   12 comments

Above:  A Crucifix

Victory Over Shame

JANUARY 29, 2022


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


The Assigned Readings:

Zechariah 8:1-23

Psalm 13 (Morning)

Psalms 36 and 5 (Evening)

2 Timothy 1:1-18


Have no fear; take courage!

–Zechariah 8:13b, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures


God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but the Spirit of love and self-control.

2 Timothy 1:7, The New Jerusalem Bible


With this day the Lutheran daily lectionary I am following departs Romans and skips to 2 Timothy, an epistle of doubtful authorship.  It reads as if it comes from Paul during one of his imprisonments.  Yet sober scholarship raises questions about that traditional understanding.  I have no reason to doubt such sober scholarship.  Yet this weblog is more Benedictine in approach than not.  The Benedictine approach to scripture is to read it for formation.  As much as I respect academic analysis–especially of the Bible–I am a devotional writer, not a biblical scholar.

So we have Paul–or someone writing as Paul–addressing Timothy, a younger associate–indeed, an important figure in nascent Christianity.  Timothy was young, and his faith owed much to his mother and grandmother.  As I read the lection from 2 Timothy, the word “ashamed” attracted most of my attention.  Timothy was not supposed to be ashamed of his witness for God or of Paul, a prisoner.  And “Paul” was not ashamed of his incarceration, suffering, and witness for God.  And why not?

…because I know in whom I have put my trust, and I have no doubt at all that he is able to safeguard until that Day what I have entrusted to him.

–2 Timothy 1:12b, The New Jerusalem Bible

Shame and honor are social constructions.  One has shame or honor because others say so.  And often we humans, as social creatures, internalize these standards.  But Jesus overturned these standards by his life, death, and resurrection.  He associated with social outcasts, earned the enmity of many religious elites, and died as a criminal.  Then he did not remain dead.  This demonstrated that, among other things, he was beyond the power of those who had attempted to shame him.

The exiles whom Zechariah addressed knew shame.  Yet they would become a blessing to the nations.  Thus they were to take courage and have no fear because of what God would do.  This was not cheap grace.  No, the people were, among other things, to

Speak the truth to one another, render true and perfect justice in your gates.  And do not contrive evil against one one another, and do not love perjury…..

–Zechariah 8:16-17a, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

Divine grace requires us to become vehicles thereof.  We cannot do this as long as we live fearfully and bound by human concepts of shame and honor.  We are at our worst when we are fearful.  At such times selfishness and cruelty are most prominent in us.  And the cross of Christ was scandalous by Jewish and Roman standards.  One who died on a tree was cursed, the Law of Moses said.  And crucifixion was a Foucaultian (to use an anachronistic adjective) method of execution designed to make an example of one and to cause shame and humiliation.  Yet the cross has become the main Christian symbol, a sign of victory.

By grace and free will (mostly grace, thanks to which we have free will), may our lives reflect this victory.









Before a Bible Study   Leave a comment

Above:  An Old Family Bible

Image Source = David Ball


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,








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Week of 3 Epiphany: Saturday, Year 2   13 comments

Above:  Nathan and King David

Contrition and Consequences

JANUARY 29, 2022


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.


2 Samuel 12:1-25 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

And the LORD sent Nathan to David.  He came to him, and said to him,

There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor.  The rich man had very man flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought.  And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him.  Now there was a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared it for the man who had come to him.

Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan,

As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.

Nathan said to David,

You are the man.  Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, “I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul; and I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if this were too little, I would add to you as much more.  Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight?  You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have slain him with the sword of the Ammonites.  Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.”  Thus says the LORD, “Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives int he sight of this sun.  For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.”

David said to Nathan,

I have sinned against the LORD.

And Nathan said to David,

The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die.  Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child that is born to you shall die.

Then Nathan went to his house.

And the LORD struck the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it became sick.  David therefore besought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in lay all night upon the ground.  And the elders of his house stood beside him, to raise him from the ground; but he would not, nor did he eat food with them.  On the seventh day the child died.  And the servants of David feared to tel him that the child was dead; for they said,

Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spoke to him, and did not listen to us; how then can we say to him the child is dead?  He may do himself some harm.

But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David perceived that the child was dead; and David said to his servants,

Is the child dead?

They said,

He is dead.

Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he went into the house of the LORD, and worshiped; he then went to his own house; and when he asked, they set food before him, and he ate.  Then his servants said to him,

What is this thing that you have done?  You fasted and wept for the child while it was alive; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.

He said,

While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, “Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?”  But now he is dead; why should I fast?  Can I bring him back again?  I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.

Then David comforted his wife, Bathsheba, and went in to her, and lay with her; and she bore a son, and he called his name Solomon.  And the LORD loved him, and sent a message by Nathan the prophet; so he called his name Jedidiah, because of the LORD.

Psalm 51:11-18 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

11 Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and renew a right spirit within me.

12 Cast me not away from your presence

and take not your holy Spirit from me.

13 Give me the joy of your saving help again

and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.

14 I shall teach your ways to the wicked,

and sinners shall return to you.

15 Deliver me from death, O God,

and my tongue shall sing of your righteousness,

O God of my salvation.

16 Open my lips, O Lord,

and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.

17  Had you desired it, I would have offered sacrifice,

but you take no pleasure in burnt-offerings.

18  The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit;

a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Mark 4:35-41 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them,

Let us go across to the other side.

And leaving the crowd, they took him with them, just as he was, in the boat.  And the other boats were with him.  And a great storm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.  But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him and said to him,

Teacher, do you not care if we perish?

And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea,

Peace!  Be still!

And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.  He said to them,

Why are you afraid?  Have you no faith?

And they were filled with awe, and said to one another,

Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?


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.


A Related Post:

Week of 3 Epiphany:  Saturday, Year 1:


The prophet Nathan confronted David, and the King, much to his credit, expressed honest contrition.  Yet this did not prevent the chickens from coming home to roost.  For initial details, begin with the next chapter in 2 Samuel.  Read it for yourself; immerse yourself in the narrative.

Now I explore certain aspects of this day’s reading from 2 Samuel 12.  First, David is familiar with the religious laws, some of which he has violated.  For example, Nathan uses a story about the stealing and killing of a sheep to get David’s attention, and the king says that the thief-killer ought to make fourfold restitution.  This is consistent with Exodus 22:1.  I choose to send you to a text (if you choose to read it), rather than reproduce it here.  Besides, the verses following 22:1 are quite interesting, and sometimes disturbing.

As for the child’s death being the result of his parents’ sins…

This reflects an understanding the origin of suffering which Jesus rejected in more than one passage.  The first example which comes to my mind is Luke 13:1-5 (I am so grateful to own an unabridged concordance!).  For more details, follow this link.  I think also of the story of a man who was born blind.  John 9 speaks of him, and of how some people wondered whose sin had caused his blindness.  For more details, follow this link.  As I heard Donald Armentrout, a Lutheran who helps train Episcopal priests for a living, say about a decade ago, the best way to read the Bible is with “Gospel glasses.”  So Jesus overrides some of the theology in 2 Samuel 12.

That said, expressing regret for one’s sins and changing one’s ways does not negate the consequences of one’s sins.  In other words, one cannot unscramble an egg.  This rule applies beyond sin, applying, for example, to merely bad judgment.  I can think of examples of this in my life, and maybe you, O reader, can identify with this statement.

While we condemn the sin of David recorded in 2 Samuel 11, may we applaud the king for accepting Nathan’s justified and harsh words.  A lesser man would have had Nathan killed.  There was still hope for David.

Some stories haunt me; this is one of them.  I find that sometimes, when trying to make good decisions, I do the opposite, and so I pay for my mistake for years.  It is maddening.  And that speaks of blowback from good intentions, which David did not have in 2 Samuel 11.  I have learned, however, that grace does not erase all consequences of sin, but it does enable one to survive the storm one has stirred up, whether out of ignorance or foolishness or perfidy.

A wise person does learn the correct lessons from the mistakes of others, so may we, as often as possible, avoid duplicating the errors others have committed and stirring up needless whirlwinds.


Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A   23 comments

Above:  The Prophet Micah (Russian Orthodox Icon)

What God Requires of Us

JANUARY 29, 2023


Micah 6:1-8 (New Revised Standard Version):

Hear what the LORD says:

Rise, plead your case before the mountains,

and let the hills hear your voice.

Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the LORD,

and you enduring foundations of the earth;

for the LORD has a controversy with his people,

and he will contend with Israel.

“O my people, what have I done to you?

In what have I wearied you?  Answer me!

For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,

and redeemed you from the house of slavery;

and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.

O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised,

what Balaam son of Beor answered him,

and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,

that you may know the saving acts of the LORD.”

“With what shall I come before the LORD,

and bow myself before God on high?

Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,

with calves a year old?

Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,

with ten thousands of rivers of oil?

Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,

the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

He has told you, O mortal, what is good,

and what does the LORD require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God?”

Psalm 15 (New Revised Standard Version):

O LORD, who may abide in your tent?

Who may dwell on your holy hill?

Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,

and speak the truth from their heart;

who do not slander with their tongue,

and do no evil to their friends,

nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;

in whose eyes the wicked are despised,

but who honor those who fear the LORD;

who stand by their oath even to their hurt;

who do not lend money at interest,

and do not take a bribe against the innocent.

Those who do these things shall never be moved.

1 Corinthians 1:18-37 (New Revised Standard Version):

The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,

and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written,

Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.

Matthew 5:1-12 (New Revised Standard Version):

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


The readings for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A, are counter-cultural in the best possible way.  They point to a divine order distinct from the human status quo.  If you have doubts, read the psalm again and ponder the economic order in much of the world.

The Matthew version of the Beatitudes (distinct from the Luke version) fit neatly with the God-centered counter-culture depicted in Psalm 15.  They depict a great reversal of fortune–a world in which those who grieve receive comfort, the meek inherit the earth, and those who are persecuted have reason to rejoice.  Perhaps the traditional, King James rendering of the first Beatitude obscures its meaning.  What does it mean to be poor in spirit?  The late J. B. Phillips, in the second edition of his New Testament in Modern English (1972), got it right:

How happy are those who know their need for God, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs!

Likewise the second edition of the New Living Translation (2004) has Jesus say,

God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

All of this is consistent with the excerpt from 1 Corinthians, which reminds us that human standards do not bind God.

The reading from Micah is perhaps most famous for the glorious 6:8, but some references in previous verses require explanation.  God had delivered the people of Israel and led them through the wilderness to the promised land with the cooperation of human leaders.  Shittim was the location of the last camp before the Israelites crossed the Jordan River into Canaan; Gilgal was where they camped first after crossing the Jordan.  King Balak had plotted to have Balaam, a prophet-for-hire, curse his (Balak’s) enemies; God made sure that Balaam spoke the truth, regardless of what Balak thought about it.  The capstone of the reading from Micah is 6:8, which contains a brief summary of holiness:  “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly” with God.

So we need to recognize our need for God, cease exploiting each other, and to extend kindness to each other.  This ethic negates much of the economic orders of the world.  As I write these words there is an ongoing corporate competition to decrease wages (and therefore the standard of living) due to lower wages elsewhere on the planet.  Then people cannot afford to keep the economy healthy or to purchase quality items, which have become too expensive for diminished budgets.  U.S. President William McKinley, in office  (whom I quote favorably rarely) stated correctly:

Cheap goods make for cheap men; and cheap men make for a cheap country.

(Historical note:  President McKinley was in office 1897-1901, assassinated early into his second term.)

I have learned of bail bondsmen in communities across the United States making deals with local judges to send non-violent accused to people to jail (not release them, bypassing jail and trusting them to keep their court dates), so that the bail bondsmen can bail these individuals out.  This, of course, is good business for the bail bondsmen, but what about the accused who are poor?  The wealthy accused can afford bail.  And this packing of local jails increases the public costs of incarceration, which is bad for communities.

Much of politics has relied for a very long time on impulses which run contrary to kindness.  Indeed, the great indifference, aversion, or even hostility to objective reality, hence leading to a “don’t confuse me with the facts” mentality proves destructive to the community and the nation.  And what would 24-hour alleged news channels do if they had to report only hard news–you know, the kind rooted in confirmed facts?  Kindness would kill their business model of stirring up the reptilian brain within their viewers–and facts be damned.  What matters most to these purveyors of punditry is a good mad.

Acting kindly can prevent many unnecessary problems for others.  This is not “rocket science;” much of this falls into the Lutheran category of “civic righteousness,” or good deeds we have the power to undertake on our own strength yet which cannot save us from our sins, or ourselves.  We can go far toward making the vision of Micah 6:8 reality, if only we will do so.  Selfishness is not a predetermined condition, for we can be altruistic.  Indeed, there is an evolutionary advantage inherent in altruism; it serves the common good, increasing the odds of the survival of the species.  (I like to listen to science programming on the radio via the Internet.)  So self-interest can take us far.  The missing piece is the one only God can provide.  Then, by grace, we can have a beloved community marked by true justice.


Written on June 16, 2010

Week of 3 Epiphany: Friday, Year 1   16 comments

Above:  Mustard Plant

Diversity Within the Kingdom of God

JANUARY 29, 2021


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.


Hebrews 10:32-39 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated.  For you had compassion on the the prisoners, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.  Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.  For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised.

For yet a little while,

and the coming one shall come and shall not tarry;

but my righteous one shall live by faith,

and if he shrinks back,

my soul has no pleasure in him.

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and keep their souls.

Psalm 37:1-7, 24-25, 41-42 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Do not fret yourself because of evildoers;

do not be jealous of those who do no wrong.

2 For they shall soon whither like the grass,

and like the green grass they fade away.

3 Put your trust in the LORD and do good,

dwell in the land and feed on its riches.

4 Take delight in the LORD,

and he shall give you your heart’s desire.

5 Commit your way to the LORD and put your trust in him,

and he will bring it to pass.

6 He will make your righteousness as clear as the light

and your just dealing as the noonday.

7 Be still and wait for the LORD

and wait patiently for him.

24 Our steps are directed by the LORD;

he strengthens those in whose way he delights.

25 If they stumble, they shall not fall headlong,

for the LORD holds them by the hand.

41 But the deliverance of the righteous comes from the LORD;

he is their stronghold in time of trouble.

42 The LORD will help them and rescue them;

he will rescue them from the wicked and deliver them,

because they seek refuge in him.

Mark 4:26-34 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

And he said,

The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how.  The earth produces of itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.  But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.

And he said,

With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it?  It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.


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.


The mustard bush is not an especially handsome plant, although it can be a large one–as tall as ten feet.  If Jesus had wanted to speak of the kingdom of God–and by extension the body of followers–we call it the Church–in handsome and impressive terms, he could have used the image of a mighty cedar of Lebanon.  But no, he used the analogy of a plant many considered to be huge weed.

This topic requires further investigation.

I write this devotional from northeastern Georgia, U.S.A.  Just a few miles away from where I sit one can see kudzu.  The plant grows and grows then grows some more.  It takes over.  The mustard bush is similar in that, once it starts growing, it continues.

And a variety of creatures take shelter within a mustard bush.  The heterogeneous nature of the denizens is important within this parable.  So, if we accept the mustard plant as an analogy of the Christian Church, we need to leave purity tests behind and remember that we ought not greet just people like ourselves.  This can be truly difficult, for even those of us who think ourselves fairly broad-minded like those similar to ourselves.

So God plants seed and the Church takes root.  Then the Church spreads, and people cannot prevent this.  God is in control, and the Church is home to varied population.  Within that diversity, however, is the commonality of faith tested by endurance.  The Wisdom of Solomon 3:6 reminds us that gold is tested in the fire.  The context for this statement is a section about how the “souls of the righteous are in the hands of God.”

So, my fellow birds, would you rather take shelter in a mighty cedar of Lebanon or in a pesky mustard bush?