Archive for the ‘January 3: Tenth Day of Christmas’ Category

Devotion for the Second Sunday After Christmas, Years A, B, C, and D (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple, by William Holman Hunt

Image in the Public Domain

Sonship and Fatherhood

JANUARY 3, 2021

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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 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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Isaiah 61:10-62:3

Psalm 147

Galatians 4:4-7

Luke 2:41-52

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The Reverend George Washington Barrett (d. 1956), a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, as well as one of my great-grandfathers, preached in the early years of the twentieth century that Jesus grew up in a Christian home.  That analysis would have shocked the author of the Gospel of Matthew, who understood Jesus to have been a thoroughly Jewish figure whose life story echoed the history of Israel.  In that Gospel, with its prominent contrast between Heaven and Earth, the young Jesus’s identification of God as his (heavenly) Father while St. Joseph, the man who raised the Messiah, was alive, brought up issues of types of fatherhood.

By faith and grace we are sons of God–members of the divine household.  For the purpose of inclusion, a cause near and dear to my generally liberal heart, certain contemporary translations render the Greek word for “sons” as “children.”  In so doing they lose the connection between the Son of God (4:4) as well as the “Spirit of his Son” (4:6) and each of us as a son of God by God’s actions (4:7), a case St. Paul the Apostle made in a culture in which only sons inherited.  The gendered, seemingly exclusive language is actually inclusive, and the modernized, inclusive, neutered language sacrifices literary and theological subleties.  I know a New Testament scholar who favors translating “sons” as “sons and daughters” rather than “children” for modern readers.  He concedes that doing so sacrifices some meaning while stating that all modern translations sacrifice some meaning.  I favor a translation that sacrifices as little meaning as possible and abhors superficial inclusiveness that makes us feel good and accomplishes little else.

We are, anyway, heirs of God, by faith and grace.  We, the “sons of God,” are not exclusively male or Jewish; we come from many categories, but all of us are in God.  This is wonderful news!  The love of God, although unconditional, imposes the duty of faithful response on its recipients, not all of whom obey.

We can ever repay God, but at least we can be grateful.  The metaphor of God as Father is a wonderful one.  Yes, maternal images for God exist in the Bible, but the paternal ones are on my mind as I write this post, based partially on texts that use the word “father.”  When human fathers disown their children, abuse them, et cetera, the metaphor of God as Father emphasizes the contrast between God and such sub par human fathers.  One might think of St. Joseph, certainly a fine father (He did raise Jesus), but even he had human failings.  As fine a father (as in the man who raises a child) St. Joseph was, we are supposed to understand, God is better.  God is perfect.  God adopts us.  God cares deeply about us.

Do we care deeply about God?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 17, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PATRICK, APOSTLE OF IRELAND

THE FEAST OF EBENEZER ELLIOTT, “THE CORN LAW RHYMER”

THE FEAST OF ELIZA SIBBALD ALDERSON, POET AND HYMN WRITER; AND JOHN BACCHUS DYKES, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HENRY SCOTT HOLLAND, ANGLICAN HYMN WRITER AND PRIEST

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2018/03/17/sonship-and-fatherhood/

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Devotion for the Second Sunday After Christmas (Ackerman)   1 comment

Above:   A Checklist

Image in the Public Domain

Compassion, Not Checklists

JANUARY 3, 2021

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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 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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Isaiah 57:14-19

Psalm 106:47-48

1 John 3:11-14a; 4:1-6

Luke 1:1-4

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The assigned readings for this Sunday, taken together, speak of the importance of knowing God.  Those who love God keep divine commandments, or at least attempt to do so.  One can succeed by grace, fortunately.  The faithful who receive the crown of martyrdom are still more fortunate than those who trust in idols.

Discerning divine commandments does seem difficult sometimes.  As I read 1 John 3:14b-24, I find some guidance regarding that topic:

  1. Do not hate.
  2. Love each other so much as to be willing to die for each other.
  3. Help each other in financial and material ways.
  4. Do not mistake lip service for sincerity.

Those instructions are concrete, not abstract.  And, by acting accordingly, we demonstrate the presence of the Holy Spirit within ourselves.

I notice the emphasis on compassion, not checklists.  Legalism is a powerful temptation.  Indeed, many who fall into that trap do so out of the sincere desire to honor God.  Yet they wind up fixating on minor details and forgetting compassion frequently instead of remembering the big picture:  compassion, such as that of the variety that Jesus modeled all the way to the cross.

Living compassionately is far more rigorous a standard than is keeping a moral checklist.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 30, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF JAMES MONTGOMERY, HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHN ROSS MACDUFF AND GEORGE MATHESON, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN MINISTERS AND AUTHORS

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2017/04/30/compassion-not-checklists/

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That Old Sweet Song of Angels   Leave a comment

nativity-and-annunciation-to-the-shepherds

Above:  Nativity and Annunciation to the Shepherds

Image in the Public Domain

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Long ago the angels vanished–

But their song is sounding still!

Millions now with hope are singing,

“Peace on earth, to men good will.”

Sing, my heart!  Tho’ peace may tarry,

Sing good will mid human strife!

Till that old sweet song of angels

Shall attune to heav’n our life.

–William Allen Knight (1863-1957), “Come, My Heart, Canst Thou Not Hear It” (1915), quoted in The Pilgrim Hymnal (1931/1935), Hymn #77

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Part of the mystery of the Incarnation is its counterintuitive nature:  a vulnerable baby was God incarnate.  This truth demonstrates the reality that God operates differently than we frequently define as feasible and effective.  Then again, Jesus was, by dominant human expectations, a failure.  I would never claim that Jesus was a failure, of course.

If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat;

and if they are thirsty, give them water to drink;

for you will heap coals of fire on their heads,

and the LORD will reward you.

–Proverbs 25:22, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Speaking of counterintuitive ways of God, shall we ponder the advice of St. Paul the Apostle in Romans 12:14-21?

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.  If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  No, if your enemies are hungry, feed them, if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

That old sweet song of angels will not attune to heaven our life if we ignore this sage advice–if we fail to overcome evil with good.  How we treat others indicates more about what kind of people we are than about what kind of people they are.  If we react against intolerance with intolerance, we are intolerant.  We also add fuel to the proverbial fire.  Is not a fire extinguisher better?

As the Master said,

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?  Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others?  Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

–Matthew 5:43-48, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Perfection, in this case, indicates suitability for one’s purpose, which is, in the language of the Westminster Shorter Catechism,

to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

–Quoted in The United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, The Book of Confessions (1967)

As the annual celebration of the birth of Christ approaches again, may we who follow him with our words also follow him with our deeds:  may we strive for shalom on a day-to-day basis.  Only God can save the world, but we can leave it better than we found it.

Merry Christmas!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 21, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTY-FIFTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAINT THOMAS THE APOSTLE, MARTYR

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Devotion for the Second Sunday of Christmas (Year D)   1 comment

John the Baptist in Prison

Above:  John the Baptist in Prison, by Josef Anton Hafner

Image in the Public Domain

Good Liturgy and the Covenant Written on Our Hearts

JANUARY 3, 2021

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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 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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Exodus 25:1-40

Psalm 73

Matthew 11:1 (2-11) 12-15 (16-19) 20-24 (25-30) or Luke 7:18-35

Hebrews 8:1-13

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But for me it is good to be near God;

I have made the Lord GOD my refuge,

to tell of all your works.

–Psalm 73:28, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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Hebrews 8 speaks of an internalized covenant, the law written on human hearts.  This is an echo of Jeremiah 31:31-34.  It is a covenant not written on the hearts of certain Pharisees and scribes in Luke 7.  When one reads the entirety of Luke 7 one realizes that the Pharisees and scribes in question were guilty of obsessing over minor details while twisting the law to accept financial donations that impoverished innocent third parties.  Thus these particular religious people were guilty of violating the principle of the Law of Moses that prohibits economic exploitation.  One also learns that a Gentile woman had the covenant written on her heart.  Likewise, those who criticized St. John the Baptist for his asceticism and Jesus for eating and drinking were seeking excuses to condemn others.  They did not have the covenant written on their hearts.

There is no fault in maintaining sacred spaces and beautiful rituals.  We mere mortals need sacred spaces that differ from other spaces and rituals that inspire our souls.  Good liturgy should make us better people.  It if does not, the fault is with us.  May it inspire us to recognize and serve God in each other.  May good liturgy, in conjunction with the covenant written on our hearts, help us find ways to act as effectively on divine principles, for the maximum benefit to others and the greatest possible glory to God.  May we refrain from carping language that tears others down and seek ways to build them up, for we are stronger together in the body of faith.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 1, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SUNDAR SINGH, INDIAN CHRISTIAN EVANGELIST

THE FEAST OF DAVID PENDLETON OAKERHATER, EPISCOPAL DEACON

THE FEAST OF SAINT FIACRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC HERMIT

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/09/01/good-liturgy-and-the-covenant-written-on-our-hearts/

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Devotion for January 3 and 4, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Oil Lamp

Above:  A Biblical Oil Lamp

Image in the Public Domain

Secrets, Lies, and Misconceptions

THURSDAY, JANUARY 3, 2019, and FRIDAY, JANUARY 4, 2019

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you gave us your only Son

to take on our human nature and to illumine the world with your light.

By your grace adopt us as your children and enlighten us with your Spirit,

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

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 20

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The Assigned Readings:

Job 42:10-17 (January 3)

Isaiah 6:1-5 (January 4)

Psalm 72 (Both Days)

Luke 8:16-21 (January 3)

Acts 7:44-53 (January 4)

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Give the king your judgments, O God,

and your righteousness to the son of a king.

Then shall he judge your people righteously

and your poor with injustice.

–Psalm 72:1-2, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)

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Solomon built the first Temple.  Unfortunately, he used high taxes and forced labor to do so.  So much for justice for the poor!

We cannot keep our secrets forever.  It is good, therefore, that one’s secrets be either positive or morally neutral.  To give to charity anonymously, for example, is a positive secret.  To contribute beauty to the world anonymously for the glory of God is also a virtue.  I think, for example, of William Arthur Dunkerley (1852-1941), who went to much effort to keep the secret that he was the novelist, poet, and religious writer John Oxenham.  Authors and editors of hymnal companion volumes from his lifetime did not know the actual identity of John Oxenham.  (I know, for I own such books from that time period.)

Why we keep secrets matters.  Sometimes it is simply a matter of privacy.  “None of your business” is frequently a legitimate reason.  Keeping a secret so that glory will go to God, one oneself, is a good reason, as I have argued.  Yet covering up something negative, although perhaps successful for a period of time, will fail, at least in the ultimate court of justice–that of God.

The majesty and mystery of God, in whose presence we are not worthy to stand, is awe-inspiring.  That majesty and mystery also becomes an unfortunate excuse to dodge proper questions which warrant real answers.  In the Book of Job, for example, God permitted the titular character to suffer as a test of his loyalty.  Job insisted correctly on his innocence (to which the text attests).  Job deserved a real answer from God.  Instead he received the “I’m God and you’re not” reply.  Then he recanted.  The tacked-on happy ending, in which God restores Job’s riches and gives him more children, does not satisfy me.  The God of the Book of Job is a figure to recoil from in terror, not to love.

A faithful, awe-filled response to God, who exceeds human capacity of comprehension, includes loving and glorifying God, enjoying God, and loving one’s neighbor as one loves oneself.  Attitudes lead to actions.  So, without falling into the heresy of Pietism, I affirm the principle of the Letter of James that works matter.  So does being careful regarding what one says and writes about the character of God.  Many people have used God as an excuse to justify their bigotry and violence.  Some of them wrote parts of scripture.  The standard for me is Jesus of Nazareth, God incarnate.  Understandings of God have changed and continue to do so, but Christ is constant.  And that is no secret.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 25, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MICHAEL FARADAY, SCIENTIST

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/08/25/secrets-lies-and-misconceptions/

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Devotion for January 3 and 4, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Tobias Saying Goodbye to His Father

Above:  Tobias Saying Good-Bye to His Father, by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Image in the Public Domain

Tobit had suffered for acting faithfully and compassionately.  His son took great risks to help him in the Book of Tobit.

Divine Commandments, the Image of God, and Spiritual Struggles

JANUARY 3 and 4, 2021

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The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God, you revealed the incarnation of your Son by the brilliant shining of a star.

Shine the light of your justice always in our hearts and over all lands,

and accept our lives as the treasure we offer in your praise and for your service,

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

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 21

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The Assigned Readings:

Proverbs 1:20-33 (January 3)

Proverbs 3:1-12 (January 4)

Psalm 110 (Both Days)

James 4:1-10 (January 3)

James 4:11-17 (January 4)

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The king at your right hand, O Lord,

shall smite down kings in the day of his wrath.

In all his majesty, he shall judge the nations,

smiting heads over all the wide earth.

–Psalm 110:5-6, Common Worship (2000)

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The assigned readings for these two days include generous amounts of divine judgment and mercy.  Obey God’s instructions, they say, and life will be better in the short, medium, and long terms than if one disregards them.  Some of the content in Proverbs leans in the direction of Prosperity Theology, unfortunately.  Nevertheless, as other passages of scripture indicate, those who suffer for the sake of righteousness do so in the company of God.

James 4, along with the rest of that epistle, focuses on human actions and their spiritual importance.  In the Letter of James faith is intellectual, hence the epistle’s theology of justification by works.  This does not contradict the Pauline theology of justification by faith, for faith, in Pauline theology, is inherently active.  These two parts of the New Testament depart from different places and arrive at the same destination.  Recognizing the image of God in others then treating them accordingly is a loving thing to do.  It is a faithful thing to do.  It is also a frequently dangerous thing to do.

This is a devotion for two days leading up to the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6), the commemoration of the Magi, who put their lives on hold for years and took many risks.  The Epiphany is also a feast about the Gospel of Jesus going out to the Gentiles, of which I am one.  Part of the significance of the Feast of the Epiphany in my life is the reality that people (especially those different from me) are more than they appear; they are bearers of the divine image.  As such, they have inherent dignity and potential.  Sometimes I recognize this reality easily in others, but I have a certain difficulty sometimes in recognizing it in those who have wronged me.  That is a spiritual issue which James 4:11-12 tells me to address.  Grace is available for that, fortunately.

Each of us has spiritual failings to address.  May you, O reader, deal with yours successfully, by grace.  May you obey God’s commandments and live compassionately, regardless of the costs.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 9, 2014 COMMON ERA

PROPER 27:  THE TWENTY-SECOND SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR A

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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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/11/10/divine-commandments-the-image-of-god-and-spiritual-struggles/

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An Invitation to Observe a Holy Christmas   1 comment

church-of-the-common-ground-december-24-2011

Above:  Episcopal Church of the Common Ground, Atlanta, Georgia, December 24, 2011

Image Source = Bill Monk, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

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Merry Christmas!

One of my fellow parishioners observed that a local radio station ceased to play Christmas music early in the afternoon one Christmas Day a few years ago.  David remarked sarcastically that Christmas must have ended at that time.  I know that he was sarcastic because he observes all twelve days of Christmas–through January 5.

The twelve days of Christmas, when one observes them with the assigned biblical readings for the holy days, take one on a tour through joy and abject grief, through love and hatred, through tenderness and violence.  The Feasts of St. Stephen (December 26) and the Holy Innocents (December 28) function as counterparts to the joy of December 25.  The whole picture tells us that God became incarnate in the form of a helpless infant born into a violent world in which people threatened his life.  Young Jesus survived, of course, but others died because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness is menacing indeed.  Yet, as we read in John 1:5 (The New Jerusalem Bible),

…and the light shines in darkness,

and darkness could not overpower it.

That is an excellent reason to celebrate.  Merry Christmas!

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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