Archive for the ‘Genesis 1’ Tag

Devotion for the Third Sunday of Advent, Year D (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Detail from The Creation of Adam, by Michelangelo Buonarroti

Image in the Public Domain

Respecting the Image of God in Others

DECEMBER 12, 2021


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


Genesis 1:26-2:3

Psalm 24

1 John 4:1-21

John 1:14-18


Genesis 1:26f tells us that human beings bear the image of God.  This is not a physical description.  No, the meaning of of “image of God” is profound.

Dr. Richard Elliott Friedman, a Jewish scholar of the Bible, tells us:

Whatever it means, though, it implies that humans are understood here to share in the divine in a way that a lion or cow does not….The paradox, inherent in the divine-human relationship, is that only humans have some element of the divine, and only humans would, by their very nature, aspier to the divine, yet God regularly communicates with them means of commands.  Although made in the image of God, they remain subordinates.  In biblical terms, that would not bother a camel or a dove.  It would bother humans a great deal.

Commentary on the Torah, with a New English Translation and the Hebrew Text (2001), 12

The commandment to do love to each other, especially the vulnerable and the marginalized, has long been a controversial order.  That this has been and remains so speaks ill of people.

Dr. Robert D. Miller, II, a professor at The Catholic University of America, and a translator of The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011), adds more to a consideration to the image of God.  The Hebrew word of “image” is tselem.  It literally means “idol.”

When Genesis 1 says that humanity is the tselem of God, it’s saying if you want to relate to God, relate to your fellow man?

Understanding the Old Testament–Course Guidebook (Chantilly, VA:  The Great Courses, 2019), 9

Biblical authors from a wide span of time hit us over the head, so to speak, with this message.  If we do not understand it yet, we must be either dense or willfully ignorant.

John 1 offers us the flip side of Genesis 1:  The Second Person of the Trinity outwardly resembles us.  Moreover, as one adds other parts of the New Testament, one gets into how Jesus, tempted yet without sin, can identify with us and help us better because of experiences as Jesus of Nazareth, in the flesh.  The theology of the Incarnation, with Jesus being fully human and fully divine, is profound and mysterious.  I know the history of Christian theology well enough to understand that Trinitarian heresies originated with attempts to explain the Trinity rationally.  I prefer to relish the mystery of the Trinity.

We bear the intangible image of God.  Jesus bore the physical image of human beings.   We reach out for God, who reaches out to us.  These are thoughts worthy of every day of the year, but especially during Advent and Christmas.







Devotion for the Second Sunday of Advent, Year D (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Saint John the Evangelist, by Peter Paul Rubens

Image in the Public Domain

Idolatry and Tribalism

DECEMBER 5, 2021


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


Genesis 1:14-25

Psalm 146

1 John 2:7-12; 3:1-3

John 1:6-13


Genesis 1 divides the first six days of creation into two groups–the creation of generalities and domains (the first three days’ work) and the creation of the specifics or the inhabitants of those domains (the work of the fourth, fifth, and sixth days).  The seventh day is the time of the creation of the sabbath.  The sovereignty of God is a theme that pervades this great myth.

God also deserves much love.  As the other three readings tell us, that love (or absence thereof) is manifest in how we behave toward other human beings.  These other human beings also bear the image of God (Genesis 1:27).  I know I am getting ahead of the continuous readings in Genesis.  I am staying on topic, though.

Whoever says he is in the light, yet hates his brother, is still in the darkness.  Whoever loves his brother remains in the light, and there is nothing in him to cause a fall.  Whoever hates his brother is in darkness; he walks in darkness and does not know where he is going because darkness has blinded his eyes.

–1 John 2:9-11, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

That text explains itself.

According to a story that may be apocryphal, the elderly St. John the Evangelist was due to visit a congregation somewhere.  The members gathered in great anticipation on the appointed day.  They watched as men carried the infirmed apostle into the space and sat him down in front of the congregation.  Then St. John said, 

My children, love one another.

Immediately, he motioned for the men to carry him out.  One member of the congregation ran after St. John and asked, in so many words, 

That’s all you came here to say?

The apostle replied,

When you have done that, I will tell you more.

Loving one another can be very difficult.  Deciding to love one another can also prove challenging, albeit easier than effectively acting on the goal.  We need grace to succeed, of course.  Yet grace requires our desire to love one another.  Free will and grace are partners.

I write this post during a period of prolonged and intensified political polarization.  Even the definition of objective reality, as in X caused Y, and Z happened, is often contentious.  More so than in the past, many disagreements start at the point of assuming that those who differ from one are bad, if not evil.  The more generous judgment that that those who disagree are probably good yet misinformed and misguided is increasingly rare.

I notice this unfortunate pattern in topics that range far beyond science, religion, and politics.  I detect this regarding science fiction (one of my favorite topics), too. 

Do you enjoy that series?  Do you not enjoy that movie?  What kind of person are you?  You certainly aren’t a real fan.  I’m a real fan! 

Many criteria can define tribalism.

Whenever we erect idols, whether tangible or intangible, we set ourselves up for this.  We do this to ourselves and each other.  We can choose never to do this.  We can also choose to cease and desist from doing this.  We can opt to repent of our idolatry and tribalism.

May we do so.  May we love God.  May we love ourselves and each other.






Devotion for the First Sunday of Advent, Year D (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Sunrise

Image in the Public Domain

Photographer = Steve Hillebrand, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service


NOVEMBER 28, 2021


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


Genesis 1:1-13

Psalm 89

1 John 1:1-2:2

John 1:1-5


Changing circumstances can alter how one reads texts one has read many times already.  The texts remain constant.  What one brings to them does not.

I write this post during a pandemic that is becoming worse for a number of reasons.  Irresponsible human behavior is the primary reason for the COVID-19 pandemic becoming more severe.  I write this post during a time of intensified global liminality.  Behaviors that were polite prior to the pandemic have become hazardous to one’s health and the health of others.  Hugging and singing can be lethal now.  The world is in a liminal state.

The Humes lectionary has us reading Genesis 1:1-2:3 alongside John 1:1-18, with both texts spread across three weeks.  This is wonderful scheduling on a lectionary, for the first (second one written) creation myth in Genesis is the model for John 1:1-18.  Likewise, adding 1 John to the mix deepens the parallels.  1 John 1:1-3 resembles the beginning of the Gospel of John.

I side with Jewish theology against Roman Catholic theology regarding the beginning of Genesis:  this is a mythical account of God creating order from chaos, not something from nothing.  The Jewish interpretation fits the text, as I have affirmed for years.  This year, in particular, that interpretation resonates with current events.  I wait for God to create order from chaos again.

The light still shines in the darkness.  The darkness continues to fail to overpower the light.  The darkness remains persistent, though.  Its repeated attempts wear me down emotionally and spiritually.  God is that light, so the darkness will never overpower the light, fortunately.

Psalm 89 is of two moods–grateful and distressed.  After reading commentaries, I do not know if the text is a pre-Babylonian Exilic prayer reworked during that Exile or if it is of Exilic origin.  Anyhow, the text, as we have it, feels like a prayer from a period of spiritual despair.

Waiting can be difficult.  I also know the discomfort of having to endure distress.  A prayer I have uttered many times is a variation on,

What is taking you so long, God?

Liminality is an uncomfortable status.  Alas, it is our status as a species, O reader.  May we trust God and behave responsibly, collectively and individually.  Only God can save the world.  We have the power, however, to help or charm ourselves and each other.











Proper for the Incarnation   2 comments

Above:  Icon of Christ Pantocrator

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor


Lord Jesus Christ, fully human and fully divine,

thank you for the glorious mystery of your Incarnation,

essential to the Atonement, and therefore, our salvation.

May we, affirming your full humanity and full divinity without necessarily understanding them,

grow, by grace, into our full stature as human beings and achieve our full potential in God.

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Genesis 1:26-31

Psalm 110

Hebrews 1:1-14

John 1:1-18





Adapted from this post:



Devotion for Monday and Tuesday After the First Sunday After the Epiphany, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Abraham and the Angels

Above: Abraham and the Angels

Image in the Public Domain

Mercy, Faith, and Holiness

JANUARY 8 and 9, 2024


The Collect:

Holy God, creator of light and giver of goodness, your voice moves over the waters.

Immerse us in your grace, and transform us by your Spirit,

that we may follow after your Son, 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 22


The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 17:1-13 (Monday)

Exodus 30:22-28 (Tuesday)

Psalm 69:1-5, 30-36 (Both Days)

Romans 4:1-12 (Monday)

Acts 22:2-16 (Tuesday)


I will praise the Name of God in song;

I will proclaim his greatness with thanksgiving.

This will please the LORD more than an offering of oxen,

more than bullocks with horns and hoofs.

The afflicted shall see and be glad;

you who seek God, your heart shall live.

For the LORD listens to the needy,

and his prisoners he does not despise.

Let the heavens and the earth praise him,

the seas and all that moves in them;

For God will save Zion and rebuild the cities of Judah;

they shall live there and have it in possession.

The children of his servants will inherit it,

and those who love his Name will dwell therein.

–Psalm 69:32-38, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


Genesis 17 tells one version (the Priestly story) of God’s covenant with Abraham.  It duplicates much material from the Yahwistic account in Genesis 15 and adds details about circumcision and Sarah’s pregnancy.  The P account is a story about the graciousness and power of God and one man’s trust in the deity.  Unfortunately, as the saga of Abraham unfolded, the great patriarch came to value his relationship with God so much that he acted in ways which damaged his closest human relationships.  I would not have wanted to have been one of Abraham’s sons.

God approached a mortal in Genesis 17.  The instructions regarding the sacred anointing oil in Exodus 30:22-28 concerned how people should approach God–with the utmost reverence, OR ELSE.  There was a chasm between humans and God (the holy one) in much of the Old Testament.  Much later, when St. Paul the Apostle preached about Jesus, many people wanted to cut him off from the land of the living.  He had committed blasphemy, they thought.

St. Paul had a higher opinion of Abraham than I do, but the Apostle had a valid point in Romans 4, for the patriarch preceded the Law of Moses.  Abraham did manifest active trust in God when he was still Abram, as the Apostle pointed out.  And Genesis describes a very close relationship between God and Abraham; they were on speaking terms, face-to-face, according to the texts.

We should, while avoiding extremes (such as seeking to kill people in the name of God) approach God with deep awe and love.  We worship the deity, who has not only approached us but incarnated and became one of us.  And we have a commandment to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, to respect the image of God in them.  May we act accordingly, trusting in God and recognizing the limits of our abilities and knowledge.  And may we value being merciful more than being correct in our minds.









Devotion for December 27, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Madonna and Child

Above:  Madonna and Child

Image in the Public Domain

God With Us

DECEMBER 27, 2023


The Collect:

All-powerful and unseen God, the coming of your light

into our world has brightened weary hearts with peace.

Call us out of darkness, and empower us to proclaim the birth of your Son,

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 20


The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 33:18-23

Psalm 148

1 John 1:1-9


Praise the LORD.

Praise the LORD from the heavens;

praise him in the heights above.

Praise him, all his angels;

praise him, all his hosts.

Praise him, sun and moon;

praise him, all you shining stars;

praise him, you highest heavens,

and you waters above the heavens.

Let them praise the name of the LORD,

by his command they were created;

he established them for ever and ever

by an ordinance which shall never pass away.

–Psalm 148:1-6, Revised English Bible (1989)


Psalm 148:1-6 uses mythological language to praise God, the Creator.  (One cannot be an intellectually honest Creationist unless one thinks that the world is a flat, with water below, a dome above, and water above that, for such is the description of the world in Genesis 1:1-2:4a.)  The majesty of that deity is evident also in Exodus 33:18-23, where nobody may see God’s face and live.  Yet, as 1 John 1:1-9 reminds us, God (the Second Person of the Trinity, actually) took human form and became fully human.

We repeat, we really saw and heard what we are now writing to you about.   We want you to be with us in this–in this fellowship with the Father, and Jesus Christ his Son.  We write and tell you about it, so that our joy may be complete.

–1 John 1:3-4, J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English–Revised Edition (1972)

I have concluded that the first important statement about Jesus of Nazareth is that he lived among people, had contact with them, and ate and drank with them.  He was no Gnostic phantom.  Many of the Christian claims about Jesus echo statements about other supposed saviors of the world.  Those alleged saviors, however, never existed.  A figment of human imaginations cannot save anyone from anything.  The physical reality of Christ helps provide credibility to other vital statements about him.

December 27 is the third day of Christmas, a celebration of our Lord and Savior’s physicality.  As 1 John 1:1 says, people had opportunities to observe and hold in their hands “something of the Word of life”–J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English–Revised Edition (1972).  God has drawn near to us.  May we draw nearer to God and remain there.








Devotion for Thursday and Friday Before the Second Sunday After Epiphany, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   2 comments


Above:  An Abandoned Barn Overwhelmed by Kudzu, 1980

Photographer = Carol M. Highsmith

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-highsm-17546

Human Weaknesses, the Kingdom of God, and Kudzu

JANUARY 12 and 13, 2023


The Collect:

Holy God, our strength and our redeemer,

by your Spirit hold us forever, that through your grace we may

worship you and faithfully serve you,

follow you and joyfully find you,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 22


The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 22:15-25 (Thursday)

Genesis 27:30-38 (Friday)

Psalm 40:1-11 (both days)

Galatians 1:6-12 (Thursday)

Acts 1:1-5 (Friday)


Blessed are those who have put their trust in the Lord:

who have not turned to the proud,

or to those who stray after false gods.

A New Zealand Prayer Book (1989)


Shebna was a high-ranking official in the court of the King of Judah.  This royal steward, according to Isaiah, was unworthy of the position he held and of the elaborate tomb he had had built for himself.  The prophet predicted Shebna’s demotion and the promotion of Eliakim to the post of steward.  As the notes on page 826 of The Jewish Study Bible tell me, Isaiah 36:3; Isaiah 37:2; and 2 Kings 18:18 refer to Eliakim as royal steward.  Isaiah also predicted the downfall of Eliakim, who was also vulnerable to human weaknesses and failings.

Human weaknesses and failings were on full display in Genesis 27:30-38.  Certainly Rebecca and Jacob did not emerge from the story pristine in reputation.  And St. Paul the Apostle, a great man of history and of Christianity, struggled with his ego.  He knew many of his weaknesses and failings well.

Fortunately, the success of God’s work on the planet does not depend upon we mere mortals.  Yes, it is better if we cooperate with God, but the Kingdom of God, in one of our Lord and Savior’s parables, is like a mustard tree–a large, generally pesky weed which spreads where it will.  Whenever I ponder that parable I think about the kudzu just an short drive from my home.  The Kingdom of God is like kudzu.  The divine message of Jesus is like kudzu.  I take comfort in that.

Yet we humans, despite our weaknesses and failings, can cooperate with God.  It is better that way.  It is better for us, certainly.  And it is better for those whom God will reach through us.  The transforming experience of cooperating with God will prove worth whatever price it costs us.







Devotion for November 27 in Advent (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   12 comments

Above:  Christ Pantocrator

Living Faith Versus Insincere Rituals and Ossified Doctrine

NOVEMBER 27, 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 eternal 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:

Isaiah 1:1-28

Psalm 33 (Morning)

Psalms 85 and 91 (Evening)

1 Peter 1:1-12


A Prayer for Proper Priorities:

O Lord, You Gave Your Servant John:


Wash yourselves clean;

Put your evil things

Away from My sight.

Cease to do evil;

Learn to do good.

Devote yourselves to justice;

Aid the wronged.

Uphold the rights of the orphan;

Defend the cause of the widow.

–Isaiah 1:16-17a, TANAKH:   The Holy Scriptures


For the word of the LORD is right,

and all his judgments are sure.

He loves righteousness and justice;

the loving-kindness of the LORD fills the whole earth.

–Psalm 33:4-5, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


This is a great joy to you, even though for a short time yet you must bear all sorts of trials; so that the worth of your faith, more valuable than gold, which is perishable even if it has been tested by fire, may be proved–to your praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.  You have not seen him, yet you love him, and still without seeing him you believe in him and so are already filled with a joy so glorious that it cannot be described; and you are sure of the goal of your faith, that is, the salvation of your souls.

–1 Peter 1:6-9, The New Jerusalem Bible


Rituals can have great value and convey great meaning.  Yet a ritual without sincerity is like a special effect without a relevant plot point; it is meaningless and distracting.  And what constitutes sincerity in this setting?  Isaiah tells us that holiness is the essential element, and that the standard for holiness is objective:  love of one’s fellow human beings and pursuit of social justice.  After all, as we read in Genesis 1, each person bears the image of God.  Faith, when it is what it ought to be, in inherently active.  So Christian faith, rooted in following the example of Jesus, must entail reaching out to the marginalized, as our Lord did.

This devotion is for a fixed date, one which can fall in either Advent or the Season after Pentecost, depending on the day of the week on which December 25 falls. The readings work well on both sides of the seasonal boundary line.  An old name for the Season after Pentecost or the latter part thereof is Kingdomtide, with an emphasis on demonstrated righteousness.  And Advent, as a preparatory season for Christmas, contains a penitential element.

The take-away for today is this:  Are you, O reader, keeping rituals yet mocking God by not even trying to uphold human dignity?  If so, what will you do about that?  The Incarnation of Jesus affirms the dignity of human nature, does it not?  Faith ought to be about lived orthodoxy, not adherence to fossilized and ossified doctrine consisting mostly or entirely of words.









First Sunday after the Epiphany: The Baptism of Our Lord, Year B   14 comments

Above:  Ubari Oasis in Libya

The Waters of Life

JANUARY 7, 2024


Genesis 1:1-5 (New Revised Standard Version):

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.  Then God said,

Let there be light;

and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.  God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.  And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Psalm 29 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Ascribe to the LORD, you gods,

ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.

Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;

worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.

3 The voice of the LORD is upon the waters;

the God of glory thunders;

the LORD is mighty upon the waters.

4 The voice of the LORD is a powerful voice;

the voice of the LORD is a voice of splendor.

The voice of the LORD breaks the cedar trees;

the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon;

6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,

and Mount Hermon like a young wild ox.

The voice of the LORD splits the flames of fire;

the voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness;

the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The voice of the LORD makes the oak trees writhe

and strips the forest bare.

9 And in the temple of the LORD

all are crying, “Glory!”

10 The LORD sits enthroned above the flood;

the LORD sits enthroned as King for evermore.

11 The LORD shall give strength to his people;

the LORD shall give his people the blessing of peace.

Acts 19:1-7 (New Revised Standard Version):

While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples.  He said to them,

Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?

They replied,

No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.

Then he said,

Into what then were you baptized?

They answered,

Into John’s baptism.

Paul said,

John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.

On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.  When Paul had laid his hands on them, they spoke in tongues and prophesied–altogether there were about twelve of them.

Mark 1:4-11 (New Revised Standard Version):

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of forgiveness of sins.  And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.  Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.  He proclaimed,

The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.  I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.

In those days Jesus came down from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.  And a voice came from heaven,

You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.

The Collect:

Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.


Some Related Posts:

First Sunday after the Epiphany:  The Baptism of Our Lord, Year A:


Genesis 1:

Mark 1:


Water carries much symbolic meaning in the Bible.  The beautiful opening mythology in Genesis assumes that the Earth is founded upon the waters and that waters occupy the space on the other side of the dome of the sky.  So it is that, early in Genesis 1, a wind–the Spirit–from God moves across the face of the primordial waters.  Later, in Exodus, the Hebrew nations is born when it crosses the Sea of Reeds out of Egypt and into the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula.  Indeed, water was especially precious to those Biblical people who lived in or near the desert; water was essential for life.  This comes across in Psalm 1:3, for example:

They [“they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seats of the scornful”] are like trees planted by streams of water,

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

everything they do shall prosper.

(1979 Book of Common Prayer, page 585)

A survival techniques website I have consulted says that one, depending on circumstances, for months without any food.  Yet one’s body requires water daily; indeed, one can survive on just a few quarts of water for days or weeks in some environments.  So there are excellent reasons for the association of water with spiritual life.

Many people think of baptism as something we do.   Yes, we perform the sacramental rite baptism, but it is a sacrament.  As the catechism in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer says regarding the sacraments,

The sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.

Grace, in turn, is

God’s favor towards us, unearned and undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills.

(This material comes from pages 857 and 858 of the Prayer Book.)

Baptism is something God does, and the ritual we perform is a rite of Christian initiation, a ceremony of formal admission to the family of God.  Baptism is properly communal, not individual, in nature.  This is why the gathered congregation takes part in the baptism of a person.

God became human in the form of Jesus of Nazareth, who sought the baptism of John the Baptist.  Hence Jesus identified with us.  It is proper, then, that we identify with him.


Week of 5 Epiphany: Tuesday, Year 1   13 comments

Above:  A Hand-Copied Bible in Latin

What is Good Religion?

FEBRUARY 7, 2023


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.


Genesis 1:20-2:4a (Richard Elliott Friedman, 2001):

And God said,

Let the water swarm with a swarm of living beings, and let birds fly over the earth on the face of the space of the skies.

And God created the big sea serpents and all the living beings that creep, with which the water swarmed, by their kinds, and every winged bird by its kind.  And God saw that it was good.  And God blessed them, saying,

Be fruitful and multiply and fill the water in the seas, and let birds multiply in the earth.

And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.

And God said,

Let the earth bring out living beings by their kind, domestic animal and creeping thing and wild animals by their kind.

And it was so.  And God made the wild animals of the earth by their kind and the domestic animals by their kind and every creeping thing on the ground by their kind.  And God saw that it was good.

And God said,

Let us make a human, in our image, according to our likeness, and let them dominate the the fish of the fish of the sea and the birds of the skies and the domestic animals and all the earth and all the creeping things that creep on the earth.

And God created the human in His image.  He created it in the image of God.  He created them male and female.  And God blessed them, and God said to them,

Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and dominate the fish of the sea and the birds of the skies and every animal that creeps on the earth.

And God said,

Here, I have placed all the vegetation that produces seed that is on the face of the earth for you and every tree, which has in it the fruit of a tree producing seed.  It will be food for you and for all the wild animals of the earth and for all the birds of the skies and for all the creeping things on the earth, everything in which there is a living being; every plant of vegetation, for food.

And it was so.

And God saw everything that He had made, and, here, it was very good.  And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

And the skies and the earth and all their array were finished.  And in the seventh day God finished His work that He had done ceased in the seventh day from all His work that He had done.  And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because He ceased in it from doing all His work, which God had created.

Psalm 8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 O LORD our Governor,

how exalted in your Name is all the world!

2 Out of the mouths of infants and children

your majesty is praised above the heavens.

3 You have set up a stronghold against our adversaries,

to quell the enemy and the avenger.

4 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,

the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,

5 What is man that should be mindful of him?

the son of man that you should seek him out?

6 You have made him but a little lower than the angels;

you adorn him with glory and honor;

7 You gave him mastery over the works of your hands;

you put all things under his feet:

8 All sheep and oxen,

even the wild beasts of the field,

9 The birds of the air, the fish of the sea,

and whatsoever walks in the paths of the sea.

10 O LORD our Governor,

how exalted is your Name in all the world!

Mark 7:1-13 (J. B. Phillips, 1972)

And now Jesus was approached by the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem.  They had noticed that his disciples ate their meals with “common” hands–meaning that they had not gone through a ceremonial washing.  (The Pharisees, and indeed all the Jews, will never eat unless they have washed their hands in a particular way, following a traditional rule.  And they will not eat anything brought in the market until they have first performed their “sprinkling”.  And there are many other things which they consider important, concerned with the washing of cups, jugs, and basins.)  So the Pharisees and the scribes put this question to Jesus,

Why do your disciples refuse to follow the ancient tradition, and eat their bread with “common” hands?

Jesus replied,

You hypocrites, Isaiah described you beautifully when he wrote–

“This people honoureth me with their lips,

But their heart is far from me.

But in vain do they worship me,

Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.”

You are so busy holding on to the precepts of men that you let go the commandment of God!

Then he went on,

It is wonderful to see how you can set aside the commandment of God to preserve your own tradition!  For Moses said, ‘Honour thy father and thy mother” and ‘He that speaketh evil of father or mother, let him die the death.’  But you say, ‘if a man says to his father or his mother, Korban–meaning, I have given God whatever duty I owed to you’, then he need not lift a finger any longer for his father or mother, so making the word of God impotent for the sake of the tradition which you hold.  And this is typical of much of what you do.


The Collect:

Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Last night, after the 6:00 PM Holy Eucharist at my parish, St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia, I told my priest, Beth Long, that I never cease to be amazed by how many points of departure one can take from one day’s lectionary texts.  Invariably, my posts on a Sunday’s readings cover different ground than her sermons.  Both are valid, for the material is rich and varied.  I think of this point now because I detect many wonderful points to make, based on the assigned readings for Tuesday in the Week of 5 Epiphany, Year 1.  Yet I chosen just one path.  Perhaps the others will come up in future posts, for the Bible contains many recurring themes.

What is good religion?  Or, to state the question differently, what makes one religious in a good way?  To cite the Markan account, there is nothing wrong with washing one’s hands before eating.  Indeed, this is healthy.  Jesus was not referring to public health regulations, however; he had bigger fish to fry.  And germ theory was not known at the time.  The ceremonial washing of hands was part of an elaborate theology of ritual cleanliness and uncleanliness, for which Jesus had no use. Our Lord and Savior looked more deeply than that.

The late William Barclay wrote the following paragraph is his commentary on the Gospel of Mark:

There is no greater religious peril than that of identifying religion with outward observance.  There is no commoner religious mistake than to identify goodness with certain so-called religious acts.  Church-going, bible-reading, careful financial giving, even time-honored table-prayer do not make a man a good man.  The fundamental question is, how is a man’s heart toward God and towards his fellow-men?  And if in his heart there are enmity, bitterness, grudges, pride, not all the outward religious observances in the world will make him anything other than a hypocrite.

Who can stand before God as anything other than a hypocrite or an unrepentant sinner?  There might be a few of us on the planet who can do this, but I am not among them.  As for you, O reader, you must answer for yourself:  Are you among this rare, perhaps hypothetical population?  But thanks be to God, who has mercy on us and knows that we are all broken and “but dust.”  Yet it is also true, as the psalm and Genesis tell us, that we bear the image of God and rank above the other creature on the planet.  There is hope for us, and the source for this hope is God.  So may we refrain from placing too much emphasis on either the “dust” description or the “little lower than the angels” description.

But what makes religion good, and what makes one a practitioner of good religion?  The answer is love, which, as the Greek language makes clear, exists in various forms.  There is agape, God’s unconditional love for us.  And there is phileo, or brotherly love.  One might also experience storge, which exists between a parent and a child.  And, of course, there is eros, which is sexual love.  Each love has its proper place, and is good in that place.

I take my point from St. Paul the Apostle, who wrote the justly famous 1 Corinthians 13, which I quote verbatim from the New American Bible:

If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.  And if I have the gift of prophecy, and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind.   It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails.  If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing.  For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.  When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.  At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face.  At present, I know partially; then I shall know fully as I am known.  So faith, hope, and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

The consistent Greek word for love in this passage is agape; “…the greatest of these is agape.”  Agape, which makes religion good, is available to us only via grace.  So let none of us boast, but trust God instead.  The outward signs will follow; they will flow from love.