Archive for the ‘Genesis 2’ 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 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.











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.








Week of 5 Epiphany: Thursday, Year 1   11 comments

Above:  Ruins at Tyre, Lebanon

Image Source = Heretiq

Against Prejudices

FEBRUARY 9, 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 2:18-25 (Richard Elliott Friedman, 2001):

And YHWH God said,

It’s not good for the human to be by himself.  I’ll make for him a strength corresponding to him.

And YHWH God fashioned from the ground every animal of the field and every bird of the skies and brought it to the human to see what he would call it.  And whatever the human would call call it, each living being, that would be its name.  And the human gave names to every domestic animal and bird of the skies and every animal of the field.  But He did not find for the human a strength corresponding to him.

And YHWH God caused a slumber to descend on the human, and he slept.  And He took one of his ribs and closed flesh in its place.  And YHWH God built the rib that He had taken from the human into a woman and brought her to the human.  And the human said,

This time is it:  bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh.  This will be called ‘woman,’ for this one was taken from ‘man.’

On account of this a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his woman, and they become one flesh.

And the two of them were naked, the human and his woman, and they were not embarrassed.

Psalm 128 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Happy are they all who fear the LORD,

and who follow in his ways!

2 You shall eat the fruit of your labor;

happiness and prosperity shall be yours.

3 Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine from within your house,

your children like olive shoots round about your table.

4 The man who fears the LORD

shall thus indeed be blessed.

5 The LORD bless you out of Zion,

and may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life.

6 May you live to see your children’s children;

may peace be upon Israel.

Mark 7:24-30 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Then he got up and left that place and went off to the neighbourhood of Tyre.  There we went into a house and wanted no one  to know where he was.  But it proved impossible to remain hidden.  For no sooner had he got there, than a woman who had heard about him, and who had a daughter possessed by an evil spirit, arrived and prostrated herself before him.  She was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth, and she asked him to drive the evil spirit out of her daughter.  Jesus said to her,

You must let the children have all they want first.  It is not right, you know, to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.

But she replied,

Yes, Lord, I know, but even the dogs under the table eat the scraps that the children leave.

Jesus said to her,

If you can answer like that, you can go home!  The evil spirit has left your daughter.

And she went back to her home and found the child lying quietly on her bed, and the evil spirit gone.


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.


Tyre was a splendid city in the time of Jesus.  Today the ruins from that time are treasures of archaeology.  The city, located today in southern Lebanon, was also a Gentile domain.  Jesus seems not to have had qualms about being surrounded by Gentiles, who were “the other,” according to many of his co-religionists.  Jews were the Chosen People; Gentiles were not.  There were parts of the Jerusalem Temple complex Jews could enter but Gentiles could not.  And Gentile “God fearers,” who believed in the Jewish deity, were marginal because religious authorities decided they were.

Based on the internal evidence of the story and its placement within the Markan Gospel (immediately after a discourse on ritual cleanliness and uncleanliness), I conclude that the comments about feeding dogs were not sincere.  Rather, they constituted a test; they were a prompt for the Syrophoenecian woman to provide the desired rebuttal.  And Justa (as tradition calls her) secured deliverance for he daughter (known to tradition as Bernice) and became emblematic of the fact that Gentiles, too, may partake of grace.   Grace is inclusive, not exclusive.

Today we read this story and this analysis.  I, as a Gentile, agree that grace extends to me, as well as to the Jews.  But I should not stop there, and neither should you.  Part of the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that it continues to challenge our comfort zones.  Are we listening to these challenges, though?  So I ask you, as I ask myself the same question:  Who are our (my) Gentiles?

The psalm and the reading from Genesis speak of men and women.  The beautiful creation mythology from Genesis (so far) speaks of primordial innocence and gender equality.  This is apparent in the Hebrew, in which “helper” can also mean “strength;” thus the woman is the man’s “corresponding strength.”  And, in the Hebrew, as Richard Elliott Friedman writes in his commentary, Genesis 2:23 can also read in English as, “…This will be called ‘woman,” for this one was taken from ‘her man.”  This is parallel to “his woman” just one verse later.  The possessive pronoun does not indicate domination of one over the other.

Much of the narrative of the Christian Bible consists of the consequences of the end of primordial paradise and the divine efforts to restore humans to that state.  The human story in the Bible begins with paradise and ends with the New Jerusalem.  So we ought not to internalize socially defined concepts of inequality (with regard to race, gender, et cetera) and think that they are God’s will.  We should treasure and delight in each other, for everyone bears the image of God.  This is hard, and all fall short of the mark.

I am a history buff.  As such I recall a speech Sandra Day O’Connor, now retired from the United States Supreme Court, gave years ago.  She was working as an attorney in Arizona in the 1960s.  By state law, her husband received her paycheck.  Many people today like to criticize feminism, but feminists (literally those who believe in the equality of men and women) got such unjust laws overturned.  As a feminist and a heterosexual, I affirm that women are wonderful, many are beautiful, and all are equal to men.  Any individual or institution which does not affirm this equality in practice is in error.  Thus I affirm the ordination of women, for example.

Which prejudices do I affirm, consciously or unconsciously?  I need grace to make these and the error of them obvious to me, as well as to purge them.  Which prejudices do you affirm, consciously or unconsciously?  You, too, need grace to make these and the error of them obvious to you, as well as to purge them.  May the purging commence, or continue.


Week of 5 Epiphany: Wednesday, Year 1   11 comments

Above: A Sink

Image Source = Mets501

Actual and Imagined Purity

FEBRUARY 8, 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 2:4b-9, 15-17 (Richard Elliott Friedman, 2001):

These are the records of the skies and the earth when they were created:  In the sky that YHWH made earth and skies–when all produce of the field had not yet been in the earth, and all vegetation of the field had not yet grown, for YHWH God had not rained on the earth, and there had been no human to work the ground, and a river had come up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground–

YHWH God fashioned a human, dust from the ground, and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the human became a living being.

And YHWH God planted a garden in Eden at the east, and He set the human whom He had fashioned there.  And YHWH God caused every tree that was pleasant to the sight and good for eating to grow from the ground, and the tree of life within the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and bad.

And YHWH God took the human and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and to watch over it.  And YHWH God commanded the human, saying,

You may eat from every tree of the garden.  But from the tree of knowledge of good and bad:  you shall not eat from it, because in the day you eat from it:  you’ll die!

Psalm 104:25, 28-31 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

25 O LORD, how manifold are your works!

in wisdom you have made them all;

the earth is full of your creatures.

28 All of them look to you

to give them their food in due season.

29 You give it to them; they gather it;

you open your hand, and they are filled with good things.

30 You hide your face, and they are terrified;

you take away their breath,

and they die and return to their dust.

31 You send forth your Spirit, and they are created;

and so you renew the face of the earth.

Mark 7:14-23 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Then he called the crowd close to him again, and spoke to them,

Listen to me now, all of you, and understand this.  There is nothing outside a man which can enter into him and make him “common”.  It is the things which come out of a man that make him “common!

Later, when he had gone indoors away from the crowd, his disciples asked him about this parable.

He said,

Oh, are you as dull as they are?  Can’t you see that anything that goes into a man from outside cannot make him ‘common’ or unclean?  You see, it doesn’t go into his heart, but into his stomach, and passes out of the body altogether, so that all food is clean enough.  But,

he went on,

whatever comes out of a man, that is what makes a man ‘common’ or unclean.  For it is from inside, from men’s hearts and minds, that evil thoughts arise–lust, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly!  All these evil things come from inside a man and make him unclean!


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.


One of the advantages to reading Biblical passages, especially those familiar to one, in translations (not just one version) is finding shades of meaning emphasized in various ways.  The J. B. Phillips New Testament in Modern English, the second edition of which I have quoted, is wonderful in that it fulfills this function well.

Compare the Phillips translation to other versions.  Phillips says “make a man ‘common.'”  More traditional translations say “defile him.”  What is it about being “common” that is allegedly defiling?  Ritual uncleanliness–in this case, tied to the washing of one’s hands before eating–was part of a purity code.  To be pure ritually was to be separate from–excuse the double entendre–the great unwashed.  I think of a parable Jesus told elsewhere.  A Pharisee and a tax collector (a tax thief and a Roman collaborator) were praying in the same space.  The Pharisee thanked God that he was not like the tax collector and listed a catalog of his good works.   But the tax collector was humble before God, and he went away justified.

I have DVDs (available from the Learning Company) of Luke Timothy Johnson teaching about the Gospels.  Professor Johnson states that one of the themes in Mark is that the seeming insiders really are not insiders.  This analysis holds up well, based on my reading of that canonical Gospel.  What is more seemingly “inside” than the religious establishment?  Many of these people liked to cling to notions of ritual purity.  But, as Jesus tells us, that misses the point.  What is inside makes us pure or impure; what we consume does not.

The first part of the second creation myth from Genesis tells us that God breathed life into Adam.  I leave the details of life and evolution to scientists, and the specifics of theology to theologians.  Each is a different way of knowing, and both are valuable.  The myth does contain truths, and among them is this one:  we are all precious in the eyes of God.  We have that in common.

Imagined purity functions to define the allegedly pure as such and the different others as impure.  It reinforces class systems and religious prejudices.  Yet God, as the prophet Samuel said, does not look at us as we look at each other; God looks at who and what we really are.  Therein lies our purity or lack thereof.

Our challenge today is to examine ourselves and check ourselves for any indication of a fixation on ritual purity, regardless of the form it takes.  Are we viewing others as God perceives them, or in a way conducive to reinforcing our egos?

Miserere mei Deus.


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.