Archive for the ‘Hebrews 10’ Tag

Devotion for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year C (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Icon of the Magnificat

Image in the Public Domain

Feeling Uncomfortable

DECEMBER 20, 2020


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


Micah 5:1-5

Luke 1:46-56

Hebrews 10:5-10

Luke 1:39-45


The Fourth Sunday of Advent is, appropriately, a time to focus on the Messiah.  As I wrote in the previous post, Zephaniah 3:14-20 is not a messianic prophecy.  Micah 5:105 is, however.

The Magnificat is a beautiful and a familiar text.  Perhaps the main problem one has when reading a familiar text is going on autopilot.  I challenge you, O reader, as much as I challenge myself, to resist that temptation.  Read the Magnificat again, with eyes as fresh as possible.  Consider the theme of reversal of fortune; that theme is prominent in the Gospel of Luke.  Does that portrayal of God make you uncomfortable?  Does it challenge any of your values?

The Magnificat is one of the texts that remind me of an observation I read on the back of a church bulletin years ago:

The purpose of the Gospel is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.

That description applies to the Gospel of Luke.

Then turn with me, O reader, to Hebrews 10:5-10, usually a text for Good Friday.  One may recall that the Passion Chorale is present in the Christmas Oratorio by Johann Sebastian Bach.  Reading Hebrews 10:5-10 on this Sunday and hearing Hans Leo Hassler‘s Passion Chorale in the Season of Christmas reminds us of why the Incarnation occurred.

That becomes very uncomfortable quite quickly.  If we find it uncomfortable, we need to consider how Jesus felt on the cross.











Devotion for the Second Sunday After the Epiphany (Year D)   1 comment


Above:  Christ Heals a Man Paralyzed by the Gout, by Bernhard Rode

Image in the Public Domain

Building Communities of Shalom

JANUARY 14, 2024


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


Isaiah 26:7-27:1

Psalm 109

Matthew 8:1-4; 9:1-8 or Luke 5:12-26

Hebrews 10:1-4 (10-14) 26-39


May my accusers be clothed with dishonor;

may they be wrapped in their own shame as in a mantle.

–Psalm 109:29, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)


Justice, according to Psalm 109 and Isaiah 26, is for God to deliver the faithful and to smite the evildoers.  I understand the sentiment well, just as I also grasp the reality that prolonged anger can easily become a spiritual toxin.  In small doses and for brief periods of time it might help one make the proper decisions, but its toxicity becomes apparent quickly.  One does better to pray for one’s persecutors, that they may repent, and leave the rest to God.  Not all will repent, unfortunately, and those who persist in perfidy will bring their fates upon themselves.

Lo, I have it all put away,

Sealed up in My storehouses,

To be My vengeance and recompense,

At the time that their foot falters.

Yea, their day of disaster is near,

And destiny rushes upon them.

For the LORD will vindicate His people

And take revenge for His servants,

When He sees that their might is gone,

And neither bond nor free is left….

O nations, acclaim His people!

For He’ll avenge the blood of His servants,

Wreak vengeance on His foes,

And cleanse the land of His people.

–Deuteronomy 32:34-36, 43, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

In the Lukan account of the healing of the paralyzed man he glorifies God immediately, and witnesses become filled with amazement because of the miracle.  It is easy to maintain faith in God during good times, but a different matter during difficult times.  That is part of the reason for the existence of the Letter to the Hebrews, with its encouragement of perseverance and warning against committing apostasy, of falling away from God.

I have learned via living that faith in God is essential to getting through dark chapters in life as well as possible.  I have also learned that the light of God seems to burn brightest in the darkness and that grace seems most evident during times of distress.  The faithful do not walk exclusively in paths of pleasantness.  Neither do they walk alone.  They trusting in God, can focus on the positive and seek to build communities of shalom.








Devotion for Thursday and Friday Before the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Christ Pantocrator

Above:  Christ Pantocrator

Image in the Public Domain

Apostasy and Fidelity

DECEMBER 16 and 17, 2021


The Collect:

Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come.

With your abundant grace and might,

free us from the sin that binds us,

that we may receive you in joy and serve you always,

for you live and reign with the Father and

the Holy Spirit, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 20


The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 31:31-34 (Thursday)

Isaiah 42:10-18 (Friday)

Psalm 80:1-7 (Both Days)

Hebrews 10:10-18 (Thursday)

Hebrews 10:32-39 (Friday)


Restore us, O God of hosts;

show us the light of your countenance,

and we shall be saved.

–Psalm 80:7, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


The motif of divine judgment and mercy continues in the readings for these days.  Exile will come to pass.  According to the theology of the Old Testament, the main cause was disobedience to the Law of Moses.  After the exile, however, divine mercy will shower upon the Hebrews.  The new covenant will be one written on human hearts, not scrolls or stone tablets.

Divine forgiveness for human sins is a blessing and an expression of grace.  It also creates an obligation to respond favorably to God, out of awe and gratitude.  Such a favorable response will affect those around the one responding accordingly.  How can it not?  Consider, O reader, the commandment to love one’s neighbor as one loves oneself.  That one has societal implications.

The Letter to the Hebrews warns against committing apostasy, or falling away from God.  That emphasis is evident in 10:32-39.  One cannot fall away from God unless one has followed God.  As I wrote in the previous post,

Salvation…is a matter of God’s grace and human obedience.

Divine love for human beings is wonderful.  It does not, however, negate free will.  I recognize a role for predestination also, for I have come to accept the doctrine of Single Predestination, which is consistent with Lutheranism and Anglicanism, as well as moderate Calvinism.  For those not predestined to Heaven the witness of the Holy Spirit is available.  By free will (itself a gift of God) one can accept or reject that witness.  The correct choice is acceptance, but many opt to reject the offer.  Some of them had accepted it.

The responsibility to make the correct choice remains constant.  The necessity of choosing to persist in the faith is a constant once one has embraced wondrous grace.






Devotion for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday After the Eighth Sunday After Epiphany, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Common Raven

Above:  A Common Raven, March 2004

Photographer = Dave Menke

Image Source = U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service


FEBRUARY 28, 2011

MARCH 1 AND 2, 2011


The Collect:

God of tender care, like a mother, like a father,

you never forget your children, and you know already what we need.

In our anxiety give us trusting and faithful hearts,

that in confidence we may embody the peace and justice

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 25


The Assigned Readings:

Deuteronomy 32:1-14 (Monday)

1 Kings 17:1-16 (Tuesday)

Isaiah 66:7-13 (Wednesday)

Psalm 104 (All Days)

Hebrews 10:32-39 (Monday)

1 Corinthians 4:6-21 (Tuesday)

Luke 12:22-31 (Wednesday)


All of these look to you to give them their food in due season.

When you give it to them, they gather it;

you open your hand and they are filled with good.

When you hide your face they are troubled,

when you take away their breath,

they die and return again to the dust.

When you send forth your spirit, they are created,

and you renew the face of the earth.

–Psalm 104:29-32, Common Worship (2000)


The Book of Job is allegedly about why people suffer.  I have read that book closely several times recently and concluded that the book is about a different topic–how many pious people misunderstand God and presume to spread their confusion.  As for the cause of suffering in the Book of Job, the text makes clear that, in the titular character’s case, God permitted it.

There is no single cause of suffering.  Possible causes include one’s own sin, another person’s sin, and the fact of being alive.  The main topic of these days’ readings, however, is endurance, not suffering.  While we endure, do we welcome those agents of grace God sends to us?  Do we cease to endure, abandoning faith in God?  Or do we mature spiritually?  And do we anticipate the blessings which follow after suffering ends?

J. B. Phillips, in his classic book, Your God is Too Small (1961), posited that many people have spiritual deficiencies flowing from inadequate God concepts.  I find this conclusion persuasive.  It applies to the human characters in the Book of Job, for example.  And it applies to many, if not most of us who describe ourselves as religious.

A woefully inadequate God concept can contribute to buckling under pressure and not trusting in God, therefore in not enduring then maturing spiritually.  This is not a condemnation of anyone, for I know firsthand about struggling spiritually when one’s world collapses.  I also know what grace feels like in those dark days, weeks, and months.  And I know that it is to emerge–singed, to be sure–from the metaphorical fire.

So from experience I write the following:  No matter how bad the situation is now and how dire it seems to be, there is no shortage of grace.  Thanks be to God!










Devotion for Monday and Tuesday After the Second Sunday After Epiphany, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   7 comments

The baptism of the Eunuch *oil on panel *64 x 47.5 cm *signed b.r.: RH 1626

Above:  The Baptism of the Eunuch, by Rembrandt Van Rijn

Image in the Public Domain

Divine Grace and Mutual Responsibility

JANUARY 16 and 17, 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:

Exodus 12:1-13, 21-28 (Monday)

Isaiah 53:1-12 (Tuesday)

Psalm 40:6-17 (both days)

Acts 8:26-40 (Monday)

Hebrews 10:1-4 (Tuesday)


O Lord my God,

great are the wonderful things you have done,

and the things you have in mind for us:

there is none to be compared with you.

I would proclaim them and speak of them:

but they are more than can be numbered.

–Psalm 40:6-7, A New Zealand Prayer Book (1989)


The laws of God which are written on hearts and minds are laws of grace, love, and responsibility for and to each other.  They are laws of love for and responsibility to God.  The essence of them is to love God fully and others as ourselves.  The rest is commentary–mostly culturally-specific commentary–examples (bound by time, space and circumstances) of universal principles.  Therefore to become so fixated on examples as to ignore or minimize the universal principles is to miss the point and fall into legalism.

This internalized covenant is for all people, not that everyone embraces it or will do so.  It is for Hebrews and Gentiles alike.  It is for those like us and those quite different from us.  It is as much as for Hebrews as it was for a confused Ethiopian eunuch who needed a good catechist.  Fortunately, God sent him one.

The reading from Exodus speaks of the Passover meal instructions and of the importance of blood in deliverance–the latter being a theme in other readings for these days.  In the case of the Passover, the blood protected the Hebrews not from their own sins, but those of Egyptians.  This is a point which one might overlook out of imagined familiarity with the text.  Anyhow, the metaphor of the Passover as applied to Jesus (perhaps most explicitly applied to Jesus in the Gospel of John, where he dies on Passover itself–is the sacrificial lamb) carries meaning beyond just saving us from ourselves–from our sins.

A traditional American hymn speaks of

What wondrous love


caused the Lord of bliss


lay aside his crown for my soul.

May we–you, O reader, and I–respond favorably to that grace with heart and mind engaged fully, giving neither short shrift.  May we understand correctly and act accordingly, helping others to whom God sends us and others whom God sends to us, to do likewise.  For we are all responsible to and for each other.







Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year C   3 comments

Above:  The Visitation and Magnificat

Violence, Grace, and Scandal

DECEMBER 19, 2021



Micah 5:2-5 (New Revised Standard Version):

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,

who are one of the little clans of Judah,

from you shall come forth for me

one who is to rule Israel,

whose origin is from of old,

from ancient days.

Therefore he shall give them up until the time

when she who is in labor has brought forth;

then the rest of his kindred shall return

to the people of Israel.

And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD,

in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.

And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth;

and he shall be the one of peace.


Canticle 15 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

(The Magnificat plus the Trinitarian formula)

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,

my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;

for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed:

the Almighty has done great things for me,

and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him

in every generation.

He has shown the strength of his arm,

he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,

and has lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things,

and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel,

for he has remembered his promise of mercy,

The promise he made to our fathers,

to Abraham and his children for ever.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:

as it was in the beginning is now, and will be for ever.  Amen.

Psalm 80:1-7 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  Hear, O Shepherd of Israel, leading Joseph like a flock;

shine forth, you that are enthroned upon the cherubim.

2  In the presence of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh,

stir up your strength and come to help us.

3  Restore us, O God of hosts;

show us the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

4  O LORD God of hosts,

how long will you be angered

despite the prayers of your people?

5  You have fed them with the bread of tears;

you have given them bowls of tears to drink.

6 You have made us the derision of our neighbors,

and our enemies laugh us to scorn.

7  Restore us, O God of hosts;

show us the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.


Hebrews 10:5-10 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,

but a body have you prepared for me;

in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.

Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,’

as it is written of me in the roll of the book.

When he said above,

You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings

(those are offered according to the law), then he added,

Behold, I have come to do your will.

He abolishes the first in order to establish the second.  And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.


Luke 1:39-45 (46-55) (Revised English Bible):

Soon afterwards Mary set out and hurried away to a town in the uplands of Judah.  She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth.  And when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby stirred in her womb.  Then Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed in a loud voice,

God’s blessing is on you above all women, and his blessing is on the fruit of your womb.  Who am I, that the mother of my Lord should visit me?  I tell you, when your greeting sounded in my ears, the baby in my womb leapt for joy.  Happy is she who has faith that the Lord’s promise to her would be fulfilled!

And Mary said:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,

my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour;

for he has looked with favour on his servant,

lowly as she is.

From this day forward

all generations will count me blessed,

for the Mighty God has done great things for me.

His name is holy,

his mercy sure from generation to generation

toward those who fear him.

He has shown the might of his arm,

he has routed the proud and all their schemes;

he has brought down monarchs and their thrones,

and raised on high the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty.

He has come to the help of Israel his servant,

as he promised to our forefathers;

he has not forgotten to show mercy

to Abraham and his children’s children for ever.

Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then returned home.

The Collect:

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Some Related Posts:

Advent Prayers of Dedication:

Advent Prayers of Praise and Adoration:

The Hail Mary:

An Advent Prayer:  Expectant God:

An Advent Prayer:  Divine Light:

An Advent Prayer:  The Word of God is Near:

An Advent Prayer of Confession:

Advent Prayers of Thanksgiving:

An Advent Blessing:

An Advent Prayer:  Expectant Hearts:

O Blessed Mother:


The world has long been violent.  Such violence is evident in some of the readings for this Sunday.  Read the rest of Micah 5, which refers to a possible invasion by Assyrian forces.  Enemies laugh the people of God to scorn in Psalm 80.  Hebrews 10 reminds us that the birth of Jesus was an early chapter in a story which went on to include the crucifixion.  And the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, the setting for the glorious Magnificat, occurred in occupied Judea.  The Pax Romana came at a high price for the vanquished and occupied.

Empires rise and fall, but violence persists.  Nations still occupy other peoples, who engage in acts of violent resistance.  And invasions occur from time to time.  Grudges ancient and modern ferment in the minds of many people, whether they are occupied or the occupiers.  Out of mutual fear, hostility, and misunderstanding we humans attack each other and justify injustice.

We have done this to ourselves and each other.  We continue to do so, for we might not know how to act differently.  We need to hear and heed the message of the Magnificat.  The fruit of a scandalous conception brought about an abundance of grace, but that fruit needed good nurturing.  May we, when we have opportunities to do so, nurture the bearers of grace around us.  Scandals are less important (if at all) than are love and compassion.  Who knows how far the impact of our nurturing will reach?  What would Jesus have been without the parenting skills of Mary and Joseph?  If we take our creedal statements regarding our Lord’s full humanity and divinity seriously, we must give Mary and Joseph much credit.










Feast of St. Thomas, Apostle and Martyr (December 21)   7 comments

Above:  St. Thomas Episcopal Church, New Windsor, New York

Image Source = Daniel Case

My Favorite Biblical Character


Habakkuk 2:1-4 (The Jerusalem Bible):

I will stand on my watchtower,

and take up my post on my battlements,

watching to see what he will say to me,

what answer he will make to my complaints.

Then Yahweh answered and said,

Write the vision down,

inscribe it on tablets

to be easily read,

since this vision is for its own time only:

eager for its own fulfillment, it does not deceive;

it comes slowly, wait,

for it will come, without fail.

See how he flags, he whose soul is not at rights,

but the upright man will live by his faithfulness.

Psalm 126 (The Jerusalem Bible):

When Yahweh brought Zion’s captives home,

at first it seemed like a dream;

then our mouths filled with laughter

and our lips with song.

Even the pagan started talking

about the marvels Yahweh had done for us!

What marvels indeed he did for us,

and how over joyed we were!

Yahweh, bring all our captives back again

like torrents in the Negeb!

Those who went sowing in tears

now sing as they reap.

They went away, went away weeping,

carrying the seed;

they come back, come back singing,

carrying their sheaves.

Hebrews 10:35-11:1 (The Jerusalem Bible):

Be as confident now, then, since the reward is so great.  You will need endurance to do God’s will and gain what he has promised.

Only a little while now, a very little while,

and the one that is coming will have come; he will not delay.

The righteous man will live by faith,

but if he draws back, my soul will take no pleasure in him.

You and I are not the sort of people who draw back, and are lost by it; we are the sort who keep faithful until our souls are saved.

Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen.

John 20:24-29 (The Jerusalem Bible):

Thomas, called the Twin, who was one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.  When the disciples said,

We have seen the Lord,

he answered,

Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger in the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.

Eight days later the disciples were in the house again and among them.

Peace be with you,

he said.  Then he spoke to Thomas,

Put your finger here; look, here are my hands.  Give me your hand; put it into my side.  Doubt no longer but believe.

Thomas replied,

My Lord and my God!

Jesus said to him:

You believe because you can see me.

Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.

The Collect:

Everliving God, who strengthened your apostle Thomas with firm and certain faith in your Son’s resurrection: Grant us so perfectly and without doubt to believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, that our faith may never be found wanting in your sight; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


My father served as pastor of Cooks Union United Methodist Church, about eight miles outside Colquitt, Georgia, in Miller County, from June 1985 to June 1986.  One Sunday morning during that year, a laywoman whose name I forget delivered a children’s sermon about St. Thomas.  She held a small book about the Apostles.  You, O reader, might have seen this book or even own a copy.  It features color paintings of each of the main Apostles with a brief profile on the facing page.  The book is thin, with a two-tone hard cover.  The church member explained that Thomas had doubted the resurrection of Jesus and that he had later taken the Gospel to India, where he died for the Christian faith.  So, she said, Thomas was not all bad.

But Thomas not all bad, anyway.  The presumption behind her concluding statement was that the Apostle’s doubt constituted a great stain on his character.  This was a great misunderstanding.

Let us back up for a few moments, though.

St. Thomas was a twin, hence the Greek designation Didymus, which means “twin.”  The canonical Gospels contain few details about him, and he did not write the Gnostic, non-canonical Gospel of Thomas.  (I have read the Gospel of Thomas in three translations, and think that its non-canonical status is proper.)  St. Thomas traveled through Persia all the way to India, where he introduced Christianity to the subcontinent by the 50s C.E.  The modern-day Mar Thoma Church is the heir of this efforts.  In India the Apostle met his martyrdom by spearing at Madras; Mylapore is his burial site.  Today one can visit his tomb at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Thomas at Mylapore.

St. Thomas was a healthy skeptic.  The resurrection was hardly a frequent event, so doubting it was natural.  The Apostle was not the only follower of Jesus at the time to harbor doubts.  The canonical Gospels indicate that St. Peter was initially skeptical, too.  Yet I hear about Doubting Thomases, not Doubting Peters.  Anyway, St. Thomas, the healthy skeptic, believed the evidence when he saw it, and dedicated the rest of his life to telling people about Jesus.

I am sufficiently a product of the Enlightenment to accept the premise that doubt is a legitimate path to knowledge.  I ask questions when I harbor doubts, and I seek answers when I ask questions.  Thus I increase the probability of finding answers when I experience and embrace doubt.  Thomas admitted his doubt, received his answer, accepted it, and lived accordingly.

So, let us treat the label “Doubting Thomas” as a great compliment.

Finally, a personal note:  St. Thomas is my favorite Biblical figure.  He was an honest doubter and seeker, a good skeptic.  So am I.  If I were a Biblical character, I would be St. Thomas the Apostle.


JUNE 10, 2010







Week of 3 Epiphany: Friday, Year 1   16 comments

Above:  Mustard Plant

Diversity Within the Kingdom of God

JANUARY 27, 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.


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

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

For yet a little while,

and the coming one shall come and shall not tarry;

but my righteous one shall live by faith,

and if he shrinks back,

my soul has no pleasure in him.

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

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

1 Do not fret yourself because of evildoers;

do not be jealous of those who do no wrong.

2 For they shall soon whither like the grass,

and like the green grass they fade away.

3 Put your trust in the LORD and do good,

dwell in the land and feed on its riches.

4 Take delight in the LORD,

and he shall give you your heart’s desire.

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

and he will bring it to pass.

6 He will make your righteousness as clear as the light

and your just dealing as the noonday.

7 Be still and wait for the LORD

and wait patiently for him.

24 Our steps are directed by the LORD;

he strengthens those in whose way he delights.

25 If they stumble, they shall not fall headlong,

for the LORD holds them by the hand.

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

he is their stronghold in time of trouble.

42 The LORD will help them and rescue them;

he will rescue them from the wicked and deliver them,

because they seek refuge in him.

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

And he said,

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

And he said,

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

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


The Collect:

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


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

This topic requires further investigation.

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

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

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

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


Week of 3 Epiphany: Thursday, Year 1   13 comments

Above:  Bronze Oil Lamp

Image Source = Rama

May Love and Encouragement Be Your Lamp Oils

JANUARY 26, 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.


Hebrews 10:19-25 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see Day drawing near.

Psalm 24:1-6 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it,

the world and all who dwell therein.

2 For it is he who founded it upon the seas

and made it firm upon the rivers of the deep.

3 “Who can ascend to the hill of the LORD?

and who can stand in his holy place?”

4 “Those who have clean hands and a pure heart,

who have not pledged themselves to falsehood,

nor sworn by what is a fraud.

5 They shall receive a blessing from the LORD

and a just reward from the God of their salvation.”

6 Such is the generation of those who seek him,

of those who seek your face, O God of Jacob.

Mark 4:21-25 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

And he said to them,

Is a lamp brought in to be put under a bushel, or under a bed, and not on a stand?  For there is nothing hidden, except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret, except to come to light.  If any man has ears to hear, let him hear.

And he said to them,

Take heed what you hear; the measure you get will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you.  For to him who has will more be given; and from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.


The Collect:

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


Our English word “anger” (as a noun) dates to the 13th Century C.E.  It descends from angr, an Old Norse word meaning “distress, grief, affliction.”  This makes much sense.   Grief and a sense of injustice informs our anger, does it not?  It is also true that many actions we commit out of anger perpetuate injustice and cause others grief.  So the cycle continues, and one grievance feeds another.

This is not healthy.

Instead, I recommend following the advice from Hebrews 10:  “…let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works….”   What would society look like if more of us rejected all the advice to live off our resentments and fears, and put away anger as a perpetual motivating source?  Talk radio would have to change, for fear mongers would have lower ratings.  Alleged cable news channels would have to change their programming for the same reason.  There would be less shouting filling the airwaves.  This all sounds very appealing to me.

May I share a nugget of wisdom I have learned from living?  Okay, here it is:  Anger can prove to be a helpful motivating factor in the short term.  It is, however, corrosive after that.  Anger helped keep me going for four months in 2007, during a time of persecution by an agent of the State of Georgia.  Surrender would have been an effective short-term fix, but I refused to give into that so-and-so.  I was not going to make his job any less difficult.  I learned, however, that I needed to abandon that anger after it had done its job.

Today I have a low threshold for anger tolerance.  Anger disturbs me, especially when I find it within myself.  I do not want to consume any media source or spend much time around anyone filled with anger.  I have had my fill.

Still, much of the multimedia world is replete with people who have lived and profited financially off anger for years and decades.  I don’t know that they would do if they had to air positive programming.  And I presume that large proportions of their audiences are angry, too.

There is too much anger in the world.  There will be will be less of it when more of us devote ourselves to stirring each other to love and good works, encouraging one another in this direction.  This I strive to do.  May you do likewise, or continue to do so.  I pray that this will be one of your lamps on a stand as you go through life.

And may the peace of God be with you always.


Week of 3 Epiphany: Wednesday, Year 1   17 comments

Above:  Landscape with the Parable of the Sower, by Peter Bruegel the Elder, 1557

Let Us Avoid Shallow Faith and Nurture Spiritual Maturity

JANUARY 25, 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.


Hebrews 10:11-18 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.  But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, then to wait until his enemies should be made a stool for his feet.  For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.  And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,

This is the covenant that I will make with them

after those days, says the Lord:

I will put my laws on their hearts,

and write them on their minds,

then he adds,

I will remember their sins and their misdeeds no more.

Where there is forgiveness for these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Psalm 110:1-4 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand,

until I make your enemies your footstool.”

2 The LORD will send the scepter of your power out of Zion,

saying, “Rule over your enemies round about you.

3 Princely state has been yours from the day of your birth;

in the beauty of holiness have I begotten you,

like dew from the womb of the morning.

4 The LORD has sworn and he will not recant;

“You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.”

Mark 4:1-20 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

And he began to teach beside the sea.  And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and at in it on the sea; and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land.  And he taught them in  parables, and in his teaching he said to them:

Listen!  A sower went out to sow.  And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it.  Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it had not much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil; and when the sun rose it was scorched, and since it had no root it withered away.  Other seed fell among thorns and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain.  And other seeds fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.

And he said,

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

And when he was alone, those who were about him with the Twelve asked him concerning the parables.  And he said to them,

To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables; so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand; lest they should turn again, and be forgiven.

And he said to them,

Do you understand this parable?  How then will you understand all the parables?  The sower sows the word.  And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown; when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word which is sown in them.  And these in like manner are the ones sown upon rocky ground, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; and they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.  And others are the ones sown among thorns; they are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the delight in riches, and the desire for other things, enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.  But those that were sown among the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.


The Collect:

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


Often I hear people far to my right speak of how the United States used to a Christian nation.  I do not know whereof they speak.  This was never a Christian nation–certainly not when we had chattel slavery or de jure racial segregation.  There was a time, however, when knowledge of the Bible was more common than is true today in North America.  This decline in biblical knowledge is partially the responsibility of churches, but mostly the fault of people within their homes.  Parents are the first teachers of their children, and people need to correct this and other social issues household by household.  Societal institutions wrestle with the problems that emerge from homes, and to place too much blame on the institutions is to miss the point.

Occasionally I read about a new poll which reveals how uninformed most Americans are about religion.  Actually, many Atheists are some the people best informed about religion, but many regular church goers are woefully ignorant of the Bible and their own traditions.  Many Protestants do not know of the pivotal role of Martin Luther and a high proportion of Mass-attending Roman Catholics do not know their church teaches transubstantiation of the bread and wine.  Many conversations I have had over the years have revealed evidence which confirms these findings.  I have met staunch Southern Baptists who did not know they were Protestants, Protestants who had never heard of Martin Luther, and people who claimed to read the Bible daily yet could not name one biblical king.

These unsettling facts came to mind as I read and typed the Parable of the Sower.  And, while attempting (and hopefully succeeding) in refraining from judging others, I propose that, unless one knows what one believes (trusts in), one does not believe.  One might assent vaguely to something a pastor or friend or family member said, but one does not believe something unless one grasps it first.

When I was an adolescent, I began to examine seriously what I claimed to believe.  I discovered that I gave mere lip service to most of it.  Since then I have been on a continuous spiritual voyage of self-examination.  If I do not trust (a better translation of “believe” in Greek), I do not claim to believe.  At least I can be intellectually honest in these matters.  And I have changed my mind, with the option of reverting to an earlier conclusion.  I am, by some standards, a heretic, although I am really more orthodox than many might suspect.  But there is no canonical examination to pass before entering Heaven, so my opinion of Single Predestination is irrelevant to salvation.  Nevertheless, it is important that I know what I believe, and why I believe it.

To borrow a line from St. Patrick, as Cecil Frances Alexander translated it, “salvation is of Christ the Lord”  (“I Bind Unto Myself Today,” Hymn #370, The Hymnal 1982).  This I have believed.  This I continue to believe.  This has sunk deeply into my essence and informed my thoughts and actions.  My parents planted this seed of the word of God within me, and the plant has yielded much.  And I know why I believe, although sometimes words fail me.  By grace, I believe and know why.  If I am a heretic, I am least a faithful one within the household of God.