Archive for the ‘Hebrews 11’ Tag

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


Above:  The Wrath of Elihu, by William Blake

Image in the Public Domain

The Oratory and Theology of Elihu, Part I

JANUARY 21, 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


Job 32:1-22

Psalm 89:5-18, 38-52

Luke 5:27-39

Hebrews 11:(1-3) 4-7, 17-28 (39-40)


The Book of Job exists in layers, both prose and poetic.  This fact creates complexity in interpreting the text.  The best way to interpret the Book of Job is to read it as the composite text it has become.  Yes, the core of the poetic section of the Book of Job is its oldest portion, but I read that core in the context of the prose introduction (Chapters 1 and 2).  There we read why Job suffers:  God permits it to happen as part of a wager with the Satan, his loyalty tester.  Job suffers and two cycles of speeches follow.  Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite take turns arguing that Job’s protestations of his innocence cannot be accurate, for God, being just, would not permit an innocent person to suffer.  Job argues against his alleged friends, who cease speaking eventually.  Job makes his concluding argument in Chapters 29-31.  God answers him in Chapters 38-41, and Job repents in Chapter 42.  Then, in the prose epilogue in Chapter 42, God “burns with anger” toward Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar and favors Job.

The speeches of Elihu are obviously not original to the Book of Job.  As a matter of the structure of the Book of Job Elihu comes out of nowhere, goes away without any subsequent mention or appearance, and interrupts the narrative, filling the gap between Job’s final argument and God’s reply.

The prose section of Chapter 32 (verses 1-6) tells us that Elihu was angry with the three alleged friends and with Job.  He was angry with Job

for thinking that he was right and God was wrong

–Verse 2, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

and with Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar

for giving up the argument and thus admitting that God could be unjust.

–Verse 3, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

Elihu is, in his words,

filled with words, choked by the rush of them

–Verse 18, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

within himself.

The Book of Job is also complex theologically.  Job, Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Elihu commit the same error.  The presume to know how God does and should act.  The premise of the Book of Job supports the main character’s claim of innocence, yet not everything the others say is inaccurate.  Much of it sounds like portions of the Books of Psalms and Proverbs, after all.  And Elihu, as he points fingers, does not err completely in what he says, even as he should justly point a finger at himself.

Do we Christians not speak at length about the love, mercy, and justice of God?  Yet does not Job, in the text bearing his name, deserve an honest answer, not the “I am God and you are not” speeches in Chapters 38-41?  The theodicy of Elihu, for all its errors, is not complete idiocy.

Psalm 89, which is about the divine covenant with David, alternates between thanksgiving for God’s faithfulness to the monarch and lament for divine renunciation of that covenant before ending on a hopeful note.  God has yet to end that renunciation, but the psalm ends:

Blessed be the LORD forever.

Amen and Amen.

–Verse 52, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Hebrews 11:35b-40 tells us that many faithful people of God have suffered, been poor and/or oppressed, and become martyrs.

The world was not worthy of them.

–Verse 38a, The Revised English Bible (1989)

They became beneficiaries of God’s better plan for them, we read in verse 40.  Their cases contradict the arguments of Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Elihu.  The case of Jesus also contradicts their speeches.  We read an example of foreshadowing of his crucifixion in Luke 5:35.

Timothy Matthew Slemmons has stretched Elihu’s speeches across seven Sundays in his proposed Year D.  This is therefore the first of seven posts in which I will ponder Elihu’s argument in the context of other portions of scripture.  The journey promises to be interesting and spiritually edifying.










Devotion for January 7, 8, and 9, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment


Above:  Good Friday Pilgrimage for Immigrants, Atlanta, Georgia, April 18, 2014

Image Source = Bill Monk, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

Living Faithfully

JANUARY 7-9, 2024


The Collect:

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

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

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

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

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 21


The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 1:22-2:10 (January 7)

Exodus 2:11-25 (January 8)

Exodus 3:7-15 (January 9)

Psalm 110 (All Days)

Hebrews 11:23-26 (January 7)

Hebrews 11:27-28 (January 8)

John 8:39-59 (January 9)


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

until I make your enemies your footstool.”

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

saying, “Rule over your enemies round about you.

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.”

The LORD has sworn and he will not recant:

“You are a priest for ever in the order of Melchizedek,”

The Lord who is at your right hand

will smite kings in the day of his wrath;

he will rule over nations.

He will heap high the corpses;

he will smash heads over the wide earth.

He will drink from the brook beside the road;

therefore he will lift high his head.

–Psalm 110, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


Tradition attributes authorship of Psalm 110 to David.  One cannot be certain of the veracity of that claim, given the tendency of many people from Biblical times to attribute authorship to the famous dead regardless of who actually wrote a given text.  That issue is a minor point, however.  A Hebrew monarch has won a military victory, hence the content and tone of the text.  One can read the poem and identify passages germane to both Moses and Jesus, as well as those irrelevant to each person.  We read of Moses smiting in Exodus, for example.  And Jesus, like the king in the Psalm, sits enthroned at the right hand of Yahweh.

One might also compare Moses and Jesus, as the author of the Gospel of Matthew did frequently.  Both men were, for example, far more than they appeared to be; they were deliverers and princes, although not of the same variety.  No, Jesus was (and remains) far greater than Moses, for our Lord and Savior’s “I am” (John 9:58) carries the same meaning as “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14).  Jesus was the human incarnation of the deity who spoke to Moses.

Both men had to decide between a faithful life and a safer, more comfortable one.  They chose well, to the benefit of many people.  You and I, O reader, will probably not receive the mandate to liberate a large population.  We will certainly not have the vocation to redeem the world.  Yet we do have to decide between following God and doing otherwise.  The faithful path can be a dangerous and frequently uncomfortable one, but it is the superior way.  God calls us to act for the benefit of others, even when many of them reject God and us by extension.  But, as Charles William Everest (1814-1877) wrote in 1833:

“Take up thy cross,” the Savior said;

“if thou wouldst my disciple be,

take up thy cross with willing heart

and humbly follow after me.”


Take up thy cross, let not its weight

fill thy weak spirit with alarm;

his strength shall bear thy spirit up,

and brace thy heart and nerve thine arm.


Take up thy cross, nor heed the shame,

and let thy foolish pride be still;

the Lord refused not e’en to die

upon a cross, on Calv’ry’s hill.


Take up thy cross and follow Christ,

nor think till earth to lay it down,

for only they who bear the cross

may hope to wear the glorious crown.









Devotion for Thursday and Friday Before the Last Sunday After Epiphany, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   4 comments


Above:  Jonathan Myrick Daniels Memorial , August 9, 2013

Image Source = Bill Monk, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

Active, World-Changing Faith

FEBRUARY 16 and 17, 2023


The Collect:

O God, in the transfiguration of your Son you confirmed the

mysteries of the faith by the witness of Moses and Elijah,

and in the voice from the bright cloud declaring Jesus your beloved Son,

you foreshadowed our adoption as your children.

Make us heirs with Christ of your glory, and bring us to enjoy its fullness,

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

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 25


The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 6:2-9 (Thursday)

Exodus 19:9b-25 (Friday)

Psalm 2 (Both Days)

Hebrews 8:1-7 (Thursday)

Hebrews 11:23-28 (Friday)


The kings of the earth rise up,

and the rulers take counsel together,

against the Lord and against his anointed:

“Let us break their bonds asunder

and cast away their cords from us.”

He who dwells in heaven shall laugh them to scorn;

the Lord shall have them in derision.

–Psalm 2:2-4, Common Worship (2000)


But when Moses repeated those words to the Israelites, they would not listen to him, because of their cruel slavery, they had reached the depths of despair.

–Exodus 6:9, The Revised English Bible (1989)


Active faith by which we follow God has changed the world for the better.  In the United States of America, for example, it fueled the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.  Such active faith overturned Apartheid in the Republic of South Africa.  This continues to compel people to work for social justice all over the planet.

Yet passiveness born of resignation stymies progress.  Giving up on improving conditions in this world and seeking a better lot only in the afterlife does nothing to work for a just society on this plane of reality.  The Hebrew prophets condemned social injustice.  Our Lord and Savior did likewise.  Indeed, seeking to improve this reality is part and parcel of loving one’s neighbor and pursuing the great Jewish ethic of healing the world.

So may each of us never make peace with oppression.  May all of us take to heart and act on the following prayer:

O God, your Son came among us to serve and not to be served, and to give his life for the life of the world.  Lead us by his love to serve all those to whom the world offers no comfort and little help.  Through us give hope to the hopeless, love to the unloved, peace to the troubled, and rest to the weary, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60








Devotion for January 4 and 5, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   7 comments


Above:  William Lloyd Garrison

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USZ62-10320

Faith and Grace

JANUARY 4 and 5, 2023


The Collect:

O God our redeemer, you created light that we might live,

and you illumine our world with your beloved Son.

By your Spirit comfort us in all darkness, and turn us toward the light of Jesus Christ our Savior,

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 21


The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 3:1-5 (January 4)

Joshua 1:1-9 (January 5)

Psalm 72 (both days)

Hebrews 11:23-31 (January 4)

Hebrews 11:32-12:2 (January 5)


Give the king your justice, O God,

and your justice to the king’s son;

that he may rule your people righteously

and the poor with justice;

that the mountains may bring prosperity to the people,

and the little hills bring righteousness.

He shall defend the needy among the people

and shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor.

–Psalm 72:1-4, Book of Common Worship (1993)


The assigned readings for these days tell us of Biblical heroes of faith, from Moses to Joshua son of Nun to Rahab the prostitute–quite an assortment!  I perceive no need to repeat their stories today, for the Bible does that better than I can.  And I have other matters on my mind.

If I were to amend the hall of fame of faith in the Letter to the Hebrews, part of my addition would read as follows:

By faith abolitionists challenged racial chattel slavery in the United States.  By faith Harriet Tubman risked life and limb to help her people, who called her “Moses.”  By faith Sojourner Truth spoke out for the rights of women and African Americans alike, as did William Lloyd Garrison.  By faith Frederick Douglass challenged racism and slavery with his words, deeds, and very existence.

By faith members of subsequent generations challenged racial segregation.  These great men and women included A. Philip Randolph, Charles Hamilton Houston, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bayard Rustin, Vernon Johns, and Martin Luther King, Jr.  They challenged the United States to confront its hypocrisy, to live up more closely to its stated ideals, and to guarantee civil rights.  By faith Thurgood Marshall fought the good fight in courts for decades.  By faith brave students, supported by their courageous parents and communities, integrated schools with hostile student bodies and administrators.

By faith Nelson Mandela confronted Apartheid and helped to end it.  By faith he encouraged racial and national reconciliation as a man and as a President.

All of these were courageous men and women, boys and girls.  There is no room here to tell their stories adequately.  And the names of many of them will fade into obscurity with the passage of time.  Some of their names have faded from collective memory already.  But they were  righteous people–giants upon whose shoulders we stand.  They were agents of divine grace, which transformed the world, making it a better place.

May the light of God, incarnate in each of us, shine brightly in the darkness and leave the world–if only one “corner” of it at a time–a better place.  May we cooperate with God, for grace is more about what God does than what we do.  We ought to work with God, of course.  Doing so maximizes the effects of grace.  But grace will win in the end.  That is wonderful news!







Devotion for January 2 and 3, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   5 comments


Above:  A Question Mark

Faith, Questions, and Confidence

JANUARY 2 and 3, 2023


The Collect:

Almighty God, you have filled the earth with the light of your incarnate Word.

By your grace empower us to reflect your light in all that we do,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 21


The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 12:1-7 (January 2)

Genesis 28:10-22 (January 3)

Psalm 72 (both days)

Hebrews 11:1-12 (January 2)

Hebrews 11:13-22 (January 3)


Now faith means that we have full confidence in the things we hope for, it means being certain of things we cannot see.  It was this that that won their reputation for the saints of old.

–Hebrews 11:1-2, J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English, Revised Edition (1972)


Faith gives substance to our hopes and convinces us of realities we do not see.

It was by faith that the people of old won God’s approval.

–Hebrews 11:1-2, The Revised English Bible


Faith is the reality of we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see.  The elders in the past were approved because they showed faith.

–Hebrews 11;1-2, Common English Bible


Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of realities that are unseen.  It is for their faith that our ancestors are acknowledged.

–Hebrews 11:1-2, The New Jerusalem Bible


Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval.

–Hebrews 11:1-2, The New Revised Standard Version–Catholic Edition


Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,

who alone does wonderful things.

And blessed by his glorious name for ever.

May all the earth be filled with his gory.

Amen.  Amen.

–Psalm 72:18-19, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)


The Bible is replete with troublesome characters.  Yet, the texts tell us, God worked through many of them.  For example, Abraham and Sarah became the parents of nations in their old age–an inspiring story?  But what about the mistreatment of Hagar and Ishmael?  Furthermore, the story of near-sacrifice of Isaac disturbs me; I will make no excuses for it.  As Elie Wiesel pointed out in a Bible study I saw in the 1990s, the Bible does not record any conversation between father and son after that incident, which must have damaged their relationship in ways which the passage of time did not repair.

As for Jacob, he was a trickster whom others conned.

Yet God worked with and through them, transforming these people for their benefit and that of many others, even to the present day.  That is grace, is it not?

“Faith” has more than one meaning in the Bible.  It is purely intellectual in James and inherently active in Paul, hence the appearance (but no more than that) of a faith-works contradiction between the two.  And, in the Letter to the Hebrews, faith is that which, in the absence of evidence for or against, enables one to continue in justifiable confidence.  If we have empirical evidence one way or the another, we do need faith.  I have heard church members say that they (A) have faith and (B) have evidence for the same proposition.  They misunderstood whereof they spoke.  They sought certainty when they should have desired confidence.

As James D. G. Dunn wrote in a different context (the search for the historical Jesus):

The language of faith uses words like “confidence” rather than “certainty.”  Faith deals in trust, not in mathematical calculations, nor in a “science” which methodically doubts everything which can be doubted….Walking “by faith” is different from walking “by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7).  Faith is commitment, not just conviction.

Faith as trust is never invulnerable to questions.  Rather, faith lives in dialogue with questions.  Faith-without-doubt is a rare commodity, which few (if any) have experienced for any length of time.  On the contrary, doubt is the inoculation which keeps faith strong in the face of unbelief.  Whereas it is the “lust for certainty” which leads to fundamentalism’s absolutising of its own faith claims and dismissal of all others.  In fact, of course, little or nothing in real life is a matter of certainty, including the risks of eating beef, or of crossing a road, or of committing oneself in marriage….

Jesus Remembered (Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003), pages 104-105

I propose that we should never fear to question God faithfully.  Have we understood God correctly?  We can misunderstand, after all.  We have done so often.  And sometimes, as in the case of the Syro-Phoenician woman who encountered Jesus, rebutting a statement is the result which the speaker of the rebutted statement desires.  Sometimes passing the test of faithfulness entails arguing with, not being submissive, to God.  We need not stand in terror of God if we act out of healthy faith, the kind which creates space for many intelligent questions.  And then how will God work through us in the world?






Devotion for Tuesday After the First Sunday of Advent, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   8 comments


Above:  Noah’s Thank Offering, by Joseph Anton Koch

The Unworthiness of the World

NOVEMBER 29, 2022


The Collect:

Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come.

By your merciful protection awaken us to the threatening dangers of our sins,

and enlighten our walk in the way of your salvation,

for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 18


The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 9:1-17

Psalm 124

Hebrews 11:32-40


If the Lord had not been on our side,

now may Israel say:

If the Lord had not been on our side

when our enemies rose up against us,

then they would have swallowed us up alive:

when their fury was raised against us.

Then the flood would have swept us away:

and the torrent would have covered us.

Then the raging waters

would have gone right over our heads.

–Psalm 124:1-4, A New Zealand Prayer Book (1989)


The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Daily Lectionary from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006) skips over Genesis 8:20-22 (over J, the Yahwist, and from P, the Priestly Source) to 9:1-17 (back to P), which covers much of the same ground–plus a rainbow.  In that composite narrative many people had died because of their sinfulness.  In Hebrews 11:32-40, however, we read of people who have died because of their righteousness, people

of whom the world was not worthy.

–Verse 38a, The New Revised Standard Version

These saints, the lesson tells us,

…were commended for their faith [yet] did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better, so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.

–Verses 39-40, The New Revised Standard Version

Both readings contain the element of the unworthiness of the world.  Although the world might be unworthy God vows never to flood it again.  The world might be unworthy yet God does not give up on it, hence the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity as Jesus of Nazareth and all that followed it–especially the death and resurrection of Jesus and their spiritual implications for us.  God has not given up on the world yet; unwritten chapters in the story of grace on this planet remain for people to see unfold.

Yes, we are unworthy; I take that as a given.  But does that reality constitute a topic upon which we should dwell?  No.  God knows what we are yet has identified with us by means of the Incarnation.  Our worthiness is in God alone.  May we respond lovingly to God, who loves us.









Week of 6 Epiphany: Saturday, Year 1   12 comments

Above:  An Illustrated Manuscript from 1300:  The Account of the Transfiguration of Jesus from the Gospel of Mark

Spiritual Blindness and Deafness Resulting from Erroneous Assumptions

FEBRUARY 18, 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 11:1-7 (Revised English Bible):

Faith gives substance to our hopes and convinces us of realities we do not see.

It was for our faith that the people old won God’s approval.

By faith we understand that the universe was formed by God’s command, so that the visible came forth from the invisible.

By faith Abel offered a greater sacrifice than Cain’s; because of his faith God approved his offerings and attested his goodness; and through his faith, though he is dead, he continues to speak.

By faith Enoch was taken up to another life without passing through death; he was not to be found, because God had taken him, and it is the testimony of scripture that before he was taken he had pleased God.  But without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever comes to God must believe that he exists and rewards those who seek him.

By faith Noah took good heed of the divine warning about the unseen future, and built an ark to save his household.  Through his faith he put the whole world in the wrong, and made good this own claim to the righteousness which comes of faith.

Psalm 145:1-4, 10-13 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 I will exalt you, O God my King,

and bless your Name for ever and ever.

2 Every day will I bless you

and praise your Name for ever and ever.

3 Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised;

there is no end to his greatness.

4 One generation shall praise your works to another

and shall declare your power.

10 All your works praise you, O LORD,

and all your faithful servants bless you.

11 They make known the glory of your kingdom

and speak of your power;

12 That the peoples may know of your power

and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.

13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom;

your dominion endures throughout all ages.

Mark 9:2-13 (Revised English Bible):

Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him and led them up a high mountain by themselves.  And in their presence he was transfigured; his clothes became dazzling white, with a whiteness no bleacher on earth could equal.  They saw Elijah appear and Moses with him, talking with Jesus.  Then Peter spoke:


he said,

it is good that we are here!  Shall we make three shelters, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah?

For he did not know what to say; they were so terrified.  Then a cloud appeared, casting its shadow over them, and out of the cloud came a voice:

This is my beloved Son; listen to him.

And suddenly, when they looked around, only Jesus was with them; there was no longer anyone else to be seen.

On their way down the mountain, he instructed them not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.  They seized upon those words, and discussed among themselves what this “rising from the dead” could mean.  And they put a question to him:

Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?

He replied,

Elijah does come first to set everything right.  How is it, then, that the scriptures say of the Son of Man that he is to endure great suffering and be treated with contempt?  However, I tell you, Elijah has already come and they have done to him what they wanted, ans the scriptures say of him.


The Collect:

O  God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Hebrews 11:1-7 speaks of faith.  The author of this text defines faith as that which “gives substance to our hopes and convictions of realities we do not see.”  Furthermore, we read, the faithful dead continue to speak (after a fashion) because of their faith.  And faith makes it possible to please God, “for whoever comes to God must believe that he exists and rewards those who seek him.”

Here I feel the need to make a distinction.  Believing in God and accepting the the existence of God are separate.  The latter is a merely intellectual jump; the former is a leap of faith.  An Agnostic accepts that God exists, for example, but is still agnostic, literally “without knowledge.”

And it is not just Agnostics who lack knowledge.  We who profess to follow Jesus are just as prone to spiritual ignorance as anyone else.  We see the evidence of nature, but do we understand what it means?  And Apostles spent time with Jesus and heard his words repeatedly, but they remained confused for a very long time.  They were neither stupid nor physically blind or deaf.  No, they labored under misconceptions of Messiahship, that the Messiah would be a national liberator.  But Jesus did not drive out the Romans, nor did he attempt to do so.  He suffered, died, and rose again; before that, he said he would suffer, die, and rise again.  There was a great display of power involved in the Resurrection, but the Romans were still present as occupying power in Judea.

The author of the Gospel of Mark wrote the earliest canonical Gospel in part to dispel false expectations of Messiahship, but, as I have written in previous devotions in this series, some of us have not paid attention.  On the positive side, however, many of us have learned this Markan lesson.

Let us consider the Transfiguration.  I suspect that the most eloquent words are inadequate to the experience.  Yet all accounts agree that there was a spectacular display of Jesus in his divine glory, that God approved of him, and that Jesus is consistent with the Law and the Prophets.  Peter, duly awed, wanted to institutionalize the moment, but that was the wrong response.  Jesus had work to do; he was preparing to die.  And his Apostles needed to be at his side.  We know how that turned out, do we not?

Sadly, we mere mortals today remain blind to many spiritual realities about which Jesus and the Prophets before him were quite plain.  What is wrong with us?  Why are we so dense?  Why do cling to false assumptions?  Why do we not see what is in front of us?

Lord, have mercy.


Week of 4 Epiphany: Monday, Year 1   13 comments

Above:  Christ Exorcising the Gerasene Demoniac

What God Has Promised

JANUARY 30, 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 11:32-40 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

And what more shall I say?  For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets–who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, received promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.  Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life.  Other suffered mocking and scourging, and even chains and imprisonment.  They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, ill-treated–of whom the world was not worthy–wandering over deserts, and in dens and caves of the earth.

And all these, though well attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had foreseen something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

Psalm 31:19-24 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

19 How great is your goodness, O LORD!

which you have laid up for those who fear you;

which you have done in the sight of all

for those who put their trust in you.

20 You hide them in the covert of your presence from those who slander them;

you keep them in your shelter from the strife of tongues.

21 Blessed be the LORD!

for he has shown me the wonders of his love in a besieged city.

22 Yet I said in my alarm,

“I have been cut off from the sight of your eyes.”

Nevertheless, you heard the sound of my entreaty when I cried to you.

23 Love the LORD, all you who worship him;

the LORD protects the faithful,

but repays to the full those who act haughtily.

24 Be strong and let your heart take courage,

all you who wait for the LORD.

Mark 5:1-20 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes.  And when he had come out of the boat, there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who lived among the tombs; and no one could bind him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him.  Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out, and bruising himself with stones.  And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped him; and crying out with a loud voice, he said,

What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?  I adjure you by God, do not torment me.

For he had said to him,

Come out of him, you unclean spirit!

And Jesus asked him,

What is  your name?

He replied,

My name is Legion; for we are many.

And he begged him eagerly not to send them out of the country.  Now a great herd of swine was feeding there on the hillside; and they begged him,

Send us to the swine, let us enter them.

So he gave them leave.  And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea.

The herdsmen fled, and told it in the city and in the country.  And people came to see what it was that had happened.  And they came to Jesus, and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the man who had had the legion; and they were afraid.  And those who had seen it told what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine.  And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their neighborhood.  And as he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him.  But he refused, and said to him,

Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.

And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and all men marveled.


The Collect:

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


To date in this series of Monday-Saturday devotionals we have been following Hebrews and (except for one day) Mark.  Sometimes the link between the two readings has been difficult to locate, but that is an easy task today.

This day’s reading from Hebrews makes a connection between the faith of our forebears and ourselves, and by extension, between us and those who will follow us.  Great and brave men and women of faith have preceded us; many of them have been heartier than you or I.  They kept faith in God alive in their lifetimes, so we who practice this faith in our times are their legacy.  And we will have faith legacies, too.  The forebears the author of Hebrews mentioned lived and died before the time of Jesus, the fulfillment of promises in which they trusted.  They looked forward; we look backward. Jesus is the focal point.

But does Jesus disturb us or encourage us in faith?  This is a question of how we approach him, not what he seeks to do.  The Gerasene demoniac was most likely a man with severe psychiatric problems, that is, until Jesus cured them.  The man’s neighbors feared him for good reasons when he was ill.  So one might think that they would take comfort when he was well.  At least they might be glad for him.  No!  The neighbors feared him after his recovery, too.  Their basis for self-definition (“I’m not like that guy.”) was gone.  So who were they now?  Jesus had disturbed them.  Instead of using this disturbance as an opportunity for spiritual self-examination and repentance, they asked Jesus to leave, and the former demoniac had to go away, too.  Often we humans prefer not to look closely upon our sins.

And all this is beside the economic costs to the owner(s) of the swine herd.

Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of the promise of God.  If Jesus disturbs us, we need for him to disturb us.  The proper response is to recognize the fault(s) Jesus highlights and to repent.  May we do this.  Unfortunately, we tend to ask Jesus to leave, as if he were a scapegoat.

What will you do?  What will your legacy be?

J. B. Phillips translated the end of this Markan passage accordingly:

So the man went off and began to spread throughout the Ten Towns the story of what Jesus had done for him.  And they were all simply amazed.

The former demoniac’s legacy was one of more believers.  Belief was born of simple amazement, which was an appropriate response.  Yet what of the townspeople?  They were not amazed; they were scared.  They had been oddly comfortable with the unpleasant and dangerous status quo, and now they were uncomfortable.  Their legacy was not one of faith.  May your legacy be one of faith–faith that encourages others and brings people closer to the God who loves them.  And, long after you are dead and your name is forgotten by all except God and genealogy enthusiasts, may your legacy of positive, Christian faith thrive.

In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.


Week of 3 Epiphany: Saturday, Year 1   15 comments

Above:  The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1632

The Power of Faith

JANUARY 28, 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 11:1-2, 8-19 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  For by it men of old received divine approval.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where to go.  By faith he sojourned  in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise.  For he looked forward to the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.  By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who promised.  Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.

These all died in faith, not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.  For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.  If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only-begotten son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your descendants be named.”


Canticle 16 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel;

he has come to his people and set them free.

He has raised up for us a mighty savior,

born of the house of his servant David.

Through his holy prophets he promised of old,

that he would save us from our enemies,

from the hands of all who hate us.

He promised to show mercy to our fathers

and to remember his holy covenant.

This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham,

to set us free from the hands of our enemies,

Free to worship him without fear,

holy and righteous in his sight

all the days of our life.

(The Song of Zechariah, Luke 1:68-79)


Psalm 89:19-29 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

19 You spoke once in a vision and said to your faithful people:

“I have set the crown upon a warrior

and have exalted the one chosen out of the people.

20 I have found David my servant;

with my holy oil I have anointed him.

21 My hand will hold him fast

and my arm will make him strong.

22 No enemy shall deceive him,

nor any wicked man bring him down.

23 I will crush his foes before him

and strike down those who hate him.

24 My faithfulness and love shall be with him,

and he shall be victorious through my Name.

25 I shall make his dominion extend

from the Great from the Great Sea to the River.

26 He will say to me, ‘You are my Father,

my God, and the rock of my salvation,’

27 I will make him my firstborn

and higher than the kings of the earth.

28 I will keep my love for him forever,

and my covenant will stand firm for him.

29 I will establish his line for ever,

and his throne as the days of heaven.”


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

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

Let us go across to the other side.

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

Teacher, do you not care if we perish?

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

Peace!  Be still!

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

Why are you afraid?  Have you no faith?

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

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


The Collect:

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


I am a product of the Scientific Revolution of the 1600s.  Thus I understand the natural world in a way First Century C.E. inhabitants of Judea could not have done.  For them, the world was spirit-haunted, and evil spirits caused everything from epilepsy to wind storms on the Sea of Galilee.  It was a pre-scientific way of grasping the natural world.   Note that Jesus calmed the storm with language nearly identical to that he used when addressing a demoniac (or mentally ill person) in Mark 1:25.  In each case he allegedly demonstrated his power over evil spirits and certainly established calm for someone.

Faith, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews tells us, entails setting out and not knowing where one is going.  What was a literal journey for Abraham can be a spiritual journey for each of us.  At any given era of history there are always people experiencing varieties of difficulty.  But at this time, the hangover of financial excesses, this reality is more obvious to many of us.  I hope that responsible leaders in all nations will take the proper measures necessary to prevent a repeat, but I choose to focus now on personal, spiritual lessons and amendment of life.  Many of us do not know where we are going or what we will do when we get there.  For that matter, many of us do not know what we will do where we are.  Doubt and uncertainty can trouble us, but I propose embracing them and trusting in God.  God knows, and we do not; and that is okay.  May we seek divine guidance and take this opportunity to reorder priorities for the longterm.  Confident in God’s love and providence, may we find calm in the midst of fear, doubt, and uncertainty.  There is one certainty that matters; this certainty is God.  And that should be enough.

The power of faith is the ability, in the midst of a storm, literal or metaphorical, to rest calmly in the love of God.  May all of us seek and find that faith, if he have not found it already.