Archive for the ‘James 1’ Tag

Devotion for the Third Sunday After the Epiphany, Year B (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Christ in the Synagogue at Capernaum, a Fresco

Image in the Public Domain

Old Teachings

JANUARY 26, 2020

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Job 3:1-26 (or 1:1-19) or Deuteronomy 5:6-21

Psalm 40

James 1:17-27

Mark 1:21-28

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And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying “What is this?  A new teaching!  With authority he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”

–Mark 1:28, Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition (2002)

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One may legitimately question whether Christ’s action in Mark 1:21-28 constituted a teaching.  Assuming that it was, was it a new teaching?

Despite traditional Christian attempts to divorce Jesus from Judaism, one would have had a difficult time finding someone more Jewish than Jesus of Nazareth.  Judaism was not monolithic two millennia ago.  (Neither is it monolithic today.)  Jesus was a man of his culture, place, and faith.  With ease he quoted Deuteronomy, the various Isaiahs, and Rabbi Hillel.  There was continuity from the Hebrew Bible (as in the Ten Commandments, repeated in Deuteronomy 5) to Jesus.

There is much continuity from the Hebrew Bible to the New Testament.  The teaching to walk, not just talk, the talk, is present in both, as in the context of the Ten Commandments and the Letter of James.  The theme of trusting in God, who cares about us (as in Psalm 40), is also present in the New Testament.  As one considers the lilies of the field, one may recall that Job had a different opinion in Job 3.  If each of us lives long enough, each of us also sometimes thinks that God does not care about us.

Occasionally, at the Oconee Campus of the University of North Georgia, where I teach, someone from a campus ministry politely asks me if I believe in God.  I ask this person what he or she means, for the answer depends on the question.  Many people used “believe in God” to mean “affirm the existence of God,” but belief, in the creedal sense, is trust.  My answer is that I always affirm the existence of God and usually trust in God.

I (usually) trust in God, incarnate in the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth, whose teachings were mostly old, in continuity with the Hebrew Bible.  The Golden Rule and the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) are old, for example.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 13, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MILTON SMITH LITTLEFIELD, JR., U.S. PRESBYTERIAN AND CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMNAL EDITOR

THE FEAST OF SIGISMUND VON BIRKEN, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT, U.S. POET, JOURNALIST, AND HYMN WRITER

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2019/06/13/old-teachings/

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Devotion for the Second Sunday After the Epiphany, Year B (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Chess Pawns

Photographer = Frank-Christian Baum

Complaining Pawns

JANUARY 19, 2020

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Job 1:1; 2:1-10 or Deuteronomy 4:1-9

Psalm 39:1-8, 11-13

James 1:1-16

Mark 1:14-20

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Many who have walked the path of righteousness have suffered for doing so, as many still so.  Most of the twelve Apostles became martyrs.  St. John the Evangelist avoided martyrdom yet still suffered.  St. James of Jerusalem became a martyr.  St. Mark went to martyrdom, also.  Yet the theme of the goodness and presence of God has been a theme that has accompanied persecution and martyrdom since the times of the Bible.

How good is God, as the Book of Job, in its final, composite form, depicts the deity?  The author of the prose wrap-around explained the cause of Job’s suffering (a wager between God and the Satan, still an employee of God, in the theology of the time).  Job was a pawn.  The author of the prose wrap-around also thought that Job was correct to complain (42:7-9).

I agree with the author of Job 42:7-17; Job had every right to complain.  At least he was being honest with God.

Sometimes we feel like pawns as we move through life.  On some occasions we are.  When we are, we have every right to complain.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 12, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF EDWIN PAXTON HOOD, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, PHILANTHROPIST, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN DAVID JAESCHKE, GERMAN MORAVIAN ORGANIST AND COMPOSER; AND HIS GRANDSON, HENRI MARC HERMANN VOLDEMAR VOULLAIRE, MORAVIAN COMPOSER AND MINISTER

THE FEAST OF ENMAGAHBOWH, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND MISSIONARY TO THE OJIBWA NATION

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH DACRE CARLYLE, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2019/06/12/complaining-pawns/

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Devotion for Christmas Eve (Year D)   1 comment

Madonna and Child

Above:  Icon of Mary and Jesus

Image in the Public Domain

In Jesus’s Name

DECEMBER 24, 2020

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Ecclesiastes 5:1-20 or 7:1-14 or Ezekiel 33:23-33

Psalm 21

Philippians 3:1-4a; 4:10-21 or James 1:17-27

Matthew 12:22-50 or Luke 11:14-54

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Be exalted, O LORD, in your strength!

We will sing and praise your power.

–Psalm 21:13, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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Sincere praise of God is a virtue and insincere spiritual speech is an affront to God.  Often such insincere speech, externally pious, disguises willful and/or institutionalized social injustice, especially that of the economic variety.  The mercy and judgment of God coexist.  Often we prefer to hear of the mercy yet not of the judgment.  That is at least as bad an error as committing the opposite fallacy.

That is a concise summary of several of the elements of the lections for Christmas Eve (Year D).  One might recognize my summary as being accurate while wondering what it has to do with Christmas Eve, however.  That is a legitimate question.  Timothy Matthew Slemmons, in Year D (2012), acknowledges the challenge of selecting germane and neglected texts for December 24 and 25.  He explains that his suggested readings contain relevant themes, such as the universality of sin.

The world that the Second Person of the Trinity, incarnated as Jesus, entered was dangerous and corrupt.  That description still applies to the world, does it not?  Jesus continues to come to us in the guise of the poor, the lame, the exploited, the young, the middle-aged, and the elderly.  Do we content ourselves with pious platitudes while we do little or nothing to help them (as we are able, of course) and/or to justify systems that harm them?  And, as we enjoy hearing about divine mercy, do we give proper attention to God’s judgment on those who exploit the vulnerable?

The celebration of the birth of Jesus, linked to his death and resurrection, is more than a time to celebrate.  It is also an occasion for us to commit or recommit ourselves to living according to the incarnational principle.  God is present all around us intangibly in tangible elements of creation.  These tangible elements include the defenseless and the exploited.  May we commit or recommit ourselves to recognizing the image of God in them and to acting accordingly, in Jesus’s name.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 22, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JACK LAYTON, CANADIAN ACTIVIST AND FEDERAL LEADER OF THE NEW DEMOCRATIC PARTY

THE FEAST OF JOHN DRYDEN, ENGLISH PURITAN THEN ANGLICAN THEN ROMAN CATHOLIC POET, PLAYWRIGHT, AND TRANSLATOR

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/08/22/in-jesuss-name/

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Devotion for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday After the Sixth Sunday After Epiphany, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   5 comments

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Above:  A Cornfield, Hardin County, Iowa, September 1939

Photographer = Arthur Rothstein (1915-1985)

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USF34-028069-D

Grace and Mutual Responsibility

FEBRUARY 17-19, 2020

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The Collect:

O God, the strength of all who hope in you,

because we are weak mortals we accomplish nothing without you.

Help us to see and understand the things we ought to do,

and give us grace and power to do them,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 24

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The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 20:1-21 (Monday)

Deuteronomy 23:21-24:4, 10-15 (Tuesday)

Proverbs 2:1-15 (Wednesday)

Psalm 119:9-16 (All Days)

James 1:2-8 (Monday)

James 2:1-13 (Tuesday)

Matthew 19:1-12 (Wednesday)

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I will meditate on your commandments

and give attention to your ways.

My delight is in your statutes;

I will not forget your word.

–Psalm 119:15-16, Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006)

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The Law of Moses is a complex code.  In one breath it speaks of responsibilities people have to each other in community, such as not to exploit each other.  Yet the same law code classes women and servants with inanimate property in the Ten Commandments, has a negative view of female biology, and contains many offenses which end with death by stoning.  I join with my fellow Christians since the earliest years of Christianity in applying parts of the Law of Moses literally while not keeping other sections thereof.  There are, of course, the letter and the spirit of the law, with much of the letter consisting of culturally-specific principles.  So one might identify contemporary applications in lieu of examples from the Bible.  Yet I refuse to execute or condone the execution of a child who disrespects his or her parents severely, for example.

Thus I pick and choose amid the provisions of the Law of Moses, as I should.  I focus on mutual responsibilities, for all of us are responsible to and for each other.  This is a timeless truth, the keeping of which builds up communities, nations, societies, and the human species.  We ought never to exploit or seek to exploit one another.  To exclude another person wrongly or seek to do so is sinful.  To fail to recognize the Image of God in another is to sin.

That can be advice difficult to follow.  And the following counsel is really hard for me:

Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and completely lacking in nothing.

–James 2:2-4, Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition

I do not welcome

various trials (RSV-SCE)

as

friends (James 2:2, J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English, Revised Edition, 1972).

Rather, I prefer the absence of

various trials (James 2:2, RSV-SCE).

Yet I recognize that

various trials

in my past have resulted in more mature faith.  I examine myself spiritually and recognize benefits I have gained from adversity.  Yet I do not wish to repeat the experiences.  I interpret the good results of

various trials

as evidence of abundant divine grace and rejoice in that.

May we, by divine grace, extend such grace to others as we have opportunity to do so.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 18, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT LUKE THE EVANGELIST, PHYSICIAN

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/10/18/grace-and-mutual-responsibility/

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Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before the Sixth Sunday After Epiphany, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   3 comments

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Above:  Herod’s Temple

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-11786

Active and Effective Love for Each Other

FEBRUARY 13-15, 2020

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The Collect:

O God, the strength of all who hope in you,

because we are weak mortals we accomplish nothing without you.

Help us to see and understand the things we ought to do,

and give us grace and power to do them,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 24

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The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 26:1-15 (Thursday)

Leviticus 26:34-46 (Friday)

Deuteronomy 30:1-91 (Saturday)

Psalm 119:1-8 (all days)

James 1:12-16 (Thursday)

1 John 2:7-17 (Friday)

Matthew 15:1-9 (Saturday)

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You laid down your commandments,

that we should fully keep them.

–Psalm 119:4, Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006)

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These readings contain much sage advice:

  1. Obey God’s laws, whether or not one lives among foreigners with different religions and customs.
  2. Love one’s fellow human beings actively and effectively, trusting in the power of God to enable one to do this.
  3. Do not use God and/or religion to to cover up or to attempt to cover up one’s own perfidy.

The latter point requires some explanation.  Korban was a custom by which one gave money to the religious establishment for the support of the professional religious people there.  Many people used this practice to deprive their relatives of necesssary funds while looking pious.  And many Temple officials knew it.  Thus religion became a means of circumventing a basic ethic of the Law of Moses:

Honor your father and your mother.

In other words, motives mattered.  They still do.

Ethics are concrete, not abstract.  Since we human beings live in communities, our actions and inactions affect each other.  Our actions and inactions flow from our attitudes.  Thus how we think of each other matters greatly.  Do we value each other or do we seek ways to exploit and/or deprive each other?  Which people do we think of as our neighbors?

May we not use the letter of the law to the cover up or to attempt to cover up violations of its spirit.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 18, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT LUKE THE EVANGELIST, PHYSICIAN

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/10/18/active-and-effective-love-for-each-other/

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Week of 6 Epiphany: Wednesday, Year 2   6 comments

Above:  A Nurse with Orphaned Babies

Image Source = Michielvd

Pure and Faultless Worship

FEBRUARY 19, 2020

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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.

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James 1:19-27 (Revised English Bible):

Of that you may be certain, my dear friends.  But everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to be angry.  For human anger does not promote God’s justice.  Then discard everything sordid, and every wicked excess, and meekly accept the message planted in your hearts, with its power to save you.

Only be sure you act on the message, and do not merely listen and so deceive yourselves.  Anyone who does not act on it is like someone looking in a mirror at the face nature gave him; he glances at himself and forgets what he looked like.  But he who looks into the perfect law, the law that makes us free, and does not turn away, remembers what he hears; he acts on it, and by so acting he will find happiness.

If anyone thinks he is religious but does not bridle his tongue, he is deceiving himself; that man’s religion is futile.  A pure and faultless religion in the sight of God the Father is this:  to look after orphans and widows in trouble and to keep oneself untarnished by the world.

Psalm 15 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 LORD, who may dwell in your tabernacle?

who may abide upon your holy hill?

Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right,

who speaks the truth from his heart.

3 There is no guile upon his tongue;

he does no evil to his friend;

he does not heap contempt upon his neighbor.

In his sight the wicked is rejected,

but he honors those who fear the LORD.

5 He has sworn to do no wrong

and does not take back his word.

6 He does not give his money in hope of gain,

nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.

Whoever does these things

shall never be overthrown.

Mark 8:22-26 (Revised English Bible):

They arrived at Bethsaida.  There the people brought a blind man to Jesus and begged him to touch him.  He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village.  Then he spat on his eyes, laid his eyes upon him, and asked if he could see anything.  The man’s sight began to come back, and he said,

I see people–they look like trees, but they are walking about.

Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; he looked hard, and now he was cured and could not see anything clearly.  Then Jesus sent him home, saying,

Do not even go into the village.

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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.

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Some Related Posts:

Week of 6 Epiphany:  Wednesday, Year 1:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/25/week-of-6-epiphany-wednesday-year-1/

Faith in Romans vs. Faith in James:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/04/week-of-proper-23-tuesday-year-1/

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Be quick to listen,

but over your answer take time.

Give an answer if you know what to say,

but if not, hold your tongue.

Through speaking come both honour and dishonour,

and the tongue can be its owner’s downfall.

–Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 5:11-13, Revised English Bible

So much for the FOX News Channel, much of A.M. talk radio in the United States, and many comments on the Internet being positive influences.  Fortunately, I choose not to consume such content.  My life is better because of this lifestyle choice.

Faith, for James, is active.  This is as it should be.  And the level of activity goes deeper than the English translation indicates.  At the end of Chapter 1 we read about pure religion, but the Greek word indicates worship.  So, according to James 1:27,

Pure and faultless worship is this:  to look after orphans and widows in trouble, and to keep oneself untarnished by the world.

This is consistent with Jesus (Matthew 25:31-46) and the Hebrew prophets who condemned rampant corruption and economic injustice and stated that these made a mockery of religious rituals.  According to Jesus, the prophets, and James, we ought to act out of love and compassion, not anger, a preference for opinions over facts, and one upsmanship.  I am convinced that it is better not to participate in an argument than to win one by shouting the loudest the longest.  It is best, in fact, to do something good for another person.

Let’s get busy committing good deeds, with as many of them as possible being anonymous.  If we are doing these for the benefit of others and the glory of God, this is the best way to commit them.

KRT

Week of 6 Epiphany: Tuesday, Year 2   8 comments

Above:  Diagram of a U-Turn

Image Source = Smurrayinchester

Temptation and Repentance

FEBRUARY 18, 2020

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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.

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James 1:12-18 (Revised English Bible):

Happy is the man who stands up to trial!  Having passed that test he will receive in reward the life which God has promised to those who love him.  No one when tempted should say,

I am being tempted by God;

for God cannot be tempted by evil and does not himself tempt anyone.  Temptation comes when anyone is lured and dragged away by his own desires; then desire conceives and gives birth to sin, and sin when it is full-grown breeds death.

Make no mistake, my dear friends.  Every good and generous action and every perfect gift comes from above, from the Father who created the lights of heaven.  With him there is no variation, no play of passing shadows.  Of his own choice, he brought us to birth by the word of truth to be a kind of firstfruits of his creation.

Psalm 94:12-19 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

12  Happy are those whom you instruct, O Lord!

whom you teach out of your law;

13  To give them rest in evil days,

until a pit is dug for the wicked.

14  For the LORD will not abandon his people,

nor will he forsake his own.

15  For judgment will again be just,

and all the true of heart will follow it.

16  Who rose up for me against the wicked?

who took my part against the evildoers?

17  If the LORD had not come to my help,

I should soon have dwelt in the land of silence.

18  As often as I said, “My foot has slipped,”

your love, O LORD, upheld me.

19  When many cares fill my mind,

your consolations cheer my soul.

Mark 8:14-21 (Revised English Bible):

Now they had forgotten to take bread with them, and had only one loaf in the boat.  He began to warn them:

Beware,

he said,

be on your guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the the leaven of Herod.

So they began to talk among themselves about having no bread.  Knowing this, Jesus said to them,

Why are you talking about having no bread?  Have you no inkling yet?  Do you still not understand?  Are your minds closed?  You have eyes:  can you not see?  You have ears:  can you not hear?  Have you forgotten?  When I broke the five loaves among the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?

They said,

Twelve.

He asked,

And how many when I broke the seven loaves among the four thousand?

They answered,

Seven.

He said to them,

Do you still not understand?

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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.

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Some Related Posts:

Week of 6 Epiphany:  Tuesday, Year 1:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/22/week-of-6-epiphany-tuesday-year-1/

Faith in Romans vs. Faith in James:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/04/week-of-proper-23-tuesday-year-1/

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From time to time I hear really bad theology.  I would hear more of it, except for the fact that I choose not to listen to certain preachers whose programs populate radio and television waves.  Nevertheless, much bad theology has permeated the laity.  There, from time to time, I hear that God is testing people’s faith by doing something like creating false yet convincing-looking rock layers which contradict Creationism.  First, I am a Theistic Evolutionist and one who affirms the veracity of geological layers, so I have expressed my opinion of Creationism; it is foolishness.  Can we join the scientific age now?  But, to the point of God making rocks look older than they are:  If one accepts that (A) the rocks are younger than they seem and that (B) God has pulled off this deception, what is one saying about God?  Is one saying that God tempts people to believe something that is objectively false?

I hope that is not what some people are saying, but it sounds like that.

James is one of my favorite books.  Martin Luther famously dismissed it as an “epistle of straw,” but he was mistaken on that point.  (In fact, I have heard more than Lutheran pastor speak critically of James.  It must be all that talk of the importance of works in the epistle.)  The Letter of James is full of practical advice and common-sense comments, such as the one that God does not tempt us.  Instead, God calls us to repentance, literally turning around or changing our minds.  And, as we think, so we are.  This makes sense, for our attitudes lead to our actions, barring accidents.

Desire is powerful.  There are many physical desires, including but not restricted to those related to sexuality.  Food, for example, is the subject of many desires, some of them unhealthy.  The existence of desire is morally neutral, although what one does with it is not.  There is no moral error is savoring a well-cooked meal, for example.  Indeed, the taste buds provide much wonderful pleasure, and one ought to enjoy blessings, including food.  There is not even anything wrong with savoring an occasional cheeseburger, but a steady diet of them leads to negative consequences.  (I have greatly reduced my consumption of cheeseburgers and replaced them with healthy alternatives.)  As James points out, we should control our desires; they ought not do drag us away to sin and death.  Sometimes that death is spiritual; other times, physical; other times, both.

Resisting temptation can be very difficult.  If I were to tell you, O reader, that I have mastered the resistance of temptation, I would lie to you.  It is true, however, that, by grace, I have improved.  There is much room for further improvement, and there is also plenty of grace available.  Thanks be to God!

KRT

Week of 6 Epiphany: Monday, Year 2   5 comments

Above:  Enron Logo

Enron, of course, has ceased to exist, but here is where I found the image: link

Trust in God; All Else is Transitory

FEBRUARY 17, 2020

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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.

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James 1:1-11 (Revised English Bible):

From James, a servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Greetings to the twelve tribes dispersed throughout the world.

My friends, whenever you have to face all sorts of trials, count yourselves supremely happy in the knowledge that such testing of your faith makes for strength to endure.  Let endurance perfect its work in you that you may become perfected, sound throughout, lacking in nothing.  If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God and it will be given him, for God is a generous giver who neither grudges nor reproaches anyone.  But he who asks must ask in faith, with never a doubt in his mind; for the doubter is like a wave of the sea tossed hither and thither by the wind.  A man like that should not think he will receive anything from the Lord.  He is always in two minds and unstable in all he does.

The church member in humble circumstances does well to take pride in being exalted; the wealthy member must find his pride in being brought low, for the rich man will disappear like a wild flower; once the sun is up with its scorching heat, it parches the plant, its flower withers, and what was lovely to look at is lost for ever.  So shall the rich man fade away as he goes about his business.

Psalm 119:65-72 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

65  O LORD, you have dealt graciously with your servant,

according to your word.

66  Teach me discernment and knowledge,

for I have believed in your commandments.

67  Before I was afflicted I went astray,

but now I keep your word.

68  You are good and you bring forth good;

instruct me in your statutes.

69  The proud have smeared me with lies,

but I will keep your commandments with my whole heart.

70  Their heart is gross and fat,

but my delight is in your law.

71  It is good for me that I have been afflicted,

that I might learn your statutes.

72  The law of your mouth is dearer to me

than thousands in gold and silver.

Mark 8:11-13 (Revised English Bible):

Then the Pharisees came out and began to argue with him.  To test him they asked for a sign from heaven.  He sighed deeply and said,

Why does generation ask for a sign?  Truly I tell you:  no sign shall be given to this generation.

With that he left them, re-embarked, and made for the other shore.

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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.

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A Related Post:

Week of 6 Epiphany:  Monday, Year 1:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/21/week-of-6-epiphany-monday-year-1/

Faith in Romans vs. Faith in James:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/04/week-of-proper-23-tuesday-year-1/

Finding God in Silence:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/06/23/finding-god-in-silence/

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One of the recurring themes in the Bible is the imperative of trusting in God first and foremost.  This does not preclude making good decisions; indeed, it leads to doing this.  Hebrew prophets counseled leaders to trust in God, not international alliances with double-dealing empires, and not to become overly confident in military strength.  Such things, they said, were idols.  And, like all other idols, they come and they go.

Jesus, in Mark 8, complained about yet another demand for a dramatic sign.  We humans like signs and wonders, for they are easy to identify.  Yet Elijah, in 1 Kings 19:12, found God in “a faint murmuring sound,” not an earthquake, a strong wind, or a fire.  That was not very dramatic, was it?  We ought to trust God because God is God, not because of signs and wonders.

In James 1 we read about becoming “perfected.”  The original Greek word maturity.  And completeness refers to a blemishless state, as in that present in a sacrificial animal.  So, in context, endurance produces spiritual maturity, suitability in service to God, and a continuing state of spiritual growth.  Other factors, such as wealth and prestige (or lack thereof) are transient, so we ought not become attached to them and define ourselves according to them.

Maybe Douglas Adams said it best on page 1 of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979):

Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.

Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.

The planet has–or rather had–a problem, which was this:  most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time.  Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.

And so the problem remained; lots of people were mean, and most of them were miserable, even the ones with digital watches.

Many were increasingly of the opinion that they’d all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place.  And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans.

And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, a girl sitting on her own in a small cafe in Rickmansworth suddenly realized what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how how the world could be made a good and happy place.  This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything.

Sadly, however, before she could get to a phone to tell anyone about it, a terrible, stupid catastrophe occurred, and the idea was lost for ever.

This is not her story.

Our identity, my theology tells me, ought to have its root in God alone.  Each human being bears the image of God, who loves, who woos, and who has sacrificed for everyone.  This is God, whom we can trust.  Money, when it is physical, is pieces of paper and metal, used properly for paying our bills, purchasing our necessities, and helping others–but not functioning as a barrier between us and God.

Here ends the lesson.

KRT