Archive for the ‘John Donne’ Tag

Devotion for January 2, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Herbert Spencer

Above:  Herbert Spencer (1820-1903)

Image in the Public Domain

Wisdom, Folly, and Maliciousness

JANUARY 2, 2022


The Collect:

Almighty God, you gave us your only Son

to take on our human nature and to illumine the world with your light.

By your grace adopt us as your children and enlighten us with your Spirit,

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

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 20


The Assigned Readings:

Proverbs 1:-17

Psalm 147:12-20

James 3:13-18


Great is our God and mighty in power;

his wisdom is beyond all telling.

The Lord lifts up the poor,

but casts down the wicked to the ground.

–Psalm 147:5-6, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)


The two main pericopes for this day contrast divine wisdom and human contrast divine wisdom and human folly and maliciousness.  Divine wisdom builds up communities and societies.  It is

first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full to mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.

–James 3:17, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

The alleged wisdom of the world, however, is actually folly and maliciousness.  It builds up those who practice it, but at the expense of others.  And it harms those who practice it, for whatever we do to others, we do to ourselves.  “No man is an island,” as John Donne wrote.

I have noticed for years the dismaying practice of engaging in Social Darwinism that would make Herbert Spencer blush and dressing it up as godly.  This has been especially egregious in U.S. politics.  Often being mean-spirited is better for one’s poll numbers than being compassionate and gentle.  Sadly, the condemnations of human folly and maliciousness in Proverbs 1 and James 3 remain relevant, for speaking favorably of programs of social uplift can lead to unjustified allegations from mean-spirited people, many of whom claim allegiance to Jesus.

This is a devotion for the second day of the year.  May the new year be a time for increased levels of compassion and gentleness, of love for one’s neighbors (we are all neighbors, according to Jesus), and respect for the inherent dignity of our fellow human beings during all stages of life.  Being compassionate and gentle builds up communities and societies.  It is good for individuals, none of whom are proverbial islands.  It is strength, not weakness, and virtue, not something to mock.







Devotion for Wednesday After the Fifth Sunday After Epiphany, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   2 comments


Above:  Design Drawing for Stained-Glass Window, “I Am the Light of the World,” After William Holman Hunt

Window Designed by J. & R. Lamb Studios, Circa 1907

Image Source = Library of Congress

Responsibility to Others

FEBRUARY 8, 2023


The Collect:

Lord God, with endless mercy you receive

the prayers of all who call upon you.

By your Spirit show us the things we ought to do,

and give us the grace and power to do them,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 22


The Assigned Readings:

Proverbs 6:6-23

Psalm 119:105-112

John 8:12-30


The wicked have laid a snare for me,

but I have not strayed from your commandments.

–Psalm 119:110, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)


The reading from Proverbs 6 contains maxims regarding how to and how not to behave toward others ethically.  None of our actions affect just us, for, as John Donne told us centuries ago,

No man is an island.

So we ought to consider carefully how our attitudes, which fuel our actions and inactions, affect those around us.  They are, after all, our neighbors.  And God is watching us.

Sometimes our perfidy–even violence or threats or promises thereof–flow from the motivation to confirm in our own imaginations our illusory righteousness.  Those whose words and mere existence make plain our wretchedness offend us, so they threaten our self-images.  And we might, if we are honest with ourselves, know this to be true.  Nevertheless, acknowledging our sin and repenting of it is more difficult than deepening that sin.  But we must, if we are to obey God, do the former, not the latter.

May we not sacrifice others on the altar of our ego structures or anything else.








Devotion for Monday and Tuesday After the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment


Above:  Church of the Common Ground, Woodruff Park, Atlanta, Georgia, June 30, 2013

Image Source = Bill Monk, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

Serving God and Each Other

DECEMBER 19 and 20, 2022


The Collect:

Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come!

With your abundant grace and might,

free us from the sin that hinders our faith,

that eagerly we may receive your promises,

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

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 19


The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 17:15-22 (Monday)

Genesis 21:1-21 (Tuesday)

1 Samuel 2:1-10 (both days)

Galatians 4:8-20 (Monday)

Galatians 4:21-5:1 (Tuesday)


The LORD kills and brings to life;

he brings down to Sheol and raises up.

The LORD makes poor and makes rich;

he brings low; he also exalts.

He raises the poor from the dust;

he lifts the needy from the heap,

to make them sit with princes

and inherit a seat of honor.

–1 Samuel 2:6-8a, The New Revised Standard Version


Hannah’s Song from 1 Samuel 2, a partial basis for the Magnificat, is fitting to read during Advent and with these lections.  The birth of Isaac was a miracle, as was the birth of Samuel.  And we read an allegory of Isaac and Ishmael in Galatians.  The essence of the allegory is this:  In grace there is freedom, not slavery–freedom to serve God.

Among the underlying principles of the Law of Moses was that everything belongs to God.  Therefore we are tenants on this planet and slaves of God, a kindly (at least some of the time) master.  God, in the Bible (both Testaments) does have quite a temper.  God, in both Testaments, exercises both judgment and mercy.  And, in the Law of Moses, there was mercy in exchange for obedience to the Law, which spoke of mutual responsibilities of people to each other.  If all were slaves of God, none was better than anyone else.  And nobody had the right to exploit anyone else.

There was, of course, the long list of stonable offenses (many of which I have committed), from working on the Sabbath day to showing disrespect to parents.  If one were subject to such laws, who would live into or past adolescence?  Obviously, executing someone does not indicate mercy toward him or her.  I mention these matters to avoid even the appearance of committing prooftexting and to acknowledge the complexity of the texts.  But my earlier point remains accurate.

That point–responsibility to each other–runs through the Galatians lessons also.  There is a consistent biblical testimony on the topic of what we owe to each other as social beings who bear the Image of God.  The well-being of the community is crucial to this theology, for none of us is, as John Donne said, an island.  So, just as surely as we ought not to endanger the community, the community has no right to crush us for simply not conforming to every rule.  Diversity enriches the whole and individualism and communitarianism can co-exist peacefully and respectfully.  Besides, if everybody were alike, much that is essential would not get done.  If that were not bad enough, the community and the world wold be incredibly dull.

May this Advent be a time to renew our commitments to God and each other to labor faithfully for the greater good in interesting and perhaps even quirky ways.