Archive for the ‘Mark 1’ Tag

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

Above:  Job and His Alleged Friends, a Fresco

Image in the Public Domain

Being Good Friends

FEBRUARY 2, 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 5:6-23 or Deuteronomy 5:6-21

Psalm 41

James 2:1-17

Mark 1:29-45

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The Law of Moses, unlike the older Code of Hammurabi, to which it bears some similarity, does not bring social class into consideration.  No, the Law of Moses is impartial regarding the socio-economic status of both the victim and the perpetrator.  In the Code of Hammurabi, for example, the same crime (theft or assault, for example) leads to a harsher penalty when the victim belongs to a higher social class.  In the Law of Moses, however, the penalty is the same, regardless of anyone’s socio-economic status.  That ethic of socio-economic impartiality carries over into James 2:1-7.

The Hillelian distillation of the Law of Moss comes from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (the Shema).  How we love God, assuming that we do, manifests in how we treat each other.  Hypocrisy is as old as human nature.  Pious fronts belie both evil intentions and lesser disregard and carelessness.  Often those who violate the Golden Rule do so while imagining that they are honoring God.  Eliphaz the Temanite and the other so-called friends of Job (who remind me of, “with friends like these, who needs enemies?”) sound like the Book of Psalms much of the time.  That fact complicates the interpretation of much of the Book of Job.  The best answer I can offer is that what they said applied in certain circumstances, but not that one.

If we were less concerned about who is wright and about insisting that we are right, and if we were more concerned about being good friends to one another, we could fulfill the spirit of most of the assigned texts for today.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 14, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CHARLES AUGUSTUS BRIGGS, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, EPISCOPAL PRIEST, BIBLICAL SCHOLAR, AND ALLEGED HERETIC; AND HIS DAUGHTER, EMILIE GRACE BRIGGS, BIBLICAL SCHOLAR AND “HERETIC’S DAUGHTER”

THE FEAST OF SAINT METHODIUS I OF CONSTANTINOPLE, DEFENDER OF ICONS AND ECUMENICAL PATRIARCH OF CONSTANTINOPLE; AND SAINT JOSEPH THE HYMNOGRAPHER, DEFENDER OF ICONS AND “SWEET-VOICED NIGHTINGALE OF THE CHURCH”

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM HIRAM FOULKES, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2019/06/14/friendship-v/

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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 the First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Water in Desert

Image in the Public Domain

Water

JANUARY 12 , 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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Jeremiah 31:7-14

Psalm 29

Acts 19:1-7

Mark 1:9-13

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Water is an element in all four readings for today.  There is, of course, the water of baptism–the baptism of Jesus and of the unnamed people in Acts 19.  Yahweh, “upon the mighty waters,” is like yet unlike Baal Peor, the Canaanite storm god, in Psalm 29.  (Yet, of course, the presentation of God is quite different in 1 Kings 19:9-18, set after the killing of the priests of Baal Peor in Chapter 18.)  Finally, water is especially precious in the desert, as in Jeremiah 31.

God is tangibly present in each reading.  God is present in nature in Psalm 29, leading exiles out of exile through nature in Jeremiah 31, present via the Holy Spirit in Acts 19, and present in the flesh of Jesus in Mark 1.  God remains tangibly present with us in many ways, which we notice, if we pay attention.

One usually hears the theme of the Epiphany as being the Gospel of Jesus Christ going out to the gentiles.  That is part of the theme.  The other part of the theme is gentiles going to God–Jesus, as in the case of the Magi.  Today, in Mark 1 and Acts 19, however, we have the first part of the theme of the Epiphany.  The unnamed faithful, we read in Acts 19, had their hearts and minds in the right place; they merely needed to learn what they must do.

Acts 19:1-7 is an excellent missionary text for that reason.  The unnamed faithful, prior to their baptisms, fit the description of those who belong in the category of Baptism of Desire, in Roman Catholic theology.  As good as the Baptism of Desire is, baptism via water and spirit is superior.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 11, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BARNABAS, COWORKER OF SAINT PAUL THE APOSTLE

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2019/06/11/water/

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Devotion for the Second Sunday of Advent, Year B (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  The Preaching of St. John the Baptist, by Pieter Brueghel the Elder

Image in the Public Domain

Repentance

DECEMBER 8, 2019

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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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Isaiah 40:1-11

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

2 Peter 3:8-15a

Mark 1:1-8

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The readings, overall, have toned down and become less daunting since the previous Sunday in the Humes lectionary.  Not everything is all puppies and kittens, though.

The readings from the Hebrew Bible flow from the theology that sin led to collective suffering–exile in Isaiah 40 and drought in Psalm 85.  Isaiah 40 announces pardon and the imminent end of the Babylonian Exile.  Psalm 85 prays for both forgiveness and rain.

Apocalyptic expectations are plain in the reading from 2 Peter.  Believing in the return of Jesus Christ is no excuse to drop the ball morally, we read.

The pericope from Mark 1 contains two major themes that jump out at me.  The text, which quotes Isaiah 40 and relates it to the Incarnation, indicates the call to repentance and makes plain that St. John the Baptist modeled humility, but not timidity.

Repentance is a recurring theme throughout the Bible.  Many devout people are aware of their need to change their minds and ways.  Being aware of that necessity is relatively easy.  Then the really difficult elements follow.  Can we see past our cultural blinders and our psychological defense mechanisms?  Are we humble enough to acknowledge our sins?  And, assuming that we can and are, changing our ways is difficult.  We need not rely on our puny, inadequate power, however.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 6, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF FRANKLIN CLARK FRY, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED LUTHERAN CHURCH IN AMERICA AND THE LUTHERAN CHURCH IN AMERICA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CLAUDE OF BESANÇON, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, ABBOT, MONK, AND BISHOP

THE FEAST OF HENRY JAMES BUCKOLL, AUTHOR AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM KETHE, PRESBYTERIAN HYMN WRITER

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2019/06/06/repentance-part-v/

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

Above:   St. Joseph, by William Dyce

Image in the Public Domain

Proclaiming Jesus the Son of God

DECEMBER 18, 2022

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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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Isaiah 7:10-17

Isaiah 12 (at least verses 2-6)

Romans 1:1-7

Matthew 1:18-24

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Ahaz, King of Judah (reigned 743/735-727/715 B.C.E.) was hardly a pious monotheist.  In fact, he practiced idolatry openly.  2 Kings 16 and 2 Chronicles 28 gave him scathing reviews.  Ahaz, confronted with an alliance of Israel and Aram against him, chose to rely on Assyria, not God.  That was a really bad decision.  Nevertheless, God sent a sign of deliverance; a young woman of the royal court would have a baby boy.  God would not only protect Judah but judge it also.

Surely God is our salvation, but how often do we take the easy way out and not trust in God?  When God arrives in the form of a helpless infant, as in Matthew 1, one might not recognize the divine presence.  What we expect to see might prevent us from seeing what is in front of us for what it is.  God approaches us in many guises, many of them unexpected.

At first reading Romans 1:4 might seem surprising, perhaps even similar to the Adoptionist heresy.

…and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord….

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

One might think of John 1:1-18, which declares that the Son is co-eternal with the Father.  One might also ponder the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:32-34) as well as the preceding testimony of St. John the Baptist in each Gospel.  One might even recall the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-8; Matthew 17:1-13; Luke 9:28-36).

The proclamation mentioned in Romans 1:4 need not contradict those other proclamations.  No, one should interpret it as a subsequent proclamation that Jesus was the Son of God.  One should notice the theological context in Romans 1:  Easter as the beginning and foretaste of the prophesied age of divine rule on Earth.

“Kingdom of God” has more than one meaning in the New Testament.  Usually, though, it indicates divine rule on Earth.  This kingdom is evident in the ministry of Jesus in the Gospels, written after the death of St. Paul the Apostle.  The Kingdom of God is both present and future; it is here, yet not fully.

As we, being intellectually honest readers of scripture, acknowledge the existence of certain disagreements regarding the dawning of the age of God, according to St. Paul and the authors of the canonical Gospels, may we also never cease to trust in God, regardless of how much evil runs rampant and how much time has elapsed since the times of Jesus and St. Paul.  God keeps a schedule we do not see.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 15, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ZACHARY OF ROME, POPE

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JAN ADALBERT BALICKI AND LADISLAUS FINDYSZ, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS IN POLAND

THE FEAST OF OZORA STEARNS DAVIS, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, THEOLOGIAN, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF VETHAPPAN SOLOMON, APOSTLE TO THE NICOBAR ISLANDS

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2018/03/15/proclaiming-jesus-the-son-of-god/

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Devotion for the Second Sunday of Advent (Year D)   1 comment

Moses Striking the Rock in Horeb

Above:  Moses Strikes the Rock in Horeb, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain

Pointing to God, Not Ourselves

DECEMBER 4, 2022

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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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Numbers 12:1-16 or 20:1-13 (14-21) 22-29

Psalm 106:(1) 7-18, 24-18 (43-48) or Psalm 95

Luke 1:(57) 58-67 (68-79) 80

Hebrews 3:1-19

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Many times he delivered them,

but they were rebellious in their purposes,

and were brought low through their iniquity.

Nevertheless he regarded their distress

when he heard their cry.

–Psalm 106:43-44, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,

as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,

when your ancestors tested me,

and put me to the proof, though you had seen my work.

–Psalm 95:8-9, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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In most of the readings for this day we read of grumbling against God and/or Moses despite God’s proven track record, frequently in the presence of those who go on to grumble.  Miriam and Aaron question the authority of Moses in Numbers 12. Miriam becomes ritually unclean because of this (Do not question Moses!), but her brother intercedes for her.  People witness then seem to forget God’s mighty acts in Psalms 95 and 106, as well as in Hebrews 3.  And, in Numbers 20, Moses disobeys instructions from God.  He is supposed to speak to a rock to make water come out of it, but he strikes it instead.

By word and act Moses is thus appropriating to himself an act of God.  In doing this he is undoing the message that God and Moses himself have been conveying to the to the people up to this point.  The people have continuously directed their attention to Moses instead of to God….Until this episode Moses has repeatedly told the people, “It is not from my own heart,” and “You are congregating against YHWH,” but now his words and actions confirm the people’s own perception.

–Richard Elliott Friedman, Commentary on the Torah with a New English Translation and the Hebrew Text (2001), page 495

Moses was generally trustworthy in the sight of God, per the positive assessment of him in Hebrews 3.  At Meribah he gave into human weakness.  All of us have caved into our own weaknesses on multiple occasions, have we not?  Have we not, for example, sought our own glory instead of that of God?  Have we not yielded to the temptation to be spectacular, which Henri J. M. Nouwen identified in The Way of the Heart (1981) as one of Satan’s temptations of Jesus in Luke 4 and Matthew 4?   If we have lived long enough, yes, we have.

And you, my child, will be called Prophet of the Most High,

for you will be the Lord’s forerunner to prepare his way

and lead his people to a knowledge of salvation

through the forgiveness of sins:

for in the tender compassion of our God

the dawn of heaven will break upon us,

to shine on those who live in darkness, under the shadow of death,

and to guide our feet in the way of peace.

–St. Zechariah in Luke 1:76-79, The Revised English Bible (1989)

St. John the Baptist grew up and became one who admitted the truth that he was not the Messiah (Luke 3:15-17 and Mark 1:7-8).  He pointed to cousin Jesus instead (Matthew 3:13-14 and John 3:25-36).

The spiritual vocations of Christians vary in details, but the common threads run through those calls from God.  We who call ourselves Christians have, for example, a responsibility to glorify God, not ourselves, and to point to Jesus.  We also have an obligation to lead lives defined by gratitude to God, not rebellion against God.  We can succeed, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 20, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN BAJUS, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/08/20/pointing-to-god-not-ourselves/

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Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B   20 comments

Above:  Elisha Refusing the Gifts of Naaman, by Pieter Fransz de Grebber

Of Skin Conditions, Stigma, Healing, and Humility

FEBRUARY 12, 2012

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2 Kings 5:1-14 (New Revised Standard Version):

Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the LORD had given victory to Aram.  The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy.  Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife.  She said to her,

If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria!  He would cure him of his leprosy.

So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said.  And the king of Aram said,

Go then, and I will sent along a letter to the king of Israel.

He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments.  He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read,

When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.

When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said,

Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy?  Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.

But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king,

Why have you torn your clothes?  Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.

So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house.  Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying,

Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.

But Naaman became angry and went away, saying,

I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy!  Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?  Could I not wash in them, and be clean?

He turned and went away in a rage.  But his servants approached and said to him,

Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it?  How much more, when all he said to you was, “Wash, and be clean”?

So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.

Psalm 30 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

 I will exalt you, O LORD,

because you have lifted me up

and have not let my enemies triumph over me.

 O LORD my God, I cried out to you,

and you restored me to health.

 You brought me up, O LORD, from the dead;

you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.

 Sing to the LORD, you servants of his;

give thanks for the remembrance of his holiness.

 For his wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye,

his favor for a lifetime.

6 Weeping may spend the night,

but joy comes in the morning.

 While I felt secure, I said,

“I shall never be disturbed.

You,  LORD, with your favor, made me as strong as the mountains.”

 Then you hid my face,

and I was filled with terror.

 I cried to you, O LORD;

I pleaded with the LORD, saying,

10  “What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the Pit?

will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness?

11  Hear, O LORD, and have mercy upon me;

O LORD, be my helper.”

12  You have turned my wailing into dancing;

you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy.

13  Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing;

O LORD my God, I will give you thanks for ever.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (New Revised Standard Version):

Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize?  Run in such a way that you may win it.  Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one.  So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.

Mark 1:40-45 (New Revised Standard Version):

A leper came Jesus begging him, and kneeling he said to him,

If you choose, you can make me clean.

Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him,

I do choose.  Be made clean!

Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.  After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him,

See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.

But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could not longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and the people came to him from every quarter.

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:

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/19/sixth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-a/

Mark 1:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/18/week-of-1-epiphany-thursday-year-1/

Matthew 8 (Parallel to Mark 1):

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/13/week-of-proper-7-friday-year-1/

Luke 5 (Parallel to Mark 1):

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/16/sixth-day-of-epiphany/

2 Kings 5:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/seventeenth-day-of-lent/

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Leprosy, in the Bible, is a broad term.  It refers to a variety of skin conditions in addition to Hansen’s Disease.  Aside from the physical signs, which could be difficult, there was stigma, which could be harder to handle.

Consider the case of Naaman, a successful military commander in the service of the King of Aram, an enemy of the King of Israel.  The author of 2 Kings 5 tells us that Naaman has won victories over the Israelite army with the help of God.  We also know that Naaman’s forces have kidnapped and enslaved at least one Israelite young woman, whom he has taken into his household as a servant.  We may also conclude that Naaman’s case of leprosy (whatever the modern diagnosis would be) was not severe, for he was still functional as a military commander.  Nevertheless, whatever Naaman had bothered him badly enough that he went to see Elisha.

The prophet Elisha did not stand on ceremony, much to Naaman’s disappointment and ire.  And, instead of staging an elaborate healing ritual, the prophet sent word by a messenger that Naaman ought to bathe in the humble Jordan River seven times.  One can imagine Naaman thinking in Aramaic, “That’s it!?!”

Note the role of servants in the story.  An enslaved servant girl tell’s Naaman’s wife about Elisha.  Naaman, despite his exalted view of himself, is just a servant of his king, and his success is due entirely to God.  Elisha himself does not speak to Naaman at first, but sends a messenger.

Being proud and mighty does not count for much in 2 Kings 5, does it?

We have another story of a cured leper in Mark 1.  This time the man is anonymous.  All he did to get cured was to ask Jesus, who agreed graciously.  But why did our Lord order the man to stay quiet? Biblical scholars have detected the theme of the Messianic Secret in the Gospel of Mark.  Throughout that book God knows who Jesus is, as do Jesus as well as Satan and any evil spirit whom our Lord encounters.  That, however, was a small circle of the knowledgeable.  No, Jesus had work to do, and that work culminated, in Mark, with his crucifixion, at which point his Messianic identity became plain.  There is also the matter of being able to go from place to place without having encountering thronging crowds.  The leper did not obey our Lord’s injunction to stay quiet, so Jesus had to remain in the hinterlands for a little while, but the crowds came to him.  So much for Plan A!

Divine grace falls upon the already humble and the recently humbled, upon the Jew and the Gentile, upon esteemed and the anonymous.  It arrives via unexpected and seemingly unlikely avenues, and it makes demands upon us.  What happened to the leper Jesus healed in Mark 1?  Maybe he rejoined his family; that is the most likely answer.  But what further impact did the incident have on the man?  The text is silent on that point.  As for Naaman, he renounced his faith in Rimmon, his former deity, and followed Yahweh (verse 18).  As to what that entailed for Naaman, the text is silent.

How will grace come to you this day, the next day, the day after that, et cetera?  And what will it require of you?  Will you do it?

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/of-skin-conditions-stigma-healing-and-humility/

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B   10 comments

Above:  Clouds at Sunset

Image Source = Fir0002

The Call of God, With All Its Responsibilities

FEBRUARY 7, 2021

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Isaiah 40:21-31 (New Revised Standard Version):

Have you not known?  Have you not heard?

Has it not been told you from the beginning?

Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?

It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,

and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;

who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,

and spreads them like a tent to live in;

who brings princes to naught,

and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.

Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,

scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,

when he blows upon them, and they wither,

and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

To whom then will you compare me?

or who is my equal? says the Holy One.

Lift up your eyes on high and see:

Who created these?

He who brings out their host and numbers them,

calling them all by name;

because he is great in strength,

mighty in power,

not one is missing.

Why do you say, O Jacob,

and speak, O Israel,

My way is hidden from the LORD,

and my right is disregarded by my God?

Have you not known?  Have you not heard?

The LORD is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary;

his understanding is unsearchable.

He gives power to the faint,

and strengthens the powerless.

Even youths will faint and be weary,

and the young will fall exhausted;

but those who wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength,

they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

they shall run and not be weary,

they shall walk and not faint.

Psalm 147:1-12, 21c (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  Hallelujah!

How good it is to sing praises to our God!

how pleasant it is to honor him with praise!

2  The LORD rebuilds Jerusalem;

he gathers the exiles of Israel.

3  He heals the brokenhearted

and binds up their wounds.

4  He counts the number of the stars

and call s them all by their names.

5  Great is our LORD and mighty in power;

there is no limit to his wisdom.

6  The LORD lifts up the lowly,

but casts the wicked to the ground.

7  Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving;

make music to our God upon the harp.

8  He covers the heavens with clouds

and prepares the rain for the earth;

9  He makes grass to grow upon the mountains

and green plants to serve mankind.

10  He provides food for flocks and herds

and for the young ravens when they cry.

11  He is not impressed by the might of a horse;

he has no pleasure in the strength of a man;

12  But the LORD has pleasure in those who fear him,

in those who await his gracious favor.

21c  Hallelujah!

1 Corinthians 9:16-23 (New Revised Standard Version):

If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!  For if I do this on my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission.  When then is my reward?  Just this:  that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free if charge, as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.

For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them.  To the Jews I became a Jew, in order to win Jews.  To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law.  To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law.  To the weak I became weak, so I might win the weak.  I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.  I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

Mark 1:29-39 (New Revised Standard Version):

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.  Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once.  He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up.  Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.  And the whole city was gathered around the door.  And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.  And Simon and his companions hunted for him.  When they found him, they said to him,

Everyone is searching for you.

He answered,

Let us go on to the neighboring towns , so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.

And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

The Collect:

Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

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Some Related Posts:

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/09/fifth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-a/

Isaiah 40:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/eleventh-day-of-advent/

Mark 1:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/17/week-of-1-epiphany-wednesday-year-1/

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In the Autumn of 1991, during my first quarter at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, Tifton, Georgia, my father was the newly appointed pastor the Sumner United Methodist Church, Sumner, Georgia.  I did not know it yet, but I was on the cusp of converting to The Episcopal Church, which I did at St. Anne’s Church, Tifton, on December 22, 1991.   In the meantime, however, I was still a United Methodist.  One Sunday morning, while teaching adult Sunday School, I offended someone by accident.

You, O reader, might wonder what terrible thing I said, what utterly offensive comment I made.  I will tell you.  I was discussing grace, especially the prevenient variety, by which God brings us into the Christian fold.  God does beckon us, after all.  I offered a scenario:  God is beckoning a non-Christian man, who responds favorably and obediently to God’s prevenient grace yet dies before making a profession of faith.  Does the man go to Heaven or to Hell?  In other words, will God be faithful to this man, who had responded favorably to him?  Most people said that the man would go to Heaven.  But two visitors, a daughter and son-in-law of a member, said that he would go to Hell, for he had not made a profession of faith and been baptized yet.  I made clear in a polite and civilized way, in a pleasant and conversational tone, and free of any insult or hint thereof, that I disagreed.

That was my offense.  I disagreed.  I learned after the fact that the visitors had taken offense.  I was unapologetic then, as I remain, for another person’s thin theological skin is not my responsibility.

And I remain convinced that we human beings ought to admit that the only limits on grace and divine forgiveness are those God imposes on them, and that only God knows what those limits are.  Or, as David said in 2 Samuel 24:14,

…let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.  (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition)

Grace is of the essence.  With that summary, let us work through the readings for this Sunday.

The lesson from Isaiah 40 predicts the liberation of Jews from the Babylonian Exile.  This is a chapter of comfort, as it begins with these words:

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

and cry to her

that her warfare is ended,

that her iniquity is pardoned,

that she has received from the LORD’s hand

double for all her sins.

(Isaiah 40:1-2, Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition)

The God of Isaiah 40 and Psalm 147 is the Creator, the judge who also shows mercy, looks favorably upon the faithful, and is infinitely wise.  The chapter, which begins with “…comfort my people,” ends with the promise that God will grant “power to the faint.”

That power enabled Paul the Apostle to persist faithfully through death threats, beatings, imprisonments, and a shipwreck, all the way until an employee of the Roman Empire cut his head off.  Grace moved Paul from the “right side of the law” and placed him in risky situations.  This was not cheap grace, that which demands nothing of one and is therefore useless.  No, it was costly grace–free in so far as Paul received it freely–but costly in terms of what it demanded of him.  The restrictions of Torah law no longer applied to him, but the law of the love of Christ demanded his all.

Jesus, of course, was perfect as well as fully human and fully divine.  Yet even he needed to get away, find quiet time, and pray.  A day full of healing will take a great deal out of a Messiah, I suppose.  He was grace incarnate.  It was Christ whom Paul preached and followed from his conversion to his execution.  It is Jesus whom we ought to follow, if we are not doing so already, and to whom God beckons people.

And if even Jesus needed to be quiet and to pray, how much more do we need to do these?  I live in a technology-soaked society, where many people are never really “away from it all” (except when sleeping) because somebody can contact them the rest of the time.  This is not healthy.  We need to nourish ourselves with peace, quiet, and God.  Otherwise, we will nothing constructive to offer anyone else.

Paul had a vocation as an evangelist and ultimately a martyr.  I have my vocation, and you, O reader, have yours.  The details of our vocations will vary according to various factors, but the principle is the same:  to glorify God, to be a light of God to others, to encourage our fellow Christians in their discipleship, to attract others to our Lord and Savior, to understand that there is no distinction between evangelism and positive social action.  As Shirwood Eliot Wirt, a close associate of Billy Graham wrote in the final chapter of The Social Conscience of the Evangelical (1968):

James was not wrong when he demanded that Christians show their faith by their works.  Jesus Christ was not wrong when he told his listeners in effect to stop sitting on their hands and to get to work doing God’s will.  He did not come to earth to split theological hairs, but to minister to a world in need and to save men out of it for eternity.  It is time the air is cleared.  To pit social action against evangelism is to raise a phony issue, one that Jesus would have spiked in a sentence.  He commanded his disciples to spread the Good News, and to let their social concern be made manifest through the changed lives of persons of ultimate worth.  (Page 154)

If I love my neighbor as I love myself, I cannot say honestly that I do not care about the injustice he or she endures, that he or she does not earn a living wage, that a flawed justice system convicted and sent him or her to prison unjustly, that he or she suffers under the weight of undue stigma, et cetera.  Grace demands me to care about all this and to act accordingly as well as whether my neighbor has a positive, growing relationship with Jesus of Nazareth. These are some of my responsibilities.  They are also yours.

God’s hands are my hands–and yours.  God’s voice is my voice–and yours.  May they be useful and eloquent, respectively.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/01/11/the-call-of-god-with-all-its-responsibilities/

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B   12 comments

Above:  A Greek Lamb Led to the Slaughter, 500s BCE

Image in the Public Domain

Being Mindful of Others

JANUARY 31, 2021

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Deuteronomy 18:15-22 (New Revised Standard Version):

[Moses speaking]

The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet.  This is what you requested of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said:

If you hear the voice of the LORD my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die.

Then the LORD replied to me:

They are right in what they have said.  I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I have commanded.  Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable.  But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak–that prophet shall die.

You may say to yourself,

How can we recognize a word that the LORD has not spoken?

If a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD but the thing does not take place or prove true, it is a word that the LORD has not spoken.  The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; do not be frightened by it.

Psalm 111 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Hallelujah!

I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart,

in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.

Great are the deeds of the LORD!

they are studied by all who delight in them.

3 His work is full of majesty and splendor,

and his righteousness endures for ever.

He makes his marvelous works to be remembered;

the LORD is gracious and full of compassion.

5 He gives food to those who fear him;

he is ever mindful of his covenant.

6 He has shown his people the power of his works

in giving them the lands of the nations.

The works of his hands are faithfulness and justice;

all his commandments are sure.

They stand fast for ever and ever,

because they are done in truth and equity.

He sent redemption to his people;

he commanded his covenant for ever;

holy and awesome is his Name.

10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;

those who act accordingly have a good understanding;

his praise endures for ever.

1 Corinthians 8:1-13 (New Revised Standard Version):

Now concerning food sacrificed to idols we know that

all of us possess knowledge.

Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.  Anyone who claims to know something does not have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.

Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that

no idol in the world really exists,

and that

there is no God but one.

Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth–as in fact there are many gods and many lords–yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge.  Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.

Food will not bring us close to God.

We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.  But take care that this liberty of yours  does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.  For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols?  So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed.  But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.  Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.

Mark 1:21-28 (New Revised Standard Version):

Then Jesus, Simon Peter, Andrew, and James and John, sons of Zebedee, went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, Jesus entered the synagogue and taught.  They were astonished at his teaching, for he taught as one having authority, and not as the scribes.  Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out,

What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are, the Holy One of God.

But Jesus rebuked him, saying,

Be silent, and come out of him!

And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.  They were all amazed, and they kept on talking to one another,

What is this?  A new teaching–with authority!  He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.

At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

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.

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Some Related Posts:

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/05/fourth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-a/

Mark 1:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/16/week-of-1-epiphany-tuesday-year-1/

Luke 4 (Parallel to Mark 1):

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/03/09/week-of-proper-17-tuesday-year-1/

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There is a difference between restraining one’s self or one’s children from certain activities (at some or all times) for the spiritual benefit of others and kowtowing to the unreasonable expectations of spiritually uptight people.

I recall that, in the early 1980s, when I measured my lifespan in single digits, my father served the Vidette United Methodist Church, Vidette, Georgia (http://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2009/09/22/vidette-united-methodist-church-vidette-georgia/).  The parsonage was next to the church building, with just a dead-end road running between the two.  For at least part of the time we were there (June 1980-June 1982), I was not supposed to play in the front yard on Sunday afternoons, lest anyone “get the wrong idea,” which I suppose, is that I was not keeping the Sabbath appropriately, i.e., dolefully.

I refuse to live in such a way that I run no risk of offending spiritually uptight people, some of whom take offense easily.  Nevertheless, I do try to live a good life, one of gratitude to God.  So I decide to do X but not Y, according to that standard, and to leave the taking of offense (or absence thereof) by the spiritually uptight to them.  If I were to try not to offend them, I would do little or nothing, and even that might bother them.  Even Jesus offended, and he was perfect.  How “offensive” then, will I be?

I am not a pietist, obviously.

Nevertheless, as Paul observed, Christian liberty is not a license to do everything which is lawful for one.  Sometimes discretion and concern for others dictates that one decide not to do something.  This something is not wrong in and of itself, but does the other person know that? Paul was dealing with the eating of meat sacrificed to false and imaginary deities, a circumstance which no longer applies in many cultures in contemporary times.  It has no bearing on me in Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, in 2011.  In fact, I cannot think of anything I do in public that would have a negative spiritual effect on anyone.  And my private life is mostly mundane, if one assumes that scandals are interesting.  (My life is far from scandalous.)

All this falls into the Lutheran category of “civil righteousness.” Yes, it is laudatory that I did not rob a liquor store last week and that I did perform many good works, but…

Our churches teach that a person’s will has some freedom to choose civil righteousness and to do things subject to reason.  It has no power, without the Holy Spirit, to work the righteousness of God, that is, spiritual righteousness.

Augsburg Confession of Faith, Article XVIII, as quoted in Concordia:  The Lutheran Confessions–A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord, Paul Timothy McCain, General Editor, Second Edition, Concordia Publishing House, 2006, page 40

I am mindful of the command not to lead the spiritually weak astray, which informs my decisions.  To the extent I have succeeded in following the spirit of Paul’s advice in my cultural context, I have done so by grace.

Grace is the work of God.  It precedes us and enables us to respond favorably to God.  By grace we have free will, so the misuse and abuse of free will is not what God has intended for us.  May we encourage and support each other in our Christian pilgrimages of faith, not throwing up road blocks consciously or unconsciously.  And may we not have hallucinations of road blocks, either.  Thus may we follow Jesus, our Lord and the ultimate authoritative prophet, successfully–by grace, of course.

KRT