Archive for the ‘Sabbath’ Tag

Devotion for the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, Years A, B, C, and D (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Icon of the Life of Christ

Image in the Public Domain

The Universal Offer of Salvation

TUESDAY, JANUARY 1, 2020

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In Numbers 6:22-27 the Aaronic Benediction was for Israelites only.  In Galatians 3 and 4, St. Paul the Apostle, writing in large letters, with his own hand (6:11-12), argued that, by faith, in Christ, the Son of God, anyone, even if not male, free, or Jewish, became a son of God, an adopted member of the household of God, and therefore an heir.  (Only sons inherited in St. Paul’s time and place.)  The blessing was as close to universal as possible, St. Paul argued, given that many rejected the offer.

The love of God is universal; salvation is not.  Grace, although free to us, is certainly not cheap, for it demands much of us.  The family of Jesus provides a good example; Sts. Joseph and Mary, we read, were observant Jews.  On the eighth day, in accordance with Leviticus 12:3, they took Jesus for his bris, we read.  (Interestingly, Leviticus 12:3 mandates the circumcision of a boy on the eighth day, with no exception for the Sabbath, although Leviticus 16:31 and 23:3 state that the Sabbath should be a day of complete rest.  Sometimes the language in the Law of Moses states principles and not the exceptions as plainly as some readers might wish.)

The Holy Name of Our Lord and Savior means

YHWH saves

or

YHWH is salvation.

Philippians 2 reminds us that the price of that salvation was the self-sacrifice of Jesus–death on a cross–followed by resurrection, of course.  The cross is the background of much of the content of the canonical Gospels until it moves into the foreground.  Christ crucified, at the center of St. Paul’s theology, is essential to Christianity.  If the message of Christ crucified depresses us or otherwise makes us uncomfortable, that is a matter we should take to God in prayer.

The Holy Name of Jesus calls us to each of us to take up a cross and follow him, if we dare.  Do we dare?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 17, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PATRICK, APOSTLE OF IRELAND

THE FEAST OF EBENEZER ELLIOTT, “THE CORN LAW RHYMER”

THE FEAST OF ELIZA SIBBALD ALDERSON, POET AND HYMN WRITER; AND JOHN BACCHUS DYKES, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HENRY SCOTT HOLLAND, ANGLICAN HYMN WRITER AND PRIEST

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Eternal Father, you gave to your incarnate Son the holy name of Jesus to be the sign of our salvation:

Plant in every heart, we pray, the love of him who is the Savior of the world,

our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and

the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting.  Amen.

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 151

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Numbers 6:22-27

Psalm 147 (at least verses 13-21)

Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7 or Philippians 2:5-11

Luke 2:15-21

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2018/03/17/the-universal-offer-of-salvation/

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

the-wrath-of-elihu-william-blake

Above:  The Wrath of Elihu, by William Blake

Image in the Public Domain

The Oratory and Theology of Elihu, Part II

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 33:1-33

Psalm 34:11-18

Matthew 12:1-21 or Mark 3:7-19 or Luke 6:1-16

Hebrews 12:(1-3) 4-17

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When the righteous cry for help,

the LORD hears,

and rescues them from all their troubles.

–Psalm 34:17, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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The speeches of Job in most of the Book of Job say otherwise.

Elihu, sounding pious and spouting a mix of truth and bad theology, blames the victim in Job 33.  Job must be suffering because of a sin, Elihu is certain.  Elihu is correct that

God does not fit man’s measure.

–Verse 12b, The Jerusalem Bible (1966).

Nevertheless, Elihu fails to recognize that God does not fit his measure.  Spiritual discipline by God is a reality, of course, but it does not explain all suffering.

One can quite easily become fixated on a set of rules and fail to recognize that they do not describe how God works.  For example, keeping the Sabbath is a healthy spiritual exercise.  It is properly an indication of freedom.  It is properly a gift.  It is properly a form of recognition of the necessity of rest.  It is improperly an occasion of legalism, such as in the cases of Jesus healing on the Sabbath and of he and his Apostles picking corn and grain on that day.  They did have to eat, did they not?  And did the man with the withered hand deserve to wait another day to receive his healing?

That healing on the Sabbath, according to all three accounts of it, prompted some of our Lord and Savior’s critics to plot his death.  Luke 6:11 (The New Revised Standard Version, 1989) reports that they were “filled with fury.”

Compassion is a timeless spiritual virtue, one frequently sacrificed on the altars of legalism and psychological defensiveness.  To be compassionate is better than to seek to sin an argument or to destroy one’s adversary.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 8, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SHEPHERD KNAPP, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF GOTTFRIED WILHELM SACER, GERMAN LUTHERAN ATTORNEY AND HYMN WRITER; AND FRANCES ELIZABETH COX, ENGLISH HYMN WRITER AND TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JOHN DUCKETT AND RALPH CORBY, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS IN ENGLAND

THE FEAST OF NIKOLAI GRUDTVIG, HYMN WRITER

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/09/08/the-oratory-and-theology-of-elihu-part-ii/

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Devotion for Monday and Tuesday After the Last Sunday After the Epiphany, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Peter's Vision of the Sheet with Animals

Above:  Peter’s Vision of the Sheet with Animals

Image in the Public Domain

The Clean and the Unclean

MARCH 4 and 5, 2019

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The Collect:

Holy God, mighty and immortal, you are beyond our knowing,

yet we see your glory in the face of Jesus Christ.

Transform us into the likeness of your Son,

who renewed our humanity so that we may share in his divinity,

Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 26

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The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 35:1-29 (Monday)

Ezekiel 1:1-2:1 (Tuesday)

Psalm 35:11-28 (Both Days)

Acts 10:9-23a (Monday)

Acts 10:23b-33 (Tuesday)

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[Jesus] said to [his Apostles], “Even you–don’t you understand?  Can’t you see that nothing that goes into someone from the outside can make that person unclean, because it goes not int the heart but into the stomach and passes into the sewer?” (Thus he pronounced all foods clean.)  And he went on, “It is what comes out of someone that makes that person unclean.  For it is from within, from the heart, that evil intentions emerge:  fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride, folly.  All these evil things come from within and make a person unclean.

–Mark 7:18-23, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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Ritual purity has long been a religious concern.  Separating oneself from the world (not always a negative activity) has informed overly strict Sabbath rules and practices.  (Executing a person for working on the Sabbath, per Exodus 35:2b, seems excessive to me.  I am biased, of course, for I have violated that law, which does not apply to me.)  Nevertheless, the Sabbath marked the freedom of the people, for slaves got no day off.  Ezekiel, living in exile in an allegedly unclean land, the territory of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire, experienced a vision of the grandeur of God before God commissioned him a prophet.  Perhaps Ezekiel had, suffering under oppression, prayed in the words of Psalm 35:23,

Awake, arise to my cause!

to my defense, my God and my Lord!

The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

Those who took Judeans into exile and kept them there were unclean and not because they were Gentiles but because of their spiritual ills, on which they acted.  As St. Simon Peter learned centuries later, there is no unclean food and many people he had assumed to be unclean were not really so.

The drawing of figurative lines to separate the allegedly pure from the allegedly impure succeeds in comforting the former, fostering more self-righteousness in them, and doing injustice to the latter.  May nobody call unclean one whom God labels clean.  May no one mark as an outsider one whom God calls beloved.  This is a devotion for the last two days of the Season after the Epiphany.  The next season will be Lent.  Perhaps repenting of the sins I have listed above constitutes the agenda you, O reader, should follow this Lent.  I know that it is one I ought to follow.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 29, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PAUL MANZ, DEAN OF LUTHERAN CHURCH MUSIC

THE FEAST OF JOHN BUCKMAN WALTHOUR, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF ATLANTA

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/10/29/the-clean-and-the-unclean/

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Devotion for February 27 and 28 in Epiphany/Ordinary Time (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   4 comments

Above:  Galileo Galilei

Job and John, Part XIX:  Alleged Heresy, Actual Orthodoxy

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 2019, and THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 28, 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 everlasting 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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The Assigned Readings:

Job 30:16-31 (February 27)

Job 31:1-12, 33-40 (February 28)

Psalm 96 (Morning–February 27)

Psalm 116 (Morning–February 28)

Psalms 132 and 134 (Evening–February 27)

Psalms 26 and 130 (Evening–February 28)

John 9:1-23 (February 27)

John 9:24-41 (February 28)

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A Related Post:

Environment and Science:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/10/31/environment-and-science/

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John 9 consists of one story–that of a blind man whom Jesus heals.  The healing occurs at the beginning of the chapter.  Then religious politics take over.  How dare Jesus heal on the Sabbath?  Was the man ever really blind?  How could an alleged sinner–a Sabbath breaker–Jesus, perform such a miracle?  The works of God clashed with human orthodoxy, and defenders of that orthodoxy preferred not to admit that they were or might be wrong.

Some words of explanation are vital.  One way a visible minority maintains its identity is to behave differently than the majority.  As Professor Luke Timothy Johnson has pointed out, arbitrary rules might seem especially worthy of adherence from this perspective.  Sabbath laws forbade certain medical treatments on that day.  One could perform basic first aid legally.  One could save a life and prevent a situation from becoming worse legally.  But one was not supposed to heal or cure on the Sabbath.  This was ridiculous, of course, and Jesus tried to do the maximum amount of good seven days a week.  Each of us should strive to meet the same standard.

At the beginning of John 9 our Lord’s Apostles ask whether the man or his parents sinned.  Surely, they thought, somebody’s sin must have caused this blindness.  Apparently these men had not absorbed the Book of Job.  As Job protests in Chapter 30, he is innocent.  And the Book of Job agrees with him.  Job’s alleged friends gave voice to a human orthodoxy, one which stated that suffering flowed necessarily from sin.  The wicked suffer and the righteous, prosper, they said.  (Apparently, adherents of Prosperity Theology have not absorbed the Book of Job either.)  Job was, by their standards, a heretic.

Some of my favorite people have been heretics.  Galileo Galilei was a heretic for reporting astronomical observations and deriving from them accurate conclusions which challenged centuries of bad doctrine.  Both Protestant and Roman Catholic leaders condemned his writings as heretical in the 1600s.  Roger Williams argued for the separation of church and state in Puritan New England.  He also opposed mandatory prayer;  the only valid prayer, he said, is a voluntary one.  For his trouble Williams had to leave the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  Also forced to leave was Anne Hutchinson, who dared to question her pastor’s theology.  I have made Galileo a saint on my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days.  And The Episcopal Church has recognized Williams and Hutchinson as saints.  I wonder what two rebellious Puritans would have thought about that.

Orthodoxies build up over time and become accepted, conventional, and received wisdom.  The fact that a doctrine is orthodox according to this standard discourages many people from questioning it even when observed evidence contradicts it.  Jupiter does have moons.  This fact contradicts the former theology of Protestantism and Roman Catholicism.  Should one accept good science or bad theology?  The question answers itself.  The man in John 9 was born blind.  Attempts in the chapter to question that reality are almost comical.  We human beings must be willing to abandon assumptions which prove erroneous if we are to be not only intellectually honest but also to avoid harming others while defending our own egos.

Until the next segment of our journey….

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 27, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF GEORGE WASHINGTON DOANE, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF NEW JERSEY

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ANTONY AND THEODOSIUS OF KIEV, FOUNDERS OF RUSSIAN ORTHODOX MONASTICISM; SAINT BARLAAM OF KIEV, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX ABBOT; AND SAINT STEPHEN OF KIEV, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX ABBOT AND BISHOP

THE FEAST OF THE EARLY ABBOTS OF CLUNY

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH WARRILOW, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/11/06/job-and-john-part-xix-alleged-heresy-actual-orthodoxy/

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Devotion for February 15 in Epiphany/Ordinary Time (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   4 comments

Above:  Job and His Alleged Friends

Job and John, Part IX:  Perceptions

FEBRUARY 15, 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 everlasting 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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The Assigned Readings:

Job 11:1-20

Psalm 130 (Morning)

Psalms 32 and 139 (Evening)

John 5:19-29

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Zophar the Naamathite opens his address in Job 11:1-20 by insulting Job.  A note on page 1519 of The Jewish Study Bible makes a succinct point:

Like Bildad in 8.2, Zophar here, in the house of a man bereft of his children (1.18-19) and infested with maggots (7.5), has the colassal gall to tell Job, the master of the house, that he talks too much!

And Zophar persists in the practice of relying on “received wisdom” as a basis for his theodicy.

The reading from John 5 constitutes part of a discourse attributed to Jesus after he healed the paralyzed man at the Pool at Bethesda on a Sabbath.  (The Synoptic Jesus does not talk as much as does the Johannine Jesus, by the way.)  The content of the discourse interest me, but the relative newness of it fascinates me today.  Zophar’s discourse was stale and insulting.  Yet our Lord’s discourse was revolutionary.  Consider one verse, O reader:

In all truth I tell you,

whoever listens to my words,

and believes in the one who sent me,

has eternal life;

without being brought to judgement

such a person has passed from death to life.

–John 5:24, The New Jerusalem Bible

If I did not take the truth of that verse as a given, I might think Jesus to have been a madman.  Now, of course, my position has become “received wisdom.”  (I am aware of the irony of that reality.)  Some “received wisdom” is wiser than the rest.  And other “received wisdom” is pure drivel.

The power of “received wisdom” holds sway over the intellects and imaginations of people, does it not?  When I started my abortive doctoral studies in history at The University of Georgia (UGA), Athens, Georgia, the Graduate Coordinator informed me that I would learn the “received wisdom.”  He used that term; I recall that part of the conversation clearly.  I wound up questioning much of the “received wisdom,” with the predictable result in the social sciences.  But I maintained my intellectual integrity.  And I am a terrible liar.  Please understand me correctly, O reader; that happened years ago, and the trauma of that experience has washed out of my system.  Yet memories remain.  And objective reality remains.  I have no desire to start an argument with anyone at the UGA Department of History.  What would I gain from it?  Yet I offer this cautionary tale of the allure received foolishness masquerading as received wisdom.  The experience remains with me and makes me a better teacher.  I hold my students accountable for getting the facts correct then reasoning their ways to interpretations.  I do not grade them according to whether I agree with those interpretations.  And some of the kindest comments on course evaluations begin the acknowledgement that the student disagreed with me often in subjective matters.

Reality is objective, of course.  But our understandings of it are inherently subjective.  Two people can absorb the same stimuli and understand it differently.  Culture (defined as social learning), educational attainment, age, cognitive development, intellectual capacity, and other factors shape our perceptions.  Sometimes our proverbial tapes are running, so we hear yet do not listen and see yet do not comprehend.  So the character of Zophar , who was an insulting idiot, understood himself as standing on the shoulders of theological giants.  And our Lord’s words were blasphemous in the ears of some people despite those words’ truth–and therefore lack of blasphemy.  Reality is objective and our perceptions are subjective, yet our perceptions can be correct.  May they be so, by grace.

Until the next segment of our journey….

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 26, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS REMACLUS OF MAASTRICHT, THEODORE OF MAASTRICHT, LAMBERT OF MAASTRICHT, HUBERT OF MAASTRICHT AND LIEGE, AND FLORIBERT OF LIEGE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS; LANDRADA OF MUNSTERBILSEN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBESS; AND OTGER OF UTRECHT, PLECHELM OF GUELDERLAND, AND WIRO, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARIES

THE FEAST OF CHRISTINA ROSSETTI, POET

THE FEAST OF SAINT PASCHASIUS RADBERTUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF ROBERT HUNT, FIRST ANGLICAN CHAPLAIN AT JAMESTOWN, VIRGINIA

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/11/06/job-and-john-part-ix-perceptions/

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https://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2018/03/20/uga-and-me/

Devotion for February 13 and 14 in Epiphany/Ordinary Time (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   4 comments

Above:  Pool at Bethesda

Image Source = Library of Congress

Job and John, Part VIII:  Inadequate God Concepts

FEBRUARY 13 and 14, 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 everlasting 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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The Assigned Readings:

Job 9:1-35 (February 13)

Job 10:1-22 (February 14)

Psalm 15 (Morning–February 13)

Psalm 36 (Morning–February 14)

Psalms 48 and 4 (Evening–February 13)

Psalms 80 and 27 (Evening–February 14)

John 4:46-54 (February 13)

John 5:1-18 (February 14)

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Job, in the speech which encompasses Chapters 9 and 10, feels powerless before God, whom he understands as being omnipotent.  The speaker demands to know why God has done what God has done and is doing what God is doing relative to himself (Job):

I say to God, “Do not condemn me;

Let me know what you are charging me with….”

–Job 10:2, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

This is, in the context of the narrative, understandable and justifiable.  The Book of Job does open with God permitting Job’s sufferings.  The text offers no easy answers to the question of the causes of the suffering of the innocent.

John 4:46-5:18 offers us happier material.  Jesus heals a royal official’s son long-distance then a poor man paralyzed for thirty-eight years up close and in person.  Unfortunately for our Lord, he performs the second miracle on the Sabbath and speaks of himself as equal to God, prompting some opponents (labeled invectively as “the Jews”) to plot to kill him.  I said that the material was happier, not entirely joyful.

The paralyzed man and the observers probably understood his disability to have resulted from somebody’s sin.  The Book of Job, of course, repudiated that point of view.

It occurs to me that Job’s alleged friends and our Lord’s accusers had something in common:  Both sets of people were defending their God concept, one which could not stand up to observed reality.   J. B. Phillips wrote a classic book, Your God is Too Small (1961), which I most recently too long ago.  In this slim volume he pointed out that inadequate God concepts and attachments to them cause dissatisfaction with God and blind us to what God is.  Our Lord’s critics in the Gospel of John were blind to what God is and found Jesus unsatisfactory.  And, in the Book of Job, as we will discover as we keep reading, all of the mortals who speak have inadequate God concepts.  Yet Job’s is the least inadequate.

Until the next segment of our journey….

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 26, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS REMACLUS OF MAASTRICHT, THEODORE OF MAASTRICHT, LAMBERT OF MAASTRICHT, HUBERT OF MAASTRICHT AND LIEGE, AND FLORIBERT OF LIEGE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS; LANDRADA OF MUNSTERBILSEN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBESS; AND OTGER OF UTRECHT, PLECHELM OF GUELDERLAND, AND WIRO, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARIES

THE FEAST OF CHRISTINA ROSSETTI, POET

THE FEAST OF SAINT PASCHASIUS RADBERTUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF ROBERT HUNT, FIRST ANGLICAN CHAPLAIN AT JAMESTOWN, VIRGINIA

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/11/06/job-and-john-part-viii-inadequate-god-concepts/

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Week of 2 Epiphany: Tuesday, Year 1   9 comments

Above:  A Corn Field

Love, the Final Arbiter

JANUARY 22, 2019

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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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Hebrews 6:10-20 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

For God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love which you showed us for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do.  And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness in realizing the same assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

For when God made a promise to to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore to himself, saying,

Surely I will bless you and multiply you.

And thus Abraham, having patiently endured, obtained the promise.  Men indeed swear by a greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation.  So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he interposed with an oath, so that through two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible that God should prove false, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to seize the hope set before us.  We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, and a hope that enters into the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedek.

Psalm 111 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Hallelujah!

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

in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.

2 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.

4 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.

7 The works of his hands are faithfulness and justice;

all his commandments are sure.

8 They stand fast for ever and ever,

because they are done in truth and equity.

9 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.

Mark 2:23-28 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain.  And the Pharisees said to him,

Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?

And he said to them,

Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him; how he entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the showbread, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?

And he said to them,

The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath; so the Son of man is lord even of the sabbath.

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The Collect:

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

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The Pharisees (most, not all of them) are among the bete noires of the canonical Gospels.  These very publicly pious people criticize Jesus, his Apostles, and even some people he healed again and again.  In all likelihood these critics did what they understood righteousness to require of them.  I prefer to extend to them the benefit of the doubt; they were wrong, but sincerely so.  They did not wake up each morning and plot how to be difficult spiritually, although much of what they did and the Gospels report to us constituted such.

Indeed, I think that we need to check ourselves for signs of being contemporary counterparts of the Pharisees.  Christian denominations have built up traditions over thousands and hundreds of years.  Many of these are functional and constructive, even beautiful.  Yet even something useful and beautiful can become an idol, if we transform it into that.  And ossification of tradition can occur easily, rendering us inflexible in the habits of our minds.  The stories of Jesus teach us many valuable lessons, including the importance of avoiding such ossification.

Consider this day’s reading from Mark.  Jesus and his Apostles violated many sabbath laws observant Pharisees kept.  There were many arcane sabbath laws, which split hairs more finely than any Philadelphia lawyer.  Taken together, the sabbath laws permitted preventing an emergency situation from getting worse yet forbade making it better.  For example, one could apply a plain bandage but not ointment to an injured finger on the sabbath.  So you should not be surprised to learn that plucking and eating corn was illegal on the sabbath.  Doing so remedied hunger, but that meant making something better.

This is a twisted way to think about the sabbath, is it not?  It transforms the sabbath, which is supposed to a gift and a marker of freedom (slaves did not get days off) into a burden and something to manage with the help of a very long checklist of forbidden activities.  Puritans did it too, and many observant self-professing Christians and Jews continue to treat the sabbath in this way.  We should not neglect the sabbath, of course, but we ought not treat it like a burden and an occasion of legalism, either.

Back to our story….

Jesus reminded his critics of scriptural precedents for what he had done.  In 1 Samuel 21:1-6, Exodus 25:23-30, and Leviticus 24:9 we find the relevant information about David and the showbread.  Mentioning David, the revered king, was powerful rhetorical tool, although it certainly did not impress hyper-critical Pharisees.  It did, however, point out the hypocrisy of Jesus’ critics, who were not the intended audience for the Gospel According to Mark.  So the comment finds its target even today, at least some of the time.  I wonder, though, how often well-intentioned Christians miss the power of this story, perhaps more out of a “I know that story already” attitude, if nothing else.

William Barclay, in his insightful commentary on the Gospel reading, points out that “Religion does not consist in rules and regulations” and “The best way to use sacred things is to use them for men.”  In other words, it is sinful to refuse to apply religious laws to prevent starving and very hungry people from eating–sabbath or not.  This principle applies to physical realities beyond hunger; it pertains to helping people with whatever distresses them.  Barclay concludes his section of the reading from Mark with this sentence:  “The final arbiter in the use of all things is love and not law.”

I could not have said it better.

We have a loving God and Lord.  The works of God are marvelous and utterly spectacular.  And Jesus became not only our priest but our passover lamb.  That demonstrates love, does it not?  So we ought to display love, as well, and not hide behind laws which reinforce self-righteousness and make excuses for oppressing people and not helping them.   We have a mandate from God to care for others and to love them as we love ourselves.  God has commanded us to care for the vulnerable among us.  We might make excuses for why we fail to do this, but that does not erase our sin in the eyes of God.

One of my favorite deceased people was the actor Andreas Katsulas (1946-2006).  He played the one-armed man in the film version of The Fugitive.  He also portrayed Commander Tomalok on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Ambassador G’Kar on Babylon 5.  Katsulas was a practicing Greek Orthodox and an excellent chef.  Part of his Sunday ritual involved cooking meals for homeless people.  This would have violated the Pharisees’ sabbath codes, but it did demonstrate love.

May we compete with one another in demonstrating love for our fellow human beings every day of the week.  Let us lay aside tendencies toward one upsmanship, self-righteousness, and public displays of piety meant to make us look good.  May we listen to one another more and more often, and shout at each other less and less often.  May we love one another in attitudes, words, and deeds.  May that be our law.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/01/04/love-the-final-arbiter/