Archive for the ‘Saul of Tarsus’ Tag

Second Day of Christmas: Feast of St. Stephen, Deacon and Martyr (December 26)   5 comments

Above:  St. Stephen, by Luis de Morales

Image in the Public Domain

The First Christian Martyr

DECEMBER 26, 2019

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The readings for the Feast of St. Stephen remind us of the grim reality that suffering for the sake of righteousness is frequently a risk.  We read of one of the many difficulties of the faithful prophet Jeremiah, a man who spoke truth to power when that power was dependent upon hostile foreigners.  The historical record tells us that the Pharaoh of Egypt chose both the King of Judah and his regnal name, Jehoiakim.  Matthew 23, set in the Passion Narrative, reminds us of some of the prophets and teachers, whom God had sent and authorities at Jerusalem had martyred.  Contrary to the wishes of the author of Psalm 31, God does not always deliver the faithful from enemy hands.

St. Stephen, one of the original seven deacons, was probably a Hellenized Jew.  As a deacon, his job in the Church was, in the words of Acts 6:2,

to wait on tables.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

The deacons were to provide social services while the Apostles preached and taught.  St. Stephen also debated and preached, however.  His speech to the Sanhedrin (Acts 7:1-53) led to his execution (without a trial) by stoning.  St. Stephen, like Jesus before him, prayed for God to forgive his executioners (Acts 7:60), who, in their minds, were correct to execute him for blasphemy, a capital offense in the Law of Moses.  Saul of Tarsus, the future St. Paul the Apostle, was prominent in the killing of St. Stephen.  The Apostle recalled the death of St. Stephen and his role in it in Acts 22:20.

Religion, by itself, is generally morally neutral; one can be a moral atheist just as easily as one can be a moral or immoral adherent.  Good religion and bad religion certainly exist.  The test, in moral terms, yet not theological ones, is what kind of adherents they create and nurture.  Regardless of the name of a religion or the content of its tenets, does the reality of living it make one a loving, merciful human being or a judgmental person who might be quick to execute dissenters or consent to that?  This question is always a relevant one.

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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We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen,

who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ,

who stands at your right hand; where he lives and reigns with

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

Jeremiah 26:1-9, 12-15

Psalm 31 or 31:1-15

Acts 6:8-7:2a; 51c-60

Matthew 23:34-39

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 139

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https://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2018/03/17/feast-of-st-stephen-deacon-and-martyr-december-26/

https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2018/03/17/the-first-christian-martyr/

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Devotion for Thursday and Friday Before the Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Icon of Aaron

Above:  Icon of Aaron

Image in the Public Domain

Leadership

FEBRUARY 7 and 8, 2019

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The Collect:

Most Holy God, the earth is filled with your glory,

and before you angels and saints stand in awe.

Enlarge our vision to see your power at work in the world,

and by your grace make us heralds of your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 24

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The Assigned Readings:

Numbers 20:22-29 (Thursday)

Numbers 27:12-23 (Friday)

Psalm 138 (Both Days)

Acts 9:19b-25 (Thursday)

Acts 9:26-31 (Friday)

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The LORD will make good his purpose for me;

O LORD, your love endures for ever;

do not abandon the works of your hands.

–Psalm 138:9, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Moses and Aaron had been leaders of the Israelite community in the desert for decades.  Both of them had, however, rebelled against God.  Their penalty was never to enter the Promised Land.  Aaron died, and a son became the next priest.  Moses passed the torch of leadership to Joshua son of Nun before dying.  God’s work continued via different people.

Saul of Tarsus had also rebelled against God before God intervened directly and Saul became St. Paul the Apostle, one of the greatest and most influential Christian theologians and evangelists.  The Apostle’s life after his conversion was much more hazardous than it had been prior to his fateful journey to Damascus.  Apart from biography, perhaps the greatest difference between Moses and Aaron on one hand and St. Paul on the other hand was that Moses and Aaron rebelled against God while on duty for God.  St. Paul was a reformed rebel.  Richard Elliott Friedman wrote,

Leaders of a congregation cannot violate the very instruction that they uphold and teach to others.

Commentary on the Torah with a New English Translation and the Hebrew Text (2001), page 497

Or rather, they can violate that instruction yet may not do so.

A leader is one whom others follow.  If one thinks that one might be a leader, one should turn around and see if anybody is following one.  If no person is following one, one is merely walking.

With leadership comes the responsibility to lead well.  Among the best forms of leadership is setting a good example.  Hypocrisy creates scandal much of the time and weakens one’s ability to lead properly.  For example, one who condemns gambling (a good thing to criticize) yet frequents casinos or a casino and gets caught doing so justly loses credibility.

Are you a leader, O reader?  If so, may you lead well, as God directs you, for the glory of God and the benefit of those who follow you.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 9, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT DENIS, BISHOP OF PARIS, AND HIS COMPANIONS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF SAINT LUIS BERTRAN, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY PRIEST

THE FEAST OF ROBERT GROSSETESTE, SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF WILHELM WEXELS, NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR; HIS NIECE, MARIE WEXELSEN, NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN NOVELIST AND HYMN WRITER; LUDWIG LINDEMAN, NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN ORGANIST AND MUSICOLOGIST; AND MAGNUS LANDSTAD, NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, FOLKLORIST, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMNAL EDITOR

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/10/09/leadership/

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Devotion for December 26, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Murder of Zechariah

Above:  The Murder of Zechariah, by William Brassey Hole

Image in the Public Domain

Two Stonings

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 26, 2018

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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

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The Assigned Readings:

2 Chronicles 4:17-24

Psalm 148

Acts 6:1-7; 7:51-60

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Psalm 148 is a song of praise to God, especially in nature.  The text begins with references to the created order then moves along to people in social and political contexts.  Finally we read:

[The LORD] has exalted his people in the pride of power

and crowned with praise his loyal servants,

Israel, a people close to him.

Praise the LORD.

–Verse 15, The Revised English Bible (1989)

In the context of this day’s pericopes Psalm 148 functions as a counterpoint to the other readings.  In them holy men of God died for the sake of righteousness.  Zechariah, a priest and the son of Jehoida, also a priest, died because of his condemnation of idolatry.  Zechariah said:

Thus God said:  Why do you transgress the commandments of the LORD when you cannot succeed?  Since you have forsaken the LORD, He has forsaken you.

–2 Chronicles 24:20b, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

His punishment was execution by stoning at the Temple in Jerusalem.

Similar in tone and content is the story of St. Stephen, one of the first seven Christian deacons and the first Christian martyr.  The diaconate came to exist because it was necessary.  Apostles perceived the need to divide labor:

It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables.

–Acts 6:2b, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

So the deacons fed the hungry widows.  St. Stephen died by stoning not because of his participation in an ancient Means on Wheels program but because of his preaching.  He, like Zechariah son of Jehoida, accused his audience of having abandoned God.

These two stories end differently, though.  The dying words of Zechariah son of Jehoida were:

May the LORD see this and exact the penalty.

–2 Chronicles 24:22b, The Revised English Bible (1989)

The interpretation of subsequent events in that book is that God avenged the priest (24:24).  King Jehoash/Joash of Israel (reigned 836-798 B.C.E.) died after becoming wounded in a devastating Aramean invasion.  His servants murdered him on his bed.

In contrast, St. Stephen prayed for his killers:

Lord, do not hold this sin against them.

–Acts 7:60b, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

The text does not indicate what effects, if any, that had on any of his executioners.  We do know, however, that Saul of Tarsus, who approved of the execution, went on to become St. Paul the Apostle.  One need not stray from the proverbial path of reasonableness to say that St. Paul, pondering his past and God’s grace, to say that he regretted having ever approved of St. Stephen’s death.

The use of violence to rid oneself of an inconvenient person is sinful.  To commit violence for this purpose in the name of God, presumably to affirm one’s righteousness in the process, is ironic, for that violence belies the claim of righteousness.  Furthermore, there are only victims in violent acts.  The person who commits violence harms himself or herself, at least spiritually, if in no other way.  Violence might be necessary or preferable to any alternative sometimes, but nobody should ever celebrate it or turn to it as a first resort.

Whatever we do to others, we do to ourselves.  May we pursue peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation, not revenge.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 22, 2015 COMMON ERA

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

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/08/22/two-stonings/

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Devotion for Thursday Before the First Sunday After the Epiphany, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Eli and Samuel

Above:  Eli and Samuel, by John Singleton Copley

Image in the Public Domain

The Call of God, Part I

JANUARY 4, 2018

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The Collect:

Holy God, creator of light and giver of goodness, your voice moves over the waters.

Immerse us in your grace, and transform us by your Spirit,

that we may follow after your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 22

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The Assigned Readings:

1 Samuel 3:1-21

Psalm 29

Acts 9:10-19a

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Pay tribute to Yahweh, you sons of God,

tribute to Yahweh of glory and power,

tribute to Yahweh of the glory of his name,

worship Yahweh in his sacred court.

–Psalm 29:1-3, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

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The readings for today tell stories of God calling people to pursue a faithful and risky path.  This command to embark upon a new course was for the benefit of others and the glory of God.  If any of the three people on whom these lessons focus had refused to obey and not recanted, God could have found someone else willing to obey, but he who would have refused in such a counterfactual situation would have been worse off spiritually.

We begin in 1 Samuel 3, the account of God’s call to the young Samuel.  The boy was living at Shiloh, with the priest Eli as his guardian.  Paula J. Bowes, author of the Collegeville Bible Commentary volume (1985) on the books of Samuel, noticed the literal and metaphorical levels of meaning in the text:

The picture of Eli as asleep and practically blind describes Israel’s state in relation to the Lord.  The lamp of God, that is, God’s word, is almost extinguished through the unworthiness of the officiating priests.  The Lord ignores Eli and calls directly to the boy Samuel to receive this divine word….Samuel is the faithful, chosen priest who will soon replace the unfaithful and rejected house of Eli.

–Page 15

Eli had the spiritual maturity to accept the verdict of God.  Repeating that judgment was obviously uncomfortable for the boy, who might have been uncertain of how the priest would take the news.

Acts 9 contains an account of the transformation of Saul of Tarsus into St. Paul the Apostle.  Saul, unlike young Samuel, understood immediately who was speaking to him.  Ananias of Damascus also heard from God and, after a brief protest, obeyed.  Thus Ananias abetted the spiritual transformation of Saul into one of the most influential men in Christian history.  The summons to do so met with reasonable fear, however, for Saul had been a notorious persecutor of earliest Christianity.  How was Ananias supposed to know beforehand that Saul had changed?  Ananias had to trust God.  And St. Paul suffered greatly for his obedience to God; he became a martyr after a series of imprisonments, beatings, and even a shipwreck.

Gerhard Krodel, author of the Proclamation Commentaries volume (1981) on the Acts of the Apostles, wrote that Chapter 8 ends with an account of the breaking down of a barrier and that Chapter 9 opens with another such story.  Acts 8 closes with the story of St. Philip the Deacon (not the Apostle) converting the Ethiopian eunuch, a Gentile.  St. Paul had to deal with understandable suspicion of his bona fides after his conversion in Acts 9.  Later in the book he inaugurated his mission to the Gentiles–the breaking down of another barrier.

I have never heard the voice of God.  On occasion I have noticed a thought I have determined to be of outside origin, however.  Usually these messages have been practical, not theological.  For example, about fourteen years ago, I knew in an instant that I should put down the mundane task I was completing and move my car.  I had parked it under a tree, as I had on many previous days, but something was different that day.  So I moved my car to a spot where only open sky covered it.  Slightly later that day I looked at the spot where my car had been and noticed a large tree limb on the ground.  Last year I knew that I should drive the route from Americus, Georgia, back to Athens, Georgia, without stopping.  So I did.  I parked the car at my front door and proceeded to unload the vehicle.  When I went outside to move the car to the back parking lot, the vehicle would not start, for my ignition switch needed work.  But I was home, safe.  Yes, God has spoken to me, but not audibly and not to tell me to become a great priest or evangelist.

My experience of God has been subtle most of the time.  At some time during my childhood God entered my life.  This happened quietly, without any dramatic event or “born again” experience.  God has been present, shaping me over time.  At traumatic times I have felt grace more strongly than the rest of the time, but light is more noticeable amid darkness than other light.  Grace has been present during the good times also.  Not everybody who follows God will have a dramatic experience of the divine.  So be it.  May nobody who has had a dramatic experience of the divine insist that others must have one too.

Yet God does call all the faithful to leave behind much that is comfortable and safe.  Breaking down human-created barriers to God is certain to make one unpopular and others uncomfortable, is it not?  It contradicts “received wisdom” as well as psychological and theological categories.  Anger and fear are predictable reactions which often lead to violence and other unfortunate actions.  Frequently people commit these sins in the name of God.

The call of God is to take risks, break down artificial barriers, and trust God for the glory of God and the benefit of others.  Along the way one will reap spiritual benefits, of course.  Wherever God leads you, O reader, to proceed, may you go there.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 15, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALBERT THE GREAT, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF REGENSBURG

THE FEAST OF JOHANN GOTTLOBB KLEMM, INSTRUMENT MAKER; DAVID TANNENBERG, SR., GERMAN-AMERICAN MORAVIAN ORGAN BUILDER; JOHANN PHILIP BACHMANN, GERMAN-AMERICAN MORAVIAN INSTRUMENT BUILDER; JOSEPH FERDINAND BULITSCHEK, BOHEMIAN-AMERICAN ORGAN BUILDER; AND TOBIAS FRIEDRICH, GERMAN MORAVINA COMPOSER AND MUSICIAN

THE FEAST OF MARGARET MEAD, ANTHROPOLOGIST

THE FEAST OF PHILIP WILLIAM OTTERBEIN, COFOUNDER OF THE CHURCH OF THE UNITED BRETHREN IN CHRIST

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/11/21/the-call-of-god-part-i/

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Devotion for December 26, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   4 comments

Paolo_Uccello_-_Stoning_of_St_Stephen_-_WGA23196

Above:  The Stoning of Saint Stephen, by Paolo Uccello

Causes and Consequences of Persecution

DECEMBER 26, 2019

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you gave 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

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The Assigned Readings:

Wisdom of Solomon 4:7-15

Psalm 148

Acts 7:59-8:8

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Kings of the earth and all peoples,

princes and all rulers of the world;

Young men and women, old and young together;

let them praise the name of the Lord.

–Psalm 148:11-12, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)

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Why do the righteous experience persecution?  That question gets to the point of human priorities of the negative sort.  Sometimes we humans know that doing x is wrong and do it anyway, so those who point this fact out to us prove terribly inconvenient and annoying.  And, on other occasions, we mistake evil for good, so we think that we are working righteousness when the opposite is true.  Self-delusions and corrupt cultural influences can explain much of that.  And there is the deeper question of violence, especially that committed for allegedly righteous purposes.  The stoning of St. Stephen, whose feast this is, was consistent with the penalty for leading people astray, according to the Law of Moses.  But he was not leading people astray.

The Wisdom of Solomon lection wrestles with the reality of righteous people dying prematurely.  God delivered them from wickedness, the text says.  The fact of such persecution does not mean that God does not watch over the holy ones, it tells us.  In other words, God is still all-powerful and will win in the end.  And, in Acts 7:59-8:8, God worked mightily through the church despite human attempts to disrupt the nascent movement.  God won.

It is difficult to hear that what one has assumed to be true, good, and righteous–from the Temple System to slavery to racial segregation to a host of other offenses–is actually neither.  Such an epiphany, should it dawn upon one, would disorientate one spiritually.  Courageous people correct their courses.  Merely tolerant ones reject the message yet refrain from committing or supporting reprisals against critics.  And small-minded, frightened people resort to violence to confirm their delusional notions of righteousness or approve of such violence on the part of others.

But God will win.  Thanks be to God!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 18, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ARTHUR PENRHYN STANLEY, ANGLICAN DEAN OF WESTMINSTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF BARTOLOME DE LAS CASAS, WITNESS FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/07/24/causes-and-consequences-of-persecution/

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