Archive for the ‘The United Methodist Church’ Tag

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

St. John the Baptist Preaching

Above:  St. John the Baptist Preaching, by Mattia Preti

Image in the Public Domain

To Glorify and Enjoy God

DECEMBER 22, 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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Numbers 14:1-25

Psalm 144

John 3:22-38

Hebrews 5:11-6:20

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Happy are the people to whom such blessings falls;

happy are the people whose God is the LORD.

–Psalm 144:15, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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Timothy Matthew Slemmons, in creating his proposed Year D, has grouped stories of rebellion against God and cautions against opposing God together in Advent.  It is a useful tactic, for, as much as one might know something, reminders prove helpful.

In Hebrews we read of the reality of apostasy (falling away from God) and the imperative of not doing so.  It is a passage with which those whose theology precludes the possibility of apostasy must contend.  I, as one raised a United Methodist and, as of a few years ago, converted to affirming Single Predestination, know much about the theology of free will in relation to salvation.  On a lighter note, I also recall an old joke about Methodists:  Not only do they believe in falling from grace, but they practice it often.  (If one cannot be religious and have a well-developed sense of humor, one has a major problem.)  Although I like Methodism in general (more so than certain regional variations of it), I cannot be intellectually honest and return to it, given Methodist theology regarding the denial of Single Predestination.

As Hebrews 6:19-20 tells us, the faithfulness of God is the anchor of our souls, and Jesus is a forerunner on our behalf.  In John 3:22-38 we read of his forerunner, St. John the Baptist, who pointed to Jesus, not to himself.  I have no doubt that

He must grow greater; I must become less.

–John 3:30, The Revised English Bible (1989),

words attributed to St. John the Baptist, are not historical.  Neither do I doubt their theological truth.  St. John the Baptist probably said something to the effect of that sentence, I argue.  I also insist that those words apply to all of us in the human race.  Jesus must grow greater; each of us must become less.  To act according to the ethos of glorifying oneself might lead to short-term gain, but it also leads to negative consequences for oneself in the long term and for others in the short, medium, and long terms.

The call of God entails the spiritual vocation of humility, or, in simple terms, of being down to earth.  The highest and chief end of man, the Westminster Catechisms teach us correctly, is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.  To arrive at that point one must trust in and follow God, whom we ought not to forget or neglect at any time, but especially in December, in the immediate temporal proximity of the celebration of the birth of Jesus.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 22, 2016 COMMON ERA

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

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

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/08/22/to-glorify-and-enjoy-god/

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Feast of St. Thomas, Apostle and Martyr (December 21)   7 comments

Above:  St. Thomas Episcopal Church, New Windsor, New York

Image Source = Daniel Case

My Favorite Biblical Character

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Habakkuk 2:1-4 (The Jerusalem Bible):

I will stand on my watchtower,

and take up my post on my battlements,

watching to see what he will say to me,

what answer he will make to my complaints.

Then Yahweh answered and said,

Write the vision down,

inscribe it on tablets

to be easily read,

since this vision is for its own time only:

eager for its own fulfillment, it does not deceive;

it comes slowly, wait,

for it will come, without fail.

See how he flags, he whose soul is not at rights,

but the upright man will live by his faithfulness.

Psalm 126 (The Jerusalem Bible):

When Yahweh brought Zion’s captives home,

at first it seemed like a dream;

then our mouths filled with laughter

and our lips with song.

Even the pagan started talking

about the marvels Yahweh had done for us!

What marvels indeed he did for us,

and how over joyed we were!

Yahweh, bring all our captives back again

like torrents in the Negeb!

Those who went sowing in tears

now sing as they reap.

They went away, went away weeping,

carrying the seed;

they come back, come back singing,

carrying their sheaves.

Hebrews 10:35-11:1 (The Jerusalem Bible):

Be as confident now, then, since the reward is so great.  You will need endurance to do God’s will and gain what he has promised.

Only a little while now, a very little while,

and the one that is coming will have come; he will not delay.

The righteous man will live by faith,

but if he draws back, my soul will take no pleasure in him.

You and I are not the sort of people who draw back, and are lost by it; we are the sort who keep faithful until our souls are saved.

Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen.

John 20:24-29 (The Jerusalem Bible):

Thomas, called the Twin, who was one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.  When the disciples said,

We have seen the Lord,

he answered,

Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger in the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.

Eight days later the disciples were in the house again and among them.

Peace be with you,

he said.  Then he spoke to Thomas,

Put your finger here; look, here are my hands.  Give me your hand; put it into my side.  Doubt no longer but believe.

Thomas replied,

My Lord and my God!

Jesus said to him:

You believe because you can see me.

Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.

The Collect:

Everliving God, who strengthened your apostle Thomas with firm and certain faith in your Son’s resurrection: Grant us so perfectly and without doubt to believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, that our faith may never be found wanting in your sight; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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My father served as pastor of Cooks Union United Methodist Church, about eight miles outside Colquitt, Georgia, in Miller County, from June 1985 to June 1986.  One Sunday morning during that year, a laywoman whose name I forget delivered a children’s sermon about St. Thomas.  She held a small book about the Apostles.  You, O reader, might have seen this book or even own a copy.  It features color paintings of each of the main Apostles with a brief profile on the facing page.  The book is thin, with a two-tone hard cover.  The church member explained that Thomas had doubted the resurrection of Jesus and that he had later taken the Gospel to India, where he died for the Christian faith.  So, she said, Thomas was not all bad.

But Thomas not all bad, anyway.  The presumption behind her concluding statement was that the Apostle’s doubt constituted a great stain on his character.  This was a great misunderstanding.

Let us back up for a few moments, though.

St. Thomas was a twin, hence the Greek designation Didymus, which means “twin.”  The canonical Gospels contain few details about him, and he did not write the Gnostic, non-canonical Gospel of Thomas.  (I have read the Gospel of Thomas in three translations, and think that its non-canonical status is proper.)  St. Thomas traveled through Persia all the way to India, where he introduced Christianity to the subcontinent by the 50s C.E.  The modern-day Mar Thoma Church is the heir of this efforts.  In India the Apostle met his martyrdom by spearing at Madras; Mylapore is his burial site.  Today one can visit his tomb at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Thomas at Mylapore.

St. Thomas was a healthy skeptic.  The resurrection was hardly a frequent event, so doubting it was natural.  The Apostle was not the only follower of Jesus at the time to harbor doubts.  The canonical Gospels indicate that St. Peter was initially skeptical, too.  Yet I hear about Doubting Thomases, not Doubting Peters.  Anyway, St. Thomas, the healthy skeptic, believed the evidence when he saw it, and dedicated the rest of his life to telling people about Jesus.

I am sufficiently a product of the Enlightenment to accept the premise that doubt is a legitimate path to knowledge.  I ask questions when I harbor doubts, and I seek answers when I ask questions.  Thus I increase the probability of finding answers when I experience and embrace doubt.  Thomas admitted his doubt, received his answer, accepted it, and lived accordingly.

So, let us treat the label “Doubting Thomas” as a great compliment.

Finally, a personal note:  St. Thomas is my favorite Biblical figure.  He was an honest doubter and seeker, a good skeptic.  So am I.  If I were a Biblical character, I would be St. Thomas the Apostle.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 10, 2010

THE FEAST OF THE INAUGURATION OF THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH (U.S.A.), 1983

THE FEAST OF THE INAUGURATION OF THE UNITED CHURCH OF CANADA, 1925

THE FEAST OF SAINT EPHREM OF EDESSA, ROMAN CATHOLIC DEACON AND HYMN WRITER

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Published previously at SUNDRY THOUGHTS OF KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR:

http://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2010/06/10/feast-of-st-thomas-apostle-and-martyr-december-21/

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Week of 5 Epiphany: Monday, Year 2   7 comments

Above:  Solomon Dedicates the Temple

“…to this day”

FEBRUARY 10, 2020

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Once again I have changed translations, something I do from time to time.  It is good to read biblical texts, especially ones with which one is familiar in one version, in a different one.  The act of translating a biblical text out of its original language is also one of interpreting it, for there are shades of meaning in ancient Hebrew and Greek.  Which shade of meaning does one emphasize? So a very helpful way of reading the texts, which I like to type out, is to have at least one other translation available and to compare and contrast the renderings.

The versions I use for this week are:

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985), of the Jewish Publication Society,

and

The New Testament in Modern English, Revised Edition (1972), by J. B. Phillips.

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1 Kings 8:1-13 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

Then Solomon convoked the elders of Israel–all the heads of the tribes and the ancestral chieftains of the Israelites–before King Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the Ark of the Covenant of the LORD from the City of David, that is, Zion.

All the men of Israel gathered before King Solomon at the Feast, in the month of Ethanim–that is, the seventh month.  When all the elders of Israel had come, the priests lifted the Ark and carried up the Ark of the LORD.  Then the priests and the Levites brought the Tent of Meeting and all the holy vessels that were in the Tent.  Meanwhile, King Solomon and and the whole community of Israel, who were assembled with him before the Ark, were sacrificing sheep and oxen in such abundance that they could not be numbered or counted.

The priests brought the Ark of the LORD’s Covenant to its place underneath the wings of the cherubim, in the Shrine of the House, in the Holy of Holies; for the cherubim had their wings spread out over the place of the Ark, so that the Cherubim shielded the Ark and its poles from above.  The poles projected so that the ends of the poles were visible in the sanctuary in front of the Shrine, bu they could not be seen outside; and there they remain to this day.  There was nothing inside the Ark but the two tablets of stone which Moses placed there at Horeb, when the LORD made [a covenant] with the Israelites after the departure from the land of Egypt.

When the priests came out of the sanctuary–for the cloud had filled the House of the LORD and the priests were not able to remain and perform the service because of the cloud, for the Presence of the LORD filled the House of the LORD–then Solomon declared:

The LORD has chosen

To abide in a thick cloud:

I have now built for You

A stately House,

A place where You

May dwell forever.

Psalm 132:6-10 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

6  “The ark!”  We heard it was in Ephratah;

we found it in the fields of Jearim.

7  Let us go to God’s dwelling place;

let us fall upon our knees before his footstool.”

8  Arise, O LORD, into your resting-place,

you and the ark of your strength.

9  Let your priests be clothed with righteousness;

let your faithful people sing with joy.

10  For your servant David’s sake,

do not turn away the face of your Anointed.

Mark 6:53-56 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

And when they had crossed over to the other side of the lake they landed at Gennesaret and tied up there.  As soon as they came ashore, the people recognised Jesus and rushed all over the countryside and began to carry the sick around on their beds to wherever he was.  Wherever he went, in villages or towns or hamlets, they laid down their sick right in the marketplaces and begged him that they might “just touch the edge of this cloak”.  And all those who touched him were healed.

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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:

Week of 5 Epiphany:  Monday, Year 1:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/09/week-of-5-epiphany-monday-year-1/

Matthew 14 (Parallel to Mark 6):

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/17/week-of-proper-13-monday-year-1/

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From June 1982 to June 1985 my father served as pastor of the Hopewell United Methodist Church, outside Baxley, Georgia, on Red Oak Road, in Appling County.  I was in the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Grades at the time.  Being young and generally well-trained, I deferred to my elders much of the time, even when I knew they were factually mistaken.  Some of my Sunday School teachers were poorly informed, yet I stayed quiet when I heard them make a basic mistake, such as what the “ninth hour” was in relation to Christ’s crucifixion.  One Sunday School teacher did not know that this was 3:00 P.M., for example.  And at least one Sunday School teacher misinterpreted “to this day” references in the Bible to apply to the early 1980s.

1 Kings 8:8 uses “to this day” to refer to the position of the Ark of the Covenant’s position (and the position of its poles) in the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s Temple.  Yet Solomon’s Temple has not stood since 587/586 B.C.E., and the Ark of the Covenant had ceased to be at the Temple before then.  So “to this day” helps one date the writing of that verse.  The statement was accurate when the author wrote that line.  As a history buff, I find such markers quite helpful.

The reading from 1 Kings 8 is part of the description of Solomon’s dedication of the First Temple.  The lesson conveys a sense of great mystery and reverence, down to the cloud, an indication of the divine presence, filling the House of the LORD.  I do not know what actually happened, for the prose poet in me suspects that words were inadequate to describe well what really occurred.  But it was, simply put, mystical.  That satisfies me.

Yet God seems both close and distant in 1 Kings 8.  “God is here, so we cannot perform our service,” the priests seemed to have said to themselves in Hebrew.  As a Christian, I believe in approaching God with reverence, but consider God approachable nonetheless.  God has come to us as a baby who grew up and became a craftsman who worked with stone and wood.  This craftsman also healed many people (as in the reading from Mark), uttered many wise sayings and great moral truths, suffered, died, rose from the dead, and atoned for human sins.

By the act of the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity as Jesus of Nazareth, God approached us, so I feel free to approach God–reverently, of course, but quite personally.  In fact, my preferred way of addressing God is “You.”  I mean the second person singular and informal pronoun; if I were speaking in French, I would call God Tu, a practice consistent with every French translation of the Bible I have seen.

God has approached us.  That is true to this day, Monday, June, 20, 2011, when I write these words, and afterward.  A reciprocal response is appropriate and respectful.  That is also true to this day.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/to-this-day/

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 4, 2018

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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 28, 2018

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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