Archive for the ‘UGA’ Tag

Devotion for January 9, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment


Above:  Astarte (1902), by John Singer Sargent

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USZ62-133676

Idolatry Among Us

JANUARY 9, 2023


The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God, you revealed the incarnation

of your Son by the brilliant shining of a star.

Shine the light of your justice always in our hearts and over all lands,

and accept our lives as the treasure we offer in your praise and for your service,

through 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 21


The Assigned Readings:

Micah 5:2-9 (Protestant Versification)/Micah 5:1-8 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Versification)

Psalm 72

Luke 13:31-35


Blessed are you, O Lord our God:

for you alone do marvellous things.

Blessed be your glorious name for ever:

let the whole earth be filled

with your glory.  Amen.  Amen.

–Psalm 72:19-20, A New Zealand Prayer Book (1989)


The reading from Luke 13 prompts me to think of the Classic Theory of the Atonement, a.k.a. the Conquest of Satan and Christus Victor.  This interpretation dates to early Christianity, for Origen, St. Irenaeus, and St. Justin Martyr argued for it.  I have read more recent iterations of it in the works of Gustav Aulen and N. T. Wright.  As St. Irenaeus (died 202 C.E.) wrote:

The Word of God was made flesh in order that He might destroy death and bring men to life, for we were tied and bound in sin, we were born in sin and live under the dominion of death.

–Quoted in Linwood Urban, A Short History of Christian Thought, Revised and Expanded Edition (New York, NY:  Oxford University Press, 1995), page 109

Perfidious men–men, not people generically (I like to use gendered language precisely)–plotted to kill Jesus.  They succeeded in that goal.  Yet our Lord and Savior did not remain dead for long.  So those perfidious men failed ultimately.

God wins ultimately, despite our best human attempts to thwart that result.  Such is the best definition of the sovereignty of God I can muster.

Micah 5:1-8/5:2-9 (depending on the versification in the translation one reads) sounds reassuring for the Hebrew nation in the late eighth century B.C.E.-early seventh century B.C.E., the timeframe for Isaiah 1-39.  Woe be unto any Assyrian invaders, it says.  If one continues to read, however, one discovers that the Assyrians are not the only ones who should quake in fear of divine retribution, which will fall also on the homefront as well:

In anger and fury I shall wreak vengeance

on the nations who disobey me.

–Micah 5:15, The Revised English Bible

The disobedience in Micah 5 took various forms, including idolatry.

Idols range from false deities to anything which anyone lets stand between him or her and God.  I live in Athens, Georgia, a football-mad town.  Often I note the tone of reverence regarding University of Georgia athletics in the local press.  And frequently have I heard sports fans liken sports to religion.  It is one for many of them.  And, ironically, the Bible functions as an idol for many honest seekers of God.  The Scriptures are supposed to be as icons, through which people see God, but their function varies according to the user thereof.

Religion is a basic human need.  Even many militant fundamentalist Atheists possess the same irritating zeal as do many fundamentalists of theistic varieties.  I stand in the middle, rejecting both excessive skepticism and misplaced certainty, overboard materialism and rationality with the haunting fear that having sex standing up will lead to (gasp!) dancing.  So I reject idols on either side of my position while know that I need to examine my own position for the presence of idols, as abstract as they might be.

Perhaps the greatest spiritual challenge is to identify and reject all idols, which do not seem as what they are to us because the most basic assumptions people carry do not look like assumptions to us.  Thus we justify ourselves to ourselves while we stand in serious error.  Sometimes our idols and false assumptions, combined with fears, lead us commit violence–frequently in the name of God or an imagined deity, perhaps understood as being loving.

We are really messed up.  Fortunately, there is abundant grace available to us.  But can we recognize that if idolatry blinds us spiritually?












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, 2023


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


The Assigned Readings:

Job 11:1-20

Psalm 130 (Morning)

Psalms 32 and 139 (Evening)

John 5:19-29


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….









Week of 1 Epiphany: Friday, Year 2   12 comments

Above:  Crown of King Christian IV of Denmark

Image Source = Ikiwaner

The Destructive Allure of Conformity

JANUARY 12, 2024


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.


1 Samuel 8:4-22a (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him,

Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint for us a king to govern us like all the nations.

But the thing displeased Samuel when they said,

Give us a king to govern us.

And Samuel prayed to the LORD.  And the LORD said to Samuel,

Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.  According to all the deeds they have done for me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you.  Now then, listen to their voice; only, you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.

So Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking a king from him.  He said,

These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you:  he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots.  He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.  He will also take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants.  He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants.  He will take your menservants and maidservants, and the best of your cattle and your donkeys, and put them to his work.  He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.  And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the LORD will not answer you in that day.

But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; and they said,

No! but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.

And when Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the LORD.  And the LORD said to Samuel,

Listen to their voice, and make them a king.

Psalm 89:15-18 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

15  Happy are the people who know the festal shout!

they walk, O LORD, in the light of your presence.

16  They rejoice daily in your Name;

they are jubilant in your righteousness.

17  For you are the glory of their strength,

and by your favor our might is exalted.

18  Truly, the LORD is our ruler;

the Holy One of Israel is our King.

Mark 2:1-12 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home.  And many were gathered together , so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door; and he was preaching the word to them.  And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men.  And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay.  And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic,

Child, your sins are forgiven.

Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts,

Why does this man speak like this?  It is blasphemy!  Who can forgive sins but God alone?

And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit what they questioned like this within themselves, said to them,

Why do you question like this in your hearts?  Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk”?  But that you too may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins

–he said to the paralytic–

I say to you, rise, take up your pallet, and go home.

And he rose, and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying,

We never saw anything like this!


The Collect:

Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.


Some Related Posts:

Week of 1 Epiphany:  Friday, Year 1:

Matthew 9 (Parallel to Mark 2):

Luke 5 (Parallel to Mark 2):


God was supposed to be the King of Israel.  Judges governed, each in his or her own time, but there was supposed to be only one king.  In the ancient world, however, monarchy was most common form of government.  Being different can be very difficult, especially in a social species, such as Homo sapiens sapiens.  The rest is history, culminating in the Pharonic reign of King Solomon, after which the kingdom ruptured.

The wrath of God is not so much God afflicting us actively as it is God backing off and doing nothing as the chickens come home to roost.  But at least God gives a warning far in advance.

Sometimes I am a conscious contrarian.  One of the most effective ways to persuade me not to do something, such as see a certain movie or read a specific book, is to point out how popular it is.  The “join the bandwagon” appeal backfires with me much of the time.  If other people are trying act like others, I try to do the opposite, within my sense of self.  Other times I act without regard to what others think, but I just happen to emerge as one with very different tastes.  Either way, peer pressure has a limited effect on me.

So being different makes great sense to me.  It does, of course, limit my social mixing.  It has done so for most of my life, and deep introversion has become my default mode.  I am not quite the death of the party, but I am far from its life.  I recall that, when I grew up, many of members of my age peer group made my life difficult because of these tendencies.  They succeeded in violating the Golden Rule and in driving me deeper into myself.  Why would I want to emulate those who taunted me?  I hypothesize, by the way, that my childhood experiences in school contributed to my dislike for children, and therefore have informed my choice to remain childless.  I also suspect that my staunch nonconformity with regard to certain conventions (namely social and cultural history, given my preference for old-style institutional and Great Man history) in the study of history contributed to the premature demise of my doctoral program at The University of Georgia.  But this was a matter of principle; whatever I did academically, I was determined to do it with respect for my intellectual integrity.  By the way, sometimes the cost of maintaining one’s integrity is painful and high, but the price for prostituting one’s soul and mind is higher.

This above all:  to thine ownself be true,

And it it must follow, as the night the day,

Thou canst not be false to any man.

–William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act I, Scene III, lines 78-80

Anyhow, the desire of the people in 1 Samuel 8 to be like their neighbor nations makes no sense to me; I stand with God and Samuel.  But, as the text says, “the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel.”  They wanted to conform to the example of those around them.

Of all the words in the English language, the most profane ones, in my opinion, are “conform” and “conformity.”  God, you see, has granted each of us gifts to share with others.  Consenting to conformity stifles the unique blessings we can bring to the table and extinguishes the light we are to be to the nations, or at least to those in our vicinity.

May we never fear to be properly different, for the glory of God.


Week of 8 Epiphany: Friday, Year 1   7 comments

Above:  A Model of the Temple Complex in Jerusalem During the Time of Jesus

Jesus vs. the Temple System

MARCH 4, 2011


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.


Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 44:1-15 (Revised English Bible):

Let us now praise famous men,

the fathers of our people in their generations;

to them the Lord assigned great glory,

his majestic greatness from of old.

Some held sway over kingdoms

and gained renown by their might.

Others were far-seeing counsellors

who spoke out with prophetic power.

Some guided the people by their deliberations

and by their knowledge of the nation’s law,

giving instruction from their fund of wisdom.

Some were composers of music;

some were writers of poetry.

Others were endowed with wealth and strength,

living at ease in their homes.

All those won glory in their own generation

and were the pride of their times.

Some there are who have left behind them a name

to be commemorated in story.

Others are unremembered;

they have perished as though they had never existed,

as though they had never been born;

so too it was with their children after them.

But not so our forefathers, men true to their faith,

whose virtuous deeds have not been forgotten.

Their prosperity is handed on to their descendants,

their inheritance to future generations.

Through him their children are within the covenants–

the whole race of their descendants.

Their line will endure for all time;

their glory will never die.

Their bodies are buried in peace

and their name lives for ever.

Nations will tell of their wisdom,

and the assembled people will sing their praise.

Psalm 149:1-5 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Hallulujah!

Sing to the LORD a new song;

sing his praise in the congregation of the faithful.

2 Let Israel rejoice in his Maker;

let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.

3 Let them praise his Name in the dance;

let them sing praise to him with timbrel and harp.

4 For the LORD takes pleasure in his people

and adorns the poor with victory.

5 Let the faithful rejoice in triumph;

let them be joyful on their beds.

Mark 11:11-26 (Revised English Bible):

(Note:  Mark 11:1-10 tells of Jesus borrowing a colt and entering Jerusalem.)

He entered Jerusalem and went into the temple.  He looked round at everything; then, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

On the following day, as they left Bethany, he felt hungry, and, noticing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it.  But when he reached it he found nothing but leaves; for it was not the season for figs.  He said to the tree, “May no one ever again eat fruit from you!”  And his disciples were listening.

So they came to Jerusalem, and he went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold there.  He upset the tables of the money-changers and the seats of the dealers in pigeons; and he would not allow anyone to carry goods through the temple court.  Then he began to teach them, and said,

Does not scripture say, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations”?

The chief priests and the scribes heard of this and looked for a way to bring about his death; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching.  And when evening came they went out of the city.

Early next morning, as they passed by, they saw that the fig tree had withered from the roots up; and Peter, recalling what had happened, said to him,

Rabbi, look, the fig tree which you cursed has withered.

Jesus answered them,

Have faith in God.  Truly I tell you:  if anyone says to this mountain, “Be lifted from your place and hurled into the sea,” and has no inward doubts, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.  I tell you, then, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours.

And when you stand praying, if you have a grievance against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive the wrongs you have done.


The Collect:

Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who care for us: Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


The Temple system benefited the wealthy and provided professional religious people with a comfortable living.  Temple taxes, paid mostly by those who could not afford them yet who acted out of community pressure and what they understood as piety (because that is how their religious leaders defined it) paid temple taxes and purchased sacrificial animals.  But they had to convert their Roman currency, which bore the image of the Emperor and the Latin words for “Divine Caesar” before they bought such sacrificial animals as pigeons.  Each Roman coin was an idol.  And the money changers were turning a nice profit, as was the chief priest.  It was religious racketeering, and Jesus confronted it.

And we have an odd two-part story about Jesus cursing a fig tree for not producing figs out of season.  The account from the Gospel of Matthew repeats this story, but not the out of season detail.  This is a difficult story, and it does not cast Jesus in a positive light.  The best I can offer, after reading commentaries, is that the poor fig tree is a stand-in for the Temple system, for the accounts of the fig tree are set amid condemnations of that system.

Jesus does propose an alternative, however.  We can pray to God without spending needless money on currency conversion and on sacrificial pigeons.  But…there is always a but…we need to forgive others, for there exists a link between our forgiveness of others and God’s forgiveness of us.  Jesus raises the bar again.

This hits me where it hurts.  I had a hell of a time (Yes, it was that bad.)  at the Department of History, The University of Georgia, during the sixteen months of my doctoral program.  I can think of the names of three professors, including my major professor, whom I need to forgive.  And, to this day, I harbor some negative emotions toward the entire university.  They are less prominent than they used to be, but they persist.  Forgiveness is hard, especially when one is the aggrieved party.  But it is possible, by grace.  It is only possible by grace.  And I am convinced that is a process much of the time.  [Update: Those negative emotions washed out of my system years ago.  I would not have been human had I not had such emotions, but I would have been foolish not to drop that burden years ago.–2017]

God knows that we are “but dust,” yet holds us to certain standards.  Fortunately, the two sides of that sentence exist in balance.  This, however, does not absolve any of us from doing our spiritual part.  Jesus has shown us the way; may we follow him.  That, too, is a process.