Archive for May 2014

Devotion for Wednesday After Proper 8, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

 

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Above:  Ruins of Capernaum, Between 1898 and 1946

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-10654

Active Love for God

JULY 5, 2017

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The Collect:

O God, you direct our lives by your grace,

and your words of justice and mercy reshape the world.

Mold us into a people who welcome your word and serve one another,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 40

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 18:1-11

Psalm 119:161-168

Matthew 11:20-24

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Lord, I have looked for your salvation

and I have fulfilled your commandments.

My soul has kept your testimonies

and greatly have I loved them.

I have kept your commandments and testimonies,

for all my ways are before you.

–Psalm 119:166-168, Common Worship (2000)

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The power and mercy of God can be frightening, for they challenge us to examine ourselves spiritually. They make abundantly clear the reality that we, most especially in the light of God, are wanting. We could admit this fact, embrace it, and welcome God’s act of reshaping us—or we could resist in stiff-necked fashion.

The reading for today are generally gloomy. The Psalm is affirmative, but the lections from Matthew and Jeremiah are darker. The Matthew lesson exists in a textual context of conflict. St. John the Baptist is imprisoned and about to die; can Jesus be far behind? A few verses later our Lord and Savior plucks grain and heals a man with a withered hand. Critics note that he does this on the Sabbath. Is Jesus supposed to have gone hungry and to have forgone committing a good deed? Later opponents accuse him of being in league with Satan. Our Lord and Savior’s healings were acts of power and mercy. Yet I read shortly after today’s Matthew lection that some people criticized him for committing such a powerful and merciful act on the Sabbath.

These are the kinds of negative responses to which Matthew 11:20 and 21 refer. The references to Tyre and Sidon reach back to Isaiah 23 and Ezekiel 27-28, where one reads condemnations of those wicked cities. And Jesus’ adopted hometown, Capernaum, is among the places where he experienced rejection. But, we read, even evil Tyre and Sidon will fare better on the day of judgment than will Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum.

He came to his own, and his own people would not accept him.

–John 1:11, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Why do we reject the love of God, which we see manifested around us via a variety of channels? And why do we quibble about when this love pours out generously, albeit inconvenient for us due to a fault within us? There are several reasons, but I choose to focus on one here: our preference for the status quo ante. We tend to prefer the predictable, so certain prompts prove to be threatening, not merely annoying. To acknowledge intellectually that God does not fit into our preferred theological box is one thing, but to experience that fact is another. And admitting error might call our identity into question. Furthermore, for those for whom religion is about certainty, one of the more popular idols, the element of uncertainty is profoundly disturbing.

May we—you and I, O reader—embrace the active love of God, permit it to reshape us, and not find such uncertainty disturbing. No, may we reject certainty in convenient lies and possess faith—active and living faith evident in attitudes, words, and deeds—in God, who refuses to fit into any theological box.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 24, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF IDA SCUDDER, REFORMED CHURCH IN AMERICA MEDICAL MISSIONARY IN INDIA

THE FEAST OF EDWARD KENNEDY “DUKE” ELLINGTON, COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF JACKSON KEMPER, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF WISCONSIN

THE FEAST OF MOTHER EDITH, FOUNDER OF THE COMMUNITY OF THE SACRED NAME

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/active-love-for-god/

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Devotion for Monday and Tuesday After Proper 8, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Death of Naboth

Above:  The Stoning of Naboth, by Caspar Luiken

Image in the Public Domain

Tenants, Not Landlords

JULY 2, 2017, and JULY 3, 2017

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The Collect:

O God, you direct our lives by your grace,

and your words of justice and mercy reshape the world.

Mold us into a people who welcome your word and serve one another,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 40

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The Assigned Readings:

1 Kings 21:1-16 (Monday)

1 Kings 21:17-29 (Tuesday)

Psalm 119:161-168 (Both Days)

1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 (Monday)

1 John 4:1-6 (Tuesday)

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Princes have persecuted me without a cause,

but my heart stands in awe of your word.

I am as glad of your word

as one who finds great spoils.

As for lies, I hate and abhor them,

but your law do I love.

–Psalm 119:161-163, Common Worship (2000)

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The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants.

–Leviticus 25:23, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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But we belong to God….

–1 John 4:6a, The Revised English Bible (1989)

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As for brotherly love, there is no need to write to you about that, since you have yourselves learnt from God to love another….

–1 Thessalonians 4:9, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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One of the great lessons of the Bible is that we belong to God, the world belongs to God, and we are only tenants and stewards responsible to God and each other. The Law of Moses, in Leviticus 25:23-28, addresses the issue of the ownership, sale, purchase, and redemption of land in the light of that ethic. God is watching us and we have no right to exploit or trample each other. If God is our parental figure metaphorically (usually Father yet sometimes Mother; both analogies have merit), we are siblings. Should we not treat each other kindly and seek to build each other up?

King Ahab and his Canaanite queen, Jezebel, abused their power and violated the ethic I just described. Neither one was of good character. Jezebel plotted perjury, false accusations, and the execution of an innocent man. Ahab consented to this plan. His responsibility flowed partially from his moral cowardice, for he could have prevented his wife’s plot from succeeding. And he, of course, could have been content with what he had already in the beginning of the story. The man was the monarch, after all.

Many of us seek after wealth or try to retain it while laboring under the misapprehension that it does or should belong to us. Actually, all of it belongs to God. Yes, there is a moral responsibility in all societies to provide a basic human standard of living for all people, given the ethic of mutuality and the fact that there is sufficient wealth for everyone to have enough to meet his or her needs. (I do not presume that there is one way all societies must follow to accomplish this goal.) And, if more of us thought of ourselves as stewards and tenants answerable to God, not as lords and masters, a greater number of our fellow citizens would be better off. That is a fine goal to which to strive en route to the final destination of a society based on mutuality.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 24, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF IDA SCUDDER, REFORMED CHURCH IN AMERICA MEDICAL MISSIONARY IN INDIA

THE FEAST OF EDWARD KENNEDY “DUKE” ELLINGTON, COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF JACKSON KEMPER, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF WISCONSIN

THE FEAST OF MOTHER EDITH, FOUNDER OF THE COMMUNITY OF THE SACRED NAME

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/tenants-not-landlords/

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Devotion for Saturday Before Proper 8, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

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Above:  Couples Dancing the Jitterbug, 1938

Photographer = Alan Fisher

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USZ62-134893

Stumbling Blocks

JULY 1, 2017

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The Collect:

O God, you direct our lives by your grace,

and your words of justice and mercy reshape the world.

Mold us into a people who welcome your word and serve one another,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 40

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 28:1-4

Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18

Luke 17:1-4

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Happy are the people who know the shout of triumph;

they walk, O Lord, in the light of your contenance.

In your name they rejoice all day long

and are exalted in your righteousness.

For you are the glory of their strength,

and in your favour you lift up our heads.

Truly the Lord is our shield;

the Holy One of Israel is our king.

–Psalm 89:15-18, Common Worship (2000)

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[Jesus] said to his disciples, “There are bound to be causes of stumbling; but woe betide the person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone round his neck than to cause the downfall of one of these little ones. So be on your guard. If your brother does wrong, reprove him; and if he repents, forgive him. Even if he wrongs you seven times in a day and comes back to you seven times saying, ‘I am sorry,’ you are to forgive him.”

–Luke 17:1-4, The Revised English Bible (1989)

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Years ago I saw a cartoon on a church office door. A man was standing at the Pearly Gates of Heaven. St. Peter said to him,

No, that’s not a sin either. You must have worried yourself to death.

There are varieties of stumbling blocks.

One type is obsessing over activities which are not sinful. I have read of congregational leaders calling members to account for playing Bridge or hosting a dance at home in the 1800s. In the early 1990s a United Methodist minister told me about an experience he had had in the 1960s, when he was a pastor in rural Houston County, Georgia. Parents in the community, in an effort to provide safe activities for their children, had organized a series of Saturday night chaperoned dances at the fellowship hall of the local Methodist Church. One night a local Southern Baptist pastor made a scene outside as he complained loudly about the sinful dancing going on indoors. I suppose that he thought he was reproving people in the spirit of Luke 17, but his congregation fired him shortly thereafter. Many of the people in the Methodist fellowship hall that night, O reader, were his parishioners.

Obsessing over small fries which are not even sinful as if they are detracts one from actual sins.

Many people have long mistaken medical problems, such as addictions and dependencies, as moral failings, and therefore sins. Yet having a medical condition—a physical illness (including mental illness, which has organic causes)–is no sin. One should strive to fulfill one’s responsibility to be a better person—including not caving into certain cravings—of course, but having a problem of that sort is no sin.

Neither is acting according to or having a characteristic with which one is born and over which one has no control sinful. The option to do one thing or another is part of what makes some deeds sinful. Where there is option there is no sin, which is doing the wrong thing when one can do the right thing.

False prophecy is a sin. The Bible names many prophets who said that which was convenient and politically expedient and who led people astray. And I can think of some false prophets with ministerial titles and television shows in my own time. Many of the broadcast of the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), where the hair is big and much of the furniture, in the words of someone I heard speak in the late 1990s, would fit in at a New Orleans bordello. (I assume that the metaphor had mostly to do with furniture in pre-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans.)

One can also erect stumbling blocks of the excessively permissive variety. I refer not so much to peccadilloes (not that they do not matter) as to patterns and structures in society. Peccadilloes, which are bad and therefore require correction, constitute low-hanging fruit. The real challenge is to climb the tree. The Bible contains more material about money, the uses of it, and economic injustice (including the exploitation of people) than it does about sexual practices and proclivities. One should, then, hear more about economics than sexuality from the pulpit, but often reality is the other way around. Not reproving people complicit in economic exploitation constitutes a failure on one’s part. Allegations of engaging in class warfare aside, engaging in such reproof is the right thing to do.

We humans exist chiefly to glorify and enjoy God forever. The Psalm speaks to that point from the Westminster Catechism. Forgiveness—something frequently difficult—is a vital part of approaching that goal—for both the one who pardons and he or she who receives the forgiveness. And so is appropriate reproof. Inappropriate reproof, however, does not help. May we, by grace, see through our blind spots and bad cultural programming to recognize that which is proper. Then may we affirm it and act accordingly.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 23, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT DESIDERIUS/DIDIER OF VIENNE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT GUIBERT OF GORZE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN BAPTIST ROSSI, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF NICOLAUS COPERNICUS, SCIENTIST

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/stumbling-blocks/

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Devotion for Thursday and Friday Before Proper 8, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

RomanEmpire_117.svg

Above:  The Roman Empire in 117 C.E.

Image in the Public Domain

Note the location of the Province of Galatia in Asia Minor.

Freedom, Law, and Obedience to God

JUNE 29 and 30, 2017

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The Collect:

O God, you direct our lives by your grace,

and your words of justice and mercy reshape the world.

Mold us into a people who welcome your word and serve one another,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 40

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 25:1-7 (Thursday)

Jeremiah 25:8-14 (Friday)

Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18 (Both Days)

Galatians 5:2-6 (Thursday)

Galatians 5:7-12 (Friday)

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I will declare that your love is established for ever;

you have set your faithfulness as firm as the heavens.

–Psalm 89:2, Common Worship (2000)

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Law, for St. Paul the Apostle, stood in stark opposition to grace. Law spoke of what humans did, but grace indicated what God did. Thus, via Christ and in grace a Christian had freedom, which nobody ought to surrender. The aspect of the Law in question in Galatians 5:2-12 was circumcision, a matter of identity in Judaism to this day. Christianity, not yet separate from Judaism, was open to Gentile converts. Did they have to become Jewish to become Christians? Paul chose the inclusive position: no, which he hung on the hook of the cross of Christ.

I am not entirely unsympathetic with those who disagreed with the Apostle. They recalled passages, such as Jeremiah 25:1-14, in which not keeping the Law led to negative consequences. Circumcision was a physical mark on a Jewish male and an outward sign of an inward and communal covenant with God. This was foundational. And I know that each of us probably clings to some practice we consider essential to our tradition. Maybe we are correct to do so.

But, for the Apostle, trust in and love of Christ, expressed in a life of love, is where one’s emphasis belongs. Faith, in Pauline theology, is inherently active. And so, as Archibald M. Hunter wrote in The Layman’s Bible Commentary, Volume 22 (Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1959), page 37:

The faith that James denounces in his letter is one that does not issue in deeds of love. The faith that Paul praises is one that cannot help expressing itself in love.

Certainly we who claim to follow God can do so without placing impediments in the way of others whom God has called to God’s self. May we do so.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 23, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT DESIDERIUS/DIDIER OF VIENNE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT GUIBERT OF GORZE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN BAPTIST ROSSI, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF NICOLAUS COPERNICUS, SCIENTIST

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/freedom-law-and-obedience-to-god/

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Devotion for Wednesday After Proper 7, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Mary_dyer_being_led

Above:  The Quaker Mary Dyer Being Led to Execution on Boston Common, 1 June 1660

Image in the Public Domain

Victims and Religious Persecution

JUNE 28, 2017

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The Collect:

Teach us, good Lord God, to serve you as you deserve,

to give and not to count the cost,

to fight and not to heed the wounds,

to toil and not to seek for rest,

to labor and not to ask for reward,

except that of knowing that we do your will,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 40

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 38:1-13

Psalm 6

Matthew 10:5-23

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Some Related Posts:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/05/28/a-prayer-for-those-who-are-tortured/

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/05/28/a-prayer-for-those-who-inflict-torture/

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My eyes are wasted with grief

and worn away because of all my enemies.

–Psalm 6:7, Common Worship (2000)

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Follow God and face persecution.

How is that for a message to use when recruiting and seeking to retain servants of God? Ebed-melech the Ethiopian risked his life to save the life of the prophet Jeremiah, who had sunk into the mud in a cistern. Jesus and most of the original twelve Apostles died violently and suffered before that happened. Nearly two millennia have passed since the time of Christ. During that span countless numbers of Christians have suffered for the faith. Many have become martyrs.

I am among the fortunate Christians who have not faced any form of persecution, partially because of the freedom of religion and the separation of religion and state. But I know that persecution and martyrdoms continue. Cases of them do not always make headlines, but they persist, unfortunately. And the blood of the martyrs continues to water the church.

Perversely, many people who make others martyrs do so in the name of God; they believe that they are acting righteously. This has been the case in the past and remains so in the present. Puritans who hanged Quakers in colonial New England in the 1600s thought they acted righteously to defend their community from a great threat—pacifistic egalitarians in a hierarchical society, actually. (People who kill pacifists do not impress me.)  In parts of the world Islamic extremists attack Christian churches, but many other Muslims defend their Christian neighbors’ houses of worship. And the shameful track record of anti-Semitism in Christian history, from merely bad attitudes to small-scale attacks to large-scale pogroms, needs no further comment here. May we criticize the extremists and mistake them as true representatives of entire faith systems.

One lesson to draw from such cases is, in the name of Christ, to act compassionately toward others, especially those with whom we disagree theologically. Torturing, imprisoning, and killing others in the name of Jesus, himself an innocent victim of capital punishment, is wrong, regardless of one’s concept of God. Yes, sometimes life brings us to some unpleasant circumstances with only bad choices—such as violent ones as the means of survival—but there is a difference between self-defense and religious intolerance acted out. I am not naïve about that reality.

Yet the definition of freedom includes liberty to those who differ from and with us. And moral absolutes do exist. Among them are the immoral natures of torture and religious persecution, terms one should never apply when they are not applicable. May we stand with the victims, not those who victimize them. And may we certainly never victimize anyone in the name of God or any other name.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 23, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT DESIDERIUS/DIDIER OF VIENNE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT GUIBERT OF GORZE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN BAPTIST ROSSI, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF NICOLAUS COPERNICUS, SCIENTIST

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/victims-and-religious-persecution/

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Devotion for Monday and Tuesday After Proper 7, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

23105v

 

Above:  Marble Street, Ruins of Ephesus, in Turkey, Between 1950 and 1960

Photographer = Osmo Visuri

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-23105

Faith in Time of Adversity

JUNE 26 and 27, 2017

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The Collect:

Teach us, good Lord God, to serve you as you deserve,

to give and not to count the cost,

to fight and not to heed the wounds,

to toil and not to seek for rest,

to labor and not to ask for reward,

except that of knowing that we do your will,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 40

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The Assigned Readings:

Micah 7:1-17 (Monday)

Jeremiah 26:1-12 (Tuesday)

Psalm 6 (Both Days)

Revelation 2:1-7 (Monday)

Revelation 2:8-11 (Tuesday)

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Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am weak;

Lord, heal me, for my bones are racked.

–Psalm 6:2, Common Worship (2000)

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Faith under pressure can waver, but may it hold until the end.

The assigned readings for these days come from places of difficulty. The audience of the Book of Revelation consisted of persecuted Christians and Christians about to endure persecution. Perhaps the faith of the persecuted Christians at Ephesus had begun to waver. Maybe that was what Revelation 2:4 meant. The prophet Jeremiah faced persecution for prophesying against the officult cult in a vassal kingdom which lacked the separation of religion and state. And the prophet Micah wrote that

The faithful have vanished from the land….

–Micah 7:2a, The Revised English Bible (1989)

then catalogued a variety of offenses, such as murder, corruption, and general dishonesty. Then he continued:

But I shall watch for the LORD,

I shall wait for God my saviour;

my God will hear me.

My enemies, do not exult over me.

Though I have fallen, I shall rise again;

though I live in darkness, the LORD is my light.

Because I have sinned against the LORD,

I must bear his anger, until he champions my cause

and gives judgement for me,

until he brings me into the light,

and with gladness I see his justice.

–Micah 7:7-9, The Revised English Bible (1989)

I understand why faith wavers in the context of great adversity. That is when keeping faith can prove especially difficult. After all, many of us have a certain false notion in our minds. If we do what is right, we will be safe, if not prosperous, we think—perhaps even if we know better. Good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people, we tell ourselves—perhaps even if we know better. When adversity befalls us we might ask what wrong we have done—even when we know better. Reality challenges false assumptions.

But, as I have learned the hard way, faith can also become stronger in times of adversity and enable one to survive them intact, even stronger spiritually. I have alternated between wavering and becoming stronger spiritually during a certain very difficult time in my life, but I emerged stronger—singed, but stronger.

May you, O reader, find adversity—when it comes—a time of spiritual growth overall.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 23, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT DESIDERIUS/DIDIER OF VIENNE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT GUIBERT OF GORZE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN BAPTIST ROSSI, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF NICOLAUS COPERNICUS, SCIENTIST

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/faith-in-time-of-adversity/

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Devotion for Saturday Before Proper 7, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Jeremiah Sistine Chapel

 

Above:  Jeremiah, from the Sistine Chapel, by Michelangelo Buonarroti

Image in the Public Domain

Love and Vengeance

JUNE 24, 2017

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The Collect:

Teach us, good Lord God, to serve you as you deserve,

to give and not to count the cost,

to fight and not to heed the wounds,

to toil and not to seek for rest,

to labor and not to ask for reward,

except that of knowing that we do your will,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 40

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 20:1-6

Psalm 69:7-10 [11-15], 16-18

Luke 11:53-12:3

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Draw me out of the mire, that I sink not;

let me be rescued from those who hate me and out of the deep waters.

–Psalm 69:16, Common Worship (2000)

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Jesus was very smart—sufficently intelligent to avoid becoming trapped in his own words and able to turn the tables on his would-be ensnarers in the process. The prophet Jeremiah was in literal stocks for doing what God had told him to do. Obeying the will of God leads sometimes to the creation of enemies, who would rather double down than repent.

Revenge and judgment, along with forgiveness, are activities of God, who knows better than we do. We are also to forgive, of course, for it is especially good for us and our communities. But revenge and personal judgment are for God alone to mete out. This does not satisfy many people, but it does avoid human error as well as the spiritual toxins which the desire for revenge release in one. Besides, I would rather err on the side of generosity of spirit than on the side of anger and vengeance. How about you, O reader?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 23, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT DESIDERIUS/DIDIER OF VIENNE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT GUIBERT OF GORZE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN BAPTIST ROSSI, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF NICOLAUS COPERNICUS, SCIENTIST

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/love-and-vengeance/

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