Archive for August 2014

Devotion for Monday and Tuesday After Proper 22, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

JMD_7589

Above:  In Memory of Jonathan Myrick Daniels, Who Gave His Life for Another Human Being Near Selma, Alabama, in 1965

Image Source = Bill Monk, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

Reconciliation

OCTOBER 5 and 6, 2020

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The Collect:

Beloved God, from you come all things that are good.

Lead us by the inspiration of your Spirit to know those things that are right,

and by your merciful guidance, help us to do them,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 49

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The Assigned Readings:

Ezekiel 19:10-14 (Monday)

Isaiah 27:1-6 (Tuesday)

Psalm 144 (Both Days)

1 Peter 2:4-10 (Monday)

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 (Tuesday)

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May there be no breaching of the walls, no going into exile,

no wailing in the public squares.

Happy are the people of whom this is so!

happy are the people whose God is the LORD!

–Psalm 144:15-16, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The Old Testament readings use the imagery of vineyards to describe the people of God.  In Ezekiel 19 this is the meaning of that metaphor, with the Kingdom of Judah as a vine therein and the ill-fated King Zedekiah as a stem.  Exile came, of course.   And we read in Isaiah 27 that the future vineyard will be a glorious and Godly one, that redemption will come.  Yet the consequences of sin will stay play out.

Redemption via Christ Jesus is the topic in the readings from 1 Peter 2 and 2 Corinthians 5.  Christ reconciles us to God.  Jesus is the innocent Lamb of God, the cornerstone of faith for Christians and a stumbling block for others.  Our spiritual tasks as the redeemed include functioning as agents of divine reconciliation.  Grace is free, but not cheap.  As I consider the honor roll of reconcilers in the name of Jesus I notice the names of many martyrs and other persecuted people. Jesus is there, of course, as is St. Paul the Apostle.  In recent decades martyred reconcilers have included Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador (died in 1980) and Jonathan Myrick Daniels (died in 1965) and the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. (died in 1968), of the United States.  Others, such as Nelson Mandela (died in 2013) spent long terms in prison then did much to heal the wounds of their societies.

Judgment and mercy coexist in the Bible.  The first comes then the second follows; that is a recurring pattern in the Old and New Testaments.  Reconciling, not seeking revenge, is the way to break the cycle of violence and to start the cycle of love and peace.  Relinquishing our bloodlusts can prove difficult, but the price of not doing so is both avoidable and terrible.

May we reconcile with God and, as much as possible, with each other.  The latter will prove impossible sometimes, due to conditions such as the death, inability, or unwillingness of the other party or parties.  In such cases at least one person can surrender the grudge; that is progress, at least.  And grace enables not only that but reconciliation in other cases.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 25, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MICHAEL FARADAY, SCIENTIST

THE FEAST OF BAYARD RUSTIN, WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/reconciliation/

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Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before Proper 22, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Kingdoms of Judah and Israel

Above:  Map of the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel

Image in the Public Domain

Apostasy and Idolatry

OCTOBER 1-3, 2020

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The Collect:

Beloved God, from you come all things that are good.

Lead us by the inspiration of your Spirit to know those things that are right,

and by your merciful guidance, help us to do them,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 49

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 2:14-22 (Thursday)

Jeremiah 2:23-37 (Friday)

Jeremiah 6:1-10 (Saturday)

Psalm 80:7-15 (All Days)

Colossians 2:16-23 (Thursday)

Philippians 2:14-18; 3:1-4a (Friday)

John 7:40-52 (Saturday)

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Restore us, O God of hosts;

show us the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

–Psalm 80:7, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The reading for these three days overlap nicely, focusing on the themes of idolatry and apostasy.  To commit apostasy is to fall away from grace.  (Thus grace is not irresistible.  Strict Calvinism is therefore mistaken about that fifth of the TULIP formula.  I am also dubious of the Perseverance of the Saints, which relates to Irresistible Grace.)  An idol is anything which takes the place of God in one’s life.  Thus an idol might be a false deity, an activity, or even a sacred text.  Function in one’s life determines that thing’s status relative to idolatry.  Among the most popular idols is the Bible, which is supposed to function instead as an icon–through which people see God.  But, if one treats it as an idol, that is what it is for that person.

The lessons from Jeremiah condemn idolatry which has led to national apostasy, evident in ill-advised alliances with foreign, predatory empires.

What then do you gain by going to Egypt,

to drink the waters of the Nile?

or what do you gain by going to Assyria,

to drink the waters of the Euphrates?

Your wickedness will punish you,

and your apostasies will convict you.

Know and see that it is evil and bitter

for you to forsake the LORD your God;

the fear of me is not in you,

says the LORD GOD of hosts.

–Jeremiah 2:18-19, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

From the gloom of Jeremiah 2 and 6 we turn to the Pauline tradition, which emphasizes Christ crucified and resurrected.  St. Paul the Apostle rejects, among other things, Gnostic asceticism, a form of Jewish ritualism, and the practice of worshiping angels as methods as obtaining the spiritual upper hand.  Christ is sufficient, the ever-Jewish Paul tells us through the ages.

I understand the Apostle’s objection to Gnosticism, with its reliance on secret knowledge and belief that matter is evil.  If salvation comes from having secret knowledge, as Gnostics insisted, the death and resurrection of Jesus were pointless.  In fact, in Gnostic thought, he did not die because he was not even corporeal, for, in Gnosticism, he could not have had a body, a body being material and therefore evil.  Thus Gnosticism was not Christian.  The exclusion of Gnostic texts from the Bible was not, as some “documentaries” on the History Channel claim, a conspiracy of Church leaders to suppress truth and crush dissent.  No, it was a proper course of action.

As for rituals (especially Jewish ones), I approach the text from Colossians differently than do the authors of some of the commentaries I consulted.  A high proportion of these writers were Presbyterians with little use for ritual.  Their paragraphs screamed between the lines “This is why I am not a Papist!”  I, as an Episcopalian, know the value of ritual and of approaching it properly.  It should be an icon, not an idol, although it functions as the latter for many people.  But so does the Bible, and I do not heap scorn on that sacred anthology either.

Apostasy, a theme from the Jeremiah readings, recurs in John 7.  Temple officials accuse some Temple policemen of it for refusing to arrest Jesus, who had impressed them.  These officials also accuse Nicodemus of the same offense.  I realize that much of the Gospel of John reflects late first-century C.E. Jewish Christian invective, for Jewish Christians had found themselves marginalized within Judaism.  Nevertheless, the stories in John 7:40-52 have the ring of truth, for fearful people in positions of power have attempted to retain it in many places and at numerous times.

Idols come in many varieties, shapes, sizes, and ages.  As I have written in this post, function in one’s life determines status relative to idolatry in that life.  Among the more common idols is attachment to the status quo ante, especially if one benefits from it.  Thus we become upset when God does something we do not expect.  This might threaten just our sense of order (hardly a minor issue), but also our identity (also a major consideration) and socio-economic-political or socio-economic standing (of which we tend to be quite protective).  But when was religion supposed to function as a defense against God?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 25, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MICHAEL FARADAY, SCIENTIST

THE FEAST OF BAYARD RUSTIN, WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/apostasy-and-idolatry/

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Devotion for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday After Proper 21, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Paul Writing His Epistles

Above:  Paul Writing His Epistles, by Valentin de Boulogne

Image in the Public Domain

Propagating the Gospel

SEPTEMBER 28-30, 2020

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The Collect:

God of love, giver of life, you know our frailties and failings.

Give us your grace to overcome them,

keep us from those things that harm us,

and guide us in the way of salvation,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 48

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The Assigned Readings:

Judges 14:1-20 (Monday)

Judges 16:1-22 (Tuesday)

Judges 16:23-31 (Wednesday)

Psalm 28 (All Days)

Philippians 1:3-14 (Monday)

Philippians 1:15-21 (Tuesday)

Mathew 9:2-8 (Wednesday)

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A thoroughly unoriginal statement tells us that great responsibility accompanies great blessings.  Grace, although free, is not cheap.  It cost Jesus his life.  It led to multiple imprisonments of St. Paul the Apostle and finally his execution by beheading.  Jesus healed people, proclaimed the good news, and aroused much opposition.  Paul preached Christ crucified and got into much trouble also.  Through them and many others the Gospel has prospered, however.

The story of Samson is a cautionary tale.  He was intellectually dense and prone to revenge.  Samson also had poor judgment, especially regarding women.  His actions and bad judgment created needless and difficult circumstances, such as the one in which he died.  And his last act, not quite triumphant, was one of revenge.  Samson ruined his life.

How one spends life matters.  May we spend it creating a legacy of love, kindness, and reconciliation.  (This is possible only via grace, of course.)  May we succeed in that which is eternal–of God (per John 17:2)–and help the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  May we abet this propagation of the Gospel as a matter of goal and consequence, not, as many have, in spite of themselves, while attempting to suppress it.  The fact that those who oppose the Gospel wind up becoming vehicles of its spread comforts me, but is not seeking to propagate it then succeeding better?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 21, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF GEORGIA HARKNESS, UNITED METHODIST THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT KENNETH OF WALES, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/08/21/propagating-the-gospel/

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Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before Proper 21, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Robinson's Arch

Above:  Robinson’s Arch, Jerusalem, Palestine, Ottoman Empire, Between 1898 and 1914

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-07504

Money, Status, and Ego

SEPTEMBER 24-26, 2020

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The Collect:

God of love, giver of life, you know our frailties and failings.

Give us your grace to overcome them,

keep us from those things that harm us,

and guide us in the way of salvation,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 48

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The Assigned Readings:

Ezekiel 12:17-28 (Thursday)

Ezekiel 18:5-18 (Friday)

Ezekiel 18:19-24 (Saturday)

Psalm 25:1-9 (All Days)

James 4:11-16 (Thursday)

Acts 13:32-41 (Friday)

Mark 11:27-22 (Saturday)

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Gracious and upright is the LORD;

therefore he teaches sinners in his way.

He guides the humble in doing right

and teaches he way to the lowly.

All the paths of the LORD are love and faithfulness

to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.

–Psalm 25:7-9, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The readings for these days combine to form a tapestry about sin, righteousness, judgment (both human and divine), and forgiveness.  The lessons also overlap like circles in a Venn Diagram.  This richness of content from various sources explains why I have chosen to write from the Complementary Series of the daily lectionary attached to the (mostly Sunday) Revised Common Lectionary.  There is also a continuous reading track, but this one works better for me.

We humans make decisions every day.  As a poster I heard of years ago declares, “YOU CANNOT NOT DECIDE.”  We decide to take one course of action or another one.  Sometimes we decide to do nothing.  Thus, when we sin, we might do so via commission or omission.  There will be consequences of sins and sometimes even for proper deeds; one cannot evade their arrival forever.  No matter how much God approves or disapproves of certain deeds, some human beings will have a different opinion.  Thus divine judgment might seem to arrive late or not at all in some cases and those innocent of a great offense suffer for the sake of righteousness.

Ezekiel 18 makes clear the point that God evaluates us based on what we do and do not do, not on what any ancestor did (or has done) and did not do (or has not done.)  Yes, as I have mentioned in a recent post at this weblog, parts of the Torah either disagree with that point or seem to do so.  Why should the Bible not contradict itself in places, given the lengthy span on its composition?  To expect consistency on every point is to harbor unrealistic expectations.  This why we also need tradition and reason, not just scripture, when arriving at theological decisions.  Anyhow, Ezekiel 18 tells us God does not evaluate us based on what our grandparents did.  This is good news.  What they did might still affect us negatively and/or positively, however.  I can identity such influences reaching back to some of my great-grandparents, in fact.  But I am responsible for my sins, not theirs.  As James 4:17 (The Revised English Bible, 1989) tells us:

What it comes to is that anyone who knows the right thing to do and does not do it a sinner.

Sometimes we know right from wrong and choose the latter because it is easier than the former.  I think that this summary applies to our Lord’s questioners in Mark 11:27-33.  Jesus, already having entered Jerusalem triumphantly while looking like a victorious king en route to the peace negotiations after battle, had also scared the living daylights out of money changers exploiting the pious poor at the Temple.  Our Lord and Savior was challenging a religious system in league with the Roman Empire.  And he was doing so during the days leading up to the annual celebration of Passover, which was about God’s act of liberating the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt.  The man was not keeping a low profile.  He was doing the right things and his questioners were attempting to entrap him verbally.  I suspect that they knew that he was the genuine article and that they preferred to lie to themselves and to oppose him rather than to follow him.  They had matters of money, status, and ego to consider, after all.

Are they really quite different from many of us?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 21, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF GEORGIA HARKNESS, UNITED METHODIST THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT KENNETH OF WALES, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/08/21/money-status-and-ego/

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Devotion for Wednesday After Proper 20, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Jesus Blesssing Children

Above:  Jesus Blessing Children

Image Source = Father Lawrence G. Lovasik, S.V.D., New Catholic Picture Bible:  Popular Stories from the Old and New Testaments (New York:  Catholic Book Publishing Company, 1955, 1960)

Image Scanned by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

God, the Primary Actor

SEPTEMBER 23, 2020

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The Collect:

Almighty and eternal God, you show perpetual lovingkindness to us your servants.

Because we cannot rely on our own abilities,

grant us your merciful judgment,

and train us to embody the generosity of your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 48

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 41:1-13

Psalm 106:1-12

Matthew 18:1-5

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Hallelujah!

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,

for his mercy endures for ever.

Who can declare the mighty acts of the LORD

or show forth all his praise?

–Psalm 106:1-2, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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A child, at the time and place of the Gospels’ setting, was powerless and vulnerable.  Yet, according to Matthew 18:3, anyone who enters the Kingdom of Heaven/God must do so like a child.  Anyone who humbles himself accordingly and enters the Kingdom will be the greatest there, for the last will be first and the first will be last.

Other vulnerable and powerless people were exiles, such as those God was preparing to liberate in Isaiah 41.

God is the primary actor in the divine-human relationship.  Grace precedes us, walks beside us, carries us when necessary, and succeeds us.  How we respond to God matters greatly, of course, affecting not only us but those around us.  To recognize our complete dependence on God and our reliance on each other–to surrender the illusion of independence and abandon the lie of the ultimate importance of social status–is to embark on a healthy spiritual path, one which entails numerous and varied expressions of gratitude to God, who has done, is doing, and will do infinitely more than we can imagine.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 17, 2014 COMMON ERA

PROPER 15:  TENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF TIMOTHY CUTLER AND THOMAS BRADBURY CHANDLER, ANGLICAN PRIESTS

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/08/17/god-the-primary-actor/

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Devotion for Monday and Tuesday After Proper 20, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Jacob's Ladder William Blake

Above:  Jacob’s Ladder, by William Blake

Image in the Public Domain

Flawed Agents of Grace

SEPTEMBER 21 and 22, 2020

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The Collect:

Almighty and eternal God, you show perpetual lovingkindness to us your servants.

Because we cannot rely on our own abilities,

grant us your merciful judgment,

and train us to embody the generosity of your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 48

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The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 27:1-29 (Monday)

Genesis 28:10-17 (Tuesday)

Psalm 106:1-12 (Both Days)

Romans 16:1-16 (Monday)

Romans 16:17-20 (Tuesday)

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Remember me, O LORD, with the favor you have for your people,

and visit me with your saving help;

That I may see the prosperity of your elect

and be glad with the gladness of your people,

and I may glory with your inheritance.

–Psalm 106:4-5, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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One of the challenges one faces in reading the Bible intelligently is understanding cultural nuances.  What does it matter, for example, that a father imparts a blessing on his son?  That was important in the culture of Isaac, Jacob/Israel, and Esau/Edom, for the blessing or curse, in the minds of many people, determined the destiny of the recipient of the pronouncement.

Isaac was a pitiful character.  The fact that his father, Abraham, had tried to kill him once must have messed him up psychologically.  Wife Rebekah plotted to deceive him in order to promote her second son, Jacob.  She succeeded, and the promise flowed through the second son again, Isaac having been the second son of Abraham.  The confirmation of the promise came in a dream about angels on a ladder.  But Jacob remained a trickster, one whom Laban fooled.  The promise of God, this chain of events tells me, does not depend on purity of human character or motivation.  This is good news, for it the divine promise did depend on such factors, it would be vain hope.

St. Paul the Apostle, after a long list of commendations in Romans 16, advised people to avoid

those who stir up quarrels and lead others astray, contrary to the teaching you received

–Romans 16:17b, The Revised English Bible (1989).

The process of sorting out core Christian doctrines entailed centuries of debates among those who asked sincere questions.  Many of these seekers of the truth were objectively wrong about certain details, but at least they proceeded from a good motivation.  When they were wrong, their contribution led to the formulation of correct doctrines, so we Christians of the twenty-first century are indebted to them.  St. Paul the Apostle might have considered some of these individuals to be among “those who stir up quarrels and lead others astray,” for he was quite opinionated.  There were also actual mischief-makers.  Maybe you, O reader, have encountered the type–people who ask questions to provoke, not to seek an answer.

Those who sow the seeds of dissension seem to have great internal discord, for those at peace with themselves make peace and troubled people cause trouble.  I have witnessed these dynamics in congregations.  And I recognize it in family life, such as in the account in Genesis 27 and 28.  Much of the narrative of the Old Testament reads like a catalog of bad parenting and of sibling rivalry.  The texts are honest about character flaws, though, so we modern readers need not feel guilty about thinking of them as less than heroic all the time.  These were flawed people–as we are–and God worked through them as God works through us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 16. 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN DIEFENBAKER AND LESTER PEARSON, PRIME MINISTERS OF CANADA; AND TOMMY DOUGLAS, FEDERAL LEADER OF THE NEW DEMOCRATIC PARTY

THE FEAST OF JOHN JONES OF TALYSARN, WELSH CALVINISTIC METHODIST MINISTER AND HYMN TUNE COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF BROTHER ROGER OF TAIZE, FOUNDER OF THE TAIZE COMMUNITY

THE FEAST OF THE HOLY WOMEN OF THE NEW TESTAMENT

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/08/17/flawed-agents-of-grace/

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Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before Proper 20, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Neo-Assyrian Empire Map

Above:  Map of the Neo-Assyrian Empire

Image in the Public Domain

Warnings and Judgments

SEPTEMBER 17-19, 2020

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The Collect:

Almighty and eternal God, you show perpetual lovingkindness to us your servants.

Because we cannot rely on our own abilities,

grant us your merciful judgment,

and train us to embody the generosity of your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 48

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The Assigned Readings:

Nahum 1:1, 14-2:2 (Thursday)

Nahum 2:3-13 (Friday)

Zephaniah 2:13-15 (Saturday)

Psalm 145:1-8 (All Days)

2 Corinthians 13:1-4 (Thursday)

2 Corinthians 13:5-10 (Friday)

Matthew 19:23-30 (Saturday)

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The LORD is gracious and full of compassion,

slow to anger and of great kindness.

–Psalm 145:8, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Death, desolation and destruction.

–Nahum 2:10a, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Those four words summarize the Old Testament readings for these days.  The (Neo-)Assyrian Empire, notorious for its violence, had fallen.  The Chaldeans/Neo-Babylonians, who had conquered them, were almost as bad, but two Biblical authors rejoiced at the fall of Assyria and declared that event to be God’s judgment.

Warnings precede judgments much of the time, especially in the Bible.  2 Corinthians 13, for example, contains a warning (verse 2) and calls for repentance.  The Corinthian congregation was a notoriously troublesome assembly.  Indeed, it remained so for decades (at least).  You, O reader, might wish to consult the (First) Letter to the Corinthians (circa 100 C.E.) of St. Clement I of Rome (died circa 101 C.E.), which is authentic, for evidence of continued difficulties.  A major problem was factionalism, one variety of attachment.

Attachments are of the essence in this post.  The Assyrian rulers were attached to violence.  One man in Matthew 20 was attached to money and possessions.  Others were attached to relationships.  No attachment should interfere with recognizing one’s total dependence on God and one’s reliance on other human beings and responsibilities to them.

These texts, among others, function as warnings to us today.  Will we heed the notice and amend our ways as necessary and proper?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 16. 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN DIEFENBAKER AND LESTER PEARSON, PRIME MINISTERS OF CANADA; AND TOMMY DOUGLAS, FEDERAL LEADER OF THE NEW DEMOCRATIC PARTY

THE FEAST OF JOHN JONES OF TALYSARN, WELSH CALVINISTIC METHODIST MINISTER AND HYMN TUNE COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF BROTHER ROGER OF TAIZE, FOUNDER OF THE TAIZE COMMUNITY

THE FEAST OF THE HOLY WOMEN OF THE NEW TESTAMENT

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/08/17/warnings-and-judgments/

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