Archive for April 2015

Devotion for Wednesday After Proper 13, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Church of the Multiplication, Tabgha, Israel

Above:  Church of the Multiplication, Tabgha, Israel

Image in the Public Domain

With God There Are Leftovers

AUGUST 8, 2018

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The Collect:

O God, eternal goodness, immeasurable love,

you place your gifts before us; we eat and are satisfied.

Fill us and this world in all its need with the life that comes only from you,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 44

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 55:1-9

Psalm 107:1-3, 33-43

Mark 8:1-10

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Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,

and his mercy endures for ever.

Let all those whom the LORD has redeemed proclaim

that he rendered them from the hand of the foe.

He gathered them out of the lands;

from the east and from the west,

from the north and from the south.

–Psalm 107:1-3, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Repentance is an option, even late in the game, so to speak.  God, who glorifies the chosen people and remains faithful to divine promises, invites those who need to change their minds and ways to do so.  The more people who are present at the divine banquet, the merrier.

Speaking of banquets, Mark 8:1-10 tells of Jesus feeding 4000 people (not just men) with a few fishes and loaves of bread.  I refuse to try to explain the Feeding of the 4000 and the 5000 (Plus) (Mark 6:30-44) rationally for the same reason, which is that to do so is address the wrong question.  I focus instead on one detail:  there was more afterward than before.

Some people think that they have nothing to offer or that what they have to offer is inadequate, so they do not offer it to God for divine purposes.  God, however, can multiply those gifts and talents, leaving leftovers.  Many people need to repent of their failure to trust in God’s strength instead of their own.  These are not evil people, just weak ones with psychological and emotional issues.  At some point in each of us has been among this population.  Others of us remain in their ranks.

The graciousness of God to the Hebrews in Isaiah 55 benefited the world (verse 5).  God’s blessings to any one of us can and should benefit others.  If we trust God to multiply that which we have to offer, as meager as it might seem, it will enrich the lives of more people than we can imagine, for the glory of God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 6, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARCELLINUS OF CARTHAGE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR

THE FEAST OF DANIEL G. C. WU, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND MISSIONARY TO CHINESE AMERICANS

THE FEAST OF FREDERIC BARKER, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF SYDNEY

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/04/06/with-god-there-are-leftovers/

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Devotion for Monday and Tuesday After Proper 13, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Manna

Above:  Manna

Image in the Public Domain

Our Insufficiency and God’s Sufficiency

AUGUST 6 and 7, 2018

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The Collect:

O God, eternal goodness, immeasurable love,

you place your gifts before us; we eat and are satisfied.

Fill us and this world in all its need with the life that comes only from you,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 44

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The Assigned Readings:

Numbers 11:16-23, 31-32 (Monday)

Deuteronomy 8:1-20 (Tuesday)

Psalm 107:1-3, 33-43 (Both Days)

Ephesians 4:17-24 (Monday)

1 Corinthians 12:27-31 (Tuesday)

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Whoever is wise will ponder these things,

and consider well the mercies of the LORD.

–Psalm 107:43, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Sometimes the Bible harps on a theme, repeating itself.  I notice this most readily while following a well-constructed lectionary and trying to find new ways to make one post in a series based on that lectionary read differently than some of its preceding posts.  This is easier on some occasions than on others.

The repeated theme this time is that we humans depend on God for everything, rely on each other, and are responsible to and for each other.  I have written about this many times, including in the previous post.  We ought not to cling to the idol of self-sufficiency, the assigned readings tell us.  No, we have a responsibility to trust and obey God, who is faithful to divine promises.  God, who fed the former Hebrew slaves in the desert, calls people to lead holy lives marked by the renewing of minds and the building up of the community of faith.  Love–agape–in 1 Corinthians 13, which follows on the heels of the reading from 1 Corinthians 12, is selfless, self-sacrificial love, a virtue greater than faith and hope.

If acceptance of our insufficiency injures our self-esteem, so be it.  Humility is a virtue greater than ego.  Actually, a balanced ego–a realistic sense of oneself–is a virtue which includes humility.  Raging egos and weak egos are problems which lead to the same results–destroyed and missed opportunities, lives of selfishness, and the failure to acknowledge one’s complete dependence on God.  The desire to build up oneself at the expense of others damages not only one but the group(s) to which one belongs and the people around one.

May the love which 1 Corinthians 13 describes define our lives, by grace.  May acceptance of our total dependence upon God, our reliance upon each other, and our responsibilities to and for each other define our lives, by grace.  And may a faithful walk with God, who is trustworthy, define our lives, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 6, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARCELLINUS OF CARTHAGE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR

THE FEAST OF DANIEL G. C. WU, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND MISSIONARY TO CHINESE AMERICANS

THE FEAST OF FREDERIC BARKER, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF SYDNEY

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/04/06/our-insufficiency-and-gods-sufficiency/

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Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before Proper 13, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Agape Feast

Above:  Agape Feast

Image in the Public Domain

Insensitivity to Human Needs

AUGUST 2, 2018

AUGUST 3, 2018

AUGUST 4, 2018

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The Collect:

O God, eternal goodness, immeasurable love,

you place your gifts before us; we eat and are satisfied.

Fill us and this world in all its need with the life that comes only from you,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 44

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The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 12:33-42 (Thursday)

Exodus 12:43-13:2 (Friday)

Exodus 13:3-10 (Saturday)

Psalm 78:23-29 (All Days)

1 Corinthians 11:17-22 (Thursday)

1 Corinthians 11:27-34 (Friday)

Matthew 16:5-12 (Saturday)

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So mortals ate the bread of angels;

he provided for them food enough.

–Psalm 78:25, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The Passover meal, from which we Christians derive the Holy Eucharist, originates from the context of divine liberation of slaves from an empire founded upon violence, oppression, and exploitation.  The Passover meal is a communal spiritual exercise, a rite of unity and a reminder of human dependence on God.

The readings from 1 Corinthians 11 refer to abuses of the agape meal, or the love feast, from which the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist evolved.  There was a sacred potluck meal inside house churches.  The idea was that people gave as they were able and received as they had need to do so.  There was enough for everybody to have enough–a spiritual principle of the Kingdom of God–when all went was it was supposed to do.  Unfortunately, in the Corinthian church, some of the wealthy members were eating at home prior to services, thus they chose not to share with less fortunate, who did not have access to enough good meals.  This bad attitude led to the love feast becoming a means of division–especially of class distinctions–not of unity, and therefore of unworthy consumption of the sacrament by some.  Is not becoming drunk at a love feast an example of unworthy consumption?  And is not partaking of the sacrament with a selfish attitude toward one’s fellow church members an example of unworthy consumption?

“The leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6) refers to forms of piety which depend upon wealth, thereby writing off the poor “great unwashed” as less pious and defining the self-proclaimed spiritual elites as supposedly holier.  The Pharisees and the Sadducees, who collaborated with the Roman occupiers, could afford to pay religious fees, but most people in Judea lived a hand-to-mouth existence.  The combination of Roman and local taxes, fees, and tolls was oppressive.  And keeping the purity codes while struggling just to survive was impossible.  Jesus argued against forms of piety which perpetuated artificial inequality and ignored the reality that all people depend entirely on God, rely on each other, and are responsible to and for each other.

To this day teaching that we depend entirely upon God, rely on each other, and are responsible to and for each other will get one in trouble in some churches.  I recall some of the congregations in which I grew up.  I think in particular of conversations between and among parishioners, many of whom considered such ideas too far to the theological and political left for their comfort.  Many of them labored under the illusion of rugged individualism and embraced the “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” mentality.  Those ideas, however, were (and remain) inconsistent with the biblical concepts of mutuality and recognition of total dependence upon God.  May we put those idols away and love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 6, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARCELLINUS OF CARTHAGE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR

THE FEAST OF DANIEL G. C. WU, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND MISSIONARY TO CHINESE AMERICANS

THE FEAST OF FREDERIC BARKER, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF SYDNEY

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Adapted from this post:

https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/04/06/insensitivity-to-human-needs/

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Devotion for Wednesday After Proper 12, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   3 comments

St. Edward's, Lawrenceville

Above:  St. Edward’s Episcopal Church, Lawrenceville, Georgia, October 19, 2014

Image Source = Bill Monk, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

Four Banquets

AUGUST 1, 2018

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The Collect:

Gracious God, you have placed within the hearts of all your children

a longing for your word and a hunger for your truth.

Grant that we may know your Son to be the true bread of heaven

and share this bread with all the world,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 43

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 25:6-10a

Psalm 111

Mark 6:35-44

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He has provided food for his worshippers;

he remembers his covenant for ever.

–Psalm 111:5, Harry Mowvley, The Psalms Introduced and Newly Translated for Today’s Readers (1989)

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This is a post about four banquets:  the divine coronation feast in Isaiah 25:6-10a, the sordid feast of Herod Antipas in Mark 6:14-29, the Feeding of the 5000 (Plus) in Mark 6:30-44, and the Holy Eucharist.

The reading from Isaiah 25 speaks of a time immediately after Yahweh has defeated pride, evil, and sorrow, and established the Kingdom of God, in its fullness, on the Earth.  This is a time in our future.  All people are welcome at Yahweh’s coronation feast, to take place on Mount Zion, in Jerusalem.  All is well, except for those whom God has vanquished, namely the Moabites (25:10).

Our next two banquets, which stand is stark contrast to each other, come from Mark 6.  The first is a sordid event, with Herod Antipas lusting after the seductive Salome (whose name and image come to us via archaeology, not the Bible) and making a hasty promise which leads to the execution of St. John the Baptist.  The Herodian family tree was complicated, for both Herodias and her daughter, Salome, were granddaughters of Herod the Great via different women.  Herod Antipas, a son of Herod the Great via a third woman, married Herodias, who had been the wife of a half-brother of Herod Antipas.  Thus Salome was the step-daughter and a cousin of Herod Antipas.

I will not attempt to explain the Feeding the 5000 (Plus) rationally, for doing that constitutes seeking an answer to the wrong question.  (And I am more of a rationalist than a mystic.)  Neither will I try to explain Jesus walking on water (next in Mark 6) logically, for the same reason.  No, I am interested in answering the question which compelled one of my spiritual mentors whenever he studied any passage of scripture:

What is really going on here?

The Markan account of the Feeding of the 5000 men (no word about the number of women and children) uses imagery from elsewhere in the Bible.  Jesus is the Good Shepherd feeding the flock.  His feeding of the multitude exceeds Elisha’s feeding of 100 men (2 Kings 4:42-44) and Elijah’s miracle of the refilling jug of oil (1 Kings 17:8-16).  The messianic banquet, an echo of Isaiah 25:6-10a, recurs in the wilderness motif in subsequent pseudipigraphal works, such as in 2 Baruch 29:4 and 4 Ezra 6:52.  Two main ideas stand out in my mind:

  1. Jesus is greater than Elijah and Elisha (see Mark 6:15, in which some people thought that Jesus was Elijah), and
  2. Nothing we bring to Jesus is inadequate in his capable hands.  There will be leftovers after he has finished working with it.  We are insufficient by ourselves yet more than sufficient in Christ.  That is what grace can effect.

The eucharistic imagery in Mark 6 points to the fourth banquet, which I, as an Episcopalian, celebrate at least once weekly.  The Holy Eucharist has constituted the core of my spiritual life since childhood.  One reason I left the United Methodism of my youth was to have the opportunities to partake of the sacrament more often.  In the Holy Eucharist I meet Jesus in the forms of bread and wine and swear loyalty to him again.  No, I am not worthy on my merit (such as it is) to do this, but I rely on his merits to make me worthy to do so.  The first step to becoming worthy is acknowledging one’s unworthiness.

The contrast between human systems built on the foundation of violence, exploitation, and oppression on one hand and the Kingdom of God on the other hand is clear.  Injustice and artificial scarcity characterize the former, but justice and abundance for all distinguish the latter.  We can experience a foretaste of the Kingdom of God, which is partially present already, but we await the fullness of the Kingdom.  Until then we can, at least, leave the world better off than we found it.  No effort toward this goal is too little in Christ’s capable hands.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 6, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARCELLINUS OF CARTHAGE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR

THE FEAST OF DANIEL G. C. WU, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND MISSIONARY TO CHINESE AMERICANS

THE FEAST OF FREDERIC BARKER, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF SYDNEY

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/04/06/four-banquets/

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Devotion for Tuesday After Proper 12, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Covenant Confirmed

Above:   The Covenant Confirmed, by John Steeple Davis

Image in the Public Domain

Faith Communities

JULY 31, 2018

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The Collect:

Gracious God, you have placed within the hearts of all your children

a longing for your word and a hunger for your truth.

Grant that we may know your Son to be the true bread of heaven

and share this bread with all the world,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 43

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The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 24:1-11

Psalm 111

Romans 15:22-33

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Hallelujah!

I will acknowledge the LORD with my whole being,

in the assembly, the gathering of honest men.

–Psalm 111:1, Harry Mowvley, The Psalms Introduced and Translated for Today’s Readers (1989)

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St. Paul the Apostle planned to travel to Jerusalem then to Rome then to Spain.  Events of his time in Jerusalem led to his permanent relocation to Rome, where he died, however.

The pericope from Exodus 24 describes part of the ceremony by which the former Hebrew slaves accepted the covenant.  The theology of that text holds that divine holiness was lethal to most mortals (Moses being a notable exception), but that the people saw a reflection of God safely.  God was like the Sun in that way in that passage.  On the other hand, Jesus, as God incarnate, was among people, with many of whom he ate, so the theology of lethal divine holiness did not apply in the Gospels.  Theology changed between the Book of Exodus and the Gospel of Mark.

My main point in this post concerns communities of faith, however.  St. Paul longed to travel to Rome to find spiritual refreshment at the congregation there.  The covenant in Exodus was between God and the people.  Too much emphasis on individualism, an aspect of Western civilization, has long hampered a correct understanding of parts of the Bible in the global West.  Roman Catholicism has understood the focus on faith community well, fortunately, but my encounters with certain fundamentalist Protestants with “Jesus-and-me” theology have proven to be discouraging.

We humans have responsibilities to and for each other.  We also depend on God for everything and rely on each other’s labor.  Nobody is a self-made person, therefore.  These principles apply to faith communities also; we need each other.  May we know this to be true then act accordingly.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 5, 2015 COMMON ERA

EASTER SUNDAY, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF MILNER BALL, PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, LAW PROFESSOR, WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS, AND HUMANITARIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT NOKTER BALBULUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/04/05/faith-communities/

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Devotion for Monday After Proper 12, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Abraham and the Three Angels

Above:   Abraham and the Three Angels, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain

God’s Surprises

JULY 30, 2018

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The Collect:

Gracious God, you have placed within the hearts of all your children

a longing for your word and a hunger for your truth.

Grant that we may know your Son to be the true bread of heaven

and share this bread with all the world,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 43

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The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 18:1-15

Psalm 111

Philippians 4:10-20

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Reverence for the LORD is the first step to wisdom,

good success comes to all who obey his laws.

His people will never stop praising him.

–Psalm 111:10, Harry Mowvley, The Psalms Introduced and Newly Translated for Today’s Readers (1989)

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Sometimes, however, distress comes to those who obey God’s laws.  Consider, O reader, St. Paul the Apostle, who suffered death threats, incarceration, beatings, a shipwreck, and an execution.  Consider also, O reader, the church he planted at Philippi.  That congregation had to contend with internal and external threats, from anti-Christian authorities to Gnostics.  Yet the Philippian church, for all its struggles, was generous of spirit and helped St. Paul in tangible ways.

Depending on our expectations, some of God’s methods might surprise us.  One might expect a persecuted and struggling community to be preoccupied with its own troubles.  And, as for Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 18, a pregnancy certainly falls into the category of the unexpected.  The spiritual lesson I offer based on these readings is that we ought to open our minds and move beyond our usual expectations regarding what God might do and how God might do it.  We have certainly missed some blessings because we have not been looking in the right place at the right time.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 5, 2015 COMMON ERA

EASTER SUNDAY, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF MILNER BALL, PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, LAW PROFESSOR, WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS, AND HUMANITARIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT NOKTER BALBULUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/04/05/gods-surprises/

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Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before Proper 12, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Elisha

Above:   The Prophet Elisha

Image in the Public Domain

The Will of God and Morality

JULY 26, 27, and 28, 2018

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The Collect:

Gracious God, you have placed within the hearts of all your children

a longing for your word and a hunger for your truth.

Grant that we may know your Son to be the true bread of heaven

and share this bread with all the world,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 43

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The Assigned Readings:

1 Kings 19:19-21 (Thursday)

2 Kings 3:4-20 (Friday)

2 Kings 4:38-41 (Saturday)

Psalm 145:10-18 (All Days)

Colossians 1:9-14 (Thursday)

Colossians 3:12-17 (Friday)

John 4:31-38 (Saturday)

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All you have made will confess you, LORD,

those devoted to you will give you thanks.

They will speak of your royal glory

and tell of your mighty deeds,

Making known to all mankind your mighty deeds,

your majestic royal glory.

–Psalm 145:10-12, Harry Mowvley, The Psalms Introduced and Newly Translated for Today’s Readers (1989)

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Certain stories of Elisha resemble those of his mentor, Elijah, as an observant reader of the Books of Kings knows.  And, as an observant reader of the Gospels and the Books of Kings knows, some of the miracle stories of Jesus echo certain accounts of incidents from the lives of Elijah and Elisha.  Examples of these include raising people from the dead and feeding a multitude with a small amount of food.  Those stories indicate, among other things, that the heroes were close to God and were able to meet the needs of people.

The Elisha stories for these days have him leave home, participate in helping his kingdom win a war against Moab, and render dangerous food safe.  They portray him as an agent of the will of God.

The “will of God” is a phrase many people use improperly, even callously.  I, as a student of history, know that various individuals have utilized it to justify the murder of priests of Baal (by the order of Elijah, in 1 Kings 18:40), blame innocent victims of natural disasters exasperated by human shortsightedness (such as God allegedly sending Hurricane Katrina to New Orleans or a devastating earthquake to Haiti, supposedly to smite evildoers in those places), et cetera.  These misuses of the concept of the will of God offend my morality and make God seem like a thug at best.

We ought to exercise great caution using the phrase “the will of God,” for we might speak or write falsely of God and drive or keep people away from a Christian pilgrimage.  This is a topic to approach seriously, not lightly.  Among the most thoughtful treatments is Leslie D. Weatherhead’s The Will of God (1944), which speaks of three wills of God:  intentional, circumstantial, and ultimate.  That is deeper than some professing Christians want to delve into the issue, however.

I do not pretend to be an expert on the will of God, but I do attempt to be an intellectually honest Christian.  I, as a Christian, claim to follow Jesus.  To ask what he would do or would not do, therefore, is a relevant question when pondering issues of morality and the will of God.  The four canonical Gospels are useful for these and other purposes.  I conclude, therefore, that Jesus would not have ordered the deaths of priests of Baal or resorted to homophobia to explain the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.  And I cannot conceive of Jesus agreeing with George Zimmerman that the death of Trayvon Martin was part of God’s plan and that wishing that Martin were alive is almost blasphemous.  Zimmerman is a bad theologian.

Living according to compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, and love, per Colossians 3:12-14, is the best way to proceed.  Doing so increases the probability that one will live as an agent of the will of God, whose love we see epitomized in Jesus.  It is better to live rightly than to seek to be right in one’s opinion of oneself.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 5, 2015 COMMON ERA

EASTER SUNDAY, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF MILNER BALL, PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, LAW PROFESSOR, WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS, AND HUMANITARIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT NOKTER BALBULUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/04/05/the-will-of-god-and-morality/

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