Archive for May 2015

Devotion for Wednesday After Proper 14, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   2 comments

Autumn

Above:  Autumn

Image in the Public Domain

Building Up Our Neighbors, Part VI

AUGUST 15, 2018

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The Collect:

Gracious God, your blessed Son came down from heaven

to be the true bread that gives life to the world.

Give us this bread always,

that he may live in us and we in him,

and that, strengthened by this food,

may live as his body in the world,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 44

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 31:1-6

Psalm 81

John 6:35-40

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I am the LORD your God,

who brought you out of the land of Egypt and said,

“Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.”

–Psalm 81:10, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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In the assigned readings for this day and the previous six days (including Sunday) in the Revised Common Lectionary (Sunday and daily) God provides physical sustenance, directly or indirectly.  The collect from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006) picks up on this fact and on John 6:35-40, and uses food as a metaphor.  Jesus is the bread of life, we read.  This is nearly identical to Eucharistic language; the bread is the body of Jesus, the bread of heaven, and the wine is the blood of Christ, which fills the cup of salvation.  (I take those statements literally.)  The theme of the lectionary readings for seven days culminates in a glorious metaphor.

I have entitled the Thursday-Saturday and Monday-Wednesday posts “Building Up Our Neighbors,” for that is where the readings have led me.  What builds up hungry and thirsty people more than providing proper food and drink?  One must sustain one’s body if one is to live in it, after all.  Yet there is more than literal food and drink people require, for we humans are both physical and spiritual beings.  Building up our neighbors includes a necessary and proper element of spiritual food and drink also.  Confusing the two categories of needs leads to unfortunate results.  Rumi (1207-1273) understood this fact well.  He wrote:

Stay bewildered in God,

and only that.

Those of you are scattered,

simplify your worrying lives.  There is one

righteousness:  Water the fruit trees,

and don’t water the thorns.  Be generous

to what nurtures the spirit and God’s luminous

reason-light.  Don’t honor what causes

dysentery and knotted-up tumors.

Don’t feed both sides of yourself equally.

The spirit and the body carry different loads

and require different attentions.

Too often

we put saddlebags of Jesus and let

the donkey run loose in the pasture.

Don’t make the body do

what the spirit does best, and don’t let a big load

on the spirit that the body could carry easily.

–The Essential Rumi, Translated by Coleman Barks with John Moyne, A. J. Arberry, and Reynold Nicholson, HarperCollins, 1995; paperback, 1996; page 256

As my brethren in the Moravian Church (Unitas Fratrum) have understood well for centuries, there is a porous boundary between the secular and the sacred and the physical and the spiritual.  A mundane act can be morally neutral or expressive of deep spirituality, depending on the context.  For example, preparing good food can be just that or an act of great kindness which provides proper nutrition for someone and saves his or her life.  Performing otherwise morally neutral mundane acts in the name of Jesus, the bread of life, whose body is the bread of heaven and whose blood fills the cup of salvation is one way of building up one’s neighbors and of glorifying God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 28, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN H. W. STUCKENBERG, LUTHERAN PASTOR AND SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF EDWIN POND PARKER, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARGARET POLE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/05/28/building-up-our-neighbors-part-vi/

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Devotion for Tuesday After Proper 14, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   2 comments

The Gleaners--Gustave Dore

Above:  The Gleaners, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain

Building Up Our Neighbors, Part V

AUGUST 14, 2018

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The Collect:

Gracious God, your blessed Son came down from heaven

to be the true bread that gives life to the world.

Give us this bread always,

that he may live in us and we in him,

and that, strengthened by this food,

may live as his body in the world,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 44

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The Assigned Readings:

Ruth 2:1-23

Psalm 81

2 Peter 3:14-18

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For this is a statute for Israel,

a law of the God of Jacob.

–Psalm 81:4, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Among the principles in the Law of Moses, alongside stoning people for a variety of offenses, from insulting parents strongly to working on the Sabbath, is providing for the poor.  Thus there is a commandment to leave some crops unharvested in one’s fields, so that poor people may acquire food.  We read in Ruth 2 that Boaz obeyed this commandment and exceeded it.  In this context we find the theme of the Book of Ruth in 2:12:  Those who seek shelter with God will find it.

2 Peter 3:14-18, the end of that epistle, exists in the context of the expectation of the Second Coming of Jesus, something which has yet to occur as of the drafting and typing of this post.  Divine patience, or waiting, the author wrote between 80 and 90 C.E., is an indication of blessing, not faithlessness.

…and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.

–2 Peter 3:15a, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

As my Anabaptist brethren say, this is the age of God’s patience.  May we, therefore, occupy ourselves with the work God has assigned to us, which is, one way or another, to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and to leave the world better than we found it.  May we, by grace, complete our individual parts of this great vocation (a long-term, collective effort) to the satisfaction of God, for divine glory, and for the benefit of others.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 28, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN H. W. STUCKENBERG, LUTHERAN PASTOR AND SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF EDWIN POND PARKER, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARGARET POLE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/05/28/building-up-our-neighbors-part-v/

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Devotion for Monday After Proper 14, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   2 comments

Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath--Bartholomeus Breenbergh

Above:  Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath, by Bartholomeus Breenbergh

Image in the Public Domain

Building Up Our Neighbors, Part IV

AUGUST 13, 2018

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The Collect:

Gracious God, your blessed Son came down from heaven

to be the true bread that gives life to the world.

Give us this bread always,

that he may live in us and we in him,

and that, strengthened by this food,

may live as his body in the world,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 44

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The Assigned Readings:

1 Kings 17:1-16

Psalm 81

Ephesians 5:1-4

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Oh, that my people would listen to me!

that Israel would walk in my ways!

–Psalm 81:13, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Much of Christianity has condemned personal sins (such as swearing, gambling, fornicating, and fighting) exclusively or primarily while justifying oppressive violence and unjust economic systems over time.  One could point to, among other examples, the tradition of Roman Catholic support for feudalism and manorialism then for various dictators (such as Francisco Franco of Spain; at least he was anti-Communist) or to the Lutheran tradition of supporting the state, even when that is dubious.  And Martin Luther (1483-1546) did support the brutal repression of a peasants’ revolt by the German ruler who was protecting his life during the earliest years of the Protestant Reformation.  I cannot forget that fact either.  (To be fair, the Roman Catholic Church has also opposed dictatorships and many German Lutherans opposed the Third Reich.)  I choose to emphasize an example of which many people are unaware.  The Presbyterian Church in the United States, the old “Southern” Presbyterian Church, began in 1861 with a narrow range of moral concerns:  private behavior.  Slavery was not a moral concern fit for the church.  No, that was a matter for governments to address.  This was an example of the “Spirituality of the Church,” one of the biggest cop-outs I have encountered.  In the 1930s part of the left wing of that denomination succeeded in expanding the church’s range of moral concerns to include structural economic inequality, war and peace, et cetera.  In 1954 the Southern Presbyterians became the first U.S. denomination to affirm the ruling in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) as consistent with scripture and Christian values.  Much of the right wing of that denomination objected to these changes vocally, even to the point of defending Jim Crow laws in print.  (I have index cards full of evidence.)  Nevertheless, did not Jesus command people to love their neighbors as they love themselves?

“How long will you judge unjustly,

and show favor to the wicked?

Save the weak and the orphan;

defend the humble and the needy;

Rescue the weak and the poor;

deliver them from the power of the wicked….”

–Psalm 82:2-4, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

Sins come in the personal and collective responsibilities, among others.  Infractions of both kinds require confession and repentance, but addressing offenses in the former category is easier than seeking to correct offenses in the latter category.  Focusing on the former primarily or exclusively is, I suppose, a way (albeit an unsuccessful way) to seek to let oneself off the proverbial hook morally.

God commands us to care for people actively and effectively.  Sometimes this occurs on a small scale, as in the pericope from 1 Kings 17.  On other occasions the effort is massive and might even entail resisting unjust laws which place the poor at further disadvantage.  All of these efforts are consistent with the command to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 28, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN H. W. STUCKENBERG, LUTHERAN PASTOR AND SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF EDWIN POND PARKER, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARGARET POLE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/05/28/building-up-our-neighbors-part-iv/

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Devotion for Saturday Before Proper 14, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   2 comments

Virgin with David and Solomon

Above:  The Virgin with David and Solomon

Image in the Public Domain

Building Up Our Neighbors, Part III

AUGUST 11, 2018

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The Collect:

Gracious God, your blessed Son came down from heaven

to be the true bread that gives life to the world.

Give us this bread always,

that he may live in us and we in him,

and that, strengthened by this food,

may live as his body in the world,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 44

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The Assigned Readings:

1 Kings 2:1-9

Psalm 34:1-8

Matthew 7:7-11

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Taste and see that the LORD is good;

happy are they who trust in him!

–Psalm 34:8, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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King David’s final advice to his son and royal heir, Solomon, disturbs me.  The counsel to obey divine commandments is good, but the elements about killing people detracts from that noble sentiment.  In contrast, after Matthew 7:7-11, where we read that God knows how to bless people, we find the Golden Rule in verse 12.  Smiting people does not constitute obeying the Golden Rule relative to them.  Then again, the theological position of much of the Bible is that Yahweh is the Smiter-in-Chief.

I have strong doses of idealism and realism (not in the Greek philosophical meanings of those words) in my thinking.  Sometimes delivering one person from a dangerous situation entails smiting others, especially when they are unrepentant.  Yet I also understand that God loves everybody and that all people are my neighbors.  Part of the reality of living with flawed human nature is having to make the least bad decisions sometimes.

Nevertheless, to seek to build up as many of our neighbors as possible is a fine ethic by which to live.  It is one which we can accomplish by grace.  We might know that we ought to do it, but being able to follow through successfully is a different matter.  As the former Presbyterian Church in the United States (the “Southern” Presbyterian Church) declared in A Brief Statement of Belief (1962) regarding total depravity:

Sin permeates and corrupts our entire being and burdens us with more and more fear, hostility, guilt, and misery.  Sin operates not only within individuals but also within society as a deceptive and oppressive power, so that even men of good will are unconsciously and unwillingly involved in the sins of society.  Man cannot destroy the tyranny of sin in himself or in his world; his only hope is to be delivered from it by God.

The Confession of Faith of The Presbyterian Church in the United States Together with the Larger Catechism and the Shorter Catechism (Richmond, VA:  The Board of Christian Education, 1965; reprint, 1973), page 332

May we do the best we can, by the grace of God.

MAY 27, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALFRED ROOKER, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST PHILANTHROPIST AND HYMN WRITER; AND HIS SISTER, ELIZABETH ROOKER PARSON, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF CHARLES WILLIAM SCHAEFFER, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, HISTORIAN, THEOLOGIAN, AND LITURGIST

THE FEAST OF CLARENCE DICKINSON, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN ORGANIST AND COMPOSER

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/05/28/building-up-our-neighbors-part-iii/

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Devotion for Friday Before Proper 14, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   2 comments

Absalom Conspires Against David

Above:  Absalom Conspires Against David

Image in the Public Domain

Building Up Our Neighbors, Part II

AUGUST 10, 2018

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The Collect:

Gracious God, your blessed Son came down from heaven

to be the true bread that gives life to the world.

Give us this bread always,

that he may live in us and we in him,

and that, strengthened by this food,

may live as his body in the world,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 44

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The Assigned Readings:

2 Samuel 17:15-29

Psalm 34:1-8

Galatians 6:1-10

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Proclaim with me the greatness of the LORD;

let us exalt his Name together.

–Psalm 34:3, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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That is easier to do when we bear each other’s burdens and share each other’s joys.

Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

–Galatians 6:2, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Yes, as the passage continues, we read that each person has a responsibility to carry his or her own loads, but that statement exists in the context of mutual burden-bearing.  Some burdens are too great for one person to bear alone.  Personal responsibility and communal responsibility do not cancel each other out.

The story in 2 Samuel 17 illustrates those points well.  In the context of Absalom’s rebellion against King David, each person on the King’s side had a crucial part to play, but the effort was bigger than any one of them.  And, if some people had failed, others would have died.  Furthermore, David’s soldiers needed to eat properly, and the burden of feeding them required more than one person.

God has provided each of us with abilities we can use for the benefit of each other and for divine glory.  Often, however, someone or certain people must create the opportunities for others to develop those talents.  Likewise, one presented with such an opportunity has a responsibility to make the most of it.  When all goes well, many people benefit.  So I ask you, O reader, has God granted you the responsibility to help another person in such a way recently?  And has some agent of God aided you in some great way recently?  I suspect that the answer to both questions is “yes.”

The best principle for carrying one’s weight while helping others bear burdens comes from Acts 4:32-35:  giving as one is able and receiving as one has need.

MAY 27, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALFRED ROOKER, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST PHILANTHROPIST AND HYMN WRITER; AND HIS SISTER, ELIZABETH ROOKER PARSON, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF CHARLES WILLIAM SCHAEFFER, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, HISTORIAN, THEOLOGIAN, AND LITURGIST

THE FEAST OF CLARENCE DICKINSON, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN ORGANIST AND COMPOSER

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/05/28/building-up-our-neighbors-part-ii/

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Devotion for Thursday Before Proper 14, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   2 comments

Witch of Endor--Nikolai Ge

Above:  Witch of Endor, by Nikolai Ge

Image in the Public Domain

Building Up Our Neighbors, Part I

AUGUST 9, 2018

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The Collect:

Gracious God, your blessed Son came down from heaven

to be the true bread that gives life to the world.

Give us this bread always,

that he may live in us and we in him,

and that, strengthened by this food,

may live as his body in the world,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 44

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The Assigned Readings:

1 Samuel 28:20-25

Psalm 34:1-8

Romans 15:1-6

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I called in my affliction and the LORD heard me

and saved me from all my troubles.

–Psalm 23:6, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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That verse from Psalm 34 functions as a counterpoint to King Saul’s situation in 1 Samuel 28:20-25.

Saul was at the end of his reign and at war with Philistine forces.  He had, according to 1 Samuel 28, disguised himself and gone to a necromancer (some translations say “witch”) at Endor, so that she would summon Samuel, who had anointed the monarch then announced God’s rejection of him.  The necromancer was in a difficult situation, for Saul had outlawed her profession.  (So, according to the monarch’s own standards, by what right was he there?)

The story in 1 Samuel 28 reflects an old understanding of the afterlife in the Hebrew Bible.  Concepts of postmortem reward and punishment came later, by means of Zoroastrianism, for forces of the Persian Empire ended the Babylonian Exile.  (This does not mean, of course, that Heaven and Hell are figments of imagination, just that Zoroastrians had the concepts before Jews and, in time, Christians.  God’s agents come from many backgrounds.)  The understanding of the afterlife in 1 Samuel 28 is Sheol, the underworld.

In 1 Samuel 28 the necromancer, whose profession was, according to the Bible, forbidden due to its heathen nature, summoned Samuel successfully.  The prophet and judge, who was irritated with Saul, stated that the monarch had no more than a day left on the earth.  Saul took this badly, so he refused to eat for a while, until the necromancer and some countries convinced him to consume food.  The woman, who had risked her life to help Saul, cared about his well-being and fed him and his entourage.

God’s agents come from many backgrounds.  Sometimes they save us from our afflictions.  On other occasions, however, they simply provide aid and compassion until fate arrives.

Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor.

–Romans 15:2, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Our neighbors include those similar to us and different from us.  Some like us, others are hostile to us, and still others are neutral or apathetic.  We like some of our neighbors, despise others, and have little or no knowledge of the existence of still others.  Yet we are all in this life together; that which we do to others, we do to ourselves.  We are, in the ethics of the Law of Moses, responsible to and for each other as we stand side-by-side in a state of responsibility to and total dependence upon God.  Certain attitudes, therefore, fall outside the realm of righteousness.  These include greed, bigotry, rugged individualism, self-reliance, and Social Darwinism.  There is no divine law against compassion, however.  And, since whatever we do to others, we do to ourselves, caring for others effectively and selflessly (at least as much as we can) is to our benefit.  Whenever we build up our neighbors, we build up ourselves.

MAY 27, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALFRED ROOKER, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST PHILANTHROPIST AND HYMN WRITER; AND HIS SISTER, ELIZABETH ROOKER PARSON, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF CHARLES WILLIAM SCHAEFFER, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, HISTORIAN, THEOLOGIAN, AND LITURGIST

THE FEAST OF CLARENCE DICKINSON, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN ORGANIST AND COMPOSER

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/05/28/building-up-our-neighbors-part-i/

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