Archive for July 2015

Devotion for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday After Proper 27, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   2 comments

Boaz--Rembrandt van Rijn

Above:  Boaz, by Rembrandt van Rijn

Image in the Public Domain

Responsibilities, Insiders, and Outsiders

NOVEMBER 12, 13, and 14, 2018

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The Collect:

O God, you show forth your almighty power

chiefly by reaching out to us in mercy.

Grant to us the fullness of your grace,

strengthen our trust in your promises,

and bring all the world to share in the treasures that come

through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 52

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The Assigned Readings:

Ruth 1:1-22 (Monday)

Ruth 3:14-4:6 (Tuesday)

Ruth 4:7-22 (Wednesday)

Psalm 94 (All Days)

1 Timothy 5:1-8 (Monday)

1 Timothy 5:9-16 (Tuesday)

Luke 4:16-30 (Wednesday)

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The Lord will not cast off his people:

nor will he forsake his own.

For justice shall return to the righteous man:

and with him to all the true of heart.

–Psalm 94:14-15, The Alternative Service Book 1980

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The composite pericope from 1 Timothy comes from a particular place and time, so some of the details do not translate well into contemporary Western settings.  May we, therefore, refrain from falling into legalism.  Nevertheless, I detect much of value in that reading, which acknowledges the existence of both collective and individual responsibilities and sorts out the boundary separating them in a particular cultural context.  One principle from that text is that relatives should, as they are able, take care of each other.  Another principle present in the reading is mutuality–responsibility to and for each other.

The lack of a support system, or at least an adequate one, is a major cause of poverty and related ills.  The support system might be any number of things, including:

  1. the social safety net (the maintenance and strengthening of which I consider to be a moral imperative),
  2. friends,
  3. relatives,
  4. neighbors,
  5. the larger community,
  6. a faith community,
  7. non-governmental organizations, or
  8. a combination of some of the above.

In the Book of Ruth Naomi and Ruth availed themselves of effective support systems.  They moved to Bethlehem, where Ruth was a foreigner but Naomi had relatives.  The women also gleaned in fields.  There Ruth met Boaz, a landowner and a kinsman of Naomi.  He obeyed the commandment from Deuteronomy 24:19 and left grain for the poor.  The story had a happy ending, for Ruth and Boaz married and had a son.  Naomi, once bitter, was thrilled.

One hypothesis regarding the Book of Ruth is that the text dates to the postexilic period.  If this is accurate, the story of the marriage of Ruth and Boaz functions as a criticism of opposition to intermarriage between Hebrews and foreigners and serves as a call for the integration of faithful foreigners into Jewish communities.  The Jewish support system, this perspective says, should extend to Gentiles.

Sometimes the call to exercise individual responsibility and to fulfill one’s role in collective responsibility becomes challenging, if not annoying.  One difficulty might be determining the line between the two sets of responsibilities.  Getting that detail correct is crucial, for we are responsible to and for each other.  The Pauline ethic (as in 2 Corinthians 8:7-15) which holds that those who have much should not have too much and that those who have little should not have too little is a fine goal toward which to strive, but who determines how much is too much and how little is too little?  And what is the best way to arrive at and maintain that balance?  These seem like communal decisions, given the communal ethos of the Bible.

If all that were not enough, we might have responsibilities to and for more people than we prefer or know we do.  John Donne wrote,

No man is an island,

Entire of itself,

Every man is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,

Europe is the less.

As well as if a promontory were.

As well as if a manor of thy friend’s

Or of thine own were:

Any man’s death diminishes me,

Because I am involved in mankind,

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;

It tolls for thee.

Do we dare to live according to the standard that anyone’s death diminishes us?  Do we dare to recognize foreigners and other “outsiders” as people whom God loves and whom we ought to love as we love ourselves?  Do we dare to think of “outsiders” as people to whom and for whom we are responsible?  If we do, how will we change the world for the better?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 6, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT VINCENTIA GEROSA AND BARTHOLOMEA CAPITANIO, COFOUNDERS OF THE SISTERS OF CHARITY OF LOVERE

THE FEAST OF ISAIAH, BIBLICAL PROPHET

THE FEAST OF JAN HUS, PROTO-PROTESTANT MARTYR

THE FEAST OF OLUF HANSON SMEBY, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/07/06/responsibilities-insiders-and-outsiders/

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Devotion for Friday and Saturday Before Proper 27, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   2 comments

Fig Tree

Above:  A Fig Tree, 1915

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-01901

If Only

NOVEMBER 9 and 10, 2018

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The Collect:

O God, you show forth your almighty power

chiefly by reaching out to us in mercy.

Grant to us the fullness of your grace,

strengthen our trust in your promises,

and bring all the world to share in the treasures that come

through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 52

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The Assigned Readings:

Deuteronomy 15:1-11 (Friday)

Deuteronomy 24:17-22 (Saturday)

Psalm 146 (Both Days)

Hebrews 9:15-24 (Friday)

Mark 11:12-14, 20-24 (Saturday)

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Blessed is the man whose help is the God of Jacob:

whose hope is in the Lord his God,

the God who made heaven and earth:

the sea and all that is in them,

who keeps faith forever:

who deals justice to those that are oppressed.

–Psalm 146:5-7, The Alternative Service Book 1980

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For there will never cease to be needy ones in your land, which is why I command you:  open your hand to the poor and needy kinsman in your land.

–Deuteronomy 15:11, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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Deuteronomy 15:11 follows two pivotal verses:

There shall be no needy among you–since the LORD your God will bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you as a hereditary portion–if only you heed the LORD your God and take care to keep all this instruction that I enjoin upon you this day.

–Deuteronomy 15:4-5, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

“If only” is a major condition in that passage.

The readings from Deuteronomy acknowledge the reality of the presence of needy people and provide culturally specific ways to minimize the social problem.  These include:

  1. Forgiving debts of Hebrews (but not for foreigners) and the freeing of servants every seventh year;
  2. Refraining from exploiting strangers, widows, and orphans;
  3. Leaving olives on trees and grapes in vineyards for the poor to pick; and
  4. Leaving grain in the fields for the poor to glean.

Examples change according to the location and time, but the principle to care for the less fortunate on the societal and individual levels is constant.

Failure to obey these laws was among the charges Hebrews prophets made against their society.  The Temple system at the time of Jesus exploited the poor and promoted collaboration with the Roman Empire and a form of piety dependent upon wealth.  The story of the cursed fig tree in Mark 11 uses the fig tree as a symbol for Israel and the cursing of the plant as an allegory of our Lord and Savior’s rejection of the Temple system, for the two parts of the reading from Mark 11 function as bookends for the cleansing of the Temple.

And when the chief priests and scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching.

–Mark 11:19, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Therefore I find a fitting segue to the pericope from Hebrews 9, with its theme of cleansing from sin by blood.  (Let us never give the Resurrection of Jesus short shrift, for, without the Resurrection, we have a perpetually dead Jesus.)  Jesus died because of, among other reasons, the threat he posed to the political-religious Temple system, the shortcomings of which he criticized.  The actual executioners were Romans, whose empire took the law-and-order mentality to an extreme.  Our Lord and Savior was dangerous in the eyes of oppressors, who acted.  God used their evil deeds for a redemptive purpose, however.  That sounds like grace to me.

If only more societies and governments heeded the call for economic justice.  If only more religious institutions sought ways to care effectively for the poor and to reduce poverty rates.  If only more people recognized the image of God in the marginalized and acted accordingly.  If only more governments and societies considered violence to be the last resort and refrained from using it against nonviolent people.  If only…, the world would be a better place.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 6, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT VINCENTIA GEROSA AND BARTHOLOMEA CAPITANIO, COFOUNDERS OF THE SISTERS OF CHARITY OF LOVERE

THE FEAST OF ISAIAH, BIBLICAL PROPHET

THE FEAST OF JAN HUS, PROTO-PROTESTANT MARTYR

THE FEAST OF OLUF HANSON SMEBY, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/07/06/if-only/

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Devotion for Thursday Before Proper 27, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   2 comments

Twelve Tribes Map

Above:  The Twelve Tribes of Israel

Image Scanned from an Old Bible

Giving Sacramentally of Oneself

NOVEMBER 8, 2018

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The Collect:

O God, you show forth your almighty power

chiefly by reaching out to us in mercy.

Grant to us the fullness of your grace,

strengthen our trust in your promises,

and bring all the world to share in the treasures that come

through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 52

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The Assigned Readings:

Numbers 36:1-13

Psalm 146

Romans 5:6-11

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Blessed is the man whose help is the God of Jacob:

whose hope is in the Lord his God,

the God who made heaven and earth:

the sea and all that is in them,

who keeps faith forever:

who deals justice to those that are oppressed.

–Psalm 146:5-7, The Alternative Service Book 1980

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Numbers 36:1-13 is a sequel to Numbers 27:1-11.  Zelophehad, of the tribe of Manasseh, had five daughters and no sons.  The old man was dead, and his daughter requested and received the right to inherit.

Let not our father’s name be lost to his clan just because he had no sons!  Give us a holding among our father’s kinsmen!

–Numbers 27:4, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The rule became universal among the Hebrews (verse 8).  Yet regulations governing the inheritance of property (such as land) continued to favor males, so, if a daughter of Zelophehad were to marry a man from another tribe, her inheritance would become her husband’s property and remain with his tribe in perpetuity.  The transfer of land from one tribe to another was a major concern, for, as James L. Mays wrote,

each tribe’s share of the Promised Land was the visible reality which constituted its portion in the Lord’s promise and blessing.

The Layman’s Bible Commentary, Volume 4 (Atlanta, GA:  John Knox Press, 1963), p. 143

The solution to the problem was to restrict the marriage options of the daughters of Zelophehad to men of his tribe.  The rule became universal among the Hebrews.

A second issue involved in the matter of ownership of land in Numbers 36 was the link between people and property.  To give away a possession was, in that culture, to give something sacramental of oneself.

To give something sacramental of oneself was what God did via Jesus.  That the great gift and sacrifice was for people–many of whom, once informed of it, would still not care–was remarkable.  Furthermore, when we move beyond the timeframe of Jesus of Nazareth and consider all the people born since then, the scope of the divine gift and sacrifice increases, as does the scale of the acceptance, rejection, and ignorance of it.  Nevertheless, the divine love evident in Jesus, being a form of grace, is free yet not cheap.  No, it requires much of those who accept it.  Many have paid with their lives.  Such sacrifices continue.  The fact that people create and maintain circumstances in which martyrdom becomes the most faithful response to grace is unfortunate.

Most Christians, however, will not have to face the option of martyrdom.  We who are so fortunate must make other sacrifices, however.  They will depend on circumstances, such as who, when , and where we are.  To love our fellow human beings as we love ourselves can require much of us.  Sometimes it might cause us to become criminals.  I think, for example, of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which made helping a slave get to freedom illegal.  Those who risked a prison term to help slaves become free people were brave.  I think also of all those (including many Christians and Muslims) who sheltered Jews during the Holocaust.  Nazis captured many of these brave rescuers who violated the law to protect their neighbors.  Mere decency should never place one in peril, legal or otherwise, but it does that sometimes.

On a mundane level, giving of oneself to others and giving oneself to God requires abandoning certain habits, changing certain attitudes, and thinking more about others and God than about oneself.  Doing those things can prove to be daunting, can they not?  Yet giving something sacramental of oneself requires no less than that.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 6, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT VINCENTIA GEROSA AND BARTHOLOMEA CAPITANIO, COFOUNDERS OF THE SISTERS OF CHARITY OF LOVERE

THE FEAST OF ISAIAH, BIBLICAL PROPHET

THE FEAST OF JAN HUS, PROTO-PROTESTANT MARTYR

THE FEAST OF OLUF HANSON SMEBY, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/07/06/giving-sacramentally-of-oneself/

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Devotion for Wednesday After Proper 26, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   2 comments

Christ Blessing--Nardo di Cione

Above:  Christ Blessing, by Nardo di Cione

Image in the Public Domain

A Risky Pilgrimage

NOVEMBER 7, 2018

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you have taught us in your Son that love fulfills the law.

Inspire us to love you with all our heart, our soul, our mind, and our strength,

and teach us how to love our neighbors as ourselves,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 51

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The Assigned Readings:

Micah 6:1-8

Psalm 51

John 13:31-35

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Create in me a clean heart, O God:

and renew a right spirit within me.

–Psalm 51:10, The Alternative Service Book 1980

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He has told you, O man, what is good,

And what does the LORD require of you:

Only to do justice

And to love goodness,

And to walk humbly with your God;

Then your name will achieve wisdom.

–Micah 6:8, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

–John 13:34-35, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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These three passages speak for themselves, so there is little I can add to them without being redundant.  They, taken together, proclaim a message contrary to that which dominates in many cultures and subcultures.  In many tough neighborhoods, for example, the dominant ethos says to strike back and not to seem “soft” or vulnerable.  Yet, if one follows the advice in Micah 6:8 and John 13:34-35, one will be that way.  Jesus did die on a cross, after all.

When we love we make ourselves vulnerable.  When we walk humbly with God and seek justice for our fellow human beings we make ourselves targets of those who oppose our efforts toward those purposes.  When we strive to be good, not feared, we make ourselves vulnerable to amoral and immoral people who would harm us.  But Jesus did all of the above, and the student is not greater than the teacher.

Shall the pilgrimage with Jesus continue, despite the risks?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 5, 2015 COMMON ERA

PROPER 9:  THE SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTHONY MARY ZACCARIA, FOUNDER OF THE BARNABITES AND THE ANGELIC SISTERS OF SAINT PAUL

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ADALBERO AND ULRIC OF AUGSBURG, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS

THE FEAST OF H. RICHARD NIEBUHR, UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST THEOLOGIAN

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/07/05/a-risky-pilgrimage/

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Devotion for Monday and Tuesday After Proper 26, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   2 comments

Moses Pleading with Israel

Above:  Moses Pleading with Israel

Image in the Public Domain

Difficult Obedience to God

NOVEMBER 5 and 6, 2018

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you have taught us in your Son that love fulfills the law.

Inspire us to love you with all our heart, our soul, our mind, and our strength,

and teach us how to love our neighbors as ourselves,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 51

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The Assigned Readings:

Deuteronomy 6:10-15 (Monday)

Deuteronomy 28:58-29:1 (Tuesday)

Psalm 51 (Both Days)

Romans 12:17-21; 13:8-10 (Monday)

Acts 7:17-29 (Tuesday)

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Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.  If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good….Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves has fulfilled the law.

–Romans 12:17-21; 13:1, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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That is a worthy and difficult standard by which to live.  The advice to remain faithful to God (or else, as in Deuteronomy) functions as a reminder of the consequences of actions; we reap whatsoever we sow.  When we tether ourselves to idols, we enslave ourselves.  Yet, when we obey God, we find liberation to love each other as effectively as possible.

As for me, the passage from Romans I have quoted highlights challenges with which I have struggled and continue to struggle.  The desire for revenge is elemental.  Yet, when one thinks rationally, one will realize that it is counterproductive.  Nevertheless, seeking vengeance is easier to do than to seek justice–even reconciliation–or at least to lay down a grudge or to refrain from carrying one.  As I admit my weakness, I pray in the words of Psalm 51, 3,

For I acknowledge my rebellion:

and my sin is ever before me.

The Alternative Service Book 1980

What about you, O reader?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 5, 2015 COMMON ERA

PROPER 9:  THE SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTHONY MARY ZACCARIA, FOUNDER OF THE BARNABITES AND THE ANGELIC SISTERS OF SAINT PAUL

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ADALBERO AND ULRIC OF AUGSBURG, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS

THE FEAST OF H. RICHARD NIEBUHR, UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST THEOLOGIAN

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/07/05/difficult-obedience-to-god/

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Devotion for Friday and Saturday Before Proper 26, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   2 comments

Parable of the Good Samaritan

Above:  Parable of the Good Samaritan

Image in the Public Domain

Treating People Properly

NOVEMBER 2 and 3, 2018

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you have taught us in your Son that love fulfills the law.

Inspire us to love you with all our heart, our soul, our mind, and our strength,

and teach us how to love our neighbors as ourselves,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 51

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The Assigned Readings:

Leviticus 19:32-37 (Friday)

Numbers 9:9-14 (Saturday)

Psalm 119:1-8 (Both Days)

Romans 3:21-31 (Friday)

Luke 10:25-37 (Saturday)

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Blessed are those whose way is blameless:

who walk in the law of the Lord.

Blessed are those who keep his commands:

and seek him with their whole heart;

those who do no wrong:

but walk in the ways of our God.

For you, Lord, have commanded us:

to persevere in all your precepts.

If only my ways were unerring:

towards the keeping of your statutes!

Then I should not be ashamed:

when I looked on all your commandments.

I will praise you with sincerity of heart:

as I learn your righteous judgements.

I will keep your statutes:

O forsake me not utterly.

–Psalm 119:1-8, The Alternative Service Book 1980

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How we treat each other matters.  The most effective test of our standards in this field is how we treat vulnerable and marginalized people, such as the elderly, strangers, resident aliens, widows, orphans, and the poor.  The readings from the Torah drive this point home well.  My side reading in the Law of Moses led me to related verses, such as Exodus 22:20 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures, 1985):

You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

The following verses warn in strong and dire terms against mistreating a widow or an orphan and charging interest on a loan to a poor person.

Yet we human beings know how to create excuses for mistreating each other.  In the Parable of the Good Samaritan alone, ritual purity (in the context of defilement by coming into contact with blood or a corpse), apathy, and fear of robbers hiding nearby are possible reasons for not helping the beaten and bleeding man.  The hero of the parable is an outcast–a Samaritan, to be precise.  His canon was truncated, he was a half-breed, and he did not worship in Jerusalem.  Yet he did what the respectable religious people (in the parable) who worshiped in Jerusalem refused to do.

Exodus 12:43-49 made a big deal about circumcision in relation to the question of who may celebrate the Passover.  In contrast, St. Paul the Apostle, writing in Romans 3:30 and elsewhere, downplayed the issue of circumcision.  It was–and remains–a question of identity, hence its capacity to inspire strong emotions long ago as well as today.  I side with St. Paul, however, for I favor removing barriers to bringing people to God.  If one’s identity depends (even partially) on spiritual elitism, one has a problem.

No, may we welcome the strangers and the marginalized, recognizing the image of God in them.  May we recognize our fellow members of the household of God regardless of any categories we have learned from others and might use to exclude people unjustly.  Who are our Samaritans, people we would be shocked to think of as good?  Our Lord and Savior’s parable challenges us to question our prejudices and love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  Stern commandments from the Law of Moses also remind us of our responsibilities to strangers and other vulnerable people.  Will we make excuses for disobedience or will we seek to love our neighbors as we love ourselves?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 4, 2015 COMMON ERA

INDEPENDENCE DAY (U.S.A.)

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/07/04/treating-people-properly-2/

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Devotion for Thursday Before Proper 26, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   2 comments

High Priest and Levite

Above:  A Jewish High Priest and a Levite

Image in the Public Domain

The Old and the New

NOVEMBER 1, 2018

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you have taught us in your Son that love fulfills the law.

Inspire us to love you with all our heart, our soul, our mind, and our strength,

and teach us how to love our neighbors as ourselves,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 51

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The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 22:1-15

Psalm 119:1-8

Hebrews 9:1-12

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Blessed are those whose way is blameless:

who walk in the law of the Lord.

Blessed are those who keep his commands:

and seek him with their whole heart;

those who do no wrong:

but walk in the ways of our God.

For you, Lord, have commanded us:

to persevere in all your precepts.

If only my ways were unerring:

towards the keeping of your statutes!

Then I should not be ashamed:

when I looked on all your commandments.

I will praise you with sincerity of heart:

as I learn your righteous judgements.

I will keep your statutes:

O forsake me not utterly.

–Psalm 119:1-8, The Alternative Service Book 1980

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The pericope from Exodus 22 comes from a section of the Law of Moses regarding offenses against property.  One reads of restitution again and again.  Unfortunately, women count as property, as they do in the Ten Commandments, just two chapters earlier.

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews argued that the new covenant in Jesus, simultaneously blameless victim and eternal high priest, is superior to the old system, with its animal sacrifices.  The new covenant, the author wrote, is available to Jews and Gentiles alike, for, as St. Simon Peter said in Acts 10:34b-35 (The New Revised Standard Version, 1989):

I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

Women are people, not property.  Jesus, simultaneously spotless victim and eternal high priest, does what mortal priests cannot do.  Sometimes the new is superior to the old.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 4, 2015 COMMON ERA

INDEPENDENCE DAY (U.S.A.)

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/07/04/the-old-and-the-new-2/

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