Archive for the ‘August 21’ Category

Devotion for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday After Proper 15, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Christ Cleansing the Temple--Bernardino Mei

Above:  Christ Cleansing the Temple, by Bernardino Mei

Image in the Public Domain

False Prophets and False Profits

AUGUST 19, 2019

AUGUST 20, 2019

AUGUST 21, 2019


The Collect:

O God, judge eternal, you love justice and hate oppression,

and you call us to share your zeal for truth.

Give us courage to take our stand with all victims of bloodshed and greed,

and, following your servants and prophets, to look to the pioneer and perfecter of our faith,

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 45


The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 23:30-40 (Monday)

Jeremiah 25:15-29 (Tuesday)

Jeremiah 25:30-38 (Wednesday)

Psalm 32 (All Days)

1 John 4:1-6 (Monday)

Acts 7:44-53 (Tuesday)

Luke 19:45-48 (Wednesday)


How blessed are those whose offence is forgiven,

whose sin blotted out.

How blessed are those to whom Yahweh imputes no guilt,

Whose spirit harbours no deceit.

–Psalm 32:1-2, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)


One must, however, avoid falling into the traps of false prophets and false profits.

In the Book of Jeremiah false prophets stated that doom would not come upon the Kingdom of Judah.  God and Jeremiah said otherwise.

In the context of early Christianity we read of false prophets in the New Testament.  The standard of truth, according to 1 John 4, is Christology.  Rejecting Christ, as in Acts 7, places one in the category of “false.”  And, in Luke 19, we read of people Jesus rejected.  The money changers at the Temple converted Roman currency (bearing the image of Emperor Tiberius) into non-idolatrous money, which pilgrims used to purchase sacrificial animals.  Unfortunately, some of the Temple authorities benefited financially from this arrangement.  These were the false profits I mentioned in the opening sentence.

Piety should never become a vehicle for the funding of an impious person’s corruption, just as those who claim to speak for God ought to do what they say they do.  The first part of that proposition is easier to make reality than the second part.  The difficulty is that we humans frequently mistake an internal monologue for a dialogue with God.  Each of us who has claimed that God told him or her something had fallen into this trap at least once.  May we, by grace, avoid it as often as possible.













Devotion for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday After Proper 15, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Premium Yeast Powder

Above:  Premium Yeast Powder, 1870

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USZ61-1537

Causing Dissensions and Offenses, Part II

AUGUST 20, 21, and 22, 2018


The Collect:

Ever-living God, your Son gives himself as living bread for the life of the world.

Fill us with such knowledge of his presence that we may be strengthened and sustained

by his risen life to serve you continually,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 45


The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 43:1-15 (Monday)

Genesis 45:11-15 (Tuesday)

Genesis 47:13-26 (Wednesday)

Psalm 36 (All Days)

Acts 6:1-7 (Monday)

Acts 7:9-16 (Tuesday)

Mark 8:14-21 (Wednesday)


The daily readings of the Revised Common Lectionary continue the motif of good and drink.  Jesus, in a pericope (John 4:7-26) for the previous post, was the living water.  Joseph, of whom St. Stephen spoke in Acts 7, fed not only his family but the entire Egyptian Empire.  Unfortunately, he enslaved the populace in the process.  On the other hand, Jesus brings freedom and serves as the ultimate thirst quencher (John 4:13-14).  Speaking of spiritual food and drink, one might, like the Pharisees of Mark 8:15, have bad food and not know it.  Herod Antipas was not a sympathetic figure either, but he lacked the pretense of holiness.  Sometimes deceivers are unambiguously bad, but others think they are righteous.

Yeast functions as a metaphor in Mark 8.  It indicated

the diffusion of veiled evil.

The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003), page 1823

Herod’s veil was the authority of the Roman Empire, legitimized by violence and oppression.  The Pharisaic veil was the Temple system, which depended on economic exploitation and a form of piety which favored the wealthy.  One lesson I have derived from these passages is that political legitimacy does not necessarily indicate moral fitness.

Do not let an arrogant man approach me,

do not let the wicked push me off course.

There they have fallen, those wicked men,

knocked down, unable to rise.

–Psalm 36:12-13, Harry Mowvley, The Psalms Introduced and Newly Translated for Today’s Readers (1989)

Yet many such arrogant people thrive in this life for a long time, for many of the godly suffer because of them.  Economically exploitative systems continue to exist, and many people who consider themselves righteous defend them.  Oppressive violence persists, and many who consider themselves godly defend it.  Yet the testimony of faithful people of God, from antiquity to current times, against it remains also.  The words of Hebrew prophets thunder from the pages of the Old Testament, for example.  The condemnations of repression and exploitation are ubiquitous.  Dare we listen to them and heed them?









Devotion for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday After Proper 15, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Star of David

Above:  The Star of David

Image in the Public Domain

The Gifts of the Jews

AUGUST 21, 22, and 23, 2017


The Collect:

God of all peoples, your arms reach out to embrace all those who call upon you.

Teach us as disciples of your Son to love the world with compassion and constancy,

that your name may be known throughout all the earth,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 45


The Assigned Readings:

2 Kings 5:1-14 (Monday)

Isaiah 43:8-13 (Tuesday)

Isaiah 66:18-23 (Wednesday)

Psalm 87 (All Days)

Acts 15:1-21 (Monday)

Romans 11:13-29 (Tuesday)

Matthew 8:1-13 (Wednesday)


Glorious things of thee are spoken,

Zion, city of our God;

He whose word cannot be broken

Formed thee for His own abode:

On the Rock of Ages founded,

What can shake thy sure repose?

With salvation’s walls surrounded,

Thou mayst smile at all thy foes.

–John Newton, 1779, quoted in The Hymnal (1895), Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.


That magnificent hymn, keyed to Psalm 87, fits well with the assigned Isaiah readings, which speak of the Jews as playing a pivotal role in the salvation of the Gentiles.  And the cure of an enemy general’s skin disease comes via a Hebrew servant girl in 2 Kings 5.  In the time of Christ many Gentiles recognized the superiority of the Jewish faith to pagan mythology.  Our Lord and Savior acknowledged the faith of some of them and the early Church decided not to require Gentiles to become Jews before becoming Christians formally.

These were difficult issues because they were matters of identity, something which takes a negative form much of the time.  “I am not…” is a bad yet commonplace starting point for individual and collective identity.  “We are not Gentiles; we are the Chosen People” is as objectionable an identity as is “We are not Jews; we are Christians, who have a faith superior to theirs.”  Examples and rejections of both errors exist in the pages of the Bible.  My encounters with Jews have been positive, I am glad to say, but I have heard the second error repeatedly.

The question in Acts 15 was whether Gentiles had to become Jews to join the Church, thus it concerned male circumcision, a matter of Jewish identity and strong emotions then and now.  The early Church and St. Paul the Apostle, who never ceased being Jewish, favored not placing obstacles in the way of faithful people.  They favored a generous, inclusive policy which, ironically, functioned as an example of excessive leniency in the minds of conservative thinkers.  How much tradition should the nascent Church–still a small Jewish act at the time–retain?  Who was a Jew and who was not?  Keeping laws and traditions was vital, many people argued.  Had not being unobservant led to national collapse and exiles centuries before?

Unfortunately, Anti-Semitism has been a repeating pattern in Christian history.  The writing of the four canonical Gospels occurred in the context of Jewish-Christian tensions, a fact which, I am sure, shaped the telling of the first four books of the New Testament.  Jesus engaged in controversies with religious leaders, I affirm, but how could the conflicts of early Christianity not influence the telling of those stories?  Sometimes I read these accounts and recognize that misreading of them has had devastating effects on uncounted numbers of people over nearly two thousand years and sit in silence and absolute sadness.  On other occasions I focus on other aspects of these accounts.

St. Paul the Apostle offered sage advice.  Gentiles are a branch grafted onto a tree, he wrote.  That branch ought not to consider itself superior to the other branches.  As for the tree itself, I have only respect for the Jews and Judaism, for salvation is of the Jews.  Besides, I, as a Gentile and a Christian, have much to learn from those whom Pope John Paul II called the elder brethren in faith.  To that end I read and study as I thank God for all the gifts of the Jews.








Devotion for August 21 and 22 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Above:  Fresco of King Solomon, Elmali Kalise, Cappadocia, Turkey, 1935

Image Source = Library of Congress

Agape, Might, and Right



Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


The Assigned Readings:

1 Kings 1:1-4, 15-35 (August 21)

1 Kings 2:1-27 (August 22)

Psalm 15 (Morning–August 21)

Psalm 36 (Morning–August 22)

Psalms 48 and 4 (Evening–August 21)

Psalms 80 and 27 (Evening–August 22)

1 Corinthians 12:14-31 (August 21)

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (August 22)


There are many spiritual gifts, Paul wrote, but the greatest of them is love, that is, agape–self-sacrificial, unconditional love.  This is the kind of love which God has for we humans.  I notice a consistent thread running through Chapters 12 and 13:  The purpose of spiritual gifts is to build up the faith community, to which every member is essential.  There is no proper place for self-promotion at the expense of others.

In contrast, Solomon, new to the throne as sole ruler of the Kingdom of Israel, was in a politically weak position.  Adonijah, his older brother and rival for the throne, enjoyed crucial support, which Solomon needed.  And Adonijah did not take Solomon’s accession well.  So Solomon did what many weakened rulers have done:  he conducted a bloody purge.  There was no love in that.

Might does not make right; agape does.  And maintaining power by means of bloodshed makes one morally unfit to govern and corrupts one’s soul.  What can anyone give in exchange for one’s soul?








Week of Proper 15: Monday, Year 2, and Week of Proper 15: Tuesday, Year 2   5 comments

Above:  The Front of the 1934 U.S. $10,000 Dollar Bill, worth $163,000 in 2010 Currency

Image in the Public Domain

Security Blankets

AUGUST 20 and 21, 2018


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.



Ezekiel 24:15-24 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

The word of the LORD came to me:

O mortal, I am about to take away the delight of your eyes from you through pestilence; but you shall not lament or let your tears flow.  Moan softly; observe no mourning for the dead:  Put on your turban and put your sandals on your feet; do not cover over your upper lip, and do not eat the bread of comforters.

In the evening my wife died, and in the mourning I did as I had been commanded.  And when I spoke to the people that morning, the people asked me,

Will you not tell us what these things portend for us, that you are acting so?

I answered them,

The word of the LORD has come to me:  Tell the House of Israel:  “I am going to desecrate My Sanctuary, your pride and glory, the delight of your eyes and the desire of your heart; and the sons and daughters you have left behind shall fall by the sword.  And Ezekiel shall become a portent for you:   you shall do just as he has done, when it happens; and you shall know that I am the Lord GOD.”  Accordingly, you shall do as I have done:  you shall not cover over your upper lips or eat the bread of comforters, and your turbans shall remain on your heads, and your sandals on your feet.  You shall not lament or weep, but you shall be heartsick because of your iniquities and shall moan to one another.


Ezekiel 28:1-10 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

The word of the LORD came to me:

O mortal, say to the prince of Tyre:  Thus said the Lord GOD:

Because you have been so haughty and said, “I am a god; I sit enthroned like a god in the heart of the seas,” whereas you are not a god but a man, though you deemed your mind equal to a god’s–

Yes, you are wiser than Daniel;

Is no hidden matter can anyone

Compare to you.

By your shrewd understanding

You have gained riches,

And you have amassed gold and silver

In your treasuries.

By your great shrewdness in trade

You have increased your wealth,

And you have grown haughty

Because of your wealth.

Assuredly, thus said the Lord GOD:  Because you have deemed your mind equal to a god’s,

I swear that I will bring against you

Strangers, the most ruthless of nations.

They shall unsheathe their swords

Against your prized shrewdness,

And they shall strike down your splendor.

They shall bring you down to the Pit;

In the heart of the sea you shall die

The death of the slain.

Will you still say, “I am a god”

Before your slayers,

When you are proved a man, not a god,

At the hands of those who strike you down?

By the hands of strangers you shall die

The death of the uncircumcised;

For I have spoken

–declares the Lord GOD.


Psalm 79:1-8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  O God, the heathen here come into your inheritance;

they have profaned your holy temple;

they have made Jerusalem a heap of rubble.

2  They have given the bodies of your servants as food for the birds of the air,

and the flesh of your faithful ones to the beasts of the field.

3  They have shed their blood like water on every side of Jerusalem,

and there was no one to bury them.

4  We have become a reproach to our neighbors,

an object of scorn and derision to those around us.

5  How long will you be angry, O LORD?

will your fury blaze like fire for ever?

6  Pour out your wrath upon the heathen who have not known you

and upon kingdoms that have not called upon your Name.

7  For they have devoured Jacob

and made his dwelling a ruin.

8  Remember not our past sins;

let your compassion be swift to meet us;

for we have been brought very low.


Psalm 60:1-5 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  O God, you have cast us off and broken us;

you have been angry;

oh, take us back to you again.

2  You have shaken the earth and split it open;

repair the cracks in it, for it totters.

3  You have made your people know hardship;

you have given us wine that makes us stagger.

4  You have set up a banner for those who fear you,

to be a refuge from the power of the bow.

5  Save us by your right hand and answer us,

that those who are dear to you may be delivered.


Matthew 19:16-30 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Then it happened that a man came up  to him and said,

Master, what good thing must I do to secure eternal life?

Jesus answered him,

I wonder why you ask me what is good?  Only One is good.  But if you want to enter that life you must keep the commandments.

He asked,

Which ones?

Jesus replied,

Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honor thy father and thy mother; and Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

The young man returned,

I have carefully kept all these.  What is still missing in my life?

Then Jesus told him,

If you want to be perfect, go now and sell your possessions and give the money to the poor–you will have riches in Heaven.  The come and follow me!

When the young man heard that he turned away crestfallen, for he was very wealthy.

Then Jesus remarked to his disciples,

Believe me, a rich man will find it very difficult to enter the kingdom of Heaven.  Yes, I repeat, a camel could more easily squeeze through the eye of a needle than a rich man get into the kingdom of God!

The disciples were simply amazed to hear this, and said,

Then who can possibly be saved?

Jesus looked steadily at them and replied,

Humanly speaking it is impossible; but with God anything is possible!

At this Peter exclaimed,

Look, we have left everything and followed you.  What will that be worth to us?

Jesus said,

Believe me when I tell you that in the new world, when the Son of Man shall take his seat on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also be seated on twelve thrones as judges of the twelve tribes of Israel.  Every man who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or land for my sake will get them back many times over, and will inherit eternal life.  But many who are first will be last then–and the last first!


The Collect:

Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


My journey through Samuel, Kings, and various prophets is almost over, and I am glad for that fact.  These are horrendous readings from Ezekiel.  God takes the prophet’s wife away from him and uses the incident as an object lesson for others.  And a foreign prince who has deified himself dies–another object lesson.  I do not pretend to understand how to grasp and make anything useful of Ezekiel 24:15-24.  As for Ezekiel 28:1-10, all I can do is repeat a recently covered theme:  God, in the Bible, despises hubris.  One might contrast Ezekiel 28 with Mathew 19, in which Jesus offers a rich man (for whom wealth is a spiritual impediment–his security blanket, if you will) an opportunity to let go of that impediment.

The rich man could not bring himself to follow our Lord’s advice, so he was, as J. B. Phillips translated the text, “crestfallen.”  Jesus probably was, too.  Whatever our impediments are, Jesus offers us opportunities to stop carrying them around.  And, when we refuse, we break his heart.  I prefer that understanding of God to the one I see in Ezekiel 24 and 28.


Week of Proper 15: Wednesday, Year 1   7 comments

Above: The Death of Abimelech, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain

What You Get Might Not Be What You Expect–For Good or For Ill

AUGUST 21, 2019


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


Judges 9:6-15 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

All the citizens of Shechem and all Beth-millo convenend, and they proclaimed Abimelech king at the terebinth of the pillar at Shechem.  When Jothan was informed, he went and stood up on top of Mount Gerizim and called out to them in a loud voice.

Citizens of Shechem!

he cried,

listen to me, that God may listen to you.

Once the trees went to anoint a king over themselves.  They said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us.’  But the olive tree replied, ‘Have I, through whom God and men are honored, stopped yielding my rich oil, that I should go and wave above the trees?’  So the trees said to the vine, ‘You come and reign over us.’  But the vine replied, ‘Have I stopped yielding my new wine, which gladdens God and men, that I should go and wave above the trees?’  Then all the trees said to the thornbush, ‘You come and reign over us.’  And the thornbush said to the trees, ‘If you are acting honorably in anointing me king over you, come and take shelter in my shade; but if not, may fire issue from the thornbush and consume the cedars of Lebanon!’

Psalm 21:1-6 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 The king rejoices in your strengh, O LORD;

how greatly he exults in your victory!

2 You have given him his heart’s desire;

you have not denied him the request of his lips.

3 For you meet him with blessings of prosperity,

and set a crown of fine gold upon his head.

4 He asked you for life, and you gave it to him:

length of days, for ever and ever.

5 His honor is great, because of your victory;

splendor and majesty have you bestowed upon him.

6 For you will give him everlasting felicity

and will make him glad with the joy of your presence.

Matthew 20:1-16a (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Jesus said,

For the kingdom of Heaven is like a householder going out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. He agreed with them on a wage of a silver coin a day and sent them to work.  About nine o’clock he went and saw some others standing about in the market-place with nothing to do.  ‘You go to the vineyard too,’ he said to them, ‘and I will pay you a fair wage.’  And off they went.  As about mid-day and again at three o’clock in the afternoon he went out and did the same thing.  Then about five o’clock he went out and found some others standing about.  ‘Why are you standing about here all day doing nothing?” he asked them. ‘Because no one has employed us,’ they replied.  ‘You go off into the vineyard as well, then,’ he said.

When evening came the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the labourers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’  So those who were engaged at five o’clock came up and each man received a silver coin.  But when the first to be employed came they reckoned they would get more; yet they also received a silver coin each.  As they took their money they grumbled at the householder and said, ‘These last fellows have only put in one hour’s work and you’ve treated them exactly the same as us who have gone through all the hard work and heat of the day!’

But he replied to one of them, ‘My friend, I’m not being unjust to you.  Wasn’t our agreement for a silver coin a day?  Take your money and go home.  It is my wish to give the late-comers as much as I give you.  May I not do what I like with what belongs to me?  Must you be jealous because I am generous?’

So, many who are the last now will be first then and the first last.


The Collect:

Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Standing out from the crowd can be difficult, for conformity is relatively easy.  So Israelites desired to have a king.  But, to paraphrase the extremely old knight from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in a different context, they chose poorly.  They opted for Abimelech, the amoral son of Gideon.  Abimelech was willing to kill anyone–including brothers–to advance himself.  Not even Jotham’s cautionary tale dissuaded the people.  So they got a king, one who sparked a civil war and reigned for three years, give or take a few months, weeks, and days.  And, in Judges 9, as he lay dying because a woman had cracked his skull by dropping a millstone upon it, Abimelech ordered his arms-bearer to kill him, saying “Draw your dagger and finish me off, that they may not say of me, ‘A woman killed him!'”  (9:54, TANAKH)  Women were not equal to men in that society, so dying because of  a woman was a mark of ignominy, not that Abimelech was a glorious figure.

God was supposed to be the king of Israelites.  Each judge served his or her time in a leadership capacity, with the charge to do the work God intended.  But Israel was supposed to be different, and it wanted to be same.  This was a big mistake, the beginning of its downfall.  Yet the Biblical narrative speaks of how God gave the people what they wanted, and they got Saul, David, Solomon, and their political heirs.  Along with political glory came increased social inequality and economic exploitation.  The people got more than they bargained for, and it included a large dose of unpleasantness.

In contrast, consider the generosity of the vineyard owner, a stand-in for God, in the parable of Jesus.  Everyone received the standard wage for one day’s work.  Everybody–even the people whom the vineyard owner had recruited two hours before the end of work–received one day’s wage.  But the vineyard owner cheated nobody; he paid nobody less than he had promised.  The people who worked a day received what they expected at the beginning of the day, and those who worked for a shorter period of time received more than they expected.  It was only when the men who had worked a full day saw the wages of the others that they expected more, and were therefore disappointed.

Let us never begrudge the generosity of God to anyone.  And may we be careful what we wish for, for we might get it–and more.  The first sentence is a happy spiritual thought, while the second is disturbing.  The first sentence indicates grace and the second speaks of discipline, the intention of which is correction.  So, when we pray, may we seek only that which is consistent with God’s best for us and others.  May we be sufficiently humble to realize that God knows far more than we do, and act accordingly.