Archive for the ‘August 29’ Category

Devotion for Thursday and Friday Before Proper 17, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment


Above:  Vegetables

Image in the Public Domain

Nobility and Love

AUGUST 29 and 30, 2019


The Collect:

O God, you resist those who are proud and give grace those who are humble.

Give us the humility of your Son, that we may embody

the generosity of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 46


The Assigned Readings:

Proverbs 15:13-17 (Thursday)

Proverbs 18:6-12 (Friday)

Psalm 112 (Both Days)

1 Peter 3:8-12 (Thursday)

1 Peter 4:7-11 (Friday)


How blessed is anyone who fears Yahweh,

who delights in his commandments!

–Psalm 112:1, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)


These days’ readings, taken together, extol humility, love, and recognition of complete dependence upon God.  As one saying from Proverbs states eloquently,

Better a meal of vegetables where there is love

Than a flattened ox where there is hate.

–15:17, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Like unto that is the commandment to

maintain constant love for one another

–1 Peter 4:8a, The New Revised Standard Version (1989),

which is consistent with the ethic of human responsibilities to and for each other, as in the Law of Moses.

Pride (hubris) goes before the fall.  Humility is frequently difficult also, but it is the better path.  Yes, each of us bears the image of God, but each of us also carries an imperfect nature.  Depravity is not even an article of faith for me, for I have evidence for it, and therefore require no faith to recognize the reality of it.  Nevertheless, as I heard growing up, God did not make any garbage.  Yes, we humans are equally capable of both nobility and depravity, of love and of death.  May we, by grace, succeed more often than not in following the paths of nobility and love.

St. Paul the Apostle offered timeless wisdom in his Letter to the Romans:

Never pay back evil for evil.  Let your aims be such as all count honourable.  If possible, so far as it lies with you, live at peace with all.  My dear friends, do not seek revenge, but leave a place for divine retribution; for there is a text which reads, “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord, I will repay.”  But there is another text:  “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; by doing so you will heap live coals on his head.”  Do not let evil conquer you, but use good to conquer evil.

–12:17-21, The Revised English Bible (1989)

That passage cites Leviticus 19:18 and Proverbs 25:21-22.  It is also compatible with Matthew 5:43-48.

St. Paul summarized an essential part of Christian ethics better than my capacity to paraphrase it.  For that reason I leave you, O reader, with those noble words.











Devotion for Wednesday After Proper 16, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Ancient Jerusalem with Solomon's Temple

Above:  Ancient Jerusalem with Solomon’s Temple

Image in the Public Domain

Enemies, Divine Judgment, and Divine Mercy

AUGUST 29, 2018


The Collect:

Holy God, your word feeds your people with life that is eternal.

Direct our choices and preserve us in your truth,

that, renouncing what is evil and false, we may live in you,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 45


The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 33:10-16

Psalm 119:97-104

John 15:16-25


How I love your law!

All day long I pore over it.

Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies

for it is available to me for ever.

Psalm 119:97-98, Harry Mowvley, The Psalms Introduced and Newly Translated for Today’s Readers (1989)


One might have enemies for a wide range of reasons.  Being godly is one of them.  That helps to explain hostility to Jesus, who made evident defects in the political (including religious) and economic systems of First Century C.E. Judea.  (One function of much of the language of the Kingdom of God was to make clear the contrast between human and divine orders.)  Many other faithful people have encountered hostility and/or violence and/or death because of their fidelity to God and their lived applications of divine commandments relative to social justice.  Often those who have despised them and/or condoned or committed violence against them have imagined themselves to be righteous.  Their attitudes and actions and/or inactions have belied that conceit.

Sometimes, however, one has enemies for reasons separate from righteousness.  Such is the case in Isaiah 33.  The unidentified foe (probably the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire) will ultimately perish, as will the sinful people fo the Kingdom of Judah.  Yet a remnant of Judah will survive, for Jerusalem is like a ship floating on a sea of divine love.  The Kingdom of Judah will fall to the conquerors, but God will remain undefeated.  God, never conquered, will restore Judah, for judgment does not preclude love in relation to those whom God has chosen.

Concepts of God are inherently inadequate, for God is infinite and our minds cannot grasp the nature of God.  I have sought to become increasingly aware of the limits of my God concept, which is broader than those many others harbor.  The most workable solution at which I can arrive is to acknowledge limitations of human knowledge relative to God, affirm that what I can know will have to suffice, make the most faithful statements I can, and admit that I am certainly mistaken about a great deal.  My statements of faith are like the song of the bird in a story Anthony De Mello (1931-1987) told in The Song of the Bird (1982).  Yes, every statement about God is a distortion of the truth, but speak and write about God for the same reason the bird sings:

Not because it has a statement, but because it has a song.

–Page 4

The nature of God is a mystery I will never solve, and that is fine.  Where divine judgment ends and divine mercy begins is another mystery I will never solve.  That is also fine.

One lesson I feel comfortable stating unambiguously concerns having enemies.  Whenever I have a foe or foes, I should not assume that God is on my side.  No, I need to ask if I am on God’s side.  I might even arrive at an answer (hopefully an accurate one) to that questions.  Nationalism often gets in the way on this point for many people.  The British national anthem, “God Save the King/Queen,” includes the following frequently omitted stanza:

O Lord, our God, arise,

Scatter his/her enemies

and make them fall.

Confound their politics,

Frustrate their knavish tricks,

On Thee our hopes we fix,

God save us all.

Yet, as Irishman Monsignor Hugh O Flaherty (1898-1963) liked to say,

God has no country.

God created human beings in the divine image.  We have reciprocated.  Perhaps it is something we cannot help but to do, for we must think and write of God in human terms, or not at all.  Nevertheless, if we use our metaphors in the knowledge that they are metaphors, perhaps we will avoid falling into certain theological errors.

As for divine judgment and mercy, they are in the purview of God, where they belong and have always been.









Devotion for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday After Proper 16, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Anointing of Jesus--Pasolini

Above:  The Anointing of Jesus, from The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964)

A Screen Capture via PowerDVD

Kindness, Love, and Gratitude

AUGUST 28, 29, and 30, 2014


The Collect:

O God, with all your faithful followers in every age, we praise you, the rock of our life.

Be our strong foundation and form us into the body of your Son,

that we may gladly minister to all the world,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 45


The Assigned Readings:

1 Samuel 7:3-13 (Monday)

Deuteronomy 32:18-20, 28-39 (Tuesday)

Isaiah 28:14-22 (Wednesday)

Psalm 18:1-3, 20-32 (All Days)

Romans 2:1-11 (Monday)

Romans 11:33-36 (Tuesday)

Matthew 26:6-13 (Wednesday)


I love you, O Lord my strength.

The Lord is my crag, my fortress and my deliverer,

My God, the rock in whom I take refuge,

my shield, the horn of my salvation and my stronghold.

I cried to the Lord in my anguish

and I was saved from my enemies.

–Psalm 18:1-3, Common Worship (2000)


Each of the four canonical Gospels contains an account of a woman anointing Jesus–Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, Luke 7:36-50, and John 12:1-8.  The versions are sufficiently similar to indicate that they are variations on the same event yet different enough to disagree on certain details, such as chronology, at whose house the anointing happened, which part of his body the woman anointed, and the woman’s background.  These factors tell me that something occurred, but the divergence among the written accounts means that I have no way of knowing exactly what transpired in objective reality.  None of that changes one iota of the spiritual value of the stories, however.

In the Matthew account our Lord and Savior, about to die, is a the home of one Simon the leper in Bethany.  We know nothing about the woman’s background, not even her name.  In the Gospel of Luke she is an unnamed and repentant sinner, in the Gospel of John she is St. Mary of Bethany, and in the Gospel of Mark she is also an unnamed woman of whose background we know nothing.  The importance of her–whoever she was–act was that unselfish love and gratitude motivated it.  This was an extravagant and beautiful deed.  Yes, the poor will always be with us; that is an unfortunate reality.  May, through the creation of more opportunities for advancement, there be as little poverty as possible.  But, as we strive for that goal, may we never fail to recognize and give proper attention to lavish kindness, love, and gratitude.

The woman (whoever she was) had a good attitude and a pure motivation.  Most of the assigned readings for these days, however, speak of people who did not.  Their memorials were wastelands and periods of exile.  The woman’s legacy is an honored one, however.  Her act, as extravagant as it was, was as nothing compared to what God has done, is doing, and will do for all of us.  Even the most lavish act of gratitude–beautiful, to be sure, is inadequate, but God accepts it graciously.









Devotion for August 29 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Kingdoms of Judah and Israel

Above:  The Divided Monarchy

Image in the Public Domain

1 Kings and 2 Corinthians, Part VI: Authority and Actions



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 11:42-12:19

Psalm 143 (Morning)

Psalms 81 and 116 (Evening)

2 Corinthians 7:1-16


King Rehoboam took counsel with the elders who had served his father Solomon during his lifetime.  He said, “What answer do you advise [me] to give to this people?  They answered, “If you will be a servant to those people today and serve them, and if you respond to them with kind words, they will be your servants always.”  But he ignored the advice that the elders gave him, and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him and were serving him.”

–1 Kings 12:6-8, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures


We have not injured anyone, or ruined anyone, or taken advantage of anyone.

–2 Corinthians 7:2b, The New Jerusalem Bible


Paul, by his own admission, had the authority to tell people to do things; he had earned his bona fides via many sufferings.  But he encouraged and coaxed (and, more than once, fussed at) people.  He was a man of strong opinions, so some people took offense at him.  But he did not abuse his rightful authority.

In contrast, Rehoboam, son of Solomon, did abuse his authority.  He doubled down on his father’s most exploitative policies, such as forced labor.  The rebellion was predictable.

Each of us has some measure of power over others.  We can, for example, choose to behave graciously or abusively toward another person.  Our decisions will affect others and ourselves, for all of us are parts of the web of humanity.  When we harm another, we injure ourselves.  Likewise, when we aid another, we help ourselves.  That is reality.  May we act in socially constructive ways.






Week of Proper 16: Wednesday, Year 2   4 comments

Above: Paul Writing His Epistles (1500s)

Idleness and Industriousness

AUGUST 29, 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.


2 Thessalonians 3:1-18 (The Jerusalem Bible):

Finally, brothers, pray for us; pray that the Lord’s message may spread quickly, and be received with honour as it was among you; and pray that we may be preserved from the interference of bigoted and evil people, for faith is not given to everyone.  But the Lord is faithful, and he will give you strength and guard you from the evil one, and we, in the Lord, have every confidence that you are doing and will go on doing all that we tell you.  May the Lord turn your hearts toward the love of God and the fortitude of Christ.

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we urge you, brothers, to keep away from any of the brothers who refuses to work or to live according to the tradition we passed on to you.

You know how you are supposed to imitate us: now we were not idle we were with you, nor did we ever have our meals at anyone’s table without paying for them; no, we worked night and day, slaving and straining, so as not to be a burden on any of you.  This was not because we had no right to be, but in order to make ourselves an example for you to follow.

We gave you a rule when we were with you:  not to let anyone have any food if he refused to do any work.  Now we hear that there are some of you who are living in idleness, doing no work themselves but interfering with everyone else’s.  In the Lord Jesus Christ, we order and call on people of this kind to go on quietly working and earning the food that they eat.

My brothers, never grow tired of doing what is right.  If anyone refuses to obey what I have written in this letter, take note of him and have nothing to do with him, so that he will feel that he is in the wrong; though you are not to regard him as an enemy but as a brother in need of correction.

May the Lord of peace himself give you peace all the time in every way.  The Lord be with with you all.

From me, PAUL, these greetings in my own handwriting, which is the mark of genuineness in very letter; this is my own writing.  May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

Psalm 128 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Happy are they who fear the LORD,

and who follow in your ways!

2 You shall eat the fruit of your labor;

happiness and prosperity shall be yours.

Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine within your house,

your children like olive shoots round about your table.

4 The man who fears the LORD

shall thus be blessed.

The LORD bless you from Zion,

and may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life.

May you live to see your children’s children;

may peace be upon Israel.

Matthew 23:27-32 (The Jerusalem Bible):

[Jesus continued,]

Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You who are like whitewashed tombs that look handsome on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of corruption.  In the same way you appear to people from the outside like honest men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You who build the sepulchres of the prophets and decorate the tombs of holy men, saying, ‘We would never have joined in shedding the blood of the prophets, had we lived in our fathers’ day.’  So!  Your own evidence tells against you!  You are the sons of those who murdered the prophets!  Very well then, finish off the work that your fathers began.


The Collect:

Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


In real estate, I hear, the three most important features of property are location, location, and location.  Likewise, with regard to the Bible, we need to stress the three most important aspects of any text:  context, context, and context.  Too often (to my great annoyance), I have heard people quote the “if a man will not work, he should not eat” rule out of context.  They have made the passage seem almost, if not out right, Social Darwinian in nature.

When we read the New Testament epistles we eavesdrop on one side of ancient correspondence.  There was no need for any writer to rehash every aspect of local circumstances, for the intended audience knew those well.  If any epistle author had rehashed every such aspect, the result would have been a letter written with the clunkiness and gracelessness style of dialogue from any 1970s SuperFriends episode.  Fortunately, there exist Bible scholars who have write and have written useful commentaries.  (I could not write these posts without commentaries.)  Many early Christians, we know, expected the return of Jesus any day or week or month or year.  Most of these continued with their private and public lives, as they should have done.  Yet some believers devoted themselves full-time to preparing for the return of Jesus, dropped out of the workforce, and made nuisances of themselves.  They did not just drop out; they interfered with others.  The message of 2 Thessalonians 3:9 is clear:  Be both heavenly-minded and of earthly good.

Indeed, one can be both contemplative and productive.  Monks and nuns have modeled this fact for nearly two thousand years.  They have done nothing less than to preserve civilization itself.  They have also provided health care as well as pharmaceutical products, offered education, given shelter to orphans and to children whose parents could not care for them properly, and modeled lives of single-minded devotion to God.  Their work continues; may their numbers increase.

As for the rest of us, may we go about doing the work God has assigned to us.  And may we not think mistakenly that all idleness is bad.  The human body requires sleep, and Jesus needed quiet time alone.  The brain is not wired for multitasking; some brains do it better than others, we cannot do too much simultaneously and well.  We need to slow down, move at a proper and sustainable pace, and remain focused on our own goal:  To enjoy and glorify God.


Feast of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist, Martyr (August 29)   3 comments

Above: The Beheading of St. John the Baptist, by Caravaggio, 1608

St. John the Baptist:  Forerunner of Jesus in Death


The Assigned Readings for This Feast:

1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

Psalm 139:7-12

Mark 6:17-29

The Collect:

God our Father, you called John the Baptist to be the herald of your Son’s birth and death.  As he gave his life in witness to truth and justice, so may we strive to profess our faith in your gospel.  Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son.  Amen.


Herod Antipas was a client ruler of the Roman Empire.  He governed the Galilee from 4 B.C.E. to 40 C.E., following the death of his grandfather, King Herod the Great.  Herod Antipas had entered into an incestuous marriage by wedding Herodias, the niece of his late half-brother, Alexander, and former wife of his brother, Philip Herod I.  The scene from the Gospel story is disturbing:  Herod Antipas leering at Salome, at the daughter of his new wife.  From this flowed a series of events which culminated in the beheading of St. John the Baptist.

Salome married her uncle, Philip Herod II.  After he died in 34 C.E., she wed Aristobolus of Chalcis, a son of Herod of Chalcis, another one of her uncles.  Aristobolus was the Roman client king of Armenia Minor from 55 to 72 C.E.  He ordered the minting of coins bearing Salome’s image.  An image follows:

St. John the Baptist was the forerunner of Jesus.  He identified our Lord as the Messiah and prepared the way for him.  And St. John the Baptist was the forerunner of Jesus in dying.  The literary term for all this is foreshadowing.  Remember that before the authors of the canonical gospels began to write they knew how the story ended.  Thus each wrote with a thesis in mind and selected details to mention within that context.

Another point comes to mind.  Often the world seems unfair.  Why do the righteous suffer and the unrighteous prosper?  Why did St. John the Baptist suffer and the members of the Herodian dynasty enjoy relatively prominent status, having the power to order executions?  I am not here to answer such questions, for I seek them, too.  But I know that we recall the names of of Herod Antipas, Herodias, and Salome in the context of St. John the Baptist, and that we praise the latter while condemning the former.  Perhaps there is a measure of justice in that.


JUNE 13, 2010




Week of Proper 16: Thursday, Year 1   13 comments

Above:  Second Coming Icon

Image in the Public Domain

Our mission as Christians entails being part of the solution to the world’s problems, not seeking to flee this world.

AUGUST 29, 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.


1 Thessalonians 3:6-13 (The Jerusalem Bible):

However, Timothy is back from you and he has given us good news of your faith and your love, telling us that you always remember us with pleasure and want to see us quite as much as we want to see you.  And so, brothers, your faith has been a great comfort to us in the middle of your own troubles and sorrows; now we can breathe again, as you are still holding firm in the Lord.  How can we thank God enough for you, for all the joy we feel before our God on your account?  We are earnestly praying night and day to be able to see you face to face again and make up any shortcomings in your faith.

May God our Father himself, and our Lord Jesus Christ, make it easy for us to come to you.  May the Lord be generous in increasing your love and make you love one another and the whole human race as much as we love you.  And may he so conform your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless in the sight of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus Christ comes with all his saints.

Psalm 90:13-17 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

13 Return, O LORD; how long will you tarry?

be gracious to your servants.

14 Satisfy us by your loving-kindness in the morning;

so shall we rejoice and be glad all the days of our life.

15 Make us glad by the measure of the days that you afflicted us

and the years in which we suffered adversity.

16 Show your servants your works

and your splendor to their children.

17 May the graciousness of the LORD our God be upon us;

prosper the work of our hands;

prosper our handiwork.

Matthew 24:42-51 (The Jerusalem Bible):

Jesus said,

So stay awake, because you do not know the day when your master is coming.  You may be quite sure of this that if the householder had known at what time of the night the burglar would come, he would have stayed awake and would not have allowed anyone to break through the wall of his house.  Therefore, you too must stand ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

What kind of servant, then, is faithful and wise enough for the master to place him over his household to give him their food at the proper time?  Happy that servant if his master’s arrival finds him at this employment.  I tell you solemnly, he will place him over everything he owns. But as for the dishonest servant who says to himself, “My master is taking his time,” and sets about beating his fellow servants and drinking with drunkards, his master will come on a day he does not expect and at an hour he does not know.  The master will cut him off and send him to the same fate as hypocrites, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.


The Collect:

Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Some glad morning when this life is o’er,

I’ll fly away;

To a home on God’s celestial shore,

I’ll fly away.

I’ll fly away, O glory,

I’ll fly away in the morning;

When I die, hallelujah, by and by.

When the shadows of this life have grown,

I’ll fly away;

Like a bird from prison bars has flown,

I’ll fly away.

I’ll fly away, O glory….

Just a few more weary days and then,

I’ll fly away;

To a land where joys shall never end,

I’ll fly away.

I’ll fly away, O glory….

–Albert E. Brumley, 1932

Bishop Henry Irving Louttit, Jr., leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia from 1995 to 2010, is a man I respect greatly.  He has diagnosed correctly the problem with the rather annoying gospel song I have quoted above:  It is escapist.

The Incarnation is about, among other things, God coming into world to transform and redeem it.  So let us not give up on it.  Giving up on the world, with its plethora of severe problems, lies at the heart of much apocalyptic thought.  The logic runs something like this:  Since the world has gone to Hell in a handbasket, the best we Christians can do is hang on until Jesus returns.  But how much better, I ask, might the world be if we were more active in the world, if we focused less on prophecy seminars and conferences, and if we got busy doing our best to be salt and light?  We ought not strive to get the hell out of Dodge.  No, we need to make Dodge a better town.

Apocalyptic thought is almost as old as Christianity.  The Apostle Paul expected Jesus to return within his lifetime.  And many members of the church at Thessalonica had the same idea.  Since then some people have set dates, only to meet with disappointment.  William Miller, founder of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, did this more than once.  One Colin Hoyle Deal published a book entitled Christ Returns by 1988:  101 Reasons Why in 1979.  And, as I write these words, another deadline, May 21, 2011, is in my near future.  I expect many people to be disappointed on May 22, 2011.  I expect nothing, so I will not be disappointed.

May we focus on being salt and light, to the best of our ability, by the help of God.  Then, regardless of whatever God’s plans are on any given day, God will not catch us unawares.

Where shall we start?  I propose that we start by loving ourselves and one another in God, in whom we have identity.  Paul’s affection for the Thessalonian Christians is obvious in the reading from the epistle.  But it is also evident in 1 Thessalonians 2:14-3:5, over which the Canadian Lectionary skips.  Consider these words:

What do you think is our pride and our joy?  You are…. (2:19a)

For all the references to slanders some in the Thessalonian church had made against Paul, the Apostle was genuinely fond of the congregation.

United by mutual love and affection in God, may we Christians be salt and light in the world, which is our neighborhood, not the enemy camp.  We are responsible for our neighborhoods.  And if we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem.  Empowered by God, we can succeed in our mission.