Archive for the ‘August 9’ Category

Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before Proper 14, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment


Above:  Icon of Abraham

Image in the Public Domain

Waiting for God, Part I

AUGUST 8, 2019

AUGUST 9, 2019

AUGUST 10, 2019


The Collect:

Almighty God, you sent your Holy Spirit to be the life and light of your church.

Open our hearts to the riches of your grace,

that we may be ready to receive you wherever you appear,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 44


The Assigned Readings:

Job 21:1-16 (Thursday)

Ecclesiastes 6:1-6 (Friday)

Genesis 11:27-32 (Saturday)

Psalm 33:12-22 (All Days)

Romans 9:1-9 (Thursday)

Acts 7:1-8 (Friday)

Matthew 6:19-24 (Saturday)


We are waiting for Yahweh;

he is our help and our shield,

for in him our heart rejoices,

in his holy name we trust.

Yahweh, let your faithful love rest on us,

as our hope has rested in you.

–Psalm 33:20-22, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)


Sometimes the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer.  This reality has frustrated many for ages and contradicted incarnations of Prosperity Theology (a heresy that does not die) since antiquity.  In the Book of Job the titular character’s alleged friends insisted that he must have done something to deserve his suffering.  The text, with all of its layers of authorship, explains in Chapters 1 and 2 why Job suffered; God allowed it.  Job was a pawn in a heavenly wager.

We who follow God wait for God, but, if we are realistic, we will not expect that doing so will lead to life on Easy Street.  Sometimes, in fact, it will lead to suffering for the sake of righteousness.  On other occasions suffering will just happen, seemingly for no reason.  Suffering is a part of life, I have become convinced.

Yet we need not suffer alone.  In Christ Jesus God suffered in human flesh, after all.  The divine promise is not that a proper relationship with God will be present during suffering.  This has been my experience.  We are members of God’s household via grace, not lineage, and the pilgrimage of faith begins with one step.  In God we find intangible and eternal (in the Johannine sense of that word, that is, “of God,” see 17:3) treasures, the variety that outlasts and is vastly superior to the most appealing temporal prizes.

Of course we should love God for selfless reasons; the rewards will come.  I recall a story about a woman who walked around carrying a torch and a bucket of water.  The torch, she said, was to burn up heaven and the water was to extinguish the flames of hell so that nobody would seek to follow God to enter heaven or to avoid hell.  Yet we humans seem to have mixed motivations much of the time, do we not?  Certain evangelists emphasize the possibility of damnation to frighten people into salvation.  Although I affirm the existence of both heaven and hell, I argue that terror is not a basis for a mature relationship with God, whom many Jews and Christians describe as loving and compassionate.

May we wait for Yahweh, who is our loving and compassionate help and shield, in whom our hearts rejoice.  May we wait for God in times of prosperity and of scarcity, of suffering and of ease, of pain and of pleasure.











Devotion for Thursday Before Proper 14, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

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


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


The Assigned Readings:

1 Samuel 28:20-25

Psalm 34:1-8

Romans 15:1-6


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)


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.







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

Gathering of the Manna

Above:  The Gathering of the Manna

Image in the Public Domain

The Extravagance of God

AUGUST 9, 2017


The Collect:

Glorious God, your generosity waters the world with goodness,

and you cover creation with abundance.

Awaken in us a hunger for the food that satisfies both body and spirit,

and with this food fill all the starving world,

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 43


The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 16:2-15, 31-35

Psalm 78:1-8, 17-29

Matthew 15:32-39


He rained down manna upon them to eat

and gave them grain from heaven.

So mortals ate the bread of angels;

he provided for them food enough.

–Psalm 78:24-25, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


That manna was probably crystallized excrement of insects, but it was sufficient.  Such excrement is, to this day, a product which many people consume without harmful effects.  Perhaps the greatest barrier for Westerners such as myself is the “ick” factor, which results from knowing what something people from cultures quite different from ours consume on a regular basis.

There was enough manna, which people were forbidden to stockpile.  In Matthew 15:32-39, where Jesus fed four thousand men plus uncounted women and children, there were initially only seven loaves and a few small fish yet seven baskets full of leftovers at the end.  The extravagance of the story in the Gospel of Matthew is remarkable.  That which seemed woefully insufficient was actually more than enough in the hands of Jesus.

The spiritual lesson remains true regardless of the issue of historical accuracy.  I have known people who have insisted that they had no talents to use in service to God, as if the matter was about them.  No, their inferiority complex aside, the matter was always about God, who seems to expect relatively little of us–the offering of the metaphorical seven loaves of bread and a few small fish plus confidence in divine abilities–and calls that enough.  This little bit, compared to all that God has done, is doing, and will do, is quite small.  Yet it proves difficult for many people.  Sometimes it has been impossible for me.  At those times God supplied the necessary grace.  The light of God is constant, I suppose, but it seems brightest in the blackest darkness.

The extravagance of God astounds me.








Devotion for August 9 and 10 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   3 comments

Above:  Palestinian Barrier

Image Source = Marc Venezia

1 Samuel and 1 Corinthians, Part III:  Power and the Abuses Thereof

FRIDAY, AUGUST 9, 2019, and SATURDAY, AUGUST 10, 2019


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 Samuel 25:1-22 (August 9)

1 Samuel 25:33-44 (August 10)

Psalm 85 (Morning–August 9)

Psalm 61 (Morning–August 10)

Psalms 25 and 40 (Evening–August 9)

Psalms 138 and 98 (Evening–August 10)

1 Corinthians 3:1-23 (August 9)

1 Corinthians 4:1-21 (August 10)


1 Samuel 25 consists of one story, one which context brings alive.  Saul was killing people who helped David.  The monarch missed some of them, but anyone who aided David risked his or her life.  The kingdom was in a state of civil war.  And Nabal, a rich, churlish, boorish, and disreputable fool, was, according to social conventions, supposed to extend hospitality to David and his men.  Yet, under the threat from Saul, this was a great risk.  And Nabal was a lout anyway.  So he acted like the lout he was.  Abigail, his wife, prevented violence.  And Nabal suffered a stroke and died.  Then Abigail married David, who already had another wife, Ahinoam.

David, of course, had married Michal before any of the events, but Saul, in violation of law, had given his daughter to another man.  Michal, The Jewish Study Bible notes tell me, was the only woman the Hebrew Bible describes as loving a man, in this case, David.

The social status of women is of the essence here.  They were chattel, to be given to men.  Yet Abigail’s shrewdness prevents bloodshed.  She might be chattel, but she is a crucial actor in the story.  And Michal’s mistreatment at the hands of powerful men continues, as it will persist.

Power is necessary in certain concentrations, for, without it, chaos results.  But power can also exist in excessive concentrations; that results in tyranny.  The proper exercise of power lifts up the weak, the marginalized, and those labeled chattel; it does not exploit them.  The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 4 that he, working for God, had suffered and was suffering.  Powerful people who abused their authority caused that suffering.  And other people consented to it.

May all of us who claim to be on God’s side aid others to the best of our ability and support those who suffer from abuses of power.  May we side with the victims, not those who victimize them.








Week of Proper 13: Wednesday, Year 2, and Week of Proper 13: Thursday, Year 2   10 comments

Above:  Nicodemus and Jesus, by Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov

Born from Above

AUGUST 8 and 9, 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.



Jeremiah 31:1-7 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

At that time

–declares the LORD–

I will be God to all the clans of Israel, and they shall be My people.

Thus said the LORD:

The people escaped from the sword,

Found favor in the wilderness;

When Israel was marching homeward

The LORD revealed Himself to me of old.

Eternal love I conceived for you then;

Therefore I continue My grace to you.

I will build you firmly again,

O Maiden Israel!

Again you shall take up your timbrels

And go forth to the rhythm of the dancers.

Again you shall plant vineyards

On the hills of Samaria;

Men shall plant and live to enjoy them.

For the day is coming when watchmen

Shall proclaim on the heights of Ephraim:

Come, let us go up to Zion,

To the LORD our God!

For thus said the LORD:

Cry out in joy for Jacob,

Shout at the crossroads of the nations!

Sing aloud in praise, and say:

Save, O LORD, Your people,

The remnant of Israel.


Jeremiah 31:31-34 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

See, a time is coming

–declares the LORD–

when I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel and the House of Judah.  It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers, when I took them out of the land of Egypt, a covenant which they broke, though I espoused them

–declares the LORD.

But such is the covenant I will make with the House of Israel after these days

–declares the LORD:

I will put My Teaching into their inmost being and inscribe it upon their hearts.  Then I will be their God, and they shall be My people.  No longer will they need to teach one another and say to one another, “Heed the LORD”; for all of them, from the least of them to the greatest, shall heed Me

–declares the LORD.

For I will forgive their iniquities,

And remember their sins no more.


Psalm 121 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  I lift up my eyes to the hills;

from where is my help to come?

2  My help comes from the LORD,

the maker of heaven and earth.

3  He will not let your foot be moved

and he who watches over you will not fall asleep.

4  Behold, he who keeps watch over Israel

shall neither slumber nor sleep;

5  The LORD himself watches over you;

the LORD is your shade at your right hand,

6  So that the sun shall not strike you by day,

nor the moon by night.

7  The LORD shall preserve you from all evil;

it is he who shall keep you safe.

8  The LORD shall watch over your going out and your coming in,

from this time forth for evermore.


Psalm 51:11-18 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

11 Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and renew a right spirit within me.

12 Cast me not away from your presence

and take not your holy Spirit from me.

13 Give me the joy of your saving help again

and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.

14 I shall teach your ways to the wicked,

and sinners shall return to you.

15 Deliver me from death, O God,

and my tongue shall sing of your righteousness,

O God of my salvation.

16 Open my lips, O Lord,

and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.

17  Had you desired it, I would have offered sacrifice,

but you take no pleasure in burnt-offerings.

18  The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit;

a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.


Matthew 15:21-28 (J. B. Phillips, 1972)

Jesus then left that place and retired into the Tyre and Sidon district.  There a Canaanite woman from those parts came to him crying at the top of her voice,

Lord, son of David, have pity on me!  My daughter is in a terrible state–a devil has got into her!

Jesus made no answer, and the disciples came up to him and said,

Do not send her away–she’s still following us and calling out.

Jesus replied,

I was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

Then the woman came and knelt at his feet.

Lord, help me,

she said.

It is not right, you know,

Jesus replied,

to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.

She returned,

Yes, Lord, I know, but even the dogs live on the scraps that fall from their master’s table!

Jesus returned,

You certainly don’t lack faith; it shall be as you wish.

And at that moment her daughter was healed.


Matthew 16:13-23 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

When Jesus reached the Caesarea-Philippi district he asked his disciples a question.

Who do people say the Son of Man is?

They told him,

Well, some say John the Baptist.  Some say Elijah, others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.

He said to them,

But what about you?  Who do you say that I am?

Simon Peter answered,

You?  You are Christ, the Son of the Living God!

Jesus said,

Simon, son of Jonah, you a fortunate man indeed!  For it was not your own nature but my Heavenly Father who revealed this truth to you!  Now I tell you that you are Peter the rock, and it is on this rock that I am going to found my Church, and the powers of death will never have the power to destroy it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven; whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in Heaven and whatever you permit on earth will be what is permitted in Heaven!

Then he impressed on his disciples that they should not tell anyone that he was Christ.

From that time onwards Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he would have to go to Jerusalem, and endure much suffering from the elders, chief priests and scribes, and finally be killed; and be raised to life again on the third day.

Then Peter took him on one side and started to remonstrate with him over this.

God bless you, Master!  Nothing like this must happen to you!

Then Jesus turned round and said to Peter,

Out of my way, Satan!…you stand right in my path, Peter, when you think the thoughts of man and not those of God.


The Collect:

Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


I solemnly assure you,

no one can see the kingdom of God

without being begotten from above.

–John 3:3, The Anchor Bible

Jeremiah 31 speaks of, among other things, an internalized relationship and covenant with God.  Words will cease to be necessary, for the relationship will be intrinsic.  Both passages from that chapter remind me of an often misunderstood concept from John 3.  The Evangelical misapprehension of “born from above,” thereby transforming it into “born again,” as in the perceived necessity of a dramatic or defined conversion experience, is an error.  There are many of us who lack such an experience yet who are close to God, and who are hopefully getting nearer.

The Gentile woman understood something profound.  So did Simon Peter, although he had no idea of the full implication of what he confessed.  At least it was a start.  We humans are spiritual beings having physical experiences, so how can we not brush up against God?

And it is no wonder to me that God slips into our minds, bypassing our five senses.  I have assumed this for years, and circumstances (inside my cranium) have confirmed my conclusion.  If we are open to God, we will learn quite a bit just by being quiet.  And not all of us will require metaphorical conks over the heard to draw nearer and nearer to God.  Yes, some people do have dramatic experiences with God, and therefore clearly defined conversions.  Yet one ought not to assume that one cannot be a Christian without such an experience.

Perhaps Single Predestination applies to this theme.  Some of us come to God via the witness of the Holy Spirit, which works in many ways, some of them subtle.  Others of us are among the predestined to Heaven.  There is no need for a conversion experience in such cases, is there?


Week of Proper 13: Friday, Year 1   15 comments

Above:  No Right Turn Sign (U.S.A.)

Image in the Public Domain

True Life

AUGUST 9, 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.


Deuteronomy 4:32-40 (Richard Elliott Friedman, 2001):

Because ask of the earliest days that were before you, from the day that God created a human on the earth, and from one end of the skies to the other end of the skies:  has there been anything like this great thing?  or has anything like it been heard of?  Has a people heard God’s voice speaking from inside a fire the way you heard–and lived?  Or has God put it to the test, to come to take for Himself a people from among people with tests, with signs, and with wonders and with war and with a strong hand and with and outstretched arm and with great fears like everything that YHWH, your God, has done for you in Egypt before your eyes?  You have been shown in order to know that YHWH:  He is God.  There is no other outside of Him.  From the skies He had you hear His voice in order to discipline you, and on the earth He showed you His great fire, and you heard His words from inside the fire.  And because He loved your fathers He chose their seed after them, so He brought you out in front of Him from Egypt by His great power, to dispossess bigger and more powerful nations than you in front of you, to bring you, to give you their land as a legacy as it is today.  And you shall know today and store it in in your heart from YHWH:  He is God in the skies above and on earth below.  And you shall observe His laws and His commandments that I command you today so it will be good for you and for your children after you, and so that you’ll extend days on the land that YHWH, your God, is giving you forever.

Psalm 105:1-6 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Give thanks to the LORD and call upon his Name;

make known his deeds among the peoples.

2 Sing to him, sing praises to him,

and speak of all his marvelous works.

3 Glory in his holy Name;

let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.

4 Search for the LORD and his strength;

continually seek his face.

5 Remember the marvels he has done,

his wonders and the judgments of his mouth,

6 O offspring of Abraham his servant,

O children of Jacob his chosen.

Matthew 16:24-28 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Then Jesus said to his disciples,

If anyone wants to follow in my footsteps he must give up all right to himself, take up his cross and follow me.  For the man who wants to save his life will lose it; but the man who loses his life for my sake will find it.  For what good is it for a man to gain the whole world at the price of his real life?  What could a man offer to buy back that life once he has lost it?

“For the Son of Man will come in the glory of his Father and in the company of his angels and then he will repay every man for what he has done.  Believe me, there are some standing here today who will know nothing of death till they have seen the Son of Man coming as king.


The Collect:

Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


The proper direction in life comes from listening closely to God.  Living successfully is doing so in God, as God directs us.  For what has God called us, specifically?  Doing that is the road to success.  So what is popular, what others expect of us, what our culturally-defined roles might be, and what we want for ourselves might lead away from our proper destination.

Consider the words of Jesus.  A person who seeks to save his or her life will lose it, and one who loses it will gain it.  This runs contrary to conventional wisdom, does it not?  But consider the source.  Jesus was frequently on the outs with authority figures, and the Roman Empire executed him as an insurrectionist.  The Imperium subjected him to crucifixion, a method reserved for those it considered the worst of the worst.  But who would argue with a straight face that Jesus was a failure?  Are we not still speaking of him after nearly 2,000 years?

(An Aside:  What about the end of the excerpt from Matthew?  By the time of the writing of the Gospel of Matthew, probably circa 85 C.E., Christianity was a vital young religion.  Certainly many people had “seen the Son of Man coming in his kingdom,” as William Barclay translates that verse.  That is, the Kingdom of God, which Jesus inaugurated, was spreading out across the world.  In the canonical gospels Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God in the present tense.  Did it go away after the Ascension?  I think not.)

The passage from Deuteronomy is explicitly monotheistic.  If Professor Richard Elliott Friedman is correct in his insistence that this passage comes from the 600s B.C.E. at the latest, a strong monotheistic strain existed in Judaism prior to the return from Babylonian Exile (500s B.C.E.).  This is old news.  Here is some more old news:  Many Jews did not practice monotheism until after the return from the Babylonian Exile.  Archaeology and the witness of the Hebrew prophets affirm this statement.  Some ancient places of worship in Israel have survived, for archaeologists have excavated many of them.  At some of these sites the archaeologists found two altars–one for YHWH and the other for Astarte, his presumed wife.

Yet the reading from Deuteronomy stands as a defense of worshiping YHWH alone–without Astarte.  Atheism was extremely rare in that part of the world in the 600s-400s BCE, and monotheism was scarce, too.  Polytheism prevailed, so resisting it was difficult for many.  Yet that is what the Deuteronomist (or at least one Deuteronomist), inserting words into the mouth of Moses, says they must do.  This principle holds true today.  You might not be a polytheist, but what are your idols, those things distracting you from God?  Their identities might surprise you.

The rat race is bad for the rats, and keeping up with the Joneses is no good, either.  Seeking status is pursuing something shallow.  This day’s readings say that we must act contrary to all these standards.  Each of us needs to focus on the one God, take up our cross, and follow Jesus–perhaps at the cost of physical life itself.  Maybe the price will slightly less steep, but it will cost us something we value.  But what we receive in return will be of infinitely greater value.

Most of Christ’s Apostles died violently as martyrs.  St. Paul suffered greatly for the Christian faith after his conversion.  During the succeeding centuries countless numbers of Christians have suffered for their faith.  And martyrdom continues into the present day.  “Take up your cross and follow me,” Jesus says.  This is the path to life in God, whatever form the cross takes.  For Dietrich Bonhoeffer it was a noose.  For others it is a destroyed reputation or a prison sentence or both.  Members of an angry mob killed St. Josaphat Kuntsevych with bullets and an ax.  All these are terrible and unjust, but the Kingdom of God is still here, after nearly two thousand years.  It is spread out across the earth, and many of us do not see it.  But those who take up their crosses point to it, and no temporal power can overcome it.

May we follow and love the God who cares for us and guides us.