Archive for the ‘July 20’ Category

Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before Proper 11, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Parable of the Sower

Above:  The Parable of the Sower

Image in the Public Domain

Grace and Character Flaws

JULY 18, 2019

JULY 19, 2019

JULY 20, 2019


The Collect:

Eternal God, you draw near to us in Christ, and you make yourself our guest.

Amid the cares of our lives, make us attentive to your presence,

that we may treasure your word above all else,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 43


The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 12:10-20 (Thursday)

Genesis 13:1-18 (Friday)

Genesis 14:1-16 (Saturday)

Psalm 15 (All Days)

Hebrews 5:1-6 (Thursday)

Ephesians 3:14-21 (Friday)

Luke 8:4-10 (Saturday)


Yahweh, who can find a home in your tent,

who can dwell on your holy mountain?

Whoever lives blamelessly,

who acts uprightly,

who speaks the truth from the heart,

who keeps the tongue under control,

who does not wrong a comrade,

who casts no discredit on a neighbour,

who looks with scorn on the vile,

but honours those who fear Yahweh,

who stands by an oath at any cost,

who asks no interest on loans,

who takes no bribe to harm the innocent.

No one who so acts can ever be shaken.

–Psalm 15, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)


Abram (later Abraham) was a fascinating, contradictory, and frequently puzzling figure, for he was a human being.  In Genesis 12-14 alone he pretended that Sarai (his wife) was his sister, lied to the Pharaoh (who, unlike Abram, suffered because of the lie), prospered (in large part due to that lie), remained in Canaan and engaged in warfare while Lot, his nephew, moved to Sodom.  At the end of Chapter 14 Abram encountered Melchizedek, hence one reason for the reading from Hebrews 5, I suppose.

The traditional name of the reading from Luke 8 is the Parable of the Sower.  Nevertheless, the emphasis in the story is the soils, so, as some commentators I have read have argued, we should refer to the Parable of the Four Soils.  Each of us is, under the best circumstances, good soil, albeit not entirely so.  That is a fact of human nature.  Abram/Abraham and Sarai/Sarah had serious defects of character, as did St. Paul the Apostle.  Likewise, you, O reader, and I have character flaws.  Nevertheless, may the lovely prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21 be others’ prayer for us and our prayer for others.








Devotion for Thursday and Friday Before Proper 11, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

St. Paul Preaching in Athens

Above:  St. Paul Preaching in Athens, by Raphael

Image in the Public Domain

Divine Love, Pursuing Us

JULY 19 and 20, 2018


The Collect:

O God, powerful and compassionate,

you shepherd your people, faithfully feeding and protecting us.

Heal each of us, and make us a whole people,

that we may embody the justice and peace of your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 42


The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 10:1-16 (Thursday)

Jeremiah 10:17-25 (Friday)

Psalm 23 (Both Days)

Colossians 1:15-23 (Thursday)

Acts 17:16-31 (Friday)


The LORD is my shepherd;

there is nothing I lack.

In green pastures he makes me lie down;

to still waters he leads me;

he restores my soul.

He guides me along the right paths

for the sake of his name.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil, for you are with me;

your rod and your staff comfort me.

You set a table before me

in front of my enemies;

You anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows.

Indeed, goodness and mercy will pursue me

all the days of my life;

I will dwell in the house of the LORD

for endless days.

–Psalm 23, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2010)


Among my favorite quotes is one from Theophrastus (circa 371-circa 287 Before the Common Era), a Greek philosopher:

Superstition is cowardice in face of the divine.

The interlocking pericopes for these two days combine to encourage us to avoid superstition and idolatry.  The readings tell us to follow God, who is faithful to divine promises, who chastises us for the purpose of correction, and who pursues us to bless us.  Divine goodness and mercy do not merely follow us in Psalm 23.  No, they chase after us with the intention of overtaking us.

Perhaps my favorite passage from Colossians is the one assigned for one of these two days.  The crucified and resurrected Christ is the reconciling agent in the created order.  That is a profound theological statement, one which requires more than one blog post to unpack.  Much of that theology exists in the realm of mystery, defying rational statements and related apologetics.  That is fine with me, for I enjoy a divine mystery.  I have spent years with that mystery from Colossians, pondering it and permitting it to seep into my being.  I hope to spend more years on that project.  Certainly the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity as Jesus of Nazareth (however the mechanics of that worked) was an example of goodness and mercy pursuing humankind.  The chase continues, fortunately.

May you, O reader, embrace God, whose goodness and mercy pursue you to bless you, and continue in a healthy spiritual pilgrimage.









Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before Proper 11, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Crucifix December 6, 2013

Above:  The Crucifix I Wear to Church

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Icons and Idols

JULY 20, 2017

JULY 21, 2017

JULY 22, 2017


The Collect:

Faithful God, most merciful judge,

you care for your children with firmness and compassion.

By your Spirit nurture us who live in your kingdom,

that we may be rooted in the way of your Son,

 Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 43


The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 41:21-29 (Thursday)

Isaiah 44:9-17 (Friday)

Isaiah 44:18-20 (Saturday)

Psalm 86:11-17 (All Days)

Hebrews 2:1-9 (Thursday)

Hebrews 6:13-20 (Friday)

Hebrews 7:15-20 (Saturday)


Teach me your way, O LORD,

and I will walk in your truth;

knit my heart to you that I may fear your Name.

I will thank you, O LORD my God, with all my heart,

and glorify your Name for evermore.

–Psalm 86:11-12, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


The readings from Jeremiah speak of idolatry.  Idols are abominations, their works are nothing, and their images are empty wind the lessons (especially 41:21-29) tell us.  Jesus warns against false religious teachers, wolves in sheep’s clothing, in Matthew 7:15-20.  These false teachers, like idols, distract people from God.  And the author of Hebrews points to Christ, through whom we have redemption.


Above:  Part of My Liturgical Library, Decorated by Crucifixes, June 2014

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

I perceive the need to distinguish between icons and idols.  Icons, whether two-dimensional (as in Eastern Orthodoxy) or three-dimensional (as in Roman Catholicism), are objects of reverence through which we see God.  We are, after all, visually oriented creatures.  I have a collection of Madonnas and crucifixes, as well as an Eastern Orthodox-style image of Jesus.  Some would label these idols, but those individuals would be mistaken.  Icons can also be habits, activities, and other objects.  The Bible, for example, is properly an icon.

Idols are whatever stand between one and God.  If one fixates on something–an object, a habit, an activity, et cetera–instead of God, it is, for that person, an idol.  Unfortunately, the Bible functions as an idol in the lies of many people.  This, I am confident, is not what God intends.

May each of us examine self spiritually and, by grace, succeed in identifying all of one’s idols.  And may all of us succeed, also by grace, in resisting the temptation to commit idolatry any longer.







Devotion for July 20 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   3 comments

Above:  Shiloh, 1898-1914

Image Source = Library of Congress

1 Samuel and Acts, Part II:  Answering the Call of God



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 3:1-21

Psalm 104 (Morning)

Psalms 118 and 111 (Evening)

Acts 16:1-22


When God speaks to us, do we recognize this reality?  And, if we do, how do we respond?  Samuel came to know that God was calling him.  Eli accepted the harsh news regarding his family.  Paul, Silas, and Timothy responded to God’s call by preaching to others.  Lydia and her husband responded by extending hospitality to those who had converted them.

The Larger Westminster Catechism begins:

Q:  What is the chief and highest end of man?

A:  Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.

That is an excellent summary of Christian vocation.  It is also a general statement.  Particulars depend on circumstances and other factors, such as who one is, where one is, and when one is there.

Recently I have been watching the Ronald D. Moore version of Battlestar Galactica from beginning to end again.  In one of the last episodes President Laura Roslin tells Lee Adama that she has one concern about him:  He is so determined to do the right thing that he does not always do the smart thing.  Indeed, managing to be wise yet innocent can prove difficult.  And, once one has lost innocence, can one regain it?  And how dirty can one get while trying to perform good deeds (or at least the best ones possible) in the real world before one becomes corrupted?

I lack good answers to these important questions.  They are hard questions, so easy answers will not suffice.  But, by grace, we can shed light in the real world, enjoy and glorify God, do the right and smart thing, and obey the call of God as it plays out where and when we are.  God has the answers; look there for them, O reader.








Week of Proper 10: Friday, Year 2   3 comments

Above:  King Hezekiah with the Prophet Isaiah

The Mercy of Flexibility

JULY 20, 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.


Isaiah 38:1-6, 21 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

In those days Hezekiah fell dangerously ill.  The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz came and said to him,

Thus said the LORD:  Set your affairs in order, for you are going to die; you will not get well.

Thereupon Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD.

Please, O LORD, he said, remember how I have walked before You sincerely and wholeheartedly, and have done what is pleasing to You.

And Hezekiah wept profusely.

Then the word of the LORD came to Isaiah:

Go and tell Hezekiah:  Thus said the LORD, the God of your father David:  I have heard your prayer, and I have seen your tears.  I hereby add fifteen years to your life.  I will also rescue  you and this city from the hands of the king of Assyria.  I will protect this city.

…Isaiah said,

Let them take a cake of figs and apply it to the rash, and he will recover….

Psalm 6 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger,

do not punish me in your wrath.

2  Have pity on me, LORD, for I am weak;

heal me, LORD, for my bones are racked.

3  My spirit shakes with terror;

how long, O LORD, how long?

4  Turn, O LORD, and deliver me;

save me for your mercy’s sake?

5  For in death no one remembers you;

and who will give you thanks in the grave?

6  I grow weary because of my groaning;

every night I drench my bed

and flood my couch with tears.

7  My eyes are wasted with grief

and worn away because of all my enemies.

8  Depart from me, all evildoers,

for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping.

9  The LORD has heard my supplication;

the LORD accepts my prayer.

10  All my enemies shall be confounded and quake with fear;

they shall turn back and suddenly be put to shame.

Matthew 12:1-8 (An American Translation):

At that same time Jesus walked through the wheat fields, and his disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of wheat and eat them.  But the Pharisees saw it and said to him,

Look!  Your disciples are doing something which it is against the Law to do on the Sabbath!

But he said to them,

Did you ever read what David did, when he and his companions were hungry?  How is it that he went into the House of God and that they ate the Presentation Loaves which it is against the Law for him and his companions to eat, or for anyone except the priests?  Or did you ever read in the Law how the priests in the Temple are not guilty when they break the Sabbath?  But I tell you, there is something greater than  the Temple here!  But if you knew what the saying means, ‘It is mercy, not sacrifice, that I care for,’ you would not have condemned  men who are not guilty.  For the Son of Man is master of the Sabbath.


The Collect:

O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


A Related Post:

Week of Proper 10:  Friday, Year 1:


King Hezekiah of Judah received much positive press in the Bible.  He “did what was pleasing to the LORD,” “abolished the shrines and smashed the pillars and cut down the sacred post.”  (2 Kings 18:3-4, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures)  And, in the words of 2 Kings 18:5-6 (also from TANAKH), Hezekiah

trusted only in the LORD the God of Israel; there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those before him.  He clung to the LORD; he did not turn away from hallowing Him, but kept the commandments that the LORD had given to Moses.

So “the LORD was always with him.”  (2 Kings 18:7a, TANAKH)

This day’s reading from Isaiah 38 occurs in the context of 2 Kings 20, to which it bears many similarities.  In Isaiah 38 we read of God giving the king advance notice of his impending death, Hezekiah weeping “profusely,” and God extending the king’s life by fifteen years.  Back in 2 Kings 20, God then tells Hezekiah of the impending Babylonian Exile, to which Hezekiah says to Isaiah, “The word of the LORD that you have spoken is good.”  At least safety was assured for his time, he thought.  (2 Kings 20:19)

What are we supposed to make of this story?  I have checked some sources, and what follows is some of what I found.  The note in The Jewish Study Bible reads,

Contrition accompanied by prayer can effect a change in God’s decision.

The Orthodox Study Bible quotes Saint John Cassian (circa 360-circa 435):

What can be clearer than this proof that out of consideration for mercy and goodness the Lord would rather break His word, and instead of the prearranged limit of death, extend the life of him who prayed for fifteen years, rather than be found inexorable because of His unchangeable decree?

The NIV Study Bible note affirms both the sovereignty of God and the appropriateness of prayer.  The New Interpreter’s Bible stresses the connection between the well-being of Hezekiah and that of his realm, for God delivered both of them from the Assyrian king, a blasphemer.

Thus Hezekiah’s personal recovery is the working out of God’s will in microcosm.  (Volume III, page 271)

Now I bring the reading from Matthew 12 into consideration.  (If you, O reader, follow the the link to the Year 1 counterpart to this post, you will find more details about that lesson.)  Jesus says in Matthew 12:1-8 that God desires mercy, not sacrifice.  In so doing he quotes Hosea 6:6.  Keeping the Sabbath, or Lord says, ought not to entail involuntary hunger.  Spiritual “purity” is not holiness when it imposes needless physical hardships on others.

Putting these two readings together and pondering their meanings leads to a beautiful lesson.  Mercy is a greater virtue than rigid consistency.  God modeled this lesson with regard to Hezekiah, and Jesus demonstrated it relative to Sabbath laws and the need to eat properly each day.  People and their needs matter far more than abstract rules.

Here is a lesson which is applicable in many circumstances in daily life.  I strive to live according to it in my work as a teacher.  (I hope that I succeed more often than I fail.)  Being a decent human being (in my case, as a Christian, for Jesus and the glory of God) is preferable to acting like an inflexible person who quotes syllabus provisions in a lawyer-like fashion while students suffer unnecessarily.  Grace is a wondrous gift; may we extend it to others without pretending that no rules mean anything and that there are no consequences for misdeeds.  This is the balance I must strike:  respecting the efforts of pupils who obey the rules while not treating every error as if it is a proper cause of catastrophe.


Week of Proper 10: Saturday, Year 1   5 comments

Above:  The Persian Empire Circa 500 B.C.E.

Image in the Public Domain

God is the Hope of All People

JULY 20, 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.


Exodus 12:37-42 (An American Translation):

So the Israelites set out from Rameses for Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides the dependents; a great cloud went up with them, as well as very much live stock, both flocks and herds.  With the dough that they had brought out of Egypt, they baked unleavened cakes; for it was not leavened, because they had been driven out of Egypt and could not wait, nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves.

The length of time that the Israelites lived in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years; and at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, on that very day all the hosts of the LORD left the land of Egypt.  Since that was a night of vigil on the part of the LORD to bring them out of the land of Egypt; this night must be one of vigil for the LORD on the part of the Israelites throughout their generations.

Psalm 136:1-3, 10-16 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,

for his mercy endures for ever.

2 Give thanks to the God of gods,

for his mercy endures for ever.

3 Give thanks to the Lord of lords,

for his mercy endures for ever.

10 Who struck down the firstborn of Egypt,

for his mercy endures for ever;

11 And brought out Israel from among them,

for his mercy endures for ever;

12 With a mighty hand and a stretched-out arm,

for his mercy endures for ever;

13 Who divided the Red Sea in two,

for his mercy endures for ever;

14 And made Israel to pass through the midst of it,

for his mercy endures for ever;

15 But swept Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea,

for his mercy endures for ever;

16 Who led his people through the wilderness,

for his mercy endures for ever.

Matthew 12:14-21 (An American Translation):

But the Pharisees left the synagogue and consulted about him, with a view to putting him to death.

But Jesus knew of this, and he left that place.  And numbers of people followed him about, and he cured them all, and warned them not to say anything about him–fulfilment of what was said by the prophet Isaiah,

Here is my servant whom I have selected,

My beloved, who delights my heart!

I will endow him with my Spirit,

And he will announce a judgment to the heathen.

He will not wrangle or make an outcry,

And no one will hear his voice in the streets;

He will not break off a bent reed,

And he will not put out a smoldering wick,

Until he carries his judgment to success.

The heathen will rest their hopes on his name!


The Collect:

O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


God is the hope of all peoples, and the people who worship God (in the Judeo-Christian traditions) are called to be lights to the nations.  This is the deity whose “mercy endures for ever,” to quote Psalm 136.

The reading from Exodus is set immediately prior to the departure from Egypt.  The Canadian Anglican lectionary will cover that event during the Week of Proper 11, so I choose to hold off on certain comments until then.  For today, then, may we focus on the theme of an impending exodus–first from Egypt then from Mesopotamia.

The author of the Gospel of Matthew applies Isaiah 42:1-4 (the First Servant Song) to Jesus.  This text from Deutero-Isaiah is set shortly before the end of the Babylonian Exile and the return of exiles to their ancestral homeland.  This Exodus, like the one from Egypt, is God’s doing via direct actions and human agents.  The theology of much the Hebrew Bible, edited into its final form during the Post-Exilic period, is that the Israelite nations fell from greatness because they disobeyed God by condoning social injustice, practicing polytheism, and refusing to rely on God for strength.  So it makes sense that, prior to a Second Exodus, the Israelite people, identified as the servant of God, receive a charge to be a light to live justly and be a light to the nations.  (Read Isaiah 42:5-9.)

Yet a too-frequent feature of Post-Exilic Judaism was exclusivity.  Chevy Chase, when he was on Saturday Night Live, said

I’m Chevy Chase, and you’re not

on the Weekend Update segment.  Likewise, there was a

I’m Jewish, and you’re not

quality about Post-Exilic Judaism.  During the time of Jesus, for example, there were many Gentiles who rejected polytheism and embraced the God of Judaism, but whom the Jewish religious establishment defined as marginal.  These Gentiles were still Gentiles, so there were places in the Jerusalem Temple complex they were not supposed to enter.

Jesus had great appeal to this population, from which came many of the first Christians.

I write these words on the Sixth Day of Christmas, so the thought of light in the darkness, applied to Jesus, is very much on my mind.  And I am exactly one week away from the Feast of the Epiphany, which is all about taking the news of the gospel of Jesus to the Gentiles.  This thought comforts me, for I am a Gentile.

Christianity, an offshoot of Judaism, is an overwhelmingly Gentile faith system, of course.  But we have our own metaphorical Gentiles, those we keep at the margins.  Our criteria vary, ranging from socio-economic status to sexual orientation.  But Jesus lived, died, and rose again for these people, too.  And, before that, God loved all the insiders and outsiders, as we humans define them.  May we learn an essential lesson:  That our definition of “insider” is much narrower than God’s.  Then may we act accordingly.