Archive for the ‘July 4’ Category

Devotion for Independence Day (U.S.A.) (July 4)   2 comments

Above:  Statue of Liberty, 1894

Photographer = John S. Johnston

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USZ62-40098

God and Country–God First and Foremost

JULY 4, 2019

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Patriotism is a virtue, but jingoism and blind obedience to civil authority are vices.  Nationalism can be a virtue, but it can also be a vice.  To worship one’s nation-state is to commit idolatry, for one should worship God alone.

The way denominations handle the relationship to civil government can be interesting.  According to the North American Lutheran service books I have consulted, neither July 1 (Canada Day) nor July 4 is on the ecclesiastical calendar, but there are propers for a national holiday of those sorts.  Given the historical Lutheran theology of obedience to civil government, the lack of feast days for Canada Day and Independence Day (U.S.A.) surprises me.  Perhaps it should not surprise me, though, given the free church (versus state church) experience of Lutherans in North America since the first Lutheran immigrants arrived, during the colonial period.  (I, an Episcopalian, have read more U.S. Lutheran church history than many U.S. Lutherans.)  The Anglican Church of Canada, a counterpart of The Church of England, a state church, has no official commemoration of Canada Day on its liturgical calendar, but The Book of Alternative Services (1985) contains prayers for the nation, the sovereign, the royal family, and the Commonwealth.  (God save the Queen!)  The Episcopal Church, another counterpart of The Church of England, has an ecclesiastical commemoration for Independence Day, but that feast (except for an attempt to add it in 1786) dates to 1928.

My context is the United States of America, a country in which all of us are either immigrants or descendants of immigrants.  Even the indigenous peoples descend from immigrants.  My context is the United States of America, a country in which xenophobia and nativism have a long and inglorious legacy, and constitute elements of current events.  My country is one dissidents from the British Empire founded yet in which, in current, increasingly mainstream political discourse, or what passes for political discourse, dissent is allegedly disloyal and treasonous.  My country is one with a glorious constitution that builds dissent into the electoral system, but a country in which, in July 2018 (as I write this post), support for those who espouse authoritarian ideas and tactics is growing stronger.  my country is one founded on noble ideals enshrined in the Declaration of Independence (1776), but one in which denying inalienable rights to one portion or another of the population is a tradition (often wrapped sacrilegiously in the cloak of the moral and the sacred) older than the republic.

Patriotism entails recognizing both the good and the bad.  It involves affirming the positive and seeking to correct the negative.  I am blessed to be a citizen of the United States of America.  The reality of my birth here provides me with advantages many people in much of the rest of the world lack.  My patriotism excludes the false idea of American Exceptionalism and embraces globalism.  My knowledge of the past tells me that we in the United States have never been cut off from the world, for events and trade patterns in the rest of the world have always affected us.  My patriotism, rooted in idealism (including anti-colonialism), seeks no form of empire or hegemony, but rather warm, respectful relations with democratic, pluralistic allies and insistence on essential points, such as human rights.  My patriotism eschews the false, self-justifying mockery of patriotism that Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) correctly labeled as

the last refuge of a scoundrel.

(Johnson, that moralist, word expert, and curmudgeon, has never ceased to be relevant.)  Some of those who are officially enemies of the state are actually staunch patriots.  To quote Voltaire (1694-1778),

It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.

I seek, however, to avoid becoming too temporally bound in this post.  For occasional temporally specific critiques, consult my political statements at SUNDRY THOUGHTS, my original weblog, from which I spun off this weblog.

As much as I love my country, I do not worship it or wrap the Stars and Stripes around a cross.  No, God is bigger than that.  A U.S. flag properly has no place in a church; I support the separation of church and state as being in the best interests of the church.  The church should retain its prophetic (in the highest sense of that word) power to confront civil authority when necessary and to affirm justice when it is present.  No person should assume that God is on the side of his or her country, but all should hope that the country is more on God’s side than not.

Finally, all nations and states will pass away, as many have done.  Yet God will remain forever.  As St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) taught, that which is temporary (even if long-lasting from human perspective) can be worthy of love, but only so much.  To give too much love to that which is temporary is to commit idolatry.  And, in Augustinian theology, what is sin but disordered love?  So yes, may we love our countries with the highest variety of patriotism, but may we love God more, for God is forever.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 23, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BRIDGET OF SWEDEN, FOUNDER OF THE ORDER OF THE MOST HOLY SAVIOR; AND HER DAUGHTER, SAINT CATHERINE OF SWEDEN, SUPERIOR OF THE ORDER OF THE MOST HOLY SAVIOR

THE FEAST OF ADELAIDE TEAGUE CASE, PROFESSOR OF RELIGIOUS EDUCATION

THE FEAST OF SAINTS PHILIP EVANS AND JOHN LLOYD, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF THEODOR LILEY CLEMENS, ENGLISH MORAVIAN MINISTER, MISSIONARY, AND COMPOSER

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Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us,

and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn:

Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Deuteronomy 10:17-21

Psalm 145 or 145:1-9

Hebrews 11:8-16

Matthew 5:43-48

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 453

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Lord of all the worlds, guide this nation by your Spirit to go forward in justice and freedom.

Give to all our people the blessings of well-being and harmony,

but above all things give us faith in you, that our nation may bring to your name and blessings to all peoples,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Jeremiah 29:4-14

Psalm 20

Romans 13:1-10

Mark 12:13-17

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), 63

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Almighty God, you rule all the peoples of the earth.

Inspire the minds of all women and men to whom you have committed

the responsibility of government and leadership in the nations of the world.

Give to them the vision of truth and justice,

that by their counsel all nations and peoples may work together.

Give to the people of our country zeal for justice and strength of forbearance,

that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will.

Forgive our shortcomings as a nation; purify our hearts to see and love the truth.

We pray all these things through Jesus Christ.  Amen.

–Andy Langford in The United Methodist Book of Worship (1992)

Deuteronomy 10:12-13, 17-21

Psalm 72

Galatians 5:13-26

John 8:31-36

The United Methodist Book of Worship (1992)

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Almighty God, you have given us this good land as our heritage.

Make us always remember your generosity and constantly do your will.

Bless our land with honest industry, sound learning, and an honorable way of life.

Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way.

Make us who come many nations with many different languages a united people.

Defend our liberties and give those whom we have entrusted

with the authority of government the spirit of wisdom,

that there might be justice and peace in the land.

When times are prosperous, let our hearts be thankful,

and, in troubled times, do not let our trust in you fail.

We ask all this through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Book of Common Worship (1993), 816

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Devotion for Thursday Before Proper 9, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Manasseh

Above:  King Manasseh

Image in the Public Domain

Sin and Repentance

JULY 4, 2019

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The Collect:

O God, the Father of our Lord Jesus,

you are the city that shelters us, the mother who comforts us.

With your Spirit accompany us on our life’s journey,

that we may spread your peace in all the world,

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 41

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The Assigned Readings:

2 Kings 21:1-15

Psalm 66:1-9

Romans 7:14-25

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Acclaim God, all the earth,

sing psalms to the glory of his name,

glorify him with your praises,

say to God, “How awesome you are!”

–Psalm 66:1-3a, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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The reading from Romans 7 is among the most famous portions of Pauline literature.  St. Paul the Apostle notes that, although he knows right from wrong, he frequently does that which he knows he ought not to do.  He admits his spiritual weakness, one with which I identify.  Yes, I resemble that remark, as an old saying goes.

One wonders if King Manasseh of Judah (reigned 698/687-642) knew that conflict.  The depiction of him in 2 Kings 21 is wholely negative , mentioning his idolatry and bloodshed.  One verse after the end of the lection we read:

Moreover, Manasseh put so many innocent person to death that he filled Jerusalem [with blood] from end to end–besides the sin he committed in causing Judah to do what was pleasing to the LORD.

–2 Kings 21:16, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Yet, when one turns to 2 Chronicles 33:1-20, one reads that, while a captive in Assyria, Manasseh came to his senses and repented, that God heard his plea, and that the monarch, back in Jerusalem, reversed course regarding his previous idolatry–in the spirit of the designated psalm of this day.  The apocryphal Prayer of Manasseh, a masterpiece of penitential writing, is among the canticles for use in Morning Prayer in The Book of Common Prayer (1979).

Was the Chronicler making Manasseh, a member of the Davidic Dynasty, seem better than he was?  If so, it would not be the first time that author told a story in such a way as to flatter the dynasty.  (1 Chronicles 11 omits the civil war between the forces of David and those of Ish-bosheth.  One can read of that conflict in 2 Samuel 2-4.)  Yet, if we accept that Manasseh repented, we have an example of the fact that there is hope for even the worst people to change their ways, if only they will.  That is a valuable lesson to learn or which to remind oneself.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 9, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT SOPHRONIUS OF JERUSALEM, ROMAN CATHOLIC PATRIARCH

THE FEAST OF SAINT GREGORY OF NYSSA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF MARY ANN THOMSON, EPISCOPAL HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ROBERT HALL BAYNES, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF MADAGASCAR

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/03/09/sin-and-repentance/

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Devotion for Wednesday After Proper 8, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Hezekiah

Above:  King Hezekiah of Judah

Image in the Public Domain

For the Glory of God

JULY 4, 2018

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The Collect:

Almighty and merciful God,

we implore you to hear the prayers of your people.

Be our strong defense against all harm and danger,

that we may live and grow in faith and hope,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 41

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The Assigned Readings:

2 Kings 20:1-11

Psalm 88

Mark 9:14-29

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Do you work wonders for the dead?

will those who have died stand up and give you thanks?

–Psalm 88:11, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The two main pericopes for today contain accounts of healing.  Prayer is a component in both stories, and medicine and contrition augment it in the case of King Hezekiah of Judah.

Biblical healing stories cover a wide range of territory, so to speak, but they have consistent markers.  The healing is for the glory of God and the benefit of the healed person, for example.  Often healings draw others to God while improving the circumstances of the beneficiary.  Restoration is ideally for the community, not just the healed person;  the healing restores the person to wholeness and hopefully to his or her community and family.  In some healing stories the community and/or family seems less than supportive, however.  That points to their sins.

In this post I focus on divine healing for the glory of God.  One who continues to read 2 Kings 20 after verse 11 learns that Hezekiah used part of his extended lifespan to glorify himself in the presence of Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian envoys.  That was a bad decision, for that empire went on to destroy the Kingdom of Judah after this lifetime.  Nevertheless, God remained faithful to the divine promise to protect Judah from the Assyrian Empire.

May we seek to serve and glorify God, not to glorify ourselves and seek our self-interests at the expense of others.  May we succeed, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 27, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CHARLES VILLIERS SANFORD, COMPOSER, ORGANIST, AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF CHARLES HENRY BRENT, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF WESTERN NEW YORK

THE FEAST OF JOHN MARRIOTT, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT RUPERT OF SALZBURG, APOSTLE OF BAVARIA AND AUSTRIA

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/03/27/for-the-glory-of-god/

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Devotion for Monday and Tuesday After Proper 8, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Death of Naboth

Above:  The Stoning of Naboth, by Caspar Luiken

Image in the Public Domain

Tenants, Not Landlords

JULY 3, 2017, and JULY 4, 2017

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The Collect:

O God, you direct our lives by your grace,

and your words of justice and mercy reshape the world.

Mold us into a people who welcome your word and serve one another,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 40

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The Assigned Readings:

1 Kings 21:1-16 (Monday)

1 Kings 21:17-29 (Tuesday)

Psalm 119:161-168 (Both Days)

1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 (Monday)

1 John 4:1-6 (Tuesday)

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Princes have persecuted me without a cause,

but my heart stands in awe of your word.

I am as glad of your word

as one who finds great spoils.

As for lies, I hate and abhor them,

but your law do I love.

–Psalm 119:161-163, Common Worship (2000)

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The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants.

–Leviticus 25:23, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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But we belong to God….

–1 John 4:6a, The Revised English Bible (1989)

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As for brotherly love, there is no need to write to you about that, since you have yourselves learnt from God to love another….

–1 Thessalonians 4:9, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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One of the great lessons of the Bible is that we belong to God, the world belongs to God, and we are only tenants and stewards responsible to God and each other. The Law of Moses, in Leviticus 25:23-28, addresses the issue of the ownership, sale, purchase, and redemption of land in the light of that ethic. God is watching us and we have no right to exploit or trample each other. If God is our parental figure metaphorically (usually Father yet sometimes Mother; both analogies have merit), we are siblings. Should we not treat each other kindly and seek to build each other up?

King Ahab and his Canaanite queen, Jezebel, abused their power and violated the ethic I just described. Neither one was of good character. Jezebel plotted perjury, false accusations, and the execution of an innocent man. Ahab consented to this plan. His responsibility flowed partially from his moral cowardice, for he could have prevented his wife’s plot from succeeding. And he, of course, could have been content with what he had already in the beginning of the story. The man was the monarch, after all.

Many of us seek after wealth or try to retain it while laboring under the misapprehension that it does or should belong to us. Actually, all of it belongs to God. Yes, there is a moral responsibility in all societies to provide a basic human standard of living for all people, given the ethic of mutuality and the fact that there is sufficient wealth for everyone to have enough to meet his or her needs. (I do not presume that there is one way all societies must follow to accomplish this goal.) And, if more of us thought of ourselves as stewards and tenants answerable to God, not as lords and masters, a greater number of our fellow citizens would be better off. That is a fine goal to which to strive en route to the final destination of a society based on mutuality.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 24, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF IDA SCUDDER, REFORMED CHURCH IN AMERICA MEDICAL MISSIONARY IN INDIA

THE FEAST OF EDWARD KENNEDY “DUKE” ELLINGTON, COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF JACKSON KEMPER, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF WISCONSIN

THE FEAST OF MOTHER EDITH, FOUNDER OF THE COMMUNITY OF THE SACRED NAME

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/tenants-not-landlords/

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Devotion for July 4 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Above:  Tel Deweir (Lachish), 1936

Image Source = Library of Congress

Joshua and Acts, Part VI:  Love, Holiness, and Violence

THURSDAY, JULY 4, 2019

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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

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The Assigned Readings:

Joshua 10:1-25

Psalm 143 (Morning)

Psalms 81 and 116 (Evening)

Acts 11:19-30

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Here is a story:

Once, a long time ago, a group of people moved into territory foreign to them.  They were descendants of people from that land, but those forebears had migrated from the land centuries previously.  These “returning” descendants made war on local inhabitants, burning towns and cities, killing kings, and slaughtering civilian populations.  They even enslaved a group of people whose leaders had tricked them (the “returning” descendants).  They did all this in the name of their deity.

Would you, O reader, think favorably of these “returning” descendants?  What if I told you that I have summarized part of the story of the Israelites during the conquest of Canaan?

I prefer the positive atmosphere in Acts 11:19-30.  Barnabas includes Paul, Gentiles come to God, and people raise funds to buy food for starving Christians.  That is a narrative which speaks of holiness.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 21, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALBERT JOHN LUTHULI, WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS IN SOUTH AFRICA

THE FEAST OF J. B. PHILLIPS, BIBLE TRANSLATOR AND ANGLICAN PRIEST

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/05/03/joshua-and-acts-part-vi-love-holiness-and-violence/

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Week of Proper 8: Wednesday, Year 2   4 comments

Above:  A Soup Kitchen

Image Source = Chief Mass Communication Specialist Steve Johnson

Loving One Another = Righteousness

JULY 4, 2018

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Amos 5:14-25 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

Seek good and not evil,

That you may live,

And that the LORD, the God of Hosts,

And truly be with you,

As you think.

Hate evil and love good,

And establish justice in the gate;

Perhaps the LORD, the God of Hosts,

Will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

Assuredly,

Thus said the LORD,

My Lord, the God of Hosts:

In every square there shall be lamenting,

In every street cries of “Ah, woe!”

And the farm hand shall be

Called to mourn,

And those skilled in wailing

To lament;

For there shall be lamenting

In every vineyard, too,

When I pass through your midst

–said the LORD.

Ah, you who wish

For the day of the LORD!

Why do you want

The day of the LORD?

It shall be darkness, not light!–

And if a man should run from a lion

And be attacked by a bear;

Or if he got indoors,

Should lean his hand on the wall

And be bitten by a snake!

Surely the day of the LORD shall be

Not light, but darkness,

Blackest night without a glimmer.

I loathe, I spurn your festivals,

I am not appeased by your solemn assemblies.

If you offer Me burnt offerings–or your meal offerings–

I will not accept them;

I will pay no heed

To your gifts of fatlings.

Spare Me the sound of your hymns,

And let Me not hear the music of your lutes.

But let justice well up like water,

Righteousness like an unfailing stream.

Did you offer sacrifice and oblation to Me

Those forty years in the wilderness,

O House of Israel?

Psalm 50:7-15 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Hear, O my people, and I will speak:

“O Israel, I will bear witness against you;

for I am God, your God.

8 I do not accuse you because of your sacrifices;

your offerings are always before me.

9 I will take no bull-calf from your stalls,

nor he goats out of your pens;

10 For all the beasts of the forest are mine,

the herds in their thousands upon the hills.

11 I know every bird in the sky,

and the creatures of the fields are in my sight.

12 If I were hungry, I would not tell you,

for the whole world is mine and all that is in it.

13 Do you think I eat the flesh of bulls,

or drink the blood of goats?

14 Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving

and make good your vows to the Most High.

15 Call upon me in the day of trouble;

I will deliver you, and you shall honor me.

Matthew 8:28-34 (An American Translation):

When he [Jesus] reached the other side, in the region of Gadara, two men possessed by demons came out of the tombs and confronted him; they were so extremely violent that nobody could go along that road.  And they suddenly screamed out,

What so you want of us, you Son of God?  Have you come here before the appointed time to torture us?

Now at some distance from them there was a great drove of pigs feeding.  And the demons entreated him, saying,

If you are going to drive us out, send us into the drove of pigs.

And he said to them,

Begone!

And they came out and went into the pigs.  And suddenly the whole drove rushed over the steep bank into the sea, and perished in the water.  And the men who tended them ran away and went off to the town and told it all, and the news about the men possessed by demons.  And the whole town came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him they begged him to go away from their district.

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone:  Grant to us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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A Related Post:

Week of Proper 8:  Wednesday, Year 1:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/16/week-of-proper-8-wednesday-year-1/

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God cares deeply about how we treat each other.  This theological point recurs throughout both the Old Testament and the New Testament.  It is especially prominent in Amos, whee we read condemnations of economic injustice and judicial corruption.  Today we read in Amos to participate in or condone such sin then to appear holy by taking part in religious ceremonies offends God.  Few offenses rankle more than hypocrisy.

For more on our topic, loving one another equals righteousness, shall we turn to the reading from Matthew? The text identifies the two men whom Jesus healed as demoniacs.  The diagnosis of demon possession was commonplace in Hellenistic times.  Today we would say emotional distress or mental illness or epilepsy or multiple personalities, et cetera.  The story tells us that, whatever afflicted these men, Jesus healed them of it, and some pigs died in the process.  Certainly some of the people who asked our Lord to leave had lost wealth in the porcine rush to die.  Others, however, were probably unnerved by the new state of wholeness the two men exhibited.  These villagers knew who they were; they were not those two demoniacs.  But now, with the demoniacs healed, who were the villagers in relation to them?

Often we define ourselves by what or who we are not.  We might think of ourselves as among the pure, but then others must be impure for this definition of purity to work.  It is better to define ourselves as who and what we are–bearers of the divine image–allegedly pure and impure alike–and all of us  are people who need grace.  We are also people who ought to administer this grace to each other, bear one another’s burdens, weep with each other, laugh with each other, help each other, rejoice in each other’s good fortune, and seek the common good.

This is righteousness.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2011/08/25/reading-and-pondering-amos-part-three/

Week of Proper 8: Thursday, Year 1   9 comments

Above: The Sacrifice of Isaac (1603 version), by Caravaggio

Image in the Public Domain

Arguing With God

JULY 4, 2019

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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.

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Genesis 22:1-19 (An American Translation):

Some time after this [the covenant with Abimelech] God put Abraham to the test.

Abraham!

he said to him.

Here am I,

he said.

Take your son,

he said,

your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and there offer him as a burnt-offering on one of the hills which I shall designate to you.

So next morning Abraham rose early, and harnessing his ass, he took two of his servants with him and his son Isaac, and having cut wood for the burnt-offering, he started off for the sanctuary which God had designated to him.  On the third day, when Abraham raised his eyes, he saw the sanctuary in the distance.  So Abraham said to his servants,

Stay here with the ass, while I and the boy go yonder to perform our devotions, after which we shall return to you.

So Abraham took the wood for the burnt-offering and put on the back of his son Isaac, while he carried in his own hand the fire and the knife.  So the two of them went off together.

Father!

said Isaac to his father Abraham.

Yes, my son,

he responded.

Here are the fire and the wood,” he said, “but where is the sheep for a burnt-offering?

Abraham said,

God will provide himself with the sheep for a burnt-offering, my son.

Thereupon the two of them proceeded on their way together.

When they had arrived at the sanctuary which God had designated to him, Abraham built the altar there, arranged the wood, and binding his son Isaac, laid him on the altar on top of the wood.  But as Abraham put out his hand to grasp the knife to slay his son, the angel of the LORD called to him from the heavens,

Abraham, Abraham!

He replied,

Here I am.

He said,

Do not lay hands on the boy; do nothing of the sort to him; for I know now that you revere God, in that you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.

When Abraham raised his eyes, he saw behind him a ram caught in the brushwood by its horns!  So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up as a burnt-offering in place of his son.  Then Abraham called the name of that sanctuary Yahweh-jireh, which today is interpreted as

At the hill of the LORD provision is made.

A second time the angel of the LORD called to Abraham from the heavens,

I swear by myself

–that is the oracle of the LORD–

that since you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and will surely make your descendants as numerous as the stars of the sky, or the sands of that are on the seashore, so that your descendants shall take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your descendants all the nations of the earth shall invoke blessings on one another–just because you have heeded my injunction.

Abraham then returned to his servants, and together they started off for Beersheba; and in Beersheba Abraham made his home.

Psalm 116:1-8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 I love the LORD, because he has heard the voice of my supplication,

because he has inclined his ear to me whenever I called upon him.

2 The cords of death entangled me;

the grip of the grave took hold of me;

O came to grief and sorrow.

3 Then I called upon the Name of the LORD;

“O LORD, I pray you, save my life.”

4 Gracious is the LORD and righteous;

our God is full of compassion.

5 The LORD watches over the innocent;

I was brought very low, and he helped me.

6 Turn again to your rest, O my soul,

for the LORD has treated you well.

7 For you have rescued my life from death,

my eyes from tears, and my feet from stumbling.

8 I will walk in the presence of the LORD

in the land of the living.

Matthew 9:1-8 (An American Translation):

So he [Jesus] got into the boat and crossed the sea, and returned to his own city.

Some people came bringing to him on a bed a man who was paralyzed.  Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic,

Courage, my son!  Your sins are forgiven.

Some of the scribes said to themselves,

This man is talking blasphemy!

Jesus knew what they were thinking, and he said,

Why do you have such wicked thoughts in your hearts?  For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?  But would you know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth.”

Then he said to the paralytic,

Get up, pick up your bed, and go home!

And he got up and went home. And when the crowd saw it, they were filled with awe, and praised God for giving such power to men.

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone:  Grant to us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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I attended Valdosta State University, Valdosta, Georgia, from 1993 to 1996.  During that time I belonged to and attended Christ Episcopal Church, across the street from the campus.  One year I attended the passion play at Park Avenue United Methodist Church.  The opening scene of “God Hath Provided the Lamb” was the near-sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham.  The play reflected a traditional Christian interpretation of this horrible story, that of prefiguring the sacrifice of Jesus.  (The play also embraced Penal Substitutionary Atonement, another bad idea.)

Today, December 17, 2010, for the second time in a few days, I have typed out the entire text of Genesis 22:1-19.  The previous time I typed out the text according to the New Revised Standard Version for the Proper 8, Year A, Revised Common Lectionary post.  This is one reading that rips out my heart every time.  How would you, O reader, feel if you were Isaac?  Abraham bargains with God for the lives of strangers in Genesis 18 yet never for that of his own flesh and blood.  The concept of obedience to God has that strong a hold over him.

Obviously, I reject the premise that God told Abraham to sacrifice his son.  Only a sadistic deity would do such a thing, and my image of God comes from Jesus, love incarnate.

Once I heard a brief comparison of Islam and Judaism.  The chief value in Islam is submitting to God, but people argue with God in Judaism.  I like arguing with God.  And what better time is there to argue with God than in defense of a family member?  If the argument does nothing else, it might clear up any confusion:  “Did you, O God, really command me to sacrifice my son?”  The best way to get an answer to ask a question.

In Matthew 9:1-8 Jesus is back home in Capernaum, where some friends bring a paralyzed man to be healed.  A common belief at the time and place held that physical ailments had their origin in sin, so perhaps the paralyzed man believed this.  His condition might have been psychosomatic.  Jesus addresses both sides–the spiritual/psychological and the physical–and receives criticism from religiously orthodox people of the time and place.  Was Jesus committing blasphemy by forgiving sins?

I note that these critics focused on their narrow theological concerns, not the well-being of the paralyzed man.  Therein resided their wickedness.  They needed to care about people more than abstract theology.  They failed to understand that the best theology finds expression not only in words but in compassionate deeds as well.

In Matthew 9:1-8 we have an example of when arguing with God was inappropriate.  Lest we content ourselves with praising Jesus and condemning his critics, we need to ask ourselves some difficult questions:  Who are we in this story?  Are we so bound to our own traditions that, if, were we of a different time, place, and culture, we would probably defend traditions and propositions we reject today?  These are questions of personality and spiritual type.

I answer for myself, and for myself alone.  I do not know where I would have stood in relation to Jesus under such hypothetical circumstances.  I like to think that I would have followed him, but this is just a hope.  I suspect that I would have been agnostic at best and critical at worst, for I prefer certain traditions.

Knowing when to argue with God can be difficult.  May we choose wisely.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2011/08/26/arguing-with-god/