Archive for the ‘June 18’ Category

Devotion for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday After Proper 6, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Hezekiah

Above:  Hezekiah

Image in the Public Domain

The Law of Moses, Faith, Works, and Justification

JUNE 17, 2019

JUNE 18, 2019

JUNE 19, 2019

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The Collect:

O God, throughout the ages you judge your people with mercy,

and you inspire us to speak your truth.

By your Spirit, anoint us for lives of faith and service,

and bring all people into your forgiveness,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 39

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The Assigned Readings:

2 Chronicles 29:1-19 (Monday)

2 Chronicles 30:1-12 (Tuesday)

2 Chronicles 30:13-27 (Wednesday)

Psalm 130 (All Days)

Galatians 3:1-9 (Monday)

Galatians 3:10-14 (Tuesday)

Mark 2:1-12 (Wednesday)

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For with Yahweh is faithful love,

with him generous ransom;

and he will ransom Israel

from all its sins.

–Psalm 130:7b-8, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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The Law of Moses receives positive treatment in 2 Chronicles 29 and 30.  Keeping it is an outward sign of devotion to God in the narrative from the reign of King Hezekiah.  After all, the theology of the Babylonian Exile is that it resulted from widespread and persistent disregard for the Law of Moses, especially those regarding idolatry and social injustice, especially economic exploitation and judicial corruption.

What are we to make, then, of St. Paul the Apostle’s attitude toward the Law of Moses?  The immediate context of Galatians 3 was the question of the relationship between faith and works with regard to justification with God.  St. Paul argued that justification with God occurs via faith alone, faith being inherently active; faith and works were, in the Apostle’s mind, a package deal.  He cited the example of Abraham, whose faith God reckoned as righteousness.  The author of the Letter of James cited that example also, but to argue that

a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.

–James 3:24, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

For the author of James faith was intellectual and not inherently active, so the pairing of faith and works was crucial.  The men agreed that active faith was essential.

Jesus came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it.  He engaged in disputes with religious officials whose legalism amplified certain aspects of the Law of Moses while ignoring the mandate to practice mercy, also part of the law.  Our Lord and Savior argued that certain religious leaders taught the Law of Moses wrongly, not that the law was invalid.  The law, ideally, was something that would become part of one, that one would keep it in principle, bearing in mind that some parts of it were culturally specific examples, and not becoming bogged down in them.  It was something one was supposed to keep as a matter of reverence and gratitude, not legalism.  Perhaps St. Paul was objecting more to legalism than to the Law of Moses itself.  He was, after all, engaged in a dispute with Judaizers, who insisted that Gentile converts to Christianity (then a Jewish sect) became Jews first.  The context of argument contributed to taking an opposite position, not seeking a moderate position.

Jesus agreed with Rabbi Hillel, who summarized the Torah as loving God with all of one’s being.  Hillel continued,

The rest is commentary.  Go and learn it.

Much of that commentary consists of instructions (many of them culturally specific) about how to care for the vulnerable people in our midst.  May we Gentiles follow the lead of our Jewish brethren and ask ourselves how to apply those laws in our contexts.  Then may we live according to the divine mandate to love God fully and each other as we love ourselves.  May we do this out of reverence and gratitude, as an expression of faith.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 4, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PAUL CUFFEE, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MISSIONARY TO THE SHINNECOCK NATION

THE FEAST OF SAINT CASIMIR OF POLAND, PRINCE

THE FEAST OF EMANUEL CRONENWETT, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF SAINTS MARINUS OF CAESAREA, ROMAN SOLDIER AND CHRISTIAN MARTYR, AND ASTERIUS, ROMAN SENATOR AND CHRISTIAN MARTYR

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/03/04/the-law-of-moses-faith-works-and-justification/

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Devotion for Tuesday After Trinity Sunday, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Light bulb in darkness

Above:   Lightbulb in Darkness

Image in the Public Domain

The Light of Christ

JUNE 18, 2019

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The Collect:

God of heaven and earth, before the foundation of the universe

and the beginning of time you are the triune God:

Author of creation, eternal Word of salvation, life-giving Spirit of wisdom.

Guide is to all truth by your Spirit, that we may

proclaim all that Christ has revealed and rejoice in the glory he shares with us.

Glory and praise to you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 37

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The Assigned Readings:

Proverbs 8:4-21

Psalm 124

Ephesians 5:15-20

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If Yahweh had not been on our side

–let Israel repeat it–

if Yahweh had not been on our side

when people attacked us,

they would have swallowed us alive

in the heat of their anger.

–Psalm 124:1-3, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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The wisdom literature of the Old Testament identifies the power of God as masculine and the wisdom of God as feminine.  Thus, for example, we read Psalm 124, in which God has delivered Israel, and Proverbs 8, in which Lady Wisdom (Sophia) offers spiritual discipline more valuable than gold or rubies.  Spiritual discipline is also the theme of Ephesians 5:15-20.  Be filled with God; do not be drunk, it says.

The context of that passage is the renunciation of pagan ways.  Christianity was a young and small religion, and was still a school of Judaism.  The author’s concern in the passage was that Ephesian Christians behave themselves–be good examples.  This entailed curtailing certain appetites and resisting temptations.

That can prove difficult to do in any time and at any place.  Indeed, I think of a cocktail napkin I saw years ago.  It read,

LEAD ME NOT INTO TEMPTATION.  I CAN FIND MY OWN WAY.

My own temptations keep me busy.  Among my spiritual difficulties is the fact that, quite often, virtues and vices resemble each other.  I know well that resolving to do the right thing is easy, but succeeding is frequently challenging.  Fortunately, God knows that I, like my fellow human beings, am dust, and grace is abundantly available.

In some ways my cultural context is similar to that of Ephesians 5.  Christianity is old, not new, but, in the Western world, it is increasingly in the position of occupying minority status.  In the United States, for example, the fastest-growing religious category is “none.”  Some people are overtly hostile to religion; Reza Aslan calls them antitheists, a category distinct from atheists.  Some adherents of other religions are openly hostile to Christianity.  In such contexts the advice from Ephesians 5:15-20 proves especially helpful.  May the light of Christ shine through us who identify as Christians.  May it scatter the darkness of ignorance and antipathy.  May we, by grace, comport ourselves in a manner worthy of Christ, our Master.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 26, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALEXANDER OF ALEXANDRIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF EMILY MALBONE MORGAN, FOUNDER OF THE SOCIETY OF THE COMPANIONS OF THE HOLY CROSS

THE FEAST OF FRED ROGERS, EDUCATOR AND U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/02/26/the-light-of-christ/

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Devotion for Monday After Proper 6, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Cedars of Lebanon in Snow

Above:  Cedars of Lebanon in Snow, March 1946

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-22650

Glorifying God

JUNE 18, 2018

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The Collect:

O God, you are the tree of life, offering shelter to the world.

Graft us into yourself and nurture our growth,

that we may bear your truth and love to those in need,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 39

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The Assigned Readings:

Ezekiel 31:1-12

Psalm 52

Galatians 6:11-18

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Why do you glory in evil, you tyrant,

while the goodness of God endures forever?

–Psalm 52:1, Common Worship (2000)

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The date on the oracle in Ezekiel 31 places it about two months prior to the fall of the First Temple.  Yes, the Temple which King Solomon had built fell, but God did not.  And the Pharaoh of Egypt lost power, but God did not.  The common assumption that a kingdom’s downfall indicated the defeat of its deities was false.

The crucifixion of Jesus was, according to Roman authorities, supposed to be his extinguishment, not just his execution.  No trace of him was to remain, according to the imperial plan.  There was, however, a resurrection, which made plain the power of God and the defeat of evil plans.  Thus it was fitting that St. Paul the Apostle chose to boast of the cross of Christ.

I, without falling into the pietistic error of dismissing “externals,” recognize a biblical theme present in both Testaments:  maintaining appearances of piety without obeying God (including working for social justice) makes a mockery of rituals.  Repeating prayers and rituals while exploiting others or justifying the exploitation of others does not make one less impious.

So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

–James 2:17, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

May our Christian faith be active, work for evangelism and social justice, and not constitute a mockery of piety.  May it glorify God and not ourselves.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 21, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF RICHARD CHEVENIX TRENCH, ANGLICAN ARCHBISHOP OF DUBLIN

THE FEAST OF SAINT SERAPION OF THMUIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF THOMAS KEN, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF BATH AND WELLS

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM EDWARD HICKSON, ENGLISH MUSIC EDUCATOR AND SOCIAL REFORMER

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/03/21/glorifying-god/

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Devotion for June 18, 19, and 20 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   3 comments

Above:  First Phonograph

Image Source = Library of Congress

Proverbs and John, Part VII:  Like a Broken Record

TUESDAY, JUNE 18, 2019

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 19, 2019

THURSDAY, JUNE 20, 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:

Proverbs 20:5-25 (June 18)

Proverbs 22:1-21 (June 19)

Proverbs 22:22-23:12 (June 20)

Psalm 42 (Morning–June 18)

Psalm 89:1-18 (Morning–June 19)

Psalm 97 (Morning–June 20)

Psalms 102 and 133 (Evening–June 18)

Psalms 1 and 33 (Evening–June 19)

Psalms 16 and 62 (Evening–June 20)

John 17:1-26 (June 18)

John 18:1-14 (June 19)

John 18:15-40 (June 20)

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I am tiring rapidly of the Book of Proverbs.  Of course I have dipped into it over the years.  And, years ago, I read it from beginning to end as part of a project to read all 78 books of the Slavonic Bible.  Yet the Slavonic Bible project was in the 1990s.  Now, as a daily lectionary takes me through Proverbs again, this time in conjunction with the Gospel of John, I find myself agreeing with the Fourth Gospel and arguing with Proverbs quite often.  Proverbs tends to flit about from topic to topic, saying things like

Put your trust in the LORD and he will deliver you.

–20:22b, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

I reply,

Tell that to Jesus.

The next verse in Proverbs is true, however:

False weights are an abomination to the LORD;

Dishonest scales are not right.

–20:23, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

Today I find myself repeating myself yet again:  Proverbs is excessively optimistic and the Gospel of John subverts certain traditional notions of sin, suffering, and shame, including many in Proverbs.

I will be glad when the lectionary leaves Proverbs behind.  Maybe I will sound less like a broken record…record…record…record…record….record…record…..

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 16, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF RUFUS JONES, QUAKER THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN FRANCIS REGIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH BUTLER, ANGLICAN BISHOP

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/04/24/proverbs-and-john-part-vii-like-a-broken-record/

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Week of Proper 6: Monday, Year 2   4 comments

Above:  Queen Jezebel

The End of Vengeance

JUNE 18, 2018

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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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1 Kings 21:1-16 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

[The following events] occurred sometime afterward:  Naboth the Jezreelite owned a vineyard in Jezreel, adjoining the palace of King Ahab of Samaria.  Ahab said to Naboth,

Give me your vineyard, so that I may have it as a vegetable garden, since it is right next to my palace.  I will give you the price in money.

But Naboth replied,

The LORD forbid that I should give up to you what I inherited from my fathers!

Ahab went home dispirited and sullen because of the answer that Naboth the Israelite had given him:

I will not give up to you what I have inherited from my fathers!

He lay down on his bed and turned away his face, and he would not eat.  His wife Jezreel came to him and asked him,

Why are you so dispirited that you won’t eat?

So he told her,

I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and proposed to him, “Sell me your vineyard in exchange for money, or if you prefer, I’ll give you another vineyard in exchange; but he answered, ” I will not give my vineyard to you.”

His wife Jezebel said to him,

Now is the time to show yourself king over Israel.  Rise and eat something, and be cheerful; I will get the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite for you.

So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name and sealed them with his seal, and sent the letters to the elders and the nobles who lived in the same town with Naboth.  In the letters she wrote as follows:

Proclaim a fast and seat Naboth at the front of the assembly.  And seat two scoundrels opposite him, and let them testify against him:  “You have reviled God and king!”  Then take him out and stone him to death.

His townsmen–the elders and nobles who lived in his town–did as Jezebel had instructed them, just as was written in the letters she had sent them.  They proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth at the front of the assembly.  Then the two scoundrels came and sat down opposite him; and the scoundrels testified against Naboth publicly as follows:

Naboth has reviled God and king.

Then they took him outside the town and stoned him to death.  Word was sent to Jezebel:

Naboth has been stoned to death.

As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned to death, she said to Ahab,

Go and take possession of the vineyad which Naboth the Jezreelite refused to sell you for money; for Naboth is no longer alive, he is dead.

When Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, Ahab set out for the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite to take possession of it.

Psalm 5:1-6 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  Give ear to my words, O LORD;

consider my meditation.

2  Hearken to my cry for help, my King and my God,

for I will make my prayer to you.

3  In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice;

early in the morning I make my appeal and watch for you.

4  For you are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness,

and evil cannot dwell with you.

5  Braggarts cannot stand in your sight;

you hate all those who work wickedness.

6  You destroy those who speak lies;

the bloodthirsty and deceitful, O LORD, you abhor.

Matthew 5:38-42 (An American Translation):

[Jesus continued,]

You have heard that they were told, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”  But I tell you not to resist injury, but if anyone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other to him too; and if anyone wants to sue for your shirt, let him have your coat too.  And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go two miles with him.  If anyone begs from you, give to him, and when anyone wants to borrow money from you, do not turn away.

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The Collect:

Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

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A Related Post:

Week of Proper 6:  Monday, Year 1:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/11/30/week-of-proper-6-monday-year-1/

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Mohandas Gandhi once observed that following the rule of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” leaves much of the world’s population blind and toothless.  He was perceptive.

The Mosaic Law, for all his harshness, was actually a moral advance.  The older Code of Hammurabi, to which it bears certain similarities yet more striking differences, established varying punishments for the same offense, depending on the class of the victim and the accused.  So, for example, a wealthy person convicted of a crime against a poor person got off lightly, but a poor person convicted of an offense against a rich individual faced a stiff penalty.  In the Law of Moses, there is one punishment per offense without regard to anyone’s socio-economic standing.  And there is, in some circumstances, a sense of proportionality, as in “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”

Nevertheless, the cycle of retribution must end for the common good.

The reading from 1 Kings is the first part of the story of King Ahab, Queen Jezebel, and Naboth’s vineyard.  Naboth’s judicial execution was a great injustice.  He had no escape from the corrupted and manipulated court system.  Vengeance, however, belonged to God.  There–and there alone–it should remain for all time and circumstances.

KRT

Week of Proper 6: Tuesday, Year 1   6 comments

Above:  The High Altar at the Old Coventry Cathedral

Image Source = Sannse

Living According To Our Intended Purpose

JUNE 18, 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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2 Corinthians 8:1-9 (An American Translation):

I must tell you, brothers, how the favor of God has been shown in the churches of Macedonia, for in spite of a severe ordeal of trouble, their extraordinary gladness, combined with their extreme poverty, has overflowed in a wealth of generosity.  For they have given to the utmost of their ability, as I can bear them witness, and beyond it, and begged me most earnestly, of their own accord, to let them share in the support of God’s people.  They did far more than I hoped, for first in obedience to God’s will, they gave themselves to the Lord, and to me.  This has led me to urge Titus to complete the arrangements he had formerly begun among you for this gracious undertaking.  Just as you excel in everything else–faith, expression, knowledge, perfect devotion, and the love we have awakened in you–you must excel in this generous undertaking too.

I do not mean this as a command.  I only want to test the genuineness of your love by the devotion of others.  You know how gracious the Lord Jesus Christ was.  Though he was rich, he became poor for your sake, in order that by his poverty you might become rich.

Psalm 146 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Hallelujah!

Praise the LORD, O my soul!

I will praise the LORD as long as I live;

I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.

2 Put not your trust in rulers, not in any child of earth,

for there is no help in them.

3 When they breathe their last, they return to earth,

and in that day their thoughts perish.

4 Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help!

whose hope is in the LORD their God;

5 Who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them;

who keeps his promise for ever;

6 Who gives justice to those who are oppressed,

and food to those who hunger.

7 The LORD sets the prisoners free;

the LORD opens the eyes of the blind;

the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down;

8 The LORD loves the righteous;

the LORD cares for the stranger;

he sustains the orphan and widow,

but frustrates the way of the wicked.

9 The LORD shall reign for ever,

your God, O Zion, throughout all generations.

Hallelujah!

Matthew 5:43-48 (An American Translation):

[Jesus continued,] “You have heard that they were told, ‘You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for your persecutors, true sons of your Father in heaven, for he makes his sun to rise on bad and good alike, and makes the rain fall on the upright and the wrongdoers.  For if you love only those who love you, what reward can you expect?  Do not the very tax-collectors do that?  And if you are polite to your brothers and no one else, what is there remarkable in that?  Do not the very heathen do that?  So you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is.”

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The Collect:

Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

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The proper name of Coventry Cathedral is the Cathedral Church of St. Michael.  The original building, designated St. Mary’s, dates to the Eleventh Century; ruins remain.  The second structure, called St. Michael’s, dates to the 1300s and 1400s.  At its peak, it was a masterpiece of Gothic architecture.  Nazi bombs destroyed the city and cathedral of Coventry on November 14, 1940.  The dedication of the third and present church building occurred on May 25, 1962.  Benjamin Britten wrote his wonderful War Requiem for this occasion.

The new church sits adjacent to the ruins of the one that Nazi bombers destroyed in 1940.  Behind the old high altar are a burnt cross and the words, “FATHER FORGIVE.”

The website of Coventry Cathedral (http://www.coventrycathedral.org.uk/) features a page about the congregation’s ministry of reconciliation.  Back in 1940, the Cathedral Provost, Dick Howard, devoted himself to forgiveness for and reconciliation with those responsible for the destruction, not revenge upon them.

This was very Christ-like.  It was also, to steal a line from Paul, a “generous undertaking.”  The Macedonian Christians, facing great difficulties, excelled in generosity with what they had.  Paul held them up as an example before the Corinthian church, which needed as many positive role models as possible.  In the case of Coventry Cathedral, what could have been more generous than forgiveness and reconciliation?

Britten, in his War Requiem, combined the Latin Requiem texts with poems by Wilfred Owen, the British poet and soldier who died one week before the armistice in World War I.  A baritone soloist sings the following text at the end of the Libera Me:

I am the enemy you killed, my friend.

I knew you in the dark; for so you frowned

Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.

Let us sleep now….

This day’s reading from Matthew flows naturally from that of the previous day.  Resentments are natural and understandable, but they accomplish nothing positive beyond perhaps short-term purposes.  I recall that, for a time in 2007, when my life had collapsed and I faced great peril, resentments kept me going for a few months.  Then they had done their work, and I had to begin letting go of them.  The burden of them becomes too heavy to bear after a very short period of time.

Nursing grudges and lugging them around does no harm to the object of them.  These activities do harm the one who maintains them, though.  Beginning to let go of grudges is part of loving oneself.

The reading from Matthew ends with the command to be perfect, as God is perfect.  The Greek word for “perfect” in this text indicates being suited to one’s intended purpose.  In this way, an animal considered suitable for ritual sacrifice was “perfect.”  The most succinct statement of our the intended purpose of human beings comes from the The Larger Westminster Catechism, Question #1:

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

We cannot do this while carrying around grudges like so much luggage.  I do not pretend to have accomplished the state of grudgelessness, but I am closer to it than I have been in a long time, by grace.  And, by grace, I will arrive.  Experience has taught me that some resentments fade away over time instead of vanishing instantly.  And, one day, one realizes that all of the anger over a certain incident is gone.  That is a blessed state.

It is appropriate that Coventry Cathedral bears the name of  St. Michael.   Exorcists invoke Michael in their rituals.  Recall a thought from the devotion for the Week of Proper 6:  Monday, Year 1:  Only good can overcome evil.  And only good can overcome run-of-the-mill cruelty, pettiness, and carelessness.  Let us do more than repay evil with goodness, as in the case of Coventry Cathedral since 1940.  May we also repay run-of-the-mill cruelty, pettiness, and carelessness with goodness.  This is my challenge, and it might be yours.  But we will meet it with the help of God.

May love and simple goodness prevail, and may each of us, by grace, be suited to our intended purpose, which is enjoy and glorify God forever.

KRT

Proper 6, Year A   30 comments

Above:  Terebinth Trees (Such as Those at Mamre)

The Juxtaposition of Mercy and Judgment

The Sunday Closest to June 15

The Second Sunday After Pentecost

JUNE 18, 2017

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FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #1

Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7) (New Revised Standard Version):

The LORD appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day.  He looked up and saw three men standing near him.  When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground.  He said,

My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant.  Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree.  Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on–since you have come to your servant.

So they said,

Do as you have said.

And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said,

Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.

Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it.  Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

They said to him,

Where is your wife Sarah?

And he said,

There, in the tent.

Then one said,

I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah will have a son.

And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him.  Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.  So Sarah laughed to herself, saying,

After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?

The LORD said to Abraham,

Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I have indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too wonderful for the LORD?  At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.

But Sarah denied, saying,

I did not laugh;

for she was afraid.  He said,

Oh yes, you did laugh.

The LORD dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as he had promised.  Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him.  Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him.  And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him.  Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.  Now Sarah said,

God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.

And she said,

Who would ever said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children?  Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.

Psalm 116:1, 10-17 (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 call upon him.

10 How shall I repay the LORD

for all the good things he has done for me?

11 I will lift up the cup of salvation

and call upon the Name of the LORD.

12 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD

in the presence of all his people.

13 Precious in the sight of the LORD

is the death of his servants.

14 O LORD, I am your servant,

I am your servant and the child of your handmaid;

you have freed me from my bonds.

15 I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving

and call upon the Name of the LORD.

16 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD

in the presence of all his people,

17 In the courts of the LORD’s house,

in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.

Hallelujah!

FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #2

Exodus 19:2-8a (New Revised Standard Version):

They had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; Israel camped there in front of the mountain.  Then Moses went up to God; the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying,

Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites:  You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.  Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples.  Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.  These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.

So Moses came, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that the LORD had commanded him.  The people all answered,

Everything that the LORD has spoken we will do.

Moses reported the words of the people to the LORD.  Then the LORD said to Moses,

I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, in order that the people may hear when I speak with you and so trust you ever after.

Psalm 100 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Be joyful in the LORD, all you lands;

serve the LORD with gladness

and come before his presence with a song.

2 Know this:  The LORD himself is God;

he himself has made us, and we are his;

we are the sheep of his pasture.

3 Enter his gates with thanksgiving;

go into his courts with praise;

give thanks to him and call upon his name.

4 For the LORD is good;

his mercy is everlasting;

and his faithfulness endures from age to age.

SECOND READING

Romans 5:1-8 (New Revised Standard Version):

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.  And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.  But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

GOSPEL READING

Matthew 9:35-10:8 (9-23) (New Revised Standard Version):

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples,

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.

Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.  These are names of the twelve apostles:  first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus; Simon the Cananean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions:

Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the Gentiles, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.   As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of God has come near.”  Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.  You received without payment, give without payment. (Take no gold, or silver, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food.  Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave.  As you enter the house, greet it.  If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.  If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.  Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.  Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles.  When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who will speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.  Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name.  But the one who endures to the end will be saved.  When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.)

The Collect:

Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

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Nothing is too wonderful or difficult for God, who is faithful to promises, even though we are not always mindful of ours or or God.  Therein lies the juxtaposition of mercy and judgment.  This is my theme for this devotional writing.

Let us begin with the reading from Genesis.  Abraham welcomes three visitors and extends to them full hospitality, according to his culture.  The patriarch does not know that one of them is YHWH, who has come to make a shocking announcement.  Sarah is post-menepausal, or as the formal euphemism states, “it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.”  Yet she will have a son, which is what she and her husband have wanted for years and thought impossible by now.  She laughs incredulously and silently to herself when she overhears the prophesy, but laughs with delight when she sees her newborn son.  She names him Yitzhak, or Isaac in English.  This names means, “He will laugh.”  And now others will laugh with Sarah.

Sometimes laughter of joy is appropriate after considering what God has done.  In the case of Sarah, God was merciful, and the laughter constituted high praise.  And although God refused to accept Sarah’s denial that she had laughed, God did not seem to hold either the initial laugh or her lie against her.  Really, who could blame Sarah?  Had anyone ever heard of such a thing as a woman of her years giving birth?

God was faithful in Genesis 18 and 21.  And, in Exodus 19, God (via Moses) challenged the Israelites to obey divine commandments.  They said they would, but their subsequent actions belied their words.  God did not destroy them (That was merciful.), but God did not permit them to enter Canaan.  (That was judgment.)  The next generation entered the Promised Land.  Read the accounts of the wanderings in the wilderness, if you have not done so already.  And if you have, you might want to read them again.  It is no wonder that Moses and God became angry with such behaviors as many Israelites exhibited.

Jesus and Paul remind us of suffering for the sake of righteousness.  The manners of their deaths give their words credibility:  The Roman Empire beheaded Paul and crucified Jesus.  And almost all of the twelve Apostles died as martyrs.  The incarnation of Jesus was itself an indication of great mercy, the message of which Paul took to the Gentile world.  Empires have executed messengers of the Kingdom of God, which had “come near” with Jesus, but the work of God is unstoppable.  Those who persecute such messengers will face judgment, but the faithful–those who endure–will live with God, regardless of what anyone does to their bodies.

I grew up in a Christian home.  This fact contributes greatly to the fact that I remain a Christian.  But other factors have contributed to this choice.  Among these factors is the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  Read ancient comparative religion; few claims are original to Christianity.  Older religions featured a Son of God who died for the sins of the world, for example.  But these alleged Sons of God never walked the face of the earth; they were figments of imaginations.  Jesus was real, however.  He was, as I say, the genuine article.

God has come near.  The Kingdom of God has come near.  We have seen it in human flesh, in the form of Jesus.  And, in his own way, Abraham had an incarnational experience.  God seems to like us, sometimes despite ourselves.   Divine mercy does not preclude us suffering consequences of our actions, however.  But judgment does not necessarily connote divine hostility, for discipline is part of love.

Not only does God seem to like us, God loves us.  Should we not love God back?  Should we not laugh in delight for God has done, is doing, and will do out of love for us?

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/the-juxtaposition-of-mercy-and-judgment/