Archive for the ‘June 19’ 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 Wednesday After Trinity Sunday, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Flood

Above:   Flood, 1924

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-npcc-11224

Grace and Misfortune

JUNE 19, 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:

Daniel 1:1-21

Psalm 124

Luke 1:46b-55

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…our help is in the name of Yahweh,

who made heaven and earth.

–Psalm 124:8, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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The theme of divine favor unites the readings for this day.  Daniel and his companions obey kosher food laws in a foreign land.  They are therefore healthier than they would have been otherwise.  They also gain the favor of a Gentile potentate.  Of course, their fidelity pleases God.  Psalm 124 thanks God for delivering the people from threats.  One might note that the Assyrian and Babylonian Exiles still occurred, of course.  Nothing in Psalm 124 denies the reality of both divine judgment and mercy, however.  And the Magnificat speaks of God’s favor for St. Mary (later of Nazareth) and the downtrodden.  The theme of the reversal of fortune, which is prominent in the Gospel of Luke, is on display in the passage from chapter 1.

I have learned the hard way that certain misfortunes come simply because one has breath.  Sometimes one is merely unfortunate–even in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Even then one is never alone, for God is ever-present.  Grace transforms unfortunate circumstances into occasions of abundant grace.  Even as one suffers God sets a table for one cup in the presence of one’s enemies, and one’s cup overflows.  One can, during times of adversity, speak as the author of Psalm 124 wrote:

Then water was washing us away,

a torrent running over us;

running right over us then

were turbulent waters.

Blessed be Yahweh for not letting us fall

a prey to their teeth!

–Verses 4-6, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

Here ends the lesson.

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/grace-and-misfortune/

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

Edmund Pettus Bridge 2006

Above:  Edmund Pettus Bridge, Selma, Alabama, April 11, 2006

Photographer =  Carol M. Highsmith

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-highsm-04116

Radical Love for Neighbors

JUNE 19 and 20, 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:

Jeremiah 21:11-14 (Tuesday)

Jeremiah 22:1-9 (Wednesday)

Psalm 52 (Both Days)

Revelation 21:22-22:5 (Tuesday)

Luke 6:43-45 (Wednesday)

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You plot destruction, you deceiver;

your tongue is like a sharpened razor.

You love evil rather than good,

falsehood rather than the word of truth.

You love all words that hurt,

O you deceitful tongue.

–Psalm 52:2-4, Common Worship (2000)

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Liturgical convergence has many advantages.  The fact that the Revised Common Lectionary and the new Roman Catholic lectionary are nearly identical is a wonderful affirmation of Christian unity which transcends denominational divisions.  The road to the convergence of lectionaries (starting with Holy Mother Church in Advent 1969) has been mostly positive, but has had at least on casualty worth mourning.  The season of Kingdomtide, which lasted from the last Sunday in August to late November or early December (the eve of Advent), used to be more commonplace than it has become.  Certain Protestant denominations (especially Methodists) observed it.  Pockets of observance of it remain.  The theme of Kingdomtide is the Kingdom of God, in which socio-economic-political rules are equitable and justice reigns.  That emphasis remains present in the current Season after Pentecost, fortunately.

The denunciation of injustice (including corruption) club a reader over the head in the Jeremiah pericopes.  This is appropriate.  Jesus reminds us in Luke 6:43-45 that the quality of the fruit tells one about the quality of the tree.  In other words, character matters.  The wicked will face destruction (in the next life even if not in this one) in Psalm 52.  And the pericope from Revelation provides part of a vision of the establishment of the fully realized Kingdom of God.

One function of rhetoric of the Kingdom of God is to condemn human systems and institutions founded on and maintained by violence, exploitation, and artificial scarcity.  There is more than enough for everyone to have enough in the Kingdom of God.  Human reality is different on the plane of existence, though, because of human sinfulness, including greed and insensitivity to needs.  The Kingdom of God is partially present among us; may it become fully present in our midst.

Religion which declares the primacy of (alleged) purity of doctrine and opposes necessary and proper movements to decrease social injustice is an opiate of the masses.  Such religion constitutes a quest for cheap grace, which makes no demands on its recipients.  The love of God and the love for God, however, command us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  They order us to be subversive when the established order is unjust.  They command us to break down barriers which function to make some people seem unduly holy and others unduly unworthy.  They order us to tell of and to live the divine love for the marginalized and the downtrodden.  Those are challenges worth pursuing.

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/radical-love-for-neighbors/

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

3d02329v

Above:  The Civil Rights March from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, 1965

Photographer = Peter Pettus

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USZ6-2329

Righteousness and Results

JUNE 19, 2017

JUNE 20, 2017

JUNE 21, 2017

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The Collect:

God of compassion, you have opened the way for us and brought us to yourself.

Pour your love into our hearts, that, overflowing with joy,

we may freely share the blessings of your realm and faithfully proclaim

the good news of your Son, Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 39

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The Assigned Readings:

Joshua 1:1-11 (Monday)

1 Samuel 3:1-9 (Tuesday)

Proverbs 4:10-27 (Wednesday)

Psalm 105:1-11, 37-45 (All Days)

1 Thessalonians 3:1-5 (Monday)

2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5 (Tuesday)

Luke 6:12-19 (Wednesday)

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Seek the Lord and his strength;

seek his face continually.

–Psalm 105:4, Common Worship (2000)

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The Psalm tells us to seek God and divine strength continually. That is good advice at all times and in all places. It is also advice consistent with the rest of the assigned readings.

The lections from Joshua and Proverbs are overly optimistic. They follow a certain formula: Obey God and good results will follow; one will prosper, et cetera. This is the overly optimistic viewpoint which leads to the heresy of Prosperity Theology: love God, do the right things, and get rich.

Tell that to Jesus (crucified), St. Paul the Apostle (beheaded after many years of troubles), and most of the original twelve Apostles (the majority of whom died violently). Tell that to the Thessalonian Christians. Tell that to nearly 2000 years’ worth of Christian martyrs and about 5000 years’ worth of faithful Hebrews.

When we challenge social institutions and systems which violate th law of love we confront powerful forces. In so doing we challenge people who might even cite God in attempts to justify their unjustifiable actions and attitudes. And we place ourselves at great risk. We need divine strength to live faithfully and to avoid the pitfalls of hatred, vengeance, and misdirected anger. We should be angry sometimes, for righteous anger does exist. But we ought to channel it properly, lest it corrupt our cause and compromise us.

We can succeed only by the power of God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 14, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF FRANCIS MAKEMIE, FATHER OF U.S. PRESBYTERIANISM

THE FEAST OF EDWARD HENRY BICKERSTETH, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF EXETER

THE FEAST OF JOHN ROBERTS/IEUAN GWYLLT, FOUNDER OF WELSH SINGING FESTIVALS

THE FEAST OF NGAKUKU, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/righteousness-and-results/

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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: Tuesday, Year 2   6 comments

Above:  King Ahab

Actions Have Consequences

JUNE 19, 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 21:17-29 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

The the word of the LORD came to Eljah the Tishbite:

Go down and confront King Ahab of Israel who [resides] in Samaria.  He is now in Naboth’s vineyard; he has gone down there to take possession of it.  Say to him, “Thus said the LORD:  Would you murder and take possession?  Thus said the LORD:  In the very place where the dogs lapped up Naboth’s blood, the dogs will lap up your blood too.”

Ahab said to Elijah,

So you have found me, my enemy?

He replied,

Yes, I have found you.  Because you have committed yourself to doing what is evil in the sight of the LORD, I will bring disaster upon you.  I will make a clean sweep of you, I will cut off from Israel every male belonging to Ahab, bond and free.  I will make your house like the House of Jeroboam son of Nebat and like the house of Baasha son of Ahijah, because of the provocation you have caused by leading Israel to sin.  And the LORD has spoken concerning Jezebel:  “The dogs shall devour Jezebel in the field of Jezreel.  All of Ahab’s line who die in the town shall be devoured by dogs, and all who die in the town shall be devoured by dogs, and all who die in the open country shall be devoured by the birds of the sky.”

(Indeed, there never was anyone like Ahab, who committed himself to doing what was displeasing to the LORD, at the instigation of his wife Jezebel.  He acted most abominably, straying after the fetishes just like the Amorites, whom the LORD had dispossessed before the Israelites.)

When Ahab heard these words, he rent his clothes and put sackcloth on his body.  He fasted and lay in sackcloth and walked about subdued.  Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite:

Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before Me?  Because he has humbled himself before Me, I will not bring the disaster in his lifetime; I will bring the disaster upon his house in his son’s time.

Psalm 51:1-11 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness;

in your great compassion blot out my offenses.

2 Wash me through and through from my wickedness

and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,

and my sin is ever before me.

4 Against you only have I sinned

and done what is evil in your sight.

5 And so you are justified when you speak

and upright in your judgment.

Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth,

a sinner from my mother’s womb.

7 For behold, you look for truth deep within me,

and will make me understand wisdom secretly.

Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure;

wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.

Make me hear of joy and gladness,

that the body you have broken may rejoice.

10 Hide your face from my sins

and blot out all my iniquities.

11 Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and renew a right spirit within me.

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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Some Related Posts:

Week of Proper 6:  Tuesday, Year 1:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/01/week-of-proper-6-tuesday-year-1/

Matthew 5:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/tenth-day-of-lent/

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Actions have consequences.

Two important features of the Law of Moses were (A) a certain amount of reciprocity, as in “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” and (B) the lack of class distinctions in determining sentences.  Jezebel had arranged for perjury and so manipulated the court system so that Naboth, an innocent man, would die and Ahab would acquire the desired vineyard.  God, through Elijah, pronounced that the Queen would die.  She could shield herself from the courts, but not God.

Elijah, in this account, does his job; he relay’s God’s words.  Jezebel had tried to have the prophet killed, so she was an enemy.  And Ahab had not stopped any of her murderous plans, so he was also a foe.  Yet there is no hint in the text that Elijah took delight in the divine judgments.

There is a great and valuable lesson in this.  The powerful evil people, even the banal ones, must face the consequences of their actions.  Perhaps these cannot come soon enough for our satisfaction sometimes, but they will arrive.  But we need not rejoice when the wrath of God befalls them, for such an attitude does not reflect love.  We ought to resist evil, not become it.  We need to hold forth against our enemies, not become like them.

KRT

Week of Proper 6: Wednesday, Year 1   9 comments

Above:  A Trappist Monk Praying

Image Source = Daniel Tibi

Not For the Sake of Appearances

JUNE 19, 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 9:6-11 (An American Translation):

Remember this:  The man who sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and the man who sows generously will reap generously.  Everyone must give what he has made up his mind to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion; God loves a man who is glad to give.  God is able to provide with every blessing in abundance so that you will always have enough for every situation, and ample means for every good enterprise:  as the Scripture says,

He scatters his gifts to the poor;

His uprightness will never be forgotten.

He who supplies the sower with seed and so with bread to eat will supply you with seed, and multiply it and enlarge the harvest of your uprightness.  You will grow rich in every way, so that through me you can show perfect liberality that will make men thank God for it.

Psalm 112:1-9 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Hallelujah!

Happy are they who fear the Lord

and have great delight in his commandments!

2 Their descendants will be mighty in the land;

the generation of the upright will be blessed.

3 Wealth and riches will be in their house,

and their righteousness will last for ever.

4 Light shines in the darkness for the upright;

the righteous are merciful and full of compassion.

5 It is good for them to be generous in lending

and to manage their affairs with justice.

6 For they will never be shaken;

the righteous will be kept in everlasting remembrance.

7 They will not be afraid of any evil rumors;

their heart is right;

they put their trust in the Lord.

8 Their trust is established and will not shrink,

until they see their desire upon their enemies.

9 They have given freely to the poor,

and their righteousness stands fast for ever;

they will hold up their head with honor.

Matthew 6:1-18 (An American Translation):

[Jesus continued,] “But take care not to do your good deeds in public for people to see, for, if you do, you will get no reward from your Father in heaven.  So when you are going to give to charity, do not blow a trumpet before yourself, as the hypocrites do, in the synagogues and the streets, to make people praise them.  I tell you, that this is all the reward they will get!  But when you give to charity, your own left hand must now know what your right hand is doing, so that your charity may be secret, and your Father who sees what is secret will reward you.

When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, for they like to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the squares, to let people see them.  I tell you, that is all the reward they will get!  But when you pray, go into your own room, and shut the door, and pray to your Father who is unseen, and your Father who sees what is secret will reward you.  And when you pray, do not repeat empty phrases as the heathen do, for they imagine that their prayers will be heard if they use words enough.  You must not be like them.  For God, who is your Father, knows what you need before you ask him.  This, therefore, is the way you are to pray:

Our Father in heaven,

Your name be revered!

Your kingdom come!

Your will be done

On earth as well as in heaven!

Give us today bread for the day,

And forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors.

And do not subject us to temptation,

But save us from the evil one.

For if you forgive others when they offend you, your heavenly Father will forgive you too.  But if you do not forgive others when they offend you, your heavenly Father will not forgive you for your offenses.

When you fast, do not put on a gloomy look, like the hypocrites, for they neglect their personal appearance to let people see that they are fasting.  I tell you, that is all the reward they will get.  But when you fast, perfume your hair and wash your face, that no one may see that you are fasting, except your Father who is unseen, and your Father who sees what is secret, will reward you.”

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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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Sincerity is the heart of this day’s readings.  It is not enough to do the right thing, such as to pray, fast, or give alms; no, one must do these for the right reason(s).  These include the following:

  1. One is grateful and devoted to God.
  2. One seeks to obey God’s commands faithfully.
  3. One is filled with genuine concern for others.
  4. One seeks one’s own spiritual improvement.

And none of this praying, fasting, and giving of alms must be for show.

Multiple Hebrew texts teach the divine imperative of caring for the less fortunate.  Aside from this day’s psalm, I think immediately of Deuteronomy 15:7-11, which Paul references.  There are also too many passages from the Hebrew prophets to quote here and to remain succinct.  The Bible does teach a divine preference for the poor and condemnation of those who keep them that way and exploit them.

Many or most of us can recall incidents of politicians who rarely attend church becoming Sunday morning regulars during weeks preceding an election.  Attending church is good, of course, but we must do this sincerely, not for show.  Going to keep up appearances is inadequate.  I have never sought public office, but I can recall a few times I have attended church out of habit but, for my sake and that of others, should have stayed home that day.  My heart was not in it.  To refer to a line from the previous day’s reading from Matthew, I was not ready to make offering to God.

Neither should prayer be for show, or vain.  The Reverend Roger Williams, Puritan minister, founder of Rhode Island, and founder of the oldest Baptist congregation in the United States, objected strenuously to anyone (especially, in his case, the government of the Massachusetts Bay colony) compelling someone to pray involuntarily.  The only prayers worth anything, he said, are those offered sincerely and voluntarily.

Praying and fasting had become outward signs of respectability for certain professional religious people in Jesus’ day.  These men did not sacrifice anything when they fasted, which they did often.  Oddly enough, fasting was a luxury for them.  And one might recall the parable of Jesus in which two men pray in the Temple.  One is a humble tax collector beseeching God for mercy, and the other is a Pharisee who boasts of his deeds and who has contempt on the tax collector.  Jesus favored the prayer of the tax collector.

As to the matter of vain words, let us not think that simplicity of worship equals sincerity of it.  Anyone can go through the motions, regardless of the number of them.  If you attend a church with a regular pattern of Sunday worship, no matter how simple it might be, you go to a liturgical church.  I attend an Episcopal parish, so I go through a fairly elaborate weekly pattern of worship.  I would use a Prayer Book except for the fact that I have memorized Holy Eucharist Rite II over the years.  My words have been vain only on those days that I, for personal reasons, would have been better off staying home.  My heart has not always been in it.

Consider the following twice-told story:

There was a community worship service in a county seat town in the U.S. South.  The host congregation for this service was the First Baptist Church, and most of the local ministers helped lead the worship.  When the host pastor introduced the local Episcopal priest, who was to say a prayer, the Southern Baptist minister said, “Now Father Jones will say one of his written prayers.”  The priest walked to the pulpit and said, “Let us pray.  Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name….”

Sincerity in prayer expresses itself in many ways.  I know through reading that different styles of prayer appeal to various personality types, for example.  So one size does not fit all.  And the South Georgia Baptist cadence I heard while growing up does not appeal to me.  No, give me a Prayer Book any day.  I mean that sincerely.

All of these lessons from Matthew flow naturally out of the end of Chapter 5 and the command of Jesus to be perfect (that is, suited to one’s intended purpose), just as God is.  Think about it:  What does ostentation benefit anyone spiritually?  Can it prepare one for service to God and others?  No, of course not!  So let us be sensitive and sincere.  May we think more about others and God than ourselves.  Sincere and sensitive actions will from such attitudes.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2011/08/16/not-for-the-sake-of-appearances/