Archive for the ‘May 23’ Category

Devotion for Monday and Tuesday After Proper 3, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment


Above:   Washerwomen at Ancient Roman Fountain, Corinth, Greece

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number =

Acting According to Agape

MAY 23 and 24, 2016


The Collect:

O God our rock, your word brings life to the whole creation

and salvation from sin and death.

Nourish our faith in your promises, and ground us in your strength,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 38


The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 24:1-10 (Monday)

Jeremiah 29:10-19 (Tuesday)

Psalm 1 (Both Days)

1 Corinthians 16:1-12 (Monday)

1 Corinthians 16:13-24 (Tuesday)


How blessed is anyone who rejects the advice of the wicked

and does not stand in the path that sinners tread,

nor a seat in company with cynics,

but who delights in the law of Yahweh

and murmurs his law day and night.

–Psalm 1:1-2, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)


That is one side of Psalm 1.  The other is that the way of the wicked is doomed.  The path of the misguided is likewise treacherous, but, if they change course, divine mercy will follow judgment.

One line from the readings for these two days stands out in my mind:

Let all that you do be done in love.

–1 Corinthians 16:14, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

“Love” is agape, meaning selflessness and unconditional love.  It is the form of love in 1 Corinthians 13, the great love chapter.  This is the type of love God has for people.  How we respond to that great love is crucial.  Will we accept that grace and all of its accompanying demands, such as loving our neighbors as we love ourselves?  Will we live the Incarnation of Christ?  When we sin, will we turn to God in remorse and repentance?  None of us can do all of the above perfectly, of course, but all of us can try and can depend on grace as we do so.

Who are our neighbors?  Often many of us prefer a narrow definition of “neighbor.”  Our neighbors in God are all people–near and far away, those we like and those we find intolerable, those who think as we do and those who would argue with us about the weather, those who have much and those who possess little, et cetera.  Our neighbors are a motley crew.  Do we recognize the image of God in them?  Do we seek the common good or our own selfish gain?   The truth is that whatever we do to others, we do to ourselves also, for human societies are webs of interdependency.  To seek the common good, therefore, is to seek one’s best interests.

Do we even seek to do all things out of agape?










Devotion for Wednesday After Pentecost Sunday, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment


Above:  The Confessional Booth, the Church of the Nativity, Menlo Park, California

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = HABS CAL,41-MENPA,2–15

Forgiving and Retaining Sins

MAY 23, 2018


The Collect:

Mighty God, you breathe life into our bones,

and your Spirit brings truth to the world.

Send us this Spirit,

transform us by your truth,

and give us language to proclaim your gospel,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 36


The Assigned Readings:

Ezekiel 37:1-14

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b

John 20:19-23


You send forth your Spirit, and they are created;

and so you renew the face of the earth.

–Psalm 104:31, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


Ezekiel 37:1-14, the Vision of the Dry Bones, is an allegory of the restoration of the people Israel.  Subsequent interpretations include a literal reading regarding the physical resurrection of the dead, hence the pairing with John 20:19-23, an account of a post-Resurrection appearance of Jesus to ten of the eleven surviving Apostles.  There our Lord and Savior says:

Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.

–John 20:22b-23, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

The use of the passive voice leaves room for ambiguity in that saying.  (The active voice is stronger and more definitive.)

If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them,…

is clear for the sentence identifies “them” as the forgiven party, but

…if you retain the sins of any, they are retained

is vague.  Who retains the unforgiven sins?  One might interpret the passage to mean that, via the Holy Spirit, the Church has the authority to forgive sins and to refuse to do so.  That might be accurate.  If so, the one who committed the sins retains them.  But what if refusing to forgive sins means that the one who refuses to forgive the sins retains them?

Forgiving can be quite difficult; I know this firsthand.  I also know that, according to the Gospels, there is a relationship between one’s willingness to forgive and God’s willingness to forgive one.  (The measure one gives will be the measure one gets.)  I am also aware that a grudge is too heavy a burden to carry.  It might not even lead to any harm of its target(s), but it injures the one who hauls it around like too much luggage.  I have retained the sins of others to my detriment, but letting those sins go has improved my life and been something I should have done much sooner.

According to an old story, two monks (Monk #1 and Monk #2, I call them) were traveling when they came to a river.  Waiting at the river was a prostitute, whom Monk #1 carried on his shoulders as he crossed the river.  On the other side of the river the monks and the prostitute parted company.  The monks continued their journey, during which Monk #2 complained repeatedly about Monk #1 having carried the woman.  Monk #1 replied,

I put her down at the river, but you are still carrying her.

Here ends the lesson.








Devotion for May 22 and 23 in Ordinary Time (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   4 comments

Above:  William Lloyd Garrison, Abolitionist

Image Source = Library of Congress

Song of Songs and Gospel of John, Part III:  Violating Social Norms



Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


The Assigned Readings:

Song of Songs 6:4-7:5 (May 22)

Song of Songs 7:6-8:14 (May 23)

Psalm 89:1-18 (Morning–May 22)

Psalm 97 (Morning–May 23)

Psalms 1 and 33 (Evening–May 22)

Psalms 16 and 62 (Evening–May 23)

John 6:22-40 (May 22)

John 6:41-59 (May 23)


The Song of Songs ends with a note consistent with the rest of the book:  this love violates social norms.  To consumate it is risky, and the lovers must be prepared for a risky parting or a flight together; the Hebrew text is ambiguous regarding whether the lovers will remain in each other’s company.

Speaking of violating social norms, the discourse of eating the flesh of the Son of Man and drinking his blood violated Jewish social norms.  Such potent language offended sensibilities.  It sounds like cannibalism, does it not?  And more is happening in the narrative.  The Greek text in John 6 echoes the Greek text of the Septuagint in reference to grumbling Israelites in the desert after the Exodus.  So those who complained regarding Jesus received especially negative press.  And Jesus was (and remains) far more than manna.

In my North American context celebrations of the Holy Eucharist are routine, with no legal attention paid to them.  Yet, a few centuries ago, Roman Catholic priests risked their lives to say the Mass in England.  Following Jesus violated social and norms at that time and place.

Sometimes I think that following Jesus has become too respectable, not that I favor religious persecution.  Early Christianity, like the love in the Song of Songs, had an edge an element of risk to it.  And it had value.  As Thomas Paine wrote,

What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly:  ‘Tis dearness only that gives everything its value.

The American Crisis, Number 1, December 23, 1776

And, when religion becomes respected–the establishment even–it loses its prophetic edge.  I think of the uses of Christianity in  U.S. history to justify slavery then segregation and to criticize prostitutes while affirming the sexism and patriarchy which pushed many women into that situation.  Such hypocrisy, in the case of these women, blamed the victims.  Simply put, Jesus did not die because he was respectable and affirmed social injustice.  No, he died because Roman imperial officials considered him a threat to Pax Romana, a desert called peace, as Tacitus referred to it.

Respectability is overrated.







Week of Proper 2: Wednesday, Year 2   2 comments

Above:  The Doctor (1901), by Samuel Luke Fildes

Lasting Treasure

MAY 23, 2018


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


James 4:13-17 (Revised English Bible):

Now a word with all who say,

Today or the next day we will go off to such and such a town and spend a year there trading and making money.

Yet you have no idea what tomorrow will bring.  What is your life after all?  You are no more than a mist, seen for a little while  and then disappearing.  What you ought to say is:

If it be the Lord’s will, we shall live to do so and so.

But instead, you boast and brag, and all such boasting is wrong.  What it comes to is that anyone who knows the right thing to do and does not do it is a sinner.

Psalm 49:1-9, 16-20 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Hear this, all you peoples;

hearken, all you who dwell in the world,

you of high degree and low, rich and poor together.

2 My mouth shall speak of wisdom,

and my heart shall meditate on understanding.

I will incline my ear to a proverb

and set forth my riddle upon the harp.

Why should I be afraid in evil days,

when the wickedness of those at my heels surrounds me,

5 The wickedness of those who put their trust in their goods,

and boast of their great riches?

6 We can never ransom ourselves,

or deliver to God the price of our life;

7 For the ransom of our life is so great,

that we should never have enough to pay it,

8 In order to live for ever and ever,

and never to see the grave.

9 For we see that the wise die also;

like the dull and the stupid they perish

and leave their wealth to those who come after them.

16  Do not be envious when some become rich,

or when the grandeur of their house increases;

17  For they will carry nothing away at their death,

nor will their grandeur follow them.

18  Though they thought highly of themselves while they lived,

and were praised for their success,

19  They shall join the company of their forebears,

who will never see the light again.

20  Those who are honored, but have no understanding,

are like the beasts that perish.

Mark 9:38-41 (Revised English Bible):

John said to him,

Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and as he was not one of us, we tried to stop him.

Jesus said,

Do not stop him, for no one who performs a miracle in my name will be able the next moment to speak evil of me.  He is not against us is on our side.  Truly I tell you:  whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you are followers of the Messiah will certainly not go unrewarded.


The Collect:

O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.


Some Related Posts:

Week of Proper 2:  Wednesday, Year 1:

Week of 7 Epiphany:  Wednesday, Year 1:

Week of 7 Epiphany:  Wednesday, Year 2:

Luke 9 (Parallel to Mark 9):


Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

–Matthew 6:19-21, Revised Standard Version

Once, in Alapaha, Georgia, there lived a kindly elderly woman named Emily.  Her house was an unofficial museum of local history.  There one could find old maps and photographs, an antique telephone, et cetera.  Most impressive of all was her memory of the local past, though.  One day she told me a story about a doctor, a general practitioner who made house calls.  He kept track of who owed him how much.  The doctor died with people still owing him money, but they never had pay up because he destroyed those records.  His wife, he knew, would try to collect the money, and the patients probably could not pay.  The man had a good heart, and he acted accordingly.

He knew, as did St. Laurence of Rome, that people matter more than money.  The doctor also knew that, as Psalm 49 reminds us in eloquent words, we cannot take our earthly wealth with us when we die.

The biblical ethic concerning money is not anti-wealth.  It is, rather, opposed to the arrogance and presumption many wealthy people have.  We all depend on God for everything, but some people do not realize this because of their attitude toward their money and possessions.  Some people have dealt with this spiritual matter by shedding their wealth.  This an appropriate corrective action for many people.  Yet others can remain wealthy and have a proper attitude, with their philanthropy demonstrating their sincerity.  Proper attitude is essential in this spiritual matter, regardless of the action God calls one to take.

That proper attitude is recognition and acceptance of one’s total dependence on God for everything.  May this guide our actions toward ourselves, each other, and God.


Published originally in a nearly identical form as Week of 7 Epiphany:  Wednesday, Year 2, at ADVENT, CHRISTMAS, AND EPIPHANY DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on July 2, 2011