Archive for the ‘May 24’ 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

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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 Thursday and Friday Before Trinity Sunday, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Swords Into Plowshares

Above:  Swords into Plowshares

Image in the Public Domain

Righteousness from God

MAY 24 and 25, 2018


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 creation, life-giving Spirit of wisdom.

Guide us 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


The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 1:1-4, 16-20 (Thursday)

Isaiah 2:1-5 (Friday)

Psalm 29 (Both Days)

Romans 8:1-8 (Thursday)

Romans 8:9-11 (Friday)


The LORD shall give strength to his people;

the LORD shall give his people the blessing of peace.

–Psalm 29:11, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


St. Paul the Apostle, at the end of Romans 7, lamented that, although he often knew right from wrong and wanted to act properly, he behaved sinfully much of the time.  He lived in a “body of death,” he wrote, and his deliverance from it came via Jesus Christ.

The conclusion that we humans are slaves to the law of God in our minds yet slaves to the law of sin in our flesh precedes the “therefore” clause in Romans 8:1:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Christ,  St. Paul the Apostle wrote, has freed us from the law of sin and death.  Yes, there remains the dichotomy of the Spirit (God) and the flesh (all that pertains to human beings).  Yes, we are all “in the flesh,” during this life, but we need not live “according to the flesh,” which sin has compromised.  Righteousness comes from God.

We, turning to the Isaiah pericopes, find human disobedience, a divine call for obedience and social justice, a reminder of how much better the situation can become, a statement of how bad it can become, and a vision of what the future will entail when the Kingdom of God has become fully realized on Earth.  In Isaiah, as in Romans, righteousness comes from God and we mere mortals fall far short of that divine standard.

None of this negates the importance of free will, for the desire to obey God and act justly matters greatly.  It is a positive development and something with which God can work–multiply like loaves and fishes.  A faithful response to God is, in itself, inadequate, but it is something, at least.  And we rely on God’s strength, not ours.  Martin Luther, who knew much firsthand about the conflict between the higher and lower natures, affirmed correctly the principle of relying on the faithfulness of God.  I am content  to do as he advised in that matter, for the alternatives lead me to negative spiritual destinations, which range from hopelessness to a lack of any spirituality to the vain and frustrating quest for moral perfection or something approximate to it in this life (hence my strong objections to Pietism).

We are all broken and in need of God, so why pretend to the contrary?  A healthy spiritual quest begins where one is.  I prefer to acknowledge that point of origin without excuses, delusions, or self-recrimination.  Acknowledging one’s sin and confessing it need not turn into spiritual self-flagellation.  I have learned that admitting the reality of my spiritual state, with all its negatives and positive aspects, refraining from berating myself yet handing the burdens over to God instead is a good way to begin.  This life is short, anyway, so I seek to spend as much of it as possible enjoying and glorifying God.






Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before Proper 3, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Christ and the Woman Taken In Adultery

Above:  Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery, by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (Guercino), 1621

Image in the Public Domain

Divine Faithfulness, Judgment, and Mercy

MAY 24, 2018

MAY 25, 2018

MAY 26, 2018


The Collect:

 Loving God, by tender words and covenant promise

you have joined us to yourself forever,

and you invite us to respond to your love with faithfulness.

By your Spirit may we live with you and with one another

in justice, mercy, and joy,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 37


The Assigned Readings:

Ezekiel 16:1-14 (Thursday)

Ezekiel 16:44-52 (Friday)

Ezekiel 16:53-63 (Saturday)

Psalm 103:1-13, 22 (All Days)

Romans 3:1-8 (Thursday)

2 Peter 1:1-11 (Friday)

John 7:53-8:11 (Saturday)


The LORD is full of compassion and mercy,

slow to anger and of great kindness.

The LORD will not always accuse us

nor remain angry forever.

The LORD has not dealt with us according to our sins,

nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.

–Psalm 103:8-10, Book of Common Worship (1993)


Yet we read elsewhere:

Because you did not remember the days of your youth, but infuriated Me with all those things, I will pay you back for your conduct–declares the LORD God.

–Ezekiel 16:43, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

That statement is consistent with Ezekiel’s position that God deals with each person according to his or her actions, in other words, that God does not punish anybody for the sin of an ancestor.

The related themes of judgment and mercy reside at the heart of the complex of pericopes for these days.

Ezekiel 16 weaves a metaphorical narrative regarding Jerusalem and its people.  God showered extravagant mercy upon them, but they rebelled against God instead.  They will face the consequences of their actions, but God will renew the covenant and forgive them.  That covenant requires the people to remember the mighty and faithful works of God, to remember human sins, and to respond to God faithfully.  Caring for the less fortunate constitutes part of responding to God faithfully.  And the only acceptable boast is in God’s grace.

Ezekiel 16 meshes well with Romans 3:1-8, a text one ought never to twist into Anti-Semitism.  (I condemn all -isms, phobias, and other attitudes which denigrate any of my fellow human beings.)  God’s judgment is just, St. Paul the Apostle insists, and no amount of human faithfulness can nullify the faithfulness of God.  Furthermore, the Apostle writes, the Jews might have the Law of Moses, but Gentiles can fulfill it also, for they can perceive the commandments of God too.  Thus, according to this line of reasoning, God has placed Jews and Gentiles on a level playing field, and human actions, no matter how pious they are, can function as protective talismans against the consequences of sins.  Faith, the Apostle understood, is inherently active, hence his theology of faith, works, and justification by the former, not the latter.  Thus, if good works flow from faith as a matter of course (unlike as in the Letter of James, due to a different definition of faith there, hence that text’s theology of justification by works), we have no right to boast of our good deeds because they cannot save us from judgment.  They are, as Lutheran confessions of faith state, laudable yet insufficient for salvation.  Only grace can save us.  And grace comes from God.

Moving along, we arrive at 2 Peter 1:1-11.  The text reminds us that we depend on the faithfulness of God to divine promises.  Thus our only boasts should be in God.  And grace is free for us (but not for God; ask Jesus) yet not cheap.  It requires much of those of us who receive it.  Grace mandates ethical, compassionate living.  Perceived doctrinal purity alone is insufficient, for orthodoxy and orthopraxy should be like two sides of the same coin.  (I sound like the Letter of James now.  Actually, St. Paul and the author of the Letter of James arrived at the same conclusion, just with different definitions of faith.  Their two positions differ only on a semantic level.)  I recall the narrative of an African-American slave who, with help, escaped to freedom in Canada in the 1800s.  His master, a Simon Legree-kind of person, was a Baptist deacon.  The former slave wrote that the deacon died and that he (the former slave) did not know if the deacon went to Heaven or to Hell.  The freedman did know, however, that he did not want to go to the same destination as the deacon.

John 7:53-8:11 is a floating pericope of Synoptic origin which landed in the Johannine Gospel.  The pericope fits well between 7:52 and 8:12, but one can skip over it and follow the original Johannine narrative without missing a beat.  The scribes and Pharisees in question have used the woman to set a trap for Jesus.  They do not even care that they have allowed the man to get away.  (One cannot commit adultery alone.)  Jesus, being perceptive, reverses the trap  and reminds them subtly that, if she dies for having committed adultery, the Law of Moses states that they should die also for their related offense.  Thus they are not without sin in this case and have no right to cast the first stone.  Her accusers leave, and Jesus forgives the woman.

The Law, St. Paul the Apostle reminds us, convicts us of our sins by establishing rules and categories.  The Law calls for judgment and provides guidelines (often culturally and historically specific applications of timeless and universal principles) for ethical living.  Obeying the Law can be positive, but it cannot deliver us from the consequences of our sins.  Only God can do that.  Fortunately, God seems to be more merciful than many human beings much of the time.  I recognize that both judgment and mercy exist relative to God.  I also notice that God is more prone to mercy in some biblical texts and more inclined toward judgment in others.  The biblical authors were people, so some of these texts include human projections onto the nature of God.  That is something I take as a given.  Something else I take as a given is that we mere mortals cannot grasp the entirety of the nature of God.  Thus some of what we say and write about God will be wrong, but much will be correct.  Thus theological humility is appropriate.  As for me, I hope that God is at least as merciful as Jesus in John 7:53-8:11 and that the author of Psalm 103:8-10 is closer to the truth than the author of Ezekiel 16:43.









Devotion for May 24 in Ordinary Time (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   5 comments

Above:  Crucify Him! Crucify Him! (Puck Magazine, March 19, 1913)

Image Source = Library of Congress

Ecclesiastes and John, Part I:  Futility and Perceptions Thereof



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:

Ecclesiastes 1:1-18

Psalm 51 (Morning)

Psalms 142 and 65 (Evening)

John 6:60-71


Some parts–such as much of the Book of Proverbs–of the Bible seem overly optimistic to me.  The same rule applies to elements of the Torah.  Obey God, they say, and you (plural or singular) will flourish.  Life will consist of prosperity, safety, and cute, cuddly kittens which scamper about while looking adorable.  (Okay, I invented the part about kittens.)  Yet what about the Book of Job?  And what about the death of Jesus, the martyrdoms of ten of the original Apostles, and the martyrdom of St. Paul of Tarsus?  For that matter, what about the sufferings of faithful Christians since St. Stephen?

Koheleth, in Ecclesiastes 1, asked

What real value is there for a man

In all the gains he makes beneath the sun?

–Verse 3, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

Jesus lost followers in John 6:66.  I think also of St. Gregory Thaumaturgus (the Wonder-Worker), Bishop of Neocaesarea, Pontus, Asia Minor, who died in 268.  He had seventeen members of his flock when he became bishop.  For three decades he shepherded the Christians under his care through hardships, including a plague, a siege, and a Roman imperial persecution.  And, when he died, he still had only seventeen parishioners.  Had his work been in vain?

I think not.  If St. Gregory’s work has been in vain, so had our Lord’s.  But sometimes human concepts of work as leading to certain rewards fail to explain reality accurately.  Honest people scrape by sometimes while high-rolling criminals become wealthier.  Those whose greed tipped economies into globally-related recessions do not suffer financially, but innocents in the working class do.  I wonder what Koheleth would write about skullduggery in the world’s financial capitals and in the corridors of power in contemporary times.

Yet, sadly, Koheleth was partially correct in Chapter 1:  Much work is futile.  And this need not be the case.  Society is what people have made it, so is current reality can change.  May they do so for the benefit of more people, especially those without financial cushions and golden parachutes.  The Hebrew Prophets would approve.







Week of Proper 2: Thursday, Year 2   4 comments

Above:  Logo of Lehman Brothers, a Firm Defunct Since 2008

Bad Priorities and Good Priorities

MAY 24, 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 5:1-6 (Revised English Bible):

Now a word to you who are rich.  Weep and wail over the miserable fate overtaking you:  your riches have rotted away; your fine clothes are moth-eaten; your silver and gold have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and consume your flesh like fire.  You have piled up wealth  in an age that is near to its close.  The wages you never paid to the men who mowed your fields are crying aloud against you, and the outcry of the reapers has reached the ears of the Lord of Hosts.  You have lived on the land in wanton luxury, gorging yourselves–and that on the day appointed for your slaughter.  You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who offers no resistance.

Psalm 49:12-19 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

12  Such is the way of those who foolishly trust in themselves,

and the end of those who delight in their own words.

13  Like a flock of sheep they are destined to die;

Death is their shepherd;

they go down straightaway to the grave.

14  Their form shall waste away,

and the land of the dead shall be their home.

15  But God will ransom my life;

he will snatch me from the grasp of death.

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.

Mark 9:42-50 (Revised English Bible):

[Jesus continued,]

If anyone causes the downfall of one of these little ones who believe, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone around his neck.  If your hand causes your downfall, cut if off; it is better for you to enter into life maimed than to keep both hands and go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.  If your foot causes your downfall, cut if off; it is better to enter into life crippled than to keep both your feet  and be thrown into hell.  And if your eye causes your downfall, tear it out; it is better to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than to keep both eyes and be thrown into hell, where the devouring worm never dies and the fire is never quenched.

Everyone will be salted with fire.

Salt is good; but if the salt loses its saltness, how will you season it?

You must have salt within yourselves, and be at peace with one another.


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:  Thursday, Year 1:

Week of 7 Epiphany:  Thursday, Year 1:

Week of 7 Epiphany:  Thursday, Year 2:


What I wrote for the Year 1 counterpart of this post works well.  Besides, how many ways can I repackage the same thoughts?  So, without further ado, I offer those original thoughts.



Self-reliance is a lie and an illusion.  It is one of the most cherished lies and illusions of my North American culture, where “self-made men” are ideals.  The truth, however, is that there is no such thing as a “self-made man” (or woman); everybody relies on God.  And we humans rely on each other.  What affects one affects another,  immediately or in time.  If we get greedy and reckless, this affects a great many people, hence the old Lehman Brothers logo at the top of this post.

So much for Gordon Gecko and Horatio Alger.  These signify bad priorities.

The reading from Mark is a continuation of the discourse of Jesus in which he states he who wants to the greatest must be the servant of all, and in which he says that anyone who receives a child (a vulnerable and powerless member of society) receives not only Jesus himself but YHWH God.  Then our Lord and Savior engages in hyperbole.  No part of the body causes one to sin, and he is not advocating self-mutilation.  Sin arises from inside ourselves, and the point of the hyperbole is to say to flee from sin.  As Ben Sira reminds us in the first reading, God’s patience does have limits.

And then there are lines about salt.  First we have, “Everyone will be salted with fire.”  This is a reference to salt used on a ritual sacrificial item or animal. As William Barclay observes in his commentary on the Gospel of Mark, the salt made the sacrifice acceptable to God.  And fire signifies that which purifies life.  Hence being salted with fire is obeying God and undergoing discipline and the risk (at least the risk) of persecution.

“Salt is good; but if the salt loses its saltness, how will you season it?”

Salt, in proper quantities, improves the taste of food.  It also preserves food.  Salt was valuable in the ancient world.  Sometimes it was a form of currency, so an underperforming employee was “not worth his salt.”  We Christians, then, are supposed to give to our world a positive flavor and to preserve and promote goodness.  Are you worth your salt?  I cannot answer that question for you, no more than you can answer that question for me.

“You must have salt within yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Salt, in this case, is a metaphor the the purifying Spirit of Christ.  This is not purity of the ritual kind, as the Pharisees practiced.  No, this is the inner variety of purity.  Jesus said that nothing that enters a person defiles (or “makes common”) a person, but that what comes out a person does that.  Ritual purity was about making oneself a member of the spiritual elite, unlike the “impure” rabble.  But Jesus advocated a different understanding of purity:  love, forgiveness, altruism, et cetera.  There is no divine law against such things.  These are good priorities.

The fire will come to you and to me.  Will it consist of flames destroying treasures laid up on earth, or will it be the disciplining fire likened to salt?


Published in a nearly identical form as Week of 7 Epiphany:  Thursday, Year 2, at ADVENT, CHRISTMAS, AND EPIPHANY DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on July 3, 2011