Archive for the ‘November 21’ Category

Devotion for Thursday Before Proper 29, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

The Death of Ahab--Gustave Dore

Above:   The Death of Ahab, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain

Three Kings and Two Deaths

NOVEMBER 21, 2019


The Collect:

O God, our true life, to serve you is freedom, and to know you is unending joy.

We worship you, we glorify you, we give thanks to you for your great glory.

Abide with us, reign in us, and make this world into a fit habitation for your divine majesty,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who reigns with you

and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 53


The Assigned Readings:

2 Chronicles 18:12-22

Psalm 46

Hebrews 9:23-28


God is our refuge and strength,

a very present help in trouble.

–Psalm 46:1, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


The account from 2 Chronicles 18, quite similar to one in 1 Kings 22, agrees with that sentiment and emphasizes the impropriety of a military alliance with an evil ally–in this case, King Ahab of Israel (reigned 873-852 B.C.E.).  King Jehoshaphat of Judah (reigned 870-846 B.C.E.) enters into a military alliance with Ahab against Aram, a shared enemy.  Only Micaiah, one prophet in a particular group of prophets, says that the planned attack at Ramoth-gilead is a bad idea.  He resists pressure to claim otherwise.  Micaiah is, of course, correct.  Ahab dies.  Jehoshaphat survives, to hear from one Jehu son of Hanani of God’s displeasure over the alliance:

For this, wrath is upon you from the LORD.  However, there is good in you, for you have purged the land of the sacred posts  and have dedicated yourself to worship God.

–2 Chronicles 19:2b-3, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

One can read of the reign of Jehoshaphat in 1 Kings 22:1-51 and 2 Chronicles 17:1-20:37.

Hebrews 9:23-28 concerns itself with the atoning qualities of the crucifixion of Jesus.  I, as a student of Christian history, in particular of the development of doctrine and theology, know of three early theories of the Atonement.  Two of these include the death of Christ.  Penal Substitutionary Atonement does not satisfy me (forgive the double entendre), for it depicts a deity in which to stand in dread, not awe.

I will not be satisfied until people torture and kill my son,

that deity proclaims.  The Classic Theory, or Christus Victor, however, places correct emphasis on the resurrection.  Without the resurrection we have dead Jesus, who cannot save anyone.

Both Ahab and Jesus died.  Ahab, who died foolishly (despite warning) and was idolatrous and evil (consult 1 Kings 16:29-22:40 and 2 Chronicles 18:1-34) had it coming.  Jesus, however, was innocent of any offense before God.  The death of Ahab brought to the throne of Israel his son, Ahaziah, who followed in his father’s ignominious footsteps (consult 1 Kings 22:52-54; 2 Kings 1:1-18).  The death of Jesus, in contrast, played a role in the salvation of the human race from sin.

May we who follow Jesus respond to him, treating him as our savior, not merely another martyr to admire.  Grace is free yet not cheap; ask Jesus.  It demands much of us, such as that we not be as Kings Ahab and Ahaziah were.










Devotion for Wednesday After Proper 28, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Destroy This Mad Brute

Above:  A U.S. Anti-German Propaganda Poster from World War I

Image in the Public Domain

Faithfulness and Faithlessness, Part II

NOVEMBER 21, 2018


The Collect:

Almighty God, your sovereign purpose bring salvation to birth.

Give us faith amid the tumults of this world,

trusting that your kingdom comes and your will is done

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 53


The Assigned Readings:

Zechariah 12:1-13:1

Psalm 13

Mark 13:9-23


How long, O LORD?

Will you forget me forever?

how long will you hide your face from me?

How long shall I have perplexity of mind,

and grief in my heart, day after day?

how long shall my enemy triumph over me?

Look upon me and answer me, O LORD my God;

give light to my eyes, lest I sleep in death;

lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed,”

and my foes rejoice that I have fallen.

But I trust in your mercy;

my heart is joyful because of your saving help.

I will sing to you, O LORD,

for you have dealt with me richly;

I will praise the name of the Lord Most High.

–Psalm 13, Book of Common Worship (1993)


The text of Mark 13:9-13 describes current events in much of the world.  Fortunately, that statement does not apply to my nation-state, the United States of America, where we have religious toleration.  That is an alien concept in much of the world, however.  In any case, the end of the pericope provides a segue to the other reading.

But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

–Mark 13:23b, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Zechariah 12:1-13:1 is a prediction of the end times.  Tiny Judah will by the power and grace of God, find not only restoration but victory over its enemies, who will suffer.  The new, restored society will mourn over

those who are slain, wailing over them as a favorite son and showing bitter grief as over a first-born.

–Verse 10b, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Proposals regarding the identity of “those who are slain” are numerous.  The slain might have come from the Gentile nations, all but annihilated in verse 9.  Mourning for one’s defeated foes seems like a well-developed spiritual virtue, does it not?  The Hebrew text is ambiguous regarding the identity of the mourned slain, so another option might be correct.  For example, maybe the lamented slain are messengers of God whom authorities persecuted and populations disregarded.  That interpretation meshes well with the reading from Mark 13.  Mourning the sins of one’s society is one step toward the goal of addressing societal ills and avoiding similar errors in the present day and the future, after all.

The vagueness of the reference to the mourned slain invites readers to interact with and ponder that text.  Perhaps more than one interpretation is correct.  One unambiguous aspect, however, is grief following the act of violence.  Whatever we do to others, we do to ourselves.  Those who commit violence are therefore victims of it.  Violence is necessary sometimes, unfortunately.  It can, however, be far less commonplace than it is.  Societies will be much better off when they grieve, not celebrate, violence (even necessary violence), and use it only as the last resort.  The same rule applies to individuals and communities.

One way governments persuade their citizens to fight wars is to dehumanize the enemies.  For example, Germans became “Huns” during World War I and Japanese became “Japs” during World War II.  Wartime propaganda in the United States depicted Germans as barely human and sometimes as beasts in 1917 and 1918.  During World War II American propaganda depicted Japanese in racially denigrating imagery and invited patriotic citizens to “slap a Jap.”  Likewise, Japanese propaganda denigrated Westerners in racial terms also.  Yet everybody involved was quite human, and the populations were not their governments.  As I write this sentence in 2015, Germany and Japan have long been allies of the United States.  We humans have no difficulty accepting the fact that our friends and allies are human, do we?

Sometimes it is proper that one side win a war and another lose it, for the sake of the world.  However, along the path to victory may we refrain from dehumanizing our fellow human beings on the other side, for God loves them also and they bear the image of God.  And, as we deal with agents of God, may we refrain from harming them, for

  1. we ought to heed them, and
  2. the use of violence for the purpose of defending one’s sense of righteousness belies the assertion of the possession of that virtue.








Devotion for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday After Proper 28, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Last Judgment (Russian)

Above:  The Last Judgment

Image in the Public Domain

Hope, Joy, and Gloom

NOVEMBER 20, 21, and 22, 2017


The Collect:

Righteous God, our merciful master,

you own the earth and all its people,

and you give us all that we have.

Inspire us to serve you with justice and wisdom,

and prepare us for the joy of the day of your coming,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 52


The Assigned Readings:

Zechariah 1:7-17 (Monday)

Zechariah 2:1-5; 5:1-4 (Tuesday)

Job 16:1-21 (Wednesday)

Psalm 9:1-14 (All Days)

Romans 2:1-11 (Monday)

1 Thessalonians 5:12-18 (Tuesday)

Matthew 24:45-51 (Wednesday)


Sing praises to the LORD who dwells in Zion;

proclaim to the peoples the things he has done.

The Avenger of blood will remember them;

he will not forget the cry of the afflicted.

–Psalm 9:11-12, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


Thus we have a segue to the hopeful message of Zechariah 1 and 2.  The rest of the material is mostly dark and joyless, however.  Especially memorable is the fate of the servant who was not ready when his master returned unexpectedly in Matthew 24:51 (The Revised English Bible, 1989):

[The master] will cut him in pieces and assign him a place where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth.

My concept of God is one which encompasses judgment and mercy, with the two falling simultaneously sometimes; judgment for one person can constitute mercy for another.  Nevertheless, the recent fixation on judgment in the lectionary has proven tiresome.  I want more of the joy the Lutheran collect mentions.










Devotion for November 21 and 22 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   1 comment


Above:  Cardinal Gibbons on Accepting Membership in the National Child Labor Committee, Circa 1913

Photographed by Lewis Wickes Hine (1874-1940)

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-nclc-04865

Daniel and Revelation, Part I:  Identifying With Oppressors



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:

Daniel 2:1-23 (November 21)

Daniel 2:24-49 (November 22)

Psalm 143 (Morning–November 21)

Psalm 86 (Morning–November 22)

Psalms 81 and 116 (Evening–November 21)

Psalms 6 and 19 (Evening–November 22)

Revelation 18:1-24 (November 21)

Revelation 19:1-21 (November 22)


Daniel prophesied the fall of the Chaldean Empire of King Nebuchadnezzar (Nebuchadrezzar) II (reigned 625-605 BCE), the rise and fall of successive empires, and the founding of God’s rule on earth.  The founding of God’s rule on earth is one of the topics of Revelation 18 and 19.  I find the more interesting topic of those chapters to be the different responses to the fall of “Babylon” (the Roman Empire).  The righteous exult, as they should.  But those who had made common cause with the corruption, injustice, and violence of the late empire lament its passing.

Richard Bauckham, in The Bible in Politics:  How to Read the Bible Politically, 2d. Ed. (Louisville, KY:  Westminster/John Knox Press, 2011), provides excellent analysis:

Rome is a harlot because of her associations with the peoples of her empire for her own economic benefit.  The Pax Romana is really a system of economic exploitation of the empire.  For the favours of Rome–the security and prosperity of the Pax Romana–her lovers pay a high price.  Her subjects give far more to her than she gives to them.

–pages 90-91

The riches came from the exploitation of people (page 91) and the condemnation applies to successive states throughout history (page 93).  Furthermore, there is a hermeneutical trap:

Any reader who finds himself…viewing the prospect of the fall of Rome with dismay should therefore discover with a shock where he stands, and the peril in which he stands.

–page 99

Bauckham concludes with the following:

…there is much to suggest that modern Western society, in its worship of the idol of its ever-increasing material prosperity, is trafficking in human lives.  Chief among its mourners may be the multinational companies, the advertising industry, and the arms trade.  But one should also be aware of the hermeneutical trap John laid for us all.

–page 102

The towel draped across my shower curtain rod says:


How old was the person who made my towel?  (Child labor is rampant in Bangladesh.)  How long was his or her work day?  What standard of living does he or she enjoy?  I suspect that the answers would disturb my conscience.  I know that there must have been reasons (not all of them innocent) that the towel cost so little to purchase.  I am, simply by belonging to my First World society, complicit in the exploitation of Third World people.  Every time I shop for a towel, a clock radio, or a pair of tennis shoes, for example, I risk deepening my complicity.

Be merciful to me, O Lord, for you are my God;

I call upon you all the day long.

–Psalm 86:3, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)








Week of Proper 28: Wednesday, Year 2   5 comments

Above:  The Vision of John on Patmos

The King Who Endures

NOVEMBER 21, 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.


Revelation 4:1-11 (Revised English Bible):

After this I had a vision:  a door stood open in heaven, and the voice that I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said,

Come up here, and I will show you what must take place hereafter.

At once the Spirit came upon me.  There in heaven stood a throne.  On it sat One whose appearance was like jasper or cornelian, and round it was a rainbow, bright as emerald.  In a circle about this throne were twenty-four other thrones, and on them were seated twenty-four elders, robed in white an wearing gold thrones.  From the throne came flashes of lightning and peals of thunder.  Burning before the throne were seven flaming torches, the seven spirits of God, and in front of it stretched what looked a sea of glass or a sheet of ice.

In the centre, round the throne itself, were four living creatures, covered with eyes in front and behind.  The first creature was like a lion, the second like an ox, the third had a human face, and the fourth was like an eagle in flight.  Each of the four living creatures had six wings, and eyes all round and inside them.  Day and night unceasingly they sing:

Holy, holy, holy is God the sovereign of all, who was, and is, and is to come!

Whenever the living creatures give glory and honour and thanks to the One who sits on the throne, who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders prostrate themselves before the One who sits on the throne and they worship him who lives for ever and ever.  As they lay their crowns before the throne they cry:

You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honour and power, because you created all things; by your will they were created and have their being!

Psalm 150 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):


Praise God in his holy temple;

praise him in the firmament of his power.

Praise him for his mighty acts;

praise him for his excellent greatness.

Praise him with the blast of the ram’s-horn;

Praise him with lyre and harp.

Praise him with timbrel and dance;

praise him with strings and pipe.

Praise him with resounding cymbals;

praise him with loud-clanging cymbals.

Let everything that has breath

praise the LORD.


Luke 19:11-28 (Revised English Bible):

While they were listening to this, Jesus went on to tell them a parable, because he was now close to Jerusalem and they [the crowd who disapproved of him eating with Zacchaeus] thought the kingdom of God might dawn at any moment.  He said,

A man of noble birth went on a long journey abroad, to have himself appointed king and then return.  But first he called then of his servants and gave each a sum of money, saying, “Trade with this while I am away.”  His fellow-citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, “We do not want this man as our king.”  He returned however as king, and sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, to find out what profit each had made.  The first came and said, “Your money, sir, has increased tenfold.”  ”Well done,” he replied, “you are a good servant, trustworthy in a very small matter, you shall have charge of ten cities.”  The second came and said, “Here is your money, sir; I kept it wrapped up in a handkerchief.  I was afraid of you because you are a hard man:  you draw out what you do not put in and reap what you do not sow.”  ”You scoundrel!”  he replied.  ”I will condemn you out of your own mouth.  You knew me to be a hard man, did you, drawing out what I never put in, and reaping what I did not sow?  Then why did you not put my money on deposit, and I could have claimed it with interest when I came back?”  Turning to his attendants he said, “Take the money from him and give it to the man with the most.”  ”But sir,” they replied, “he has ten times as much already.”  ”I tell you,” he said, “everyone one has will be given more; but whoever has nothing will forfeit even what he has.  But as for those enemies of mine who did not want me for their king, bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.”


The Collect:

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.


Some Related Posts:

Week of Proper 28:  Wednesday, Year 1:

Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise:

Not Far Beyond the Sea:

O God, Our Help in Ages Past:

We Sing for All the Unsung Saints:

Let Saints on Earth in Concert Sing:

A Prayer for the Dead:

Our Father, By Whose Servants:

For All the Saints:

Now the Laborer’s Task is O’er:


The first three chapters of Revelation are relatively straight-forward, given that the book is an apocalypse, and therefore told in symbolic language.  Now, however, in Chapter 4, we begin to encounter denser symbolism.  I opened up commentaries and tried to sort out the symbols.  Along the way I learned three or four ways to interpret some of the same symbols.  In such cases, I have chosen to follow one interpretation.  For the sake of succinctness, we read of God, enthroned in glory and majesty in Heaven.  The martyrs are there, as is the Holy Spirit in its completeness.  The four living creatures, imagery borrowed from ancient sources and elsewhere in the Bible, see everything.  The living creature like a lion represents the power of the Son of God.  The one like an ox indicates the sacrificial nature of the Son of God.  The living creature with a human face represents the incarnation of the Son of God.  And the one like an eagle in flight symbolizes the gift of the Holy Spirit.  God, the center of attention, is sovereign.

We turn now to the reading from Luke.  Archelaus and two brothers inherited parts the “kingdom” of their father, Herod the Great, when he died in 4 B.C.E.  But Archelaus, in order to claim his inheritance, had to visit his overlord, the Emperor Augustus.  He was the figure on whom Jesus based the king in Luke 19.  The setting for the Parable of the Pounds (similar to the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30) is after our Lord’s visit with Zacchaeus at Jericho but prior to his Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.  So the standard interpretation of the parable is, “Choose Jesus, or else!”  Yet I cannot bring myself to identify the king in the parable with God.

The lectionary readings for this day present us with conflicting types of kingship:  omnipotent and benevolent (in Revelation) and cruel and subject to higher human authority (in Luke).  The former is forever, but the latter is temporal.  Archelaus, despite the power he wielded, died.  His position in life depended on the identity of his father and the favor of the Roman Emperor, two factors he could not determine.  He was a glorified governor or procurator.  And, as far as I can tell, he is mostly forgotten these days; I, an eager student of history, had to look him up.

God endures.  Thanks be to God!


Week of Proper 28: Thursday, Year 1   7 comments

Above:  Mattathias

Image in the Public Domain

A Time for Intellectual Honesty

NOVEMBER 21, 2019


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.


1 Maccabees 2:15-28 (Revised English Bible):

The king’s officers who were enforcing apostasy came to the town of Modin to see that sacrifice was offered.  Many Israelites went over to them, but Mattathias and and all his sons stood apart.  The officers addressed Mattathias :

You are a leader here, a man of mark and influence in this town, with your sons and brothers at your back.  Now you be the first to come forward; carry out the king’s decree as all the nations have done, as well as the leading men in Judaea and the people left in Jerusalem.  Ten you and your sons will be enrolled among the king’s Friends; you will all receive high honours, rich rewards of silver and gold, and many further benefits.

In a ringing voice Mattathias replied:

Though every nation within the king’s dominions obeys and forsakes its ancestral worship, though all have chosen to submit to his commands, yet I my sons and my daughters will follow the covenant made with our forefathers.  Heaven forbid that we should ever abandon the law and its statutes!  We will not obey the king’s command, nor will we deviate one step from our way of worship.

As he finished speaking, a Jew came forward in full view of all to offer sacrifice on the pagan altar at Modin, in obedience to the royal decree.  The sight aroused the zeal of Mattathias, and, shaking with passion and in a fury of righteous anger, he rushed forward and cut him down on the very altar.  At the same time he killed the officer sent by the king to enforce sacrifice, and demolished the pagan altar.  So Mattathias showed his fervent zeal for the law, as Phinehas had done when he killed Zimri son of Salu.  He shouted for the whole town to hear,

Follow me, all who are zealous for the law and stand by the covenant!

Then he and his sons took to the hills, leaving behind in the town all they possessed.

Psalm 129 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  “Greatly have they oppressed me since my youth.”

let Israel now say;

2  “Greatly have they oppressed me since my youth,

but they have not prevailed against me,”

3  The plowmen plowed upon my back

and made their furrows long.

4  The LORD, the Righteous One,

has cut the cords of the wicked.

5  Let them be put to shame and thrown back,

all those who are enemies of Zion.

6  Let them be like grass upon the housetops,

which withers before it can be plucked;

7  Which does not fill the hand of the reaper,

nor the bosom of him who binds the sheaves;

8  So that those who go by say not so much as,

“The LORD prosper you,

We wish you will in the Name of the LORD.”

Luke 19:41-44 (Revised English Bible):

When Jesus came in sight of Jerusalem, he wept over it ans aid,

If only you had known this day the way that leads to peace!  But no; it is hidden from your sight.  For a time will come upon you, when your enemies will set up siege-works against you; they will encircle you and hem you in at every point; they will bring you to the ground, you and your children within your walls, and not leave you one stone standing on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s visitation.


The Collect:

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.


Let us–especially those of us who call ourselves–believers–be intellectually honest.  The “new atheists” who point to contradictions and bloody passages in the Bible are not entirely mistaken in the factual points of their claims.  Read the Hebrew Scriptures and notice how many times the authors claim that God ordered massacres of civilian populations and pagan priests.  And how many capital offenses are there in the Law of Moses?  Sometimes, of course, some of these “new atheists” ignore textual and contextual subtleties, so not all of their facts are accurate.

I am an Episcopalian, a nearly compulsive student of the Bible, and a frequent church-goer.  An an Episcopalian, I reject the Reformation claim of sola scriptura in favor of scripture, tradition, and reason.  A common name for this formula is the three-legged stool, but that is misleading, for the scripture leg is longer than the other two; one would fall off the stool easily.  So a tricycle is a better analogy.  Using the Episcopalian tricycle, I can work my way through the contradictions between “wipe out civilian populations when you move back into Canaan” and our Lord’s command to love my neighbors as I love myself, with everybody being my neighbor.  I am Christian; I try to follow Christ, who did not condone genocide.

A few years ago, at a Eucharistic Ministers’ conference in the Diocese of Georgia, I heard Dr. Donald Armentrout speak.  Armentrout, a minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, works as a professor at the Episcopal seminary at The University of the South.  He used the analogy of putting on the “Gospel glasses” when reading the Bible; not all parts of the Bible are equal, he said.  I agree; Jesus takes precedence over Elijah, for example.

So let us consider the readings for this day.  The psalm is angry, as I have been.  But anger proves corrosive after a very short while.  It does not behoove one or others.  Mattathias, original leader of the Hasmonean rebellion which, after his death, liberated Judea from Seleucid rule, killed a fellow Jew to prevent him from making a pagan sacrifice.  And the Gospel of Luke dates to after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., during the First Jewish War.  That event must have had some effect on the writing of Luke 19:41-44.  The dominant theme here is how to respond or react under occupation and oppression, and the readings exist in the shadow of violence.

Violence is a reality we can reduce by practicing nonviolence and loving our neighbors (that is, everybody) as we love ourselves, by grace, of course.  And, as Paul wrote in Romans 13, love fulfills the law.  We follow our Lord, who died by an act of violence and whom God raised from the dead, thereby reversing that deed.  As the Moravians say,

Our lamb has conquered; let us follow him.

And let us do it with intellectual honesty, love of ourselves and our neighbors, and obedience to God.