Archive for the ‘October 18’ Category

Devotion for Friday and Saturday Before Proper 24, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Jacob and Esau Are Reconciled

Above:   Jacob and Esau Are Reconciled, by Jan Van den Hoecke

Image in the Public Domain

Building Up Others

OCTOBER 18 and 19, 2019

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The Collect:

O Lord God, tireless guardian of your people,

you are always ready to hear our cries.

Teach us to rely day and night on your care.

Inspire us to seek your enduring justice for all the suffering world,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 50

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The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 31:43-32:2 (Friday)

Genesis 32:3-21 (Saturday)

Psalm 121 (Both Days)

2 Timothy 2:14-26 (Friday)

Mark 10:46-52 (Saturday)

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He will not let your foot be moved and he who watches over you will not fall asleep.

Behold, he who keeps watch over Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD himself watches over you; the LORD is your shade at your right hand,

So that the sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.

The LORD shall preserve you from all evil; it is he who shall keep you safe.

The LORD shall watch over your going out and your coming in, from this time forth for evermore.

–Psalm 121:3-8, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Here is a saying you may trust:

“If we died with him, we shall live with him;

if we endure, we shall reign with him;

if we disown him, he will disown us;

if we are faithless, he remains faithful,

for he cannot disown himself.”

Keep on reminding people of this, and charge them solemnly before God to stop disputing about mere words; it does no good, and only ruins those who listen.

–2 Timothy 2:11-14, The Revised English Bible (1989)

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God seeks to build us up; we should strive to the same for each other.  That is the unifying theme of these lessons.

Distracting theological arguments constitute “mere words” (2 Timothy 2:14).  Of course, many people do not think that such theological arguments are distracting and destructive.  Partisans certainly understand them to be matters of fidelity to God.  Such arguments help to explain the multiplicity of Christian denominations.  I think in particular of the Church of God (Guthrie, Oklahoma), which separated from the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) in 1910-1911 over, in part, the parent body’s liberalization with regard to Sola Scriptura (or, more to the point, that which the Reformed churches call the Regulative Principle of Worship) and worldliness.  The Anderson Church began to (gasp!) permit the wearing of neckties!  (Shock horror)  Granted, the original, narrow meaning of Sola Scriptura, especially in Lutheran theology, applies only to requirements for salvation, but certain schools of Christianity have expanded its scope to matters beyond salvation–from liturgy to the presence or absence of neckties.

Legalism does not build up the body of Christ.  Reconciliation, however, does.  We read a prelude to the reconciliation of Jacob and Esau (effected in Genesis 33) in Chapter 32.  Jacob, who had, with the help of his mother, cheated his brother out of his birthright in Genesis 27, had gone on to become a recipient of trickery in Chapter 29.  He parted company with his father-in-law, Laban, with whom he had a difficult relationship, in Genesis 31, and was nervous about what might happen at a reunion with Esau, who proved to be conciliatory.

The healing of blind Bartimaeus (literally, son of Timaeus) is familiar.  Jesus, unlike many people in the account, has compassion for the blind man calling out to him.  Those others, we might speculate with little or no risk of being wrong, thought of Bartimaeus as a nuisance at worst and an irritant at best.  One need not use one’s imagination much to grasp the application of this story in daily life.  Do we see people, or do we see irritants and nuisances?

A moral law of the universe is that, whatever we do to others, we do to ourselves also.  This challenges us all, does it not?  Tearing others down might be in one’s short-term interests, but, in the long term, those who injure others do so to their detriment.

How is God calling you to build up others today, O reader?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 31, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE VISITATION OF MARY TO ELIZABETH

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/05/31/building-up-others-2/

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Devotion for Thursday Before Proper 24, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   3 comments

Abraham and Melchizedek Dieric Bouts the Elder

Above:  Abraham and Melchizedek, by Dieric Bouts the Elder

Image in the Public Domain

Jews, Gentiles, and Gentiles’ Gentiles

OCTOBER 18, 2018

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The Collect:

Sovereign God, you turn your greatness into goodness for all the peoples on earth.

Shape us into willing servants of your kingdom,

and make us desire always and only your will,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 50

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The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 14:17-24

Psalm 91:9-16

Romans 15:7-13

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Because they have set their love upon me,

therefore will I deliver them;

I will lift them up, because they know my name.

They will call upon me, and I will answer them;

I am with them in trouble,

I will deliver them and bring them to honour.

–Psalm 91:14-15, Common Worship (2000)

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Who was Melchizedek?  He was a mysterious figure, the King of Salem (Jerusalem) and a “priest of the Most High” (Genesis 14:18, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures).  “The God Most High” might have been Yahweh; the text is ambiguous.  So Melchizedek, to whom the victorious warrior and patriarch Abram (Abraham) paid a tithe might have belonged to a pagan cult.  If so, the patriarch paid homage to a pagan deity.  On the other hand, Melchizedek might have been a Gentile devotee of Yahweh.  Sometimes one wishes that certain Biblical texts were unambiguous.

Interpreting “the God Most High” to mean Yahweh meshes well with Romans 15:7-13.  St. Paul the Apostle, who quoted, in order, Psalm 18:49, Deuteronomy 32:43, Psalm 117:1, and Isaiah 11:10 (all from the Septuagint; sometimes that translation contains some words crucial to his point and absent from other versions), argued that God calls both Jews and Gentiles.  The Gospel is therefore inclusive.

Romans 15:7-13 brings up issues far beyond Jewish-Christian relations.  During the time of St. Paul Christianity was a Jewish sect, albeit one open to Gentiles.  Furthermore, the Apostle was always Jewish.  He dealt with issues of identity, some of which went back to the time of Abraham.  Would permitting uncircumcised Gentile men to convert to Christianity without first becoming Jews threaten Jewish identity?  Many Jews (including Christians) thought so.  Passages such as the pericope from Romans took on greater and different significance after the formal split of Christianity from Judaism during the Second Jewish War in 135 C.E.

Within Christianity the pericope remains significant.  We, the Gentiles, have our own “Gentiles,” whom we define according to a variety of standards, including race, ethnicity, gender, language, culture, and physical capabilities.  Labeling as outsiders those whom God calls insiders is sinful.  It harms them and hinders the community of faith while making those who label narrowly feel good about themselves in the context of their imagined exclusive status.  And most of us who call ourselves Christians have engaged in this unfortunate behavior or will do so, given sufficient time.

May God forgive us, help us to do better, and create a more inclusive community of faith, for the glory of God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 3, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRY THOMAS SMART, ENGLISH ORGANIST AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH FERRARD, ANGLICAN DEACONESS

THE FEAST OF IMMANUEL NITSCHMANN, GERMAN-AMERICAN MORAVIAN MINISTER AND MUSICIAN; HIS BROTHER-IN-LAW, JACOB VAN VLECK, U.S. MORAVIAN MORAVIAN BISHOP, MUSICIAN, COMPOSER, AND EDUCATOR; HIS SON, WILLIAM HENRY VAN VLECK, U.S. MORAVIAN BISHOP; HIS BROTHER, CARL ANTON VAN VLECK, U.S. MORAVIAN MINISTER, MUSICIAN, COMPOSER, AND EDUCATOR; HIS DAUGHTER, LISETTE (LIZETTA) MARIA VAN VLECK MEINUNG; AND HER SISTER, AMELIA ADELAIDE VAN VLECK, U.S. MORAVIAN COMPOSER AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF JOHN CENNICK, BRITISH MORAVIAN EVANGELIST AND HYMN WRITER

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/07/03/jews-gentiles-and-gentiles-gentiles/

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Devotion for Wednesday After Proper 23, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Shaker Barn

Above:  Shaker Church Family Round Barn, Hancock, Massachusetts, June 1962

Photographer = Jack E. Boucher

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = HABS MASS,2-HANC,9–1

Living Sacramentally

OCTOBER 18, 2017

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The Collect:

Lord of the feast, you have prepared a table before all peoples

and poured out your life with abundance.

Call us again to your banquet.

Strengthen us by what is honorable, just, and pure,

and transform us into a people or righteousness and peace,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 49

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The Assigned Readings:

Song of Songs/Song of Solomon 7:10-8:4

Psalm 34

John 6:25-35

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The Song of Songs/Song of Solomon/Canticle of Canticles is love poetry.  I distrust attempts to spiritualize it by transforming it into an allegory between Yahweh and the Hebrews, God and faithful people, or Jesus and the Church.  Such readings indicate an unhealthy dichotomy between matters of the flesh and those of the spirit, the physical and the spiritual.  Much of Christian theology reflects a fear and distrust of the physical and sets related pleasures, which can function as vehicles of grace when one approaches them properly.  I have encountered profound theology in novels, but I have also read of strict Christian condemnations of of reading novels in general.  I understand the historical roots of such negative attitudes without approving such a mindset.  So I embrace the healthy pleasures of this life, no matter how fleeting or mundane they might be.

Jesus, in John 6, is the bread of life.  One of the greatest spiritual teachings relative to sacraments, one of which (the Holy Eucharist) is germane to that metaphor, is that God makes the ordinary extraordinary.  Bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ.  Water becomes an outward sign of inner renewal.  Words become means of grace.  The laying on of hands becomes a method of transforming a person.

If God can do so much with words, hands, water, bread, and wine in official sacramental actions, how much more can God do in meals, good books, mundane deeds, and acts of human love?  Washing the dishes, for example, can be merely a household chore or a great service for another human being.  The circumstances make all the difference.  So may we, by grace, succeed in living sacramentally.  May we, by our lives, with their mundane details, prove to be consistent with Psalm 34:1-3 (A New Zealand Prayer Book, 1989):

I will give thanks to the Lord at all times:

God’s praise will always be on my lips.

My soul will glory in the Lord:

the humble will hear and be glad.

O praise the Lord with me:

let us exalt God’s name together.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 31, 2014 COMMON ERA

PROPER 17:  THE TWELFTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAINT AIDAN OF LINDISFARNE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/living-sacramentally/

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Devotion for October 18 and 19 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

05555v

Above:  Northern Views, Site of the Feeding of the Five Thousand

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-05555

Deuteronomy and Matthew, Part XIV:  Violence and Compassion

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2019, and SATURDAY, OCTOBER 19, 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:

Deuteronomy 17:1-20 (October 18)

Deuteronomy 18:1-22 (October 19)

Psalm 13 (Morning–October 18)

Psalm 56 (Morning–October 19)

Psalms 32 and 139 (Evening–October 18)

Psalms 100 and 62 (Evening–October 19)

Matthew 14:1-21 (October 18)

Matthew 14:22-36 (October 19)

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I have become convinced that the best way to read the Law of Moses is in small doses, usually in reference to narrative Bible stories.  Yet the main purpose of a lectionary is to guide the orderly reading of the Bible, even books one might avoid otherwise.  So I continue.

These days in Deuteronomy we read about court procedures.  There must be at least two witnesses, in a capital case, for a person who has committed idolatry must die.  Levites will settle baffling cases, and the king will have no role in justice.  We read also of Levites and prophets, whose authority came from God, not any other source.

Speaking of prophets—yes, more than a prophet—we read of Jesus feeding the five thousand men plus an uncounted number of women and children with a small amount of food and ending up with more leftovers than the original supply of food.  Then we read of Jesus walking on water then curing many people.  That material completes a chapter which begins with the execution of St. John the Baptist due to a rash promise made at a tawdry party.  The sublime grace and a great power of God at work in Jesus exists among violent men and women.  That is the story I detect uniting Matthew 14.

There is also violence—albeit carefully regulated violence—in Deuteronomy 17.  I continue to object to executing people for committing idolatry either.  But, if human life is as valuable as some parts of the Law of Moses indicate, why is so much stoning demanded there?  I read of how Jesus helped people from various backgrounds (often marginalized individuals) and think of his great compassion.  Surely executing someone for working on the Sabbath or committing idolatry is inconsistent with that ethic.

But at least the Levites got to eat.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 8, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BENEDICT II, BISHOP OF ROME

THE FEAST OF DAME JULIAN OF NORWICH, SPIRITUAL WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MAGDALENA OF CANOSSA, FOUNDER OF THE DAUGHTERS OF CHARITY AND THE SONS OF CHARITY

THE FEAST OF SAINT PETER OF TARENTAISE, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/05/28/deuteronomy-and-matthew-part-xiv-violence-and-compassion/

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Week of Proper 23: Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, Year 2   5 comments

Above:  A Baptismal Font

Image Source = Cadetgray

The Ministry of Lay Persons

OCTOBER 18, 19, and 20, 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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My practice for this series of devotions based on the Letter to the Ephesians is to keep chapters unified.–KRT

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COMPOSITE FIRST READING

Ephesians 1:1-23 (Revised English Bible):

From Paul, by the will of God apostle of Christ Jesus, to God’s people at Ephesus, to the faithful, incorporate in Christ Jesus.

Grace to you and peace from our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has conferred on us in Christ every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms.  Before the foundation of the world he chose us in Christ to be his people, to be without blemish in his sight, to be full of love; and he predestined us to be adopted as his children through Jesus Christ.  This was his will and pleasure in order that the glory of his gracious gift, so graciously conferred on us in his Beloved, might redound to his praise.  In Christ our release is secured and our sins forgiven through the shedding of his blood.  In the richness of his grace God has lavished on us all wisdom and insight.  He has made known to us his secret purpose, in accordance with the plan which he determined beforehand in Christ, to be put into effect when the time was ripe; namely, that the universe, everything in heaven and on earth, might be brought into a unity in Christ.

In Christ indeed we have been given our share in the heritage, as was decreed in his design whose purpose is everywhere at work; for it was his will that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, should cause his glory to be praised.  And in Christ you also–once you had heard the message of the truth, the good news of your salvation, and had believed it–in him you were stamped with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; and that Spirit is a pledge of the inheritance which will be ours when God has redeemed what is his own, to his glory and praise.

Because of all this, now that I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and the love you bear towards all God’s people, I never cease to give thanks for you when I mention you in my prayers.  I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the all-glorious Father, may confer on you the spiritual gifts of wisdom and vision, with the knowledge of him that they bring.  I pray that your inward eyes may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope to which he calls you, how rich and glorious is the share he offers you among his people in their inheritance, and how vast are the resources of his power open to us who have faith.  His mighty strength was seen at work when he raised Christ from the dead, and enthroned him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all government and authority, all power and dominion, and any title of sovereignty that commands allegiance, not only in this age but also in the age to come.  He put all things in subjection beneath his feet, and gave him as head over all things to the church which is his body, the fullness of him who is filling the universe in all its parts.

RESPONSE FOR THURSDAY

Psalm 98 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Sing to the LORD a new song,

for he has done marvelous things.

With his right hand and his holy arm

has he won for himself the victory.

3 The LORD has made known his victory;

his righteousness has he openly shown in the sight of the nations.

4 He remembers his mercy and faithfulness to the house of Israel,

and all the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.

Shout with joy to the LORD, all you lands;

lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing.

Sing to the LORD with the harp,

with the harp and the voice of song.

With trumpets and the sound of the horn

shout with joy before the King, the LORD.

8 Let the sea make a noise and all that is in it,

the lands and those who dwell therein.

9 Let the rivers clap their hands,

and the hills ring out with joy before the LORD,

when he comes to judge the earth.

10 In righteousness shall he judge the world

and the peoples with equity.

RESPONSE FOR FRIDAY

Psalm 33:1-12 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Rejoice in the LORD, you righteous;

it is good for the just to sing praises.

2 Praise the LORD with the harp;

play to him upon the psaltery and the lyre.

3 Sing for him a new song;

sound a fanfare with all your skill upon the trumpet.

For the word of the LORD is right,

and all his works are sure.

He loves righteousness and justice;

the loving-kindness of the LORD fills the whole earth.

By the word of the LORD were the heavens made,

by the breath of his mouth all the heavenly hosts.

7 He gathers up the waters of the ocean as in a water-skin

and stores up the depths of the sea.

8 Let all the earth fear the LORD;

let all who dwell in the world stand in awe of him.

9 For he spoke, and it came to pass;

he commanded, and it stood fast.

10 The LORD brings the will of the nations to naught;

he thwarts the designs of the peoples.

11 But the LORD’s will stands fast for ever,

and the designs of his heart from age to age.

12 Happy is the nation whose God is the LORD!

happy the people he has chosen to be his own!

RESPONSE FOR SATURDAY

Psalm 8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 O LORD our Governor,

how exalted is your Name in all the world!

2 Out of the mouths of infants and children,

your majesty is praised above the heavens.

You have set up a stronghold against your adversaries,

to quell the enemy and the avenger.

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,

the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,

What is man that you should be mindful of him?

the son of man that you should seek him out?

You have made him but little lower than the angels;

you adorn him with glory and honor;

You give him mastery over the works of your hands;

you put all things under his feet;

All sheep and oxen,

even the wild beasts of the field,

The birds of the air, the fish of the sea,

and whatsoever walks in the paths of the sea.

10 O LORD our Governor,

how exalted is your Name in all the world!

COMPOSITE GOSPEL READING

Luke 11:47-12:12 (Revised English Bible):

[Jesus continued, rejoining one of the lawyers:]

Alas, you build monuments to the prophets whom your fathers murdered, and so testify that you approve of the deeds your fathers did; they committed the murders and you provide the monuments.

This is why the Wisdom of God said, “I will send them prophets and messengers; and some of these they will persecute and kill;’ so that this generation will have to answer for the blood of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world; from the blood of Abel to the the blood of Zechariah who met his death between the altar and the sanctuary.  I tell you, this generation will have to answer for it all.

Alas for you lawyers!  You have taken away the key to knowledge.  You did not go in yourselves, and those who were trying to go in, you prevented.

After he had left the house, the scribes and Pharisees began to assail him fiercely and to ply him with a host of questions, laying snares to catch him with his own words.

Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, packed so close that they were trampling on one another, he [Jesus] began to speak first to his disciples:

Be on your guard against the leaven of the Pharisees–I mean their hypocrisy.  There is nothing covered up that will not be uncovered, nothing hidden that will not be made known.  Therefore everything you have said in the dark will be heard in broad daylight, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be shouted from the housetops.

To you who are my friends I say:  do not fear those who kill the body and after that have nothing more they can do.  I will show you whom to fear:  fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell.  Believe me, he is the one to fear.

Are not five sparrows sold for two-pence?  Yet not one of them is overlooked by God.  More than that, even the hairs of your head have all been counted.  Do not be afraid; you are worth more than any number of sparrows.

I tell you this:  whoever acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will acknowledge before the angels of God; but whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God.

Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but for him who slanders the Holy Spirit there will be no forgiveness.

When you are brought before synagogues and state authorities, do not worry about how you will conduct defence or what you will say.  When that time comes the Holy Spirit will instruct you what to say.

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The Collect:

Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, 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 23:  Thursday, Year 1:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/05/week-of-proper-23-thursday-year-1/

Week of Proper 23:  Friday, Year 1:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/06/week-of-proper-23-friday-year-1/

Week of Proper 23:  Saturday, Year 1:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/07/week-of-proper-23-saturday-year-1/

Links to Baptism and Confirmation Prayers:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/10/31/baptism-and-confirmation/

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Inside my copy of the Revised English Bible, in the Letter to the Ephesians, I have a bookmark from the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta.  The front bears the words,

sealed…marked…forever.

next to an image of a dove.  The back bears the text,

You are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.

These words come from the baptismal liturgy of The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 308, to be precise.  Those who prepared the Prayer Book derived the words from Ephesians 1:13.  As an old joke says, it is amazing how often the Bible quotes the Prayer Book.

The Prayer Book catechism, on page 855 of the Prayer Book, tells us:

The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.

Furthermore, on the same page we read:

The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.

The hope to which God calls us (to borrow language from Ephesians 1) requires something of us.  The grace is free but not cheap, for the price tag was Christ’s blood.  If we avoid martyrdom, we still must give up some things.  If we are to represent Christ and his Church effectively, we must avoid certain pursuits which would bring discredit to both in the minds of some who would associate them with us.  Yet it is also true that the most accurate and laudatory representation will not impress all people.  So may we be accurate so that, when one takes offense, we did not cause it.  Christ does offend many; we cannot change that fact.

So may we live, write, and speak the truth in love, proclaiming–with words when necessary–the redemptive power of God in the crucified and resurrected Jesus of Nazareth.  And may we bring reconciliation, by the power of God, where possible.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2011/11/06/the-ministry-of-lay-persons/

Week of Proper 23: Friday, Year 1   9 comments


Above:  Chipping Sparrow

Image Source = Dr. Thomas G. Barnes, University of Kentucky, 1980s

Trust in God

OCTOBER 18, 2019

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

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Romans 4:1-8 (Revised English Bible):

What, then, are we to say about Abraham, our ancestor by natural descent?  If Abraham was justified by anything he did, then he has grounds for pride.  But not in the eyes of God!  For what does scripture say?

Abraham put his faith in God, and that faith was counted to him as righteousness.

Now if someone does a piece of work, his wages are not “counted” to be a gift; they are paid as his due.  But if someone without any work to his credit simply puts his faith in him who acquits the wrongdoer, then his faith is indeed “counted as righteousness.”  In the same sense David speaks of the happiness of the man whom God “counts” as righteous, apart from any good works:

Happy are they,

he says,

whose lawless deeds are forgiven,

whose sins are blotted out;

happy is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him.

Psalm 32 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven,

whose sin is put away!

Happy are they to whom the LORD imputes no guilt,

and in whose spirit there is no guile!

While I held my tongue, my bones withered away,

because of my groaning all day long.

For your hand was heavy upon me day and night;

my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you,

and did not conceal my guilt.

I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.”

Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.

Therefore all the faithful will make their prayers to you in time of trouble;

when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them.

You are my hiding-place;

you preserve me from trouble;

you surround me with shouts of deliverance.

9  “I will instruct you and teach you in the way that you should go;

I will guide you with my eye.

10  Do not be like horse or mule, which have no understanding;

who must be fitted with bit and bridel,

or else they will not stay near you.”

11  Great are the tribulations of the wicked;

but mercy embraces those who trust in the LORD.

12  Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the LORD;

shout for joy, all who are true of heart.

Luke 12:1-7 (Revised English Bible):

Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, packed so close that they were trampling on one another, he [Jesus] began to speak first to his disciples:

Be on your guard against the leaven of the Pharisees–I mean their hypocrisy.  There is nothing covered up that will not be uncovered, nothing hidden that will not be made known.  Therefore everything you have said in the dark will be heard in broad daylight, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be shouted from the housetops.

To you who are my friends I say:  do not fear those who kill the body and after that have nothing more they can do.  I will show you whom to fear:  fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell.  Believe me, he is the one to fear.

Are not five sparrows sold for two-pence?  Yet not one of them is overlooked by God.  More than that, even the hairs of your head have all been counted.  Do not be afraid; you are worth more than any number of sparrows.

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The Collect:

Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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A brief note is in order first:  This is one of a series of devotions based on nearly continuous readings from Romans and Luke.  I have, especially in Romans, been dealing with some fine distinctions, notably in definitions of faith.  So, rather than repeat here everything I have written in the previous few posts, I encourage the reading of the previous few posts, especially if this is the first time you, O reader, have come across this series.

Now I begin with my discussion of the lessons for this day.

Abraham was the father of the Hebrew people.  So many observant Jews in Jesus’ and Paul’s times spoke of him with great awe and respect.  Consider this text, Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 44:19-21, as the Revised English Bible renders it:

Abraham was the great father of a host of nations;

no one has ever been found to equal him in fame.

He kept the law of the Most High;

he entered into a covenant with him,

setting the mark of it on his body.

When put to the test he proved steadfast.

Therefore the Lord assured him on oath

that through his descendants nations should find blessing,

and that his family should be countless as the dust of the earth

and be exalted as high as the stars;

that their territories should extend from sea to sea,

from the river to the ends of the earth.

Abraham’s works, many rabbis during the time of Jesus and Paul insisted, justified him.  He kept the law even before God gave it to Moses, they said.

Yet Paul reached back to another passage Genesis 15:6, which the Revised English Bible renders:

Abram put his faith in the LORD, who reckoned it to him as righteousness….

Paul, in Romans 3, had written of the sole sufficiency of divine grace and trusting in it without clinging to any illusions that any act one commits justifies one. Keeping minute details of the Law of Moses does not justify one, Paul wrote.  Choosing not to rob a local bank or liquor store does not justify one.  Volunteering at a local soup kitchen or donating much food to a local food pantry does not justify one.  These are laudable, but they do not justify one.

The passage from Genesis is interesting.  English translations render a certain Hebrew word as either “trusted” or “believed.”  I prefer “trusted,” for it is more to the point.  Many people misunderstand the Biblical concept of belief as merely intellectual acceptance.  The true meaning, however, is trust, which leads to actions, for our attitudes lead to deeds, accidents excluded.  Another very good alternative to the “trusted” translation is “beloved.”  This fits the Abraham saga well, for he and God, according to the texts, had many conversations and were usually on friendly terms.

So, Paul wrote, Abraham beloved and trusted God and acted accordingly.  Thus Abraham had faith, which Paul understood as acceptance of one’s complete reliance on divine grace.  Thus, out of faith, which is inherently active, Abraham obeyed God.  This obedience was part and parcel of the man’s faith.  This was the faith which justified him.

This, as we say in my part of the United States, is where the rubber meets the road.  Will we trust?  Will we obey?  This can be very difficult, especially when we look at the world in which we live.  I think about the reference to sparrows in Luke 12, for example.  We humans are far more valuable than they to God, the passage says.  Yet I write just a few minutes’ drive from a tent city of homeless people.  And, elsewhere in the same town, there is a notorious, dangerous, and drugs-and-gang-ridden low-income housing project on the margin of downtown, with “First” churches and local merchants, many of them upscale.  Nevertheless, the fact that reality is what it is does not absolve us of the imperative to act as we can to create a new one.  Societies and communities are what they are because people have made them that way, so we can change them.  And active faith can help us improve them.

After all, faith in the Pauline sense is inherently active.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/trust-in-god/