Archive for the ‘October 3’ Category

Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before Proper 21, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Golden Rule

Above:   The Golden Rule, by Norman Rockwell

Image in the Public Domain

The Golden Rule

OCTOBER 3, 2019

OCTOBER 4, 2019

OCTOBER 5, 2019

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The Collect:

Benevolent, merciful God:

When we are empty, fill us.

When we are weak in faith, strengthen us.

When we are cold in love, warm us,

that we may love our neighbors and

serve them for the sake of your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 49

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The Assigned Readings:

2 Kings 18:1-8, 28-36 (Thursday)

2 Kings 19:8-20, 35-37 (Friday)

Isaiah 7:1-9 (Saturday)

Psalm 37:1-9 (All Days)

Revelation 2:8-11 (Thursday)

Revelation 2:12-29 (Friday)

Matthew 20:29-34 (Saturday)

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Put your trust in the LORD and do good;

dwell in the land and feed on its riches.

–Psalm 37:3, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The readings for these three days tell of the mercy–pity, even–of God.  In 2 Kings and Isaiah God delivers the Kingdom of Judah from threats.  The core message of Revelation is to remain faithful during persecution, for God will win in the end.  Finally, Jesus takes pity on two blind men and heals them in Matthew 20.

On the other side of mercy one finds judgment.  The Kingdom of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians in 2 Kings 17 and 2 Chronicles 32.  The Kingdom of Judah went on to fall to the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire in 2 Kings 25 and 2 Chronicles 36.  The fall of Babylon (the Roman Empire) in Revelation was bad news for those who had profited from cooperation with the violent and economically exploitative institutions thereof (read Chapter 18).

In an ideal world all would be peace and love.  We do not live in an ideal world, obviously.  Certain oppressors will insist on oppressing.  Some of them will even invoke God (as they understand God) to justify their own excuse.  Good news for the oppressed, then, will necessarily entail bad news for the oppressors.  The irony of the situation is that oppressors.  The irony of the situation is that oppressors hurt themselves also, for whatever they do to others, they do to themselves.  That is a cosmic law which more than one religion recognizes.  Only victims are present, then, and some victims are also victimizers.

Loving our neighbors is much better, is it not?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 20, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALCUIN OF YORK, ABBOT OF TOURS

THE FEAST OF JOHN JAMES MOMENT, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF LUCY ELIZABETH GEORGINA WHITMORE, BRITISH HYMN WRITER

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/05/20/the-golden-rule-2/

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Devotion for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday After Proper 21, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Zechariah

Above:  The Prophet Zechariah, from the Sistine Chapel

Image in the Public Domain

Fear Versus Loving Our Neighbors

OCTOBER 1, 2, and 3, 2018

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The Collect:

Generous God, your Son gave his life

that we might come to peace with you.

Give us a share of your Spirit,

and in all we do empower us to bear the name of

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 48

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The Assigned Readings:

Zechariah 6:9-15 (Monday)

Zechariah 8:18-23 (Tuesday)

Zechariah 10:1-12 (Wednesday)

Psalm 5 (All Days)

1 Peter 1:3-9 (Monday)

1 John 2:18-25 (Tuesday)

Matthew 18:6-9 (Wednesday)

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Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness,

because of those who lie in wait for me;

make your way straight before me.

–Psalm 5:8, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The pericopes for these three days indicate perilous uncertain circumstances.  Either the Persian Empire, the Seleucid Empire, or the Roman Empire is in charge.  The most optimistic hopes for the time after the Babylonian Exile have not come to fruition.  Nevertheless, calls for hope in God and faithfulness to God resound.

The historical record indicates that the Kingdom of God has yet to arrive in its fullness, and that Jesus did not return in the first century C.E.  Yet calls for hope in God and faithfulness to God remain valid, necessary, and proper.  Dashed expectations of the creation of paradise on Earth should lead one to question certain human predictions, not the fidelity of God to divine promises.  God and religion are different from each other, so disappointment with the latter ought not to lead to disillusionment with and/or rejection of the former.

As for human fidelity to God, the hyperbolic language of Matthew 18:6-9 agrees with the social ethics of Zechariah 8:18-23.  Just as Matthew 18:6-9 is not an order to maim and mutilate oneself, Zechariah’s message to have no fear (8:15) and to treat each other properly is timeless.

Have no fear!  These are the things you are to do:  Speak the truth to one another, render true and perfect justice in your gates.  And do not contrive evil against one another, and do not love perjury, because all those are things that I hate–declares the LORD….you must love honesty and integrity.

–Zechariah 8:15b-17, 19b, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Often we human beings abuse, oppress, and/or exploit some among us out of fear.  Perhaps we fear that there will be too little of some commodity to provide for all sufficiently, so some of us protect the interests of “me and mine” at the expense of others.  Or maybe we fear for our safety and that of those dear to us, so we deprive strangers of security or approve of policies to do so.  Perhaps we merely fail to understand the “others,” so we fear those we do not comprehend.  Fear requires little effort to transform into hatred, and hatred expresses itself actively and passively.

Some fear is healthy.  I fear touching a hot oven, for example.  Fear of consequences of actions has prevented me from committing many sins when moral courage has failed.  I affirm well-placed fear which leads to good decision-making while rejecting fear which leads to actions harmful to innocent parties.

May love of our neighbors guide our decisions and actions relative to others.  May we act for their benefit, not their detriment, for that which we do to others, we do to ourselves.  May the joys of others cause us to rejoice and the sorrows of others prompt us to mourn.  May we remember that, in God’s economy, there is no scarcity, artificial or otherwise.  The mercantilist assumption that wealth is a zero-sum game does not apply to blessings, which God bestows generously.  May we–especially we who claim to follow God, or at least to attempt to do so–never assume that blessings are part of a zero-sum game.  May we therefore be generous of spirit when dealing with our fellow human beings.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 1, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PAULI MURRAY, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY AND EPISCOPAL PRIEST

THE FEAST OF CATHERINE WINKWORTH, TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF HARRIET BEECHER STOWE, ABOLITIONIST

THE FEAST OF JOHN CHANDLER, ANGLICAN PRIEST, SCHOLAR, AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/07/01/fear-versus-loving-our-neighbors/

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Devotion for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday After Proper 21, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Paul Writing His Epistles

Above:  Paul Writing His Epistles, by Valentin de Boulogne

Image in the Public Domain

Propagating the Gospel

OCTOBER 2, 3, and 4, 2017

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The Collect:

God of love, giver of life, you know our frailties and failings.

Give us your grace to overcome them,

keep us from those things that harm us,

and guide us in the way of salvation,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 48

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The Assigned Readings:

Judges 14:1-20 (Monday)

Judges 16:1-22 (Tuesday)

Judges 16:23-31 (Wednesday)

Psalm 28 (All Days)

Philippians 1:3-14 (Monday)

Philippians 1:15-21 (Tuesday)

Mathew 9:2-8 (Wednesday)

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A thoroughly unoriginal statement tells us that great responsibility accompanies great blessings.  Grace, although free, is not cheap.  It cost Jesus his life.  It led to multiple imprisonments of St. Paul the Apostle and finally his execution by beheading.  Jesus healed people, proclaimed the good news, and aroused much opposition.  Paul preached Christ crucified and got into much trouble also.  Through them and many others the Gospel has prospered, however.

The story of Samson is a cautionary tale.  He was intellectually dense and prone to revenge.  Samson also had poor judgment, especially regarding women.  His actions and bad judgment created needless and difficult circumstances, such as the one in which he died.  And his last act, not quite triumphant, was one of revenge.  Samson ruined his life.

How one spends life matters.  May we spend it creating a legacy of love, kindness, and reconciliation.  (This is possible only via grace, of course.)  May we succeed in that which is eternal–of God (per John 17:2)–and help the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  May we abet this propagation of the Gospel as a matter of goal and consequence, not, as many have, in spite of themselves, while attempting to suppress it.  The fact that those who oppose the Gospel wind up becoming vehicles of its spread comforts me, but is not seeking to propagate it then succeeding better?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 21, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF GEORGIA HARKNESS, UNITED METHODIST THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT KENNETH OF WALES, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/08/21/propagating-the-gospel/

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Devotion for October 2 and 3 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   7 comments

moses-views-the-promised-land

Above:  Moses Views the Holy Land, by Frederic Leighton

Image in the Public Domain

Deuteronomy and Matthew, Part V:  Hearing and Doing, Judgment and Mercy

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 2, 2019, and THURSDAY, OCTOBER 3, 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 3:1-29 (October 2)

Deuteronomy 4:1-20 (October 3)

Psalm 96 (Morning–October 2)

Psalm 116 (Morning–October 3)

Psalms 132 and 134 (Evening–October 2)

Psalms 26 and 130 (Evening–October 3)

Matthew 7:1-12 (October 2)

Matthew 7:13-29 (October 3)

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If you, Lord, were to mark what is done amiss,

O Lord, who could stand?

But there is forgiveness with you,

so that you shall be feared.

–Psalm 130:2-3 (The Book of Common Prayer, 2004)

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If you should keep account of what is done amiss:

who then, O Lord, could stand?

But there is forgiveness with you:

therefore you shall be revered.

–Psalm 130:3-4 (A New Zealand Prayer Book, 1989)

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But the LORD was wrathful with me on your account and would not listen to me.  The LORD said to me, “Enough!  Never speak to Me of this matter again!….

–Deuteronomy 3:26 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures)

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Deuteronomy 3-4 functions well as one unit, as does Matthew 7.  Lectonaries are wonderful, helpful guides to reading the Bible intelligently, but sometimes they become too choppy.  They work well because one of the best ways to read one part of the Bible is in the context of other portions thereof, thereby reducing the risk of prooftexting.

There is much to cover, so let us begin.

I start with the violence–er, genocide–in Deuteronomy 3.  I notice the Golden Rule in Matthew 7:12 also.  Genocide is, of course, inconsistent with doing to others that which one wants done to one’s self.  So I side with the Golden Rule over genocide.

The main idea which unites Deuteronomy 3-4 with Matthew 7 is the balance between divine judgment and divine mercy.  In simple terms, there is much mercy with God, but justice requires a judgment sometimes.  Mercy exists in Matthew 7:7-11 yet judgment takes central stage in 7:24-27.  And divine judgment is prominent in Deuteronomy 3:23-28 and chapter 4, mixed in with mercy.

One tradition within the Torah is that the sin which kept Moses out of the Promised Land was a lack of trust in God, for the leader had struck a rock twice–not once–to make water flow from it.  He had drawn attention and glory away from God in the process back in Numbers 20:6-12.  A faithless and quarrelsome generation had died in the wilderness.  Yet their children inherited the Promised Land.  Judgment and mercy coexisted.

Richard Elliott Friedman’s Commentary on the Torah informs me of textual parallels and puns.  For example, Moses imploring God for mercy is like Joseph’s brothers imploring the Vizier of Egypt for the same in Genesis 42.  And the Hebrew root for “Joseph” is also the root for the divine instruction to stop speaking to God about entering the Promised Land.  God is cross at Moses for asking to cross the River Jordan–the only time that a certain Hebrew word for anger occurs in the Torah.  That word becomes evident in Friedman’s translation of Deuteronomy 3:25-26 and 27b:

“Let me cross and see the good land that’s across the Jordan, this good hill country and the Lebanon.”  But YHWH was cross at me for your sakes and He would not listen to me.  “Don’t go on speaking to me anymore of this thing…..you won’t cross this Jordan.”

The TANAKH rendering is more stately, but Friedman’s translation does bring out the double entendres nicely.

I do not even pretend to understand how divine judgment and mercy work.  Both, I think, are part of divine justice.  I, as a matter of daily practice, try not to pronounce divine judgment o  others, for that is God’s task.  So I try to extend the assumption of mercy toward them with regard to this life and the next one, so as to avoid the sin of hypocrisy mentioned in Matthew 7:1-5 and to work toward living according t the Golden Rule more often.  For, as I think so I do.  As William Barclay wrote in his analysis of Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus demands hearing and doing (The Gospel of Matthew, Revised Edition, Volume 1, Westminster Press, 1975, pages 291-292).  That is the same requirement of the children of Israel in Deuteronomy 4.

Hearing and doing the commandments of God is difficult.  May we succeed by a combination of divine grace and human free will.  And, when we err, may we do so on the side of kindness, not cruelty, anger, and resentment.  May we leave the judgment to God.  I would rather err in forgiving the unforgivable than in being improperly wrathful.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 1, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS PHILIP AND JAMES, APOSTLES AND MARTYRS

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/05/28/deuteronomy-and-matthew-part-v-hearing-and-doing-judgment-and-mercy/

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Week of Proper 21: Wednesday, Year 2   3 comments

Above:  A Maine Coon Cat Kitten

Alleged Friends and Real Friends

OCTOBER 3, 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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Job 9:1-16 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

Job said in reply:

Indeed I know that it is so:

Man cannot win a suit against God.

If he insisted on a trail with Him,

He would not answer one charge in a thousand.

Wise of heart and mighty in power–

Who ever challenged Him and came out whole?–

Him who moves mountains without their knowing it,

Who overturns them in His anger;

Who shakes the earth from its place,

Till its pillars quake;

Who commands the sun not to shine;

Who seals up the stars;

Who by Himself spread out the heavens,

And trod on the back of the sea;

Who made the Bear and Orion,

Pleiades, and the chambers of the south wind;

Who performs great deeds which cannot be fathomed,

And wondrous things without number.

He passes me by–I do not see Him;

He goes by me, but I do not perceive Him.

He snatches away–who can stop Him?

Who can say to Him, “What are You doing?”

God does not restrain His anger;

Under Him Rahab’s helpers sink down.

How then can I answer Him,

Or choose my arguments against Him?

Though I were in the right, I could not speak out,

But I would plead for mercy with my judge.

If I summoned Him and He responded,

I do not believe He would lend me His ear.

Psalm 88:10-15 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

10  My sight has failed me because of trouble;

LORD, I have called upon you daily;

I have stretched out my hands to you.

11  Do you work wonders for the dead?

will those who have died stand up and give you thanks?

12  Will your loving-kindness be declared in the grave?

your faithfulness in the land of destruction?

13  Will your wonders be known in the dark?

or your righteousness in the country where all is forgotten?

14  But as for me, O LORD, I cry to you for help;

in the morning my prayer comes before you.

15  LORD, why have you rejected me?

why have you hidden your face from me?

Luke 9:57-62 (The Jerusalem Bible):

As they traveled along they met a man who said to him,

I will follow you wherever you go.

Jesus answered,

Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.

Another to whom he said,

Follow me,

replied,

Let me go and bury my father first.

But he answered,

Leave the dead to bury their dead; your duty is to go and spread the news of kingdom of God.

Another said,

I will follow you, sir, but first let me go and say good-bye to my people at home.

Jesus said to him,

Once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.

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The Collect:

O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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The Canadian Anglican lectionary I am following jumps around Job, so I begin by summarizing what we have skipped over since the previous post.  Eliphaz the Temanite, in Chapters 4 and 5, is convinced that God is punishing Job for something and argues that God rewards the righteous and punishes the unrighteous.  Eliphaz utters many pious-sounding statements, such as:

See how happy is the man whom God reproves;

Do not reject the discipline of the Almighty.

He injures, but He binds up;

He wounds, but His hands heal.

–Job 5:17-18, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

Job, in Chapter 6, complains about unhelpful alleged friends.  As he says in verse 15,

My comrades are fickle…. (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures)

Then, in Chapter 7, Job addresses God and admits less than complete innocence:

Why do You not pardon my transgression

And forgive my iniquity?

For soon, I shall lie down in the dust;

When You seek me, I shall be gone.

–Job 7:21, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

Bildad the Shuhite replies to Job in Chapter 8 and insists that Job is wrong to deny that his suffering results from sin.  A just God, Bildad insists, does not punish the innocent.  Then, in Chapter 9, as we read, Job states that he cannot win an argument with God.

Now for the rest of the post…

Each of us walks around with certain assumptions.  The most basic ones are those we do not recognize as being assumptions.  Those of us who are both religious and monotheistic conceive of God in certain ways.  We have learned theology from sources such as books, families, and faith communities.  Sometimes what we have learned proves to be both inaccurate and inadequate.  Life includes circumstances which contradict our assumptions.  What are we to do then?

That is the quandary facing our characters in the Book of Job.  Is God just?  If so, must Job’s suffering constitute divine discipline?  Yet the beginning of the book tells us that Job’s suffering does not flow from his sins, so his suffering cannot constitute divine discipline.  So, is God just?

All of this is part of a story, of course.  We are reading poetry with prose interjections, not history.  The book does contain much truth, however.  The most basic truth it teaches might be that God defies our comfortable theologies; God will not fit inside our metaphorical boxes.

Here is another great lesson from the Book of Job:  Be a real friend, not a pain.  If someone is suffering, offer comfort and help, not condemnation.  This might entail tough love, but so be it if that is so.  Job’s alleged friends did not help; they uttered pious-sounding defenses of their God concepts while making Job more miserable.  There is a good reason that many people like having fur-bearing animals as companions; the creatures are present and do not condemn or offer meaningless words of comfort, such as,

I know how you feel.

Now I offer a preview of a coming attraction:  God in 38:2, addresses Job and accuses him of having darkened counsel and spoken without knowledge.  That same critique could apply to anyone else who speaks in the Book of Job.  Maybe the error is in one’s concept of how God acts and works, or perhaps it pertains to how one things God ought to act and work.  Look for that dynamic in this great text from the Hebrew Scriptures.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2011/10/27/alleged-friends-and-real-friends/

Week of Proper 21: Thursday, Year 1   13 comments

Above:  Ezra

The Joy of Forgiveness

OCTOBER 3, 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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Nehemiah 8:1-12 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

When the seventh month arrived–the Israelites being [settled] in their towns–the entire people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate, and they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the scroll of the Teaching of Moses with which the LORD had charged Israel.  On the first day of the seventh month, Ezra the high priest brought the Teaching before the congregation, men and women and all who could listen with understanding.  He read from it, facing the square before the Water Gate, from the first light until midday, to the men and the women and those who could understand; the ears of all the people were given to the scroll of the Teaching.

Ezra the scribe stood upon a wooden tower made for the purpose, and beside hm stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah at his right, and at his left Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, Meshullam.  Ezra opened the scroll in the sight of all the people; the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people; as he opened it, all the people stood up.  Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” with hands upraised.  Then they bowed their hands and prostrated themselves before the LORD with their faces to the ground.  Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites explained the Teaching to the people, while the people stood in their places.  They read from the scroll of the Teaching of God, translating it and giving the sense; so they understood the reading.

Nehemiah the Tirshatha, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites, who were explaining to the people said to all the people,

This day is holy to the LORD your God:  you must not mourn or weep,

for all the people were weeping as they listened to the words of the Teaching.  He further said to them,

Go, eat choice foods and drink sweet drinks and send portions to whoever has nothing prepared, for the day is holy to our Lord.  Do not be sad, for your rejoicing in the LORD is the source of your strength.

The Levites were quieting the people, saying,

Hush, for the day is holy; do not be sad.

Then all the people went to eat and drink and send portions and make great merriment, for they understood the things they were told.

Psalm 119:1-8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  Happy are they whose way is blameless,

who walk in the law of the LORD!

2  Happy are they who observe his decrees

and seek him with all their hearts!

3  Who never do any wrong,

but always walk in his ways.

4  You laid down your commandments,

that we should fully keep them.

5  Oh, that my ways were made so direct

that I might keep your statutes!

6  Then I should not be put to shame,

when I regard all your commandments.

7  I will thank you with an unfeigned heart,

when I have learned your righteous judgments.

8  I will keep your statutes;

do not utterly forsake me.

Luke 10:1-12 (The Jerusalem Bible):

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them out ahead of him, in pairs, to all the towns and places he himself wast to visit.  He said to them,

The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest.  Start off now, but remember, I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.  Carry no purse, no haversack, no sandals.  Salute no one on the road.  Whatever you house go into, let your first words be, “Peace be to this house!”  And if a man of peace lives there, your peace will go and rest on him; if not, it will come back to you.  Stay in the same house, taking what food and drink they have to offer, for the labourer deserves his wages; do not move from house to house.  Whenever you go into a town when they make you welcome, eat what is set before you.  Cure those in it who are sick, and say, “The kingdom of God is very near you.”  But whenever you enter a town and they do not make you welcome, go out into its streets and say, “We wipe off the very dust of your town that clings to our feet, and leave it with you.  Yet be sure of this:  the kingdom of God is very near.”  I tell you, on that day it will not go as hard with Sodom as with that town.

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The Collect:

O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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The reading from Nehemiah is, at least in The Episcopal Church, one of those readings one might dread when it appears in the lectionary.  Why did so many Biblical parents insist on such difficult-to-pronounce names?  Why did they not name a son Bob or Harry?  For liturgical reading, at least, there is an easy fix, which is slight rewording of the text to avoid having to read all those name.  For example:  “Ezra the scribe stood upon a wooden tower made for the purpose, and he stood in the middle of a group of men.”  Now the lector can move along to the main point of the passage without tripping his or her tongue on polysyllabic names.

The main point is this:  The Jews in Jerusalem had sinned out of ignorance.  But, when they learned of their sins, they repented.  Ezra told them to focus on the future and to live faithfully from now on, not to berate themselves for prior errors.  How were they to know how to live unless someone had told them?  But, now that they knew, they were responsible.  They ought to live faithfully and joyfully in God, who had provided this law for them and forgiven them.

The fact remains that many people do not know of the God of the Bible because of time, geography, and the fact that nobody has informed them yet.  What about them?  I propose that the best answer to this question comes from Paragraph 1281 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition (1997):

Those who die for the faith, those who are catechumens, and all those who, without knowing of the Church but acting under the inspiration of grace, seek God sincerely and strive to fulfill his will, can be saved even if they have not been baptized.

Grace goes where it will, regardless of what we humans think about that.

As much as there is forgiveness, there is also judgment.  Often they coexist within the same passage of scripture.  Consider the lesson from Luke.  The Synoptic Gospels tell virtually identical stories of Jesus sending the Twelve Apostles out on a preaching mission.  Here in Luke, however, Jesus also sends out the newly-minted seventy-two disciples for a similar purpose.  They will face rejection, Jesus knows.  He tells them to leave places where this happens and to leave the rest to God.

God, of course, judges, but also forgives us and continues to seek us.  So only God and a person really know what goes on between God and him or her.  The rest of us ought not to judge, not that this stops us sometimes.

I write these words on Good Friday 2011, so I give special attention to our Lord and Savior’s prayer for those who executed him and who looked on.  “Forgive them,” he said, ” for they do not know what they are doing.”  What we do to each other in ignorance can be devastating, but it lies within the range of forgiveness.

Perhaps the best way to close this devotion is to quote a prayer from a Rosh Hashanah service, courtesy of Gates of Repentance:  The New Union Prayerbook for the Days of Awe (New York, NY:  Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1978), page 371.  This seems appropriate because The Jewish Study Bible informs me that the gathering in Nehemiah 8 occurred on a date known later as Rosh Hashanah.

Lord, we are not so arrogant as to pretend

that the trial of our lives

does not reveal our flaws.

We know ourselves,

in this moment of prayer,

to have failed

the ones we love and the stranger,

again and again.

We know how often

we did not bring to the surface of our lives

the hidden goodness within.

Where we have achieved, O Lord,

we are grateful;

where we have failed,

we ask forgiveness.

Remember how exposed we are

to the chances and terrors of life.

We were afraid.

We sometimes chose to fail.

And we ask:

Turn our thoughts from the hurt to its remedy.

Free us from the torments of guilt.

Forgiven, O Lord, we shall then forgive others;

failing, we shall learn to understand failure;

renewed and encouraged, we shall strive to be like

those who came before us:  human.

Sinners sometimes, yet a blessing.

Amen.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2011/10/26/the-joy-of-forgiveness/