Archive for the ‘September 28’ Category

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

Age of Innocence

Above:   The Age of Innocence, by Joshua Reynolds

Image in the Public Domain

Humility Before God

SEPTEMBER 27 and 28, 2019


The Collect:

O God, rich in mercy, you look with compassion on this troubled world.

Feed us with your grace, and grant us the treasure that comes only from you,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 49


The Assigned Readings:

Proverbs 28:3-10 (Friday)

Proverbs 28:11-28 (Saturday)

Psalm 146 (Both Days)

Ephesians 2:1-10 (Friday)

Luke 9:43b-48 (Saturday)


The LORD loves the righteous;

the LORD cares for the stranger;

he sustains the orphan and the widow,

but frustrates the way of the wicked.

–Psalm 146:8, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


He who covers up his faults will not succeed;

He who confesses and gives them up will find mercy.

–Proverbs 28:13, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)


Winston Churchill (the British Prime Minister, not the American novelist) was openly critical of his successor and predecessor, Clement Attlee.  Attlee, Churchill said, was a humble man who had many reasons to be humble.

Each of us in the human race has many reasons to be humble.  We cannot save ourselves from our sinfulness (Ephesians 2), and, in the Kingdom of God, a powerless child is the model to emulate (Luke 9).  All of this is consistent with the Law of Moses, in which we mere mortals depend on God for everything and also on the labor of our fellow human beings.  We depend on God directly and indirectly, and rugged individualism has no place in the divine order.  In God’s order there is no room for hubris or the illusion of self-sufficiency.  No, we must come to God as a helpless child and receive each other in the same manner.

That, in my setting, is a counter-cultural message.  It is one with which I have struggled, for culture and society exert powerful influences on one’s opinions.  Nevertheless, I have, thankfully, arrived at the point of embracing the truth of this counter-cultural teaching.









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

Herod Agrippa I

Above:  Herod Agrippa I

Image in the Public Domain

Glorifying God, Not Self

SEPTEMBER 28 and 29, 2018


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


The Assigned Readings:

Deuteronomy 1:1-18 (Friday)

Deuteronomy 27:1-10 (Saturday)

Psalm 19:7-14 (Both Days)

Acts 12:20-25 (Friday)

Matthew 5:13-20 (Saturday)


The law of the LORD is perfect and revives the soul;

the testimony of the LORD is sure and gives wisdom to the innocent.

The statutes of the LORD are just and rejoice the heart;

the commandment of the LORD is clear and gives light to the eyes.

The fear of the LORD is clean and endures for ever;

the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.

More to be desired are they than gold, more than much fine gold,

sweeter far than honey,

than honey in the comb.

By them also is your servant enlightened,

and in keeping them there is great reward.

Who can tell how often he offends?

cleanse me from my secret faults.

Above all, keep me from presumptuous sins;

let them not get dominion over me;

then shall I be whole and sound,

and innocent of a great offense.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight,

O LORD, my strength and my redeemer.

–Psalm 19:7-14, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


Herod Agrippa I (lived 10 B.C.E.-44 C.E.; reigned 37-44 C.E.) was a grandson of the notorious Herod the Great (reigned 37-4 B.C.E.) and a friend of the more notorious Caligula (reigned 37-41 C.E.).  Herod Agrippa I, a king because the Roman Empire declared him so, persecuted nascent Christianity and dissatisfied his Roman masters by allying himself with Near Eastern rulers.  He sought to glorify himself, not God, and succeeded in that goal.  Then he died suddenly.  Agrippa’s Roman masters did not mourn his passing.

The Deuteronomist placed pious words into the mouth of Moses.  The contents of those words–reminders of divine faithfulness and of human responsibility to respond favorably–remain germane.  That ethic, present in Psalm 19, contains a sense of the mystery of God, a mystery we mere mortals will never solve.  President Abraham Lincoln (never baptized, by the way) grasped that mystery well, as evident in his quoting of Psalm 19 (“the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether”) in his Second Inaugural Address (1865), near the end of the Civil War.

Glorifying God–part of the responsibility to respond favorably to God–entails being salt and light in the world.  Laying one’s ego aside and seeking to direct proper attention to God can prove to be difficult for many people, but it is part of what obedience to God requires.

I grew up in a series of United Methodist congregations in southern Georgia, U.S.A.  In those settings I learned many invaluable lessons.  Two of them were:

  1. Be wary of people with inadequate egos, and
  2. Be wary of people with raging egos.

Both types seek to use positions of power and/or authority in church to their advantage and get pastors moved needlessly.  Those with raging egos seek to glorify themselves as a matter of course, and those with weak egos seek to feel better about themselves.

However, a person with a healthy ego can seek to glorify God more comfortably psychologically than one with an unbalanced sense of self-worth.  One’s self-worth comes from bearing the image of God, so one’s sense of self-worth should derive from the same reality.  When that statement summarizes one’s spiritual reality one is on the right path, the road of glorifying God via one’s life.









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

Robinson's Arch

Above:  Robinson’s Arch, Jerusalem, Palestine, Ottoman Empire, Between 1898 and 1914

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-07504

Money, Status, and Ego

SEPTEMBER 28, 29, and 30, 2017


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


The Assigned Readings:

Ezekiel 12:17-28 (Thursday)

Ezekiel 18:5-18 (Friday)

Ezekiel 18:19-24 (Saturday)

Psalm 25:1-9 (All Days)

James 4:11-16 (Thursday)

Acts 13:32-41 (Friday)

Mark 11:27-22 (Saturday)


Gracious and upright is the LORD;

therefore he teaches sinners in his way.

He guides the humble in doing right

and teaches he way to the lowly.

All the paths of the LORD are love and faithfulness

to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.

–Psalm 25:7-9, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


The readings for these days combine to form a tapestry about sin, righteousness, judgment (both human and divine), and forgiveness.  The lessons also overlap like circles in a Venn Diagram.  This richness of content from various sources explains why I have chosen to write from the Complementary Series of the daily lectionary attached to the (mostly Sunday) Revised Common Lectionary.  There is also a continuous reading track, but this one works better for me.

We humans make decisions every day.  As a poster I heard of years ago declares, “YOU CANNOT NOT DECIDE.”  We decide to take one course of action or another one.  Sometimes we decide to do nothing.  Thus, when we sin, we might do so via commission or omission.  There will be consequences of sins and sometimes even for proper deeds; one cannot evade their arrival forever.  No matter how much God approves or disapproves of certain deeds, some human beings will have a different opinion.  Thus divine judgment might seem to arrive late or not at all in some cases and those innocent of a great offense suffer for the sake of righteousness.

Ezekiel 18 makes clear the point that God evaluates us based on what we do and do not do, not on what any ancestor did (or has done) and did not do (or has not done.)  Yes, as I have mentioned in a recent post at this weblog, parts of the Torah either disagree with that point or seem to do so.  Why should the Bible not contradict itself in places, given the lengthy span on its composition?  To expect consistency on every point is to harbor unrealistic expectations.  This why we also need tradition and reason, not just scripture, when arriving at theological decisions.  Anyhow, Ezekiel 18 tells us God does not evaluate us based on what our grandparents did.  This is good news.  What they did might still affect us negatively and/or positively, however.  I can identity such influences reaching back to some of my great-grandparents, in fact.  But I am responsible for my sins, not theirs.  As James 4:17 (The Revised English Bible, 1989) tells us:

What it comes to is that anyone who knows the right thing to do and does not do it a sinner.

Sometimes we know right from wrong and choose the latter because it is easier than the former.  I think that this summary applies to our Lord’s questioners in Mark 11:27-33.  Jesus, already having entered Jerusalem triumphantly while looking like a victorious king en route to the peace negotiations after battle, had also scared the living daylights out of money changers exploiting the pious poor at the Temple.  Our Lord and Savior was challenging a religious system in league with the Roman Empire.  And he was doing so during the days leading up to the annual celebration of Passover, which was about God’s act of liberating the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt.  The man was not keeping a low profile.  He was doing the right things and his questioners were attempting to entrap him verbally.  I suspect that they knew that he was the genuine article and that they preferred to lie to themselves and to oppose him rather than to follow him.  They had matters of money, status, and ego to consider, after all.

Are they really quite different from many of us?







Devotion for September 28 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   3 comments


Above:  Men Working in a Salt Mine, Circa 1893

A Photograph by Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952)

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USZC4-5217

Deuteronomy and Matthew, Part I:  Salt and Light



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:

Deuteronomy 1:1-18

Psalm 122 (Morning)

Psalms 141 and 90 (Evening)

Matthew 5:1-20


With this post I begin a series of reflections based on the juxtaposition of Deuteronomy and the Gospel of Matthew–thirty-five days–through November 1.  This seems to be an appropriate pairing, for the Gospel of Matthew is quite Jewish in character.  I wonder what insights will flow from the Deuteronomy-Matthew juxtaposition.

Today little happens in the assigned portion of Deuteronomy.  Moses sets the stage in his address, speaking of sharing authority so that the burden of leadership will be bearable.

The link between that lection and the one from the New Testament becomes clear from a close reading of Matthew 5:1-20.  There we find the Beatitudes and a teaching about being salt and light in the world.  Indeed, those who live the Beatitudes are salt and light in the world.  And the Hebrews from the time of Moses were supposed to be that also.  Yet, too often, many of them were the opposite.  The Law of Moses was a culturally specific set of guidelines of how to be salt and light.  It was an imperfect set of guidelines, for it was sexist and condoned slavery, but it was a beginning.  And it was the law code which Jesus came to fulfill (in general principles) and to affirm, not to destroy.

My cultural context differs greatly from that of both Jesus and the Law of Moses, but timeless principles continue to apply in a variety of settings.  The most basic such principle is that all of us belong to God, so we ought to think of and behave toward each other with empathy.  Yes, the Law of Moses acknowledged the existence of slavery, but it did place restrictions on that practice.  That was at least a beginning.  And I propose that a combination of scarce resources for the community and a heightened (relative to that in the United States of America in 2013) sense of what constituted grave offenses (in the light of belonging to God) accounted for so many capital crimes.  But the Law of Moses also required many humane measures to aid the poor and prevent others from falling into poverty.  The Law of Moses remains relevant (in a way), even though Christ has fulfilled it.  This explains why I ponder its principles while wearing a polyester shirt and eating a pork chop yet not experiencing cognitive dissonance.

The proposition that we belong to God,  not to ourselves, remains true.  So a person who annoys me greatly also belongs to God.  My worst enemy also belongs to God.  My best friend also belongs to God.  And I have the same obligation toward them that they have toward me:  to love them actively as bearers of the image of God.  That proves difficult much of the time, but such a reality does not constitute an excuse for me not to try.









Week of Proper 20: Friday, Year 2   3 comments

Above:  Christ and Pilate, by Nikolai Ge

Sovereignty of God

SEPTEMBER 28, 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.


Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

A season is set for everything, a time for every experience under heaven:

A time for being born and a time for dying,

A time for planting and a time for uprooting the planted;

A time for slaying and a time for a time for healing,

A time for tearing down and a time for building up;

A time for weeping and a time for laughing,

A time for wailing and a time for dancing;

A time for throwing stones and a time for gathering stones,

A time for embracing and a time for shunning embraces;

A time for seeking and a time for losing,

A time for keeping and a time for discarding;

A time for ripping and a time for sewing,

A time for silence and a time for speaking;

A time for loving and a time for hating;

A time for war and a time for peace.

What value, then, can the man of affairs get from what he earns?  I have observed the business that God gave man to be concerned with:  He brings everything to pass precisely at its time; He also puts eternity in their mind, but without man ever guessing, from first to last, all the things that God brings to pass.  Thus I realized that the only worthwhile thing there is for them is to enjoy themselves and do what is good in their lifetime; also, that whenever a man does eat and drink and get enjoyment out of all his wealth, it is a gift of God.

Psalm 144:1-4 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  Blessed be the LORD my rock!

who trains my hands to fight and my fingers to battle;

2  My help and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer,

my shield in whom I trust,

who subdues the peoples under me.

3  O LORD, what are we that you should care for us?

mere mortals that you should think of us?

4  We are like a puff of wind;

our days like a passing shadow.

Luke 9:18-22 (The Jerusalem Bible):

Now one day when he [Jesus] was praying alone in presence of his disciples he put this question to them,

Who do the crowds say I am?

And they answered,

John the Baptist; others Elijah; and others say one of the ancient prophets come back to life.

He said,

But you, who do you say I am?

It was Peter who spoke up.

The Christ of God,

he said.  But he [Jesus] gave them strict orders not to tell anyone anything about this.

The Son of Man

he said

is destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and scribes and to be put to death, and to be raised up on the third day.


The Collect:

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


I feel confident in writing that Ecclesiastes is far from the most optimistic book in the Bible.  This fact does not negate the text, which contains profound truths.  Among those truths is this one:  God is in control.  Koheleth tells me that human actions cancel each other out, so we cannot reap real advantage from our deeds.  Yet we can, by grace, at least enjoy our actions.

The other reading in this day’s lectionary assignment is part of one of the Synoptic account of St. Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah.  In it our Lord predicts his fate.  If we read Luke 9:18-22 with the main idea of Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 in mind, we discover congruency.  God is in charge.  The authorities will do their worst (Let us never minimize the severity of it.), but God will reverse the execution.  Those who plotted the judicial murder of Jesus will not have long to think that they have succeeded.

Neither lection is especially cheerful, but at least the underlying sovereignty of God ought to comfort us.  It will not do so if we are control freaks, but control is more illusion than not.  It is better to live in a state of liberation from illusions, so that we will embrace reality instead.  If we accept that God is sovereign, we will not burden ourselves needlessly with vain and futile pursuits of control.  And what further joys might we discover then?


Week of Proper 20: Saturday, Year 1   12 comments

Above:  Zechariah from the Sistine Chapel, by Michelangelo Buonarroti

Image in the Public Domain

In Days to Come, Sooner or Later…

SEPTEMBER 28, 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.


Zechariah 2:1-13 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

I looked up, and I saw four horns.  I asked the angel who talked with me,

What are those?

He replied,

Those are the horns that tossed Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.

Then the LORD showed me four smiths.

What are they coming to do?

I asked.  He replied:

Those are the horns that tossed Judah, so that no man could raise his head; and these men have come to throw them into a panic, to hew down the horns of the nations that raise a horn against the land of Judah, to toss it.

I looked up, and I saw a man holding a measuring line.

Where are you going?

I asked.

To measure Jerusalem,

he replied,

to see how long and wide it used to be.

But the angel who talked with me came forward, and another angel came forward to meet him.  The former said to him,

Run to that young man and tell him:

‘Jerusalem shall be prepared as a city without walls, so that many shall be the men and cattle it contains.  And I Myself–declares the LORD–though I swept you [there] like the four winds of heaven–declares the LORD.’

Away, escape, O Zion, you who dwell in Fair Babylon!  For thus said the LORD of Hosts–He who sent me after glory–concerning the nations that have taken you as spoil:

Whoever touches you touches the pupil of his own eye.  For I will lift My hand against them, and they shall be the spoil for those they enslaved.

–Then you shall know that I was sent by the LORD of Hosts.

Psalm 121 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  I lift up my eyes to the hills;

from where is my help to come?

2  My help comes from the LORD,

the maker of heaven and earth.

3  He will not let your foot be moved

and he who watches over you will not fall asleep.

4  Behold, he who keeps watch over Israel

shall neither slumber nor sleep;

5  The LORD himself watches over you;

the LORD is your shade at your right hand,

6  So that the sun shall not strike you by day,

nor the moon by night.

7  The LORD shall preserve you from all evil;

it is he who shall keep you safe.

8  The LORD shall watch over your going out and your coming in,

from this time forth for evermore.

Luke 9:43b-45 (The Jerusalem Bible):

At a time when everyone was full of admiration for all he [Jesus] did, he said to his disciples,

For your part, you must have these words constantly in your mind:  The Son of Man is going to be handed over into the power of men.

But they did not understand him when he said this; it was hidden from them so that they should not see the meaning of it, and they were afraid to ask him about what he had just said.


The Collect:

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


The Book of Zechariah exists in two sections written by different people at separate times.  This book bears the marks of apocalyptic literature.  These include visions, symbols, and numerology.  In order to make sense of this day’s reading from Zechariah, then, one needs to understand its historical context first.

Zechariah 2 is contemporary to the Book of Haggai, being set only two months later.  The returned Jewish exiles live in their homeland, yet within a foreign empire.  They live among ruins and poverty, yet know of the glorious past of their nation.  And they long for national restoration.

A horn symbolized power, and the number four indicated totality and the points of the compass.  Powerful nations of the earth have tossed Judah to and fro, but God will toss those nations to and fro, Zechariah says.  Furthermore, Jerusalem will not have defensive walls as people think of them; God will be the walls of the greatly-expanded city.  The prophet sets all this in the future.  In the meantime, reality remains unchanged.

(Aside:  One ought not to misconstrue this reading as a Zionist text that excuses any human rights violation by the government of the State of Israel or exempts it from criticism.  Biblical commands to love one’s neighbor as oneself apply to all people at all times and all places, regardless of what one thinks about a particular nation-state or its government.)

Back to our main idea…

Jesus, in Luke 9:51, “set his face toward Jerusalem,” and therefore his arrest, torture, execution, and resurrection.  Difficult times were in his short-term future, but there was only so much that human authorities could do to him.  Yes, torturing and executing a man slowly are terrible, but once he has died and risen again, that man exists beyond their reach.  Our Lord’s deliverance from the reach of his adversaries came only after a series of ordeals.  Likewise, many Christian martyrs have suffered much.  But, after their enemies have killed them, the faith has lived on. They have killed people, not a religion.  They have failed, and all they have to show for their efforts is a collection of corpses.  Meanwhile, the martyrs have gone to Heaven.

Jesus died of violence in the name of God and an empire.  Yet God is love, so there is no such thing as sacred violence or holy war.  This might be difficult to understand when one is the aggrieved party seeking divine retribution upon those who have committed violence.  The author of Zechariah 2 did not understand this.  At times I have not grasped this either.  The desire for revenge is natural yet destructive, and we ought not to feed it.

Rather, we should do the more difficult thing and pursue the constructive path:  love and forgiveness.  This is consistent with the Golden Rule, the greatest moral commandment.  Then we will liberate ourselves from the power of our oppressors.  True, they might be able to kill us, but then all they will have to show for their efforts is a corpse.  But they have no power to destroy one’s soul.

In days to come, Zechariah wrote, God will restore the Jewish people to glory, and this glory will surpass that which preceded it.  God himself will be that glory.  Until then, however, the people must put up with indignities.

In days to come, Jesus knew, he would be triumph over his foes, who were plotting to entrap and kill him.  First, however, they would seem to win.  And he would suffer terribly.  But he would triumph.

But what are we to do in the present and the future, until those days come?  We are called to trust in God and act accordingly.  This is the God who, as Psalm 121 says, “keeps watch over Israel” and “shall neither slumber nor sleep.”  Sometimes God, whom the psalm also says “shall keep you safe,” seems to be napping or at least turning a blind eye, but let us not be unduly critical.  The consequences of our actions still play out and backfire on us.  The rain falls on the just as well as on the unjust.  Life is not fair, and the existence of the caring deity does not preclude suffering.  But we are not alone, and God, balancing judgment and mercy, is never far away.

We do not need to defend God.  Besides, any deity who requires a human defense is pitiful and weak.  Yet we do need to witness to God with our lives–as well as our words, when those are appropriate.  More important, though, is the witness via one’s life, for words without the corresponding life ring hollow.  And we need to remember that God’s time moves at a different pace than ours, so patience is par for the course.  This can be very difficult, but it is essential.  We need to trust in God, not get in the way while trying to help.

In the days to come, sooner or later, the victory of God will be more complete.  Until then, we must deal with daily life, no matter how much we dislike this fact.  But we have a calling to live faithfully, in trust.  God grants us the grace to do this, so we need not fret about doing this on our own power (which is inadequate anyway).  In the meantime, may we not nurture frustration, hatred, bigotry, and violence.  Rather, may we seek to love and support each other; it is what Jesus would do.