Devotion for Proper 25, Year B (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Christ and the Rich Young Ruler, by Heinrich Hofmann

Image in the Public Domain

Grace

OCTOBER 25, 2020

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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 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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Numbers 11:4-29 or 2 Kings 4:8-37

Psalm 70

Hebrews 10:16-25

Mark 10:17-31

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Grace, who is good, works in a variety of ways to meet human needs, tangible and intangible.  Gratitude is always an appropriate response.  Gratitude assumes a range of expressions.  One may choose the form of gratitude that best suits any given circumstance, but gratitude is not optional; it is far more than a merely good idea.

One form of gratitude is keeping commandments.  If we love God, we will keep divine commandments.  If we love Jesus, we will keep his commandments.  Depending entirely on God is one of those commandments.  Practicing humility is another one.

These are extremely difficult commandments to keep.  They are impossible to keep if one relies on human agency.  We do not have to do that, fortunately.  We cannot do that under any set of circumstances, anyway.  We can, however, succeed by relying on grace.  Will we accept it and the responsibilities that accompany it?

I used to have a shirt that read,

GRACE HAPPENS.

(The garment wore out after too many washings, as garments do.)

Terrible and other unfortunate events happen, of course, but so does grace.  We can never escape grace, happily.  If we accept it, we also accept certain obligations to extend it to others.  Therefore, it alters people around us.  So be it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 26, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ANNE AND JOACHIM, PARENTS OF SAINT MARY OF NAZARETH

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2019/07/26/grace-part-ii/

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Devotion for Proper 24, Year B (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Engagement and Wedding Rings, 1922

Image in the Public Domain

Good Society, Part II

OCTOBER 18, 2020

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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 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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Numbers 6:22-27 or 2 Kings 4:1-7

Psalm 69:1-3, 7-18

Hebrews 9:1-14; 10:19-31

Mark 10:1-15

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Four of the five readings occur in the context of adversity.  Two of these mention women and children.

Women and children were often the most vulnerable people in the Bible.  This was especially true if the women were widows and the children were minors and/or orphans.  The test/trap question about divorce in Mark 10:1-12 brought divorced women into the mix.

One of the greatest contributions of Richard Horsley to Biblical scholarship is focusing on practical considerations in the teachings of Jesus.   In this case, consider the economic hardships of Jewish peasants in Roman-occupied Palestine.  Horsley’s work on Christ’s thoughts about divorce in that cultural context informs my thinking.

Divorce was a leading cause of dire poverty among women, most of whom were already poor.  Without the protection of marriage, their options were bad.  Most widows knew that situation, too, unless they had a male relative (perhaps an adult son) to protect them.  The family unit provided security.

The juxtaposition of the teaching on divorce and the statement about children and humility is not accidental.  It tells another way the divine order differs from human societies.

Divorce remains a leading cause of poverty in the female population.  Divorce is necessary or preferable sometimes, as in cases of domestic violence, alcoholism, attempted murder, et cetera.  Nevertheless, it and marriage are matters to take seriously, for the good of all involved and for the good of society.

If more people practiced the Golden Rule more often, the world would be a better place and fewer people would suffer physical and/or emotional damage.  May we deal graciously with each other as we pray that God will do the same to us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 26, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ANNE AND JOACHIM, PARENTS OF SAINT MARY OF NAZARETH

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2019/07/26/good-society-part-vii/

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Devotion for Proper 23, Year B (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Christ Blessing the Children, by Adolphe Joseph Thomas Monticelli

Image in the Public Domain

Good Society, Part I

OCTOBER 11, 2020

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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 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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Leviticus 19:1-18 or 2 Kings 2:1-15

Psalm 68:1-6, 32-35

Hebrews 7:22-8:12

Mark 9:38-50

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MAKE LOVING YOUR NEIGHBOR GREAT AGAIN.

–A sign I saw on a bulletin board in the copy room at St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia, in 2019

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What else am I supposed to think when I cannot possibly reconcile the Biblical commandment to welcome the strangers among us with news stories about refugees at the southern border of the United States treated as criminals and worse than feral four-legged animals?

The divine law–the one we, as human beings, are supposed to have written on our hearts–teaches the following timeless principles, among others:

  1. We depend entirely on God.
  2. We depend on each other.
  3. We are responsible to each other.
  4. We are responsible for each other.
  5. We have no right to exploit each other.

The Law of Moses abounds with culturally-specific examples of those timeless principles.  We can think of effective, culturally-specific ways of fulfilling those timeless principles in our societies, workplaces, schools, neighborhoods, et cetera.  Whenever, wherever, and whoever one is, one has a divine vocation to practice the Golden Rule.  When one’s life ends, others will continue that vocation.

I ask you, O reader, to read Leviticus 19:1-18.  Identify the timeless principles and the culturally-specific examples of them.  Then ponder your society.  How could your society improve with the application of the timeless principles?  Ask yourself what the best tactics may be.  Examine yourself spiritually, also.  How could you improve with the application of the timeless principles?  Trust God to help you do so.

Society is people.  Society shapes people and influences their opinions.  However, people also shape society.

May we shape our societies for the better–for the common good and the glory of God–with the help of God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 26, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ANNE AND JOACHIM, PARENTS OF SAINT MARY OF NAZARETH

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2019/07/26/good-society-part-vi/

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Devotion for Proper 22, Year B (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Effects of Acid Rain on a Forest in the Czech Republic, 2006

Photographer = Lovecz

The Sins of the Fathers

OCTOBER 4, 2020

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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 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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Exodus 34:1-10 or 1 Kings 22:29-43

Psalm 62:1-8, 11-12

Hebrews 5:12-6:12

Mark 9:30-37

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The key mark of discipleship is servanthood.

St. Gregory of Nyssa (335-394)

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Some themes recur in the readings for this week:

  1. God is faithful.
  2. Trust in God.
  3. Do not commit apostasy.
  4. People reap what they sow.
  5. Christ is the exemplar of the type of service that defines greatness.

Genesis 34:7 requires unpacking.  The principle that God punishes or forgives members of subsequent generations based on the sins of an ancestor exists also in 1 Kings 21:29, Nehemiah 9:17, Deuteronomy 5:9, Numbers 14:18, Psalm 103:8, Joel 2:13, and Jonah 4:2.  Yet we read the opposite view–individual moral responsibility–in Ezekiel 18 and Jeremiah 31:29-30.  The Bible contradicts itself sometimes.

The best explanation for the opinion we read in Exodus 34:7 comes from Professor Richard Elliot Friedman:  effects of one’s actions are apparent generations later.  I recognize ways in which actions of two of my paternal great-grandfathers influence me indirectly.  This is one example of something, that, from a certain point of view, looks like intergenerational punishment and reward by God.

The decisions of others influence us.  Some of them even restrict our options.  We may suffer because of the decisions of those who have preceded us; we may suffer because of their sins.  This is the way of the world.  Yet we are morally responsible for ourselves and each other, not those who have died.  No, they are responsible for their sins, just as we are responsible for ours.

May we–individually and collectively–refrain from visiting the consequences of our sins on those who will succeed us.  We owe them that much, do we not?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 25, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES BAR-ZEBEDEE, APOSTLE AND MARTYR

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2019/07/25/the-sins-of-the-fathers-part-ii/

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Devotion for Proper 21, Year B (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Jezebel and Ahab, by Frederic Leighton

Image in the Public Domain

God, the Only Proper Center

SEPTEMBER 27, 2020

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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 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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Exodus 33:12-23 or 1 Kings 21:1-24

Psalm 61:1-5, 8

Hebrews 4:14-5:5, 7-9

Mark 9:14-29

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According to Psalms 14 and 53, the fool/benighted man, an amoral person, thinks incorrectly that God either does not care (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures, 1985) or is absent (Mitchell J. Dahood, 1968).  The erroneous assumption of the fool/benighted man is that God either does not want to answer prayers or cannot do so.  Therefore, from that perspective, one must and can rely on one’s own powers and devices.  This is the root of evil.

God does care.  God is present.  God does answer prayers.  Sometimes the answer is “no,” which we may not like.  God loves us, but is not our vending machine.

St. Augustine of Hippo wrote,

We pray that we may believe and believe that we may pray.

We can simultaneously have faith and doubts.  I know this spiritual state.  Perhaps you do, too, O reader.  We can have enough faith to pray yet not enough to assume that God will answer as we desire.  To anyone who knows this spiritual state, I say,

Welcome to the human race.  You stand in the company of the communion of saints.

When we cannot pray, or be mindful of God, yet want to do so, we are not bereft.  That desire is a solid beginning, a foundation on which God can build.

We err when we place ourselves–individually and/or collectively–in the center of theology and spirituality.  God is the only proper center.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 25, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES BAR-ZEBEDEE, APOSTLE AND MARTYR

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2019/07/25/god-the-only-proper-center/

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Devotion for Proper 20, Year B (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Elijah in the Wilderness, by Washington Allston

Image in the Public Domain

Signs

SEPTEMBER 20, 2020

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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 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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Exodus 32:1-14 or 1 Kings 19:1-15

Psalm 59:1-5, 16-17

Hebrews 4:1-13

Mark 8:22-33

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Yahweh, God of Hosts, God of Israel!

Awake to punish all the nations,

show no mercy to wicked traitors.

–Psalm 59:6, Mitchell J. Dahood (1968)

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That attitude is consistent with God’s Plan A in Exodus 32, after the idolatry and apostasy at the base of the mountain.  Aaron’s poor excuse still makes me laugh, though.

So I said to them, “Whoever has gold, take it off!  They gave it to me and I hurled it into the fire and out came this calf!

–Exodus 32:24, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Exodus and Mark contain stories of dramatic, powerful encounters with God.  We read of visual and tactile experiences. We also read of short-lived faithfulness, of much grumbling, of obliviousness, of recognition followed by official denial, and of fidelity.

The juxtaposition of the formerly blind man (Mark 8:22-26) and the obliviousness of St. Simon Peter (Mark 8:32-33) highlights the spiritual blindness of the latter man.  The stories also challenge us to ponder our spiritual blindness.

Even Elijah, who had recently confronted the prophets of Baal Peor then presided over their slaughter (1 Kings 18), had to deal with his spiritual blindness.  While hiding from Queen Jezebel and feeling sorry for himself, he encountered God, who, in that context, revealed self not in dramatic ways (as Baal Peor would have done), but in a still, small voice, or, as The New Jerusalem Bible (1985) renders the text,

a light murmuring sound.

Do we fail to notice messages from God because we seek dramatic signs?

Sometimes, in the Gospels, one reads of Jesus performing a miracle, followed by people demanding a sigh.  One’s jaw should drop.  One should seek God for the correct reasons and not become attached to dramatic signs.  God whispers sometimes.  God whispers to us, to those similar to us, and to those quite different from us.  God judges and forgives.  Signs are abundant.  How many do we notice?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 25, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES BAR-ZEBEDEE, APOSTLE AND MARTYR

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2019/07/25/signs-part-ii/

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Devotion for Proper 19, Year B (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Elijah Slays the Prophets of Baal

Image in the Public Domain

Uncomfortable and Difficult

SEPTEMBER 13, 2020

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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 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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Exodus 24:12-18 or 1 Kings 18:1, 17-40

Psalm 58

Hebrews 3

Mark 8:14-21

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I teach a Sunday School class in which I cover each week’s readings according to the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL).  The RCL has much to commend it, but it is imperfect.  (Of course, it is imperfect; it is a human creation.)  The RCL skirts many challenging, violent passages of scripture.  This post is is a devotion for a Sunday on an unofficial lectionary, however.  The note on the listing for Psalm 58 reads,

Not for the faint of heart.

Indeed, a prayer for God to rip the teeth from the mouths of one’s enemies is not feel-good fare.  Neither is the slaughter of the prophets of Baal Peor (1 Kings 18:40).

I remember a Sunday evening service at my parish years ago.  The lector read an assigned passage of scripture with an unpleasant, disturbing conclusion then uttered the customary prompt,

The word of the Lord.

A pregnant pause followed.  Then the congregation mumbled its proscribed response,

Thanks be to God.

The theme uniting these five readings is faithfulness to God.  Jesus, we read, was the paragon of fidelity.  We should be faithful, too, and avoid committing apostasy.  We should also pay attention and understand, so we can serve God better.  Hopefully, metaphors will not confuse us.

I perceive the need to make the following statement.  Even a casual study of the history of Christian interpretation of the Bible reveals a shameful record of Anti-Semitism, much of it unintentional and much of it learned.  We who abhor intentional Anti-Semitism still need to check ourselves as we read the Bible, especially passages in which Jesus speaks harshly to or of Jewish religious leaders in first-century C.E. Palestine.  We ought to recall that he and his Apostles were practicing Jews, too.  We also need to keep in mind that Judaism has never been monolithic, so to speak of “the Jews” in any place and at any time is to open the door to overgeneralizing.

To condemn long-dead Jewish religious leaders for their metaphorical leaven and not to consider our leaven would be to miss an important spiritual directive.  To consider our leaven is to engage in an uncomfortable, difficult spiritual exercise.  It does not make us feel good about ourselves.

We also need to ask ourselves if we are as dense as the Apostles in the Gospel of Mark.  To do that is uncomfortable and difficult, also.

Sometimes we need for scripture to make us uncomfortable.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 25, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES BAR-ZEBEDEE, APOSTLE AND MARTYR

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2019/07/25/uncomfortable-and-difficult/

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