Archive for the ‘1 Thessalonians 2’ Tag

Devotion for the Twenty-Sixth Sunday After Pentecost, Year A (ILCW Lectionary)   1 comment

Above:  Madonna and Child, by Filippo Lippi

Image in the Public Domain

Like a Child in Its Mother’s Arms

NOVEMBER 12, 2023


According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)


Malachi 2:1-2, 4-10 (LBW, LW) or Job 14:1-6 (LW)

Psalm 131 (LBW) or Psalm 90:1-12 (LW)

1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 (LW) or 1 Thessalonians 2:8-13 (LBW, LW)

Matthew 23:1-12 (LBWLW) or Mathew 24:15-28 (LW)


Lord God, so rule and govern our hearts and minds

by your Holy Spirit that,

always keeping in mind the end of all things and the day of judgment,

we may be stirred up to holiness here

and may live with you forever in the world to come,

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 29


O Lord, absolve your people from their offenses

that from the bonds of sins,

which by reason of our weakness we have brought upon us,

we may be delivered by your bountiful goodness;

through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 91


Malachi 2:3 is not an assigned verse.  I suppose that hearing it read aloud in church would raise some awkward issues and prompt gasps of shock.  Set in the context of priests offering sacrifices wrongly after the end of the Babylonian Exile, Malachi 2:3 reads:

I will put your seed under a ban, and I will strew dung upon your faces, the dung of your festal sacrifices, and you shall be carried out to its [heap].

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures 

God seems to take proper worship seriously in Malachi 2.

For all the John 3:16 signs at sporting events, I cannot recall one Malachi 2:3 sign.  Perhaps a wiseacre should correct that oversight.

Eschatological overtones in the New Testament combine with musings about the human condition and about trust in God in the Hebrew Bible.  Psalm 131 speaks of individual and collective trust in God, described in maternal terms.  Matters individual and collective are inseparable, as John Donne (1572-1631) wrote:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

Therefore, in faith community, encouraging one another is part of

a life worthy of God.

–1 Thessalonians 2:12, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

Lives worthy of God, by grace, build up people.  Lives worthy of God seek and find the common good.  Lives worthy of God play out both individually and collectively.  Lives worthy of God remain deeply flawed–sinful.  That is the human condition.  Yet these lives do not wallow in that sin.  No, these lives

…keep tranquil and quiet

like a child in its mother’s arms,

as content as a child that has been weaned.

–Psalm 131:2, The Jerusalem Bible (1966).

Consider that image, O reader.  Live accordingly.





Link to the corresponding post at BLOGA THEOLOGICA


Devotion for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday after Proper 26, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Woe Unto You, Scribes and Pharisees James Tissot

Above:  Woe Unto You, Scribes and Pharisees, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

Neglecting Human Needs in the Name of God

NOVEMBER 6-8, 2023


The Collect:

O God, generous and supreme, your loving Son lived among us,

instructing us in the ways of humility and justice.

Continue to ease our burdens, and lead us to serve alongside of him,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 51


The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 5:18-31 (Monday)

Lamentations 2:13-17 (Tuesday)

Proverbs 16:21-33 (Wednesday)

Psalm 5 (All Days)

1 Thessalonians 2:13-20 (Monday)

Acts 13:1-12 (Tuesday)

Matthew 15:1-9 (Wednesday)


Braggarts cannot stand in your sight;

you hate all those who work wickedness.

You destroy those who speak lies;

the bloodthirsty and deceitful, O LORD, you abhor.

–Psalm 5:6-7, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


The dominant theme of these days’ readings is that false prophets are bad people whom God will punish.  Related to that theme is another:  following false prophets leads to a bad end.  I have summarized that point, which the lessons state eloquently, so I will not dwell on it.  A side comment germane to the topic is that nobody who taught me in Sunday School when I was a child mentioned the story from Acts 13, in which St. Paul the Apostle blinds Elymas the sorcerer with only the power of words and the Holy Spirit.  I could have sworn also that Jesus said to love one’s enemies and that the Apostle wrote that people should overcome evil with good, so I have some unanswered questions about that story.  Maybe those in charge of my childhood Sunday School classes considered the tale too troublesome, assuming that they knew of it.  Many of my childhood Sunday School teachers seemed to know remarkably little about the Bible and much of what they did “know” was objectively wrong.  But I digress.

I choose to focus instead on Matthew 15:1-9.  Jesus chastises some Pharisees for obsessing over an extra-biblical point of ritual hand-washing–a matter of the theology of cleanliness and uncleanliness, of purity and impurity–while accepting gifts which should go instead to support the aging parents of the donors.  Donating wealth to the Temple for the support of professional religious people could be a pious act or a dodge of one’s obligation to honor one’s parents; motivation made all the difference.  Our Lord and Savior’s driving point remains relevant, for how we treat each other (especially within families) matters to God.  Related to that point is a second:  do not obsess about minor points and imagine that doing so makes one holy while one violates major points.

I, as an Episcopalian, embrace the Anglican Three-Legged Stool:  Scripture, tradition, and reason.  A better mental image is a tricycle, with Scripture as the big wheel.  My theology places tradition in a place of respect, where it belongs.  Thus I reject certain Protestant interpretations of Matthew 15:1-9 as a condemnation of all extra-biblical tradition.  My reasoning extends beyond the fact of my chosen denomination, for I understand that even those who criticize extra-biblical traditions of others for being extra-biblical have their own.  Such criticism reeks of hypocrisy.

No, I situate my criticism of those Pharisees where Jesus did:  neglecting human needs while providing theological cover for the practice.  Those who engage in such behaviors are truly false teachers who harm others.  And God is watching them.









Neglecting Human Needs in the Name of God


Feast of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist, Martyr (August 29)   3 comments

Above: The Beheading of St. John the Baptist, by Caravaggio, 1608

St. John the Baptist:  Forerunner of Jesus in Death


The Assigned Readings for This Feast:

1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

Psalm 139:7-12

Mark 6:17-29

The Collect:

God our Father, you called John the Baptist to be the herald of your Son’s birth and death.  As he gave his life in witness to truth and justice, so may we strive to profess our faith in your gospel.  Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son.  Amen.


Herod Antipas was a client ruler of the Roman Empire.  He governed the Galilee from 4 B.C.E. to 40 C.E., following the death of his grandfather, King Herod the Great.  Herod Antipas had entered into an incestuous marriage by wedding Herodias, the niece of his late half-brother, Alexander, and former wife of his brother, Philip Herod I.  The scene from the Gospel story is disturbing:  Herod Antipas leering at Salome, at the daughter of his new wife.  From this flowed a series of events which culminated in the beheading of St. John the Baptist.

Salome married her uncle, Philip Herod II.  After he died in 34 C.E., she wed Aristobolus of Chalcis, a son of Herod of Chalcis, another one of her uncles.  Aristobolus was the Roman client king of Armenia Minor from 55 to 72 C.E.  He ordered the minting of coins bearing Salome’s image.  An image follows:

St. John the Baptist was the forerunner of Jesus.  He identified our Lord as the Messiah and prepared the way for him.  And St. John the Baptist was the forerunner of Jesus in dying.  The literary term for all this is foreshadowing.  Remember that before the authors of the canonical gospels began to write they knew how the story ended.  Thus each wrote with a thesis in mind and selected details to mention within that context.

Another point comes to mind.  Often the world seems unfair.  Why do the righteous suffer and the unrighteous prosper?  Why did St. John the Baptist suffer and the members of the Herodian dynasty enjoy relatively prominent status, having the power to order executions?  I am not here to answer such questions, for I seek them, too.  But I know that we recall the names of of Herod Antipas, Herodias, and Salome in the context of St. John the Baptist, and that we praise the latter while condemning the former.  Perhaps there is a measure of justice in that.


JUNE 13, 2010




Proper 26, Year A   17 comments

Above:  The Children of Israel Crossing the River Jordan, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Doman

God, Who Exalts

The Sunday Closest to November 2

The Twenty-Third Sunday After Pentecost

NOVEMBER 5, 2023



Joshua 3:7-17 (New Revised Standard Version):

The LORD said to Joshua,

This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, so that they may know that I will be with you as I was with Moses. You are the one who shall command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, `When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’

Joshua then said to the Israelites,

Draw near and hear the words of the LORD your God.

Joshua said,

By this you shall know that among you is the living God who without fail will drive out from before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites: the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is going to pass before you into the Jordan. So now select twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. When the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan flowing from above shall be cut off; they shall stand in a single heap.

When the people set out from their tents to cross over the Jordan, the priests bearing the ark of the covenant were in front of the people. Now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest. So when those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the edge of the water, the waters flowing from above stood still, rising up in a single heap far off at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, while those flowing toward the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, were wholly cut off. Then the people crossed over opposite Jericho. While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan.

Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,

and his mercy endures for ever.

Let all those whom the LORD has redeemed proclaim

that he redeemed them from the hand of the foe.

He gathered them out of the lands;

from the east and from the west,

from the north and from the south.

Some wandered in desert wastes;

they found no way to a city where they might dwell.

5  They were hungry and thirsty;

their spirits languised within them.

6  Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,

and he delivered them from their distress.

He put their feet on a straight path

to go to a city where they might dwell.

33  The LORD changed rivers into deserts,

and water-springs into thirsty-ground,

34  A fruitful land into salt flats,

because of the wickedness of those who dwell there.

35  He changed deserts into pools of water

and dry land into water springs.

36  He settled the hungry there,

and they founded a city to dwell in.

37  They sowed fields, and planted vineyards,

and brought in a fruitful harvest.


Micah 3:5-12 (New Revised Standard Version):

Thus says the LORD concerning the prophets who lead my people astray, who cry “Peace” when they have something to eat but declare war against those who put nothing in their mouths.

Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision,

and darkness to you, without revelation.

The sun shall go down upon the prophets,

and the day shall be black over them;

the seers shall be disgraced,

and the diviners put to shame;

they shall all cover their lips,

for there is no answer from God.

But as for me, I am filled with power, with the spirit of the LORD, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin.

Hear this, you rulers of the house of Jacob

and chiefs of the house of Israel,

who abhor justice

and pervert all equity,

who build Zion with blood

and Jerusalem with wrong!

Its rulers give judgment for a bribe,

its priests teach for a price,

its prophets give oracles for money;

yet they lean upon the LORD and say,

“Surely the LORD is with us!

No harm shall come upon us.”

Therefore because of you

Zion shall be plowed as a field;

Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,

and the mountain of the house a wooded height.

Psalm 43 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Give judgment for me, O God,

and defend my cause against an ungodly people;

deliver me from the deceitful and the wicked.

2 For you are the God of my strength;

why have you put me from you?

and why do I go so heavily while the enemy oppresses me?

3 Sent out your light and your truth, that they may lead me,

and bring me to your holy hill

and to your dwelling;

4 That I may go to the altar of God,

to the God of my joy and gladness;

and on the harp I will give thanks to you, O God my God.

5 Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul?

and why are you so disquieted within me?

6 Put your trust in God;

for I will yet give thanks to him,

who is the help of my countenance, and my God.


1 Thessalonians 2:9-13 (New Revised Standard Version):

You remember our labor and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright, and blameless our conduct was toward you believers. As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, urging and encouraging you and pleading that you lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.


Matthew 23:1-12 (New Revised Standard Version):

Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples,

The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father– the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

The Collect:

Almighty and merciful God, it is only by your gift that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service: Grant that we may run without stumbling to obtain your heavenly promises; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Often we humans exalt ourselves or at least attempt to do so.  Frequently this comes at the expense of others.  Thus it is common to find gross income inequality and corresponding injustices rife in societies.  Often the wealthy can get away with almost anything because they can hire certain attorneys while prosecutors pressure innocent poor people into plea deals, prison time, and criminal records unjustly.  Those with great talents and the corresponding work ethic might not be able to make the most of those because they cannot afford to attend certain schools, even with the possibility of scholarships.  Much of this is the luck of the draw:  Where and when was one born?

It is all terribly unfair.

The Israelites were supposed to build a just society when they entered Canaan under the leadership of Joshua, son of Nun.  Yet, generation after generation, they failed.  Free from tyranny in Egypt, they followed their countrymen who imposed it on them.  God gives us freedom, but not so that we should abuse it, waste it, or surrender it.  We are free to love one another, care for each other in difficult times, and treat each other as people who bear the image of God.

God exalts us for these purposes, but we exalt ourselves for our advantage.  No wonder those exalt themselves will be humbled, and the humble exalted.


Proper 25, Year A   21 comments

Above:  The Logo of Lehman Brothers, Now Defunct

Image in the Public Domain

Loving Our Neighbors As We Love Ourselves

The Sunday Closest to October 26

The Twenty-Second Sunday After Pentecost

OCTOBER 29, 2023



Deuteronomy 34:1-12 (New Revised Standard Version):

Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the LORD showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain– that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees– as far as Zoar. The LORD said to him,

This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, `I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.

Then Moses, the servant of the LORD, died there in the land of Moab, at the LORD’s command. He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated. The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended.

Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the LORD had commanded Moses.

Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face. He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the LORD sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.

Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Lord, you have been our refuge

from one generation to another.

Before the mountains were brought forth,

or the land and the earth were born,

from age to age you are God.

3  You turn us back to the dust and say,

“Go back, O child of earth.”

For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past

and like a watch in the night.

You sweep us away like a dream;

we fade away suddenly like the grass.

In the morning it is green and flourishes;

in the evening it is dried up and withered.

13  Return, O LORD; how long will you tarry?

be gracious to your servants.

14  Satisfy us with your loving-kindness in the morning;

so shall we rejoice and be glad all the days of our life.

15  Make us glad with the measure of the days that you afflicted us

and the years in which we suffered adversity.

16  Show your servants your works

and your splendor to their children.

17  May the graciousness of the LORD our God be upon us;

prosper the work of our hands;

prosper our handiwork.


Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18 (New Revised Standard Version):

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:

Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.

You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the LORD.

You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

Psalm 1 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked,

nor lingered in the way of sinners,

nor sat in the seats of the scornful!

2 Their delight is in the law of the LORD,

and the meditate on his law day and night.

They are like trees planted by streams of water,

bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither,

everything they do shall prosper.

4 It is not so with the wicked;

they are like the chaff which the wind blows away.

Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes,

nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.

For the LORD knows the ways of the righteous,

but the way of the wicked is doomed.


1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 (New Revised Standard Version):

You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, but though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition. For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts. As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.


Matthew 22:34-46 (New Revised Standard Version):

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.

Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?

He said to him,

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question:

What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?

They said to him,

The son of David.

He said to them,

How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,

“The Lord said to my Lord,

Sit at my right hand,

until I put your enemies under your feet”?

If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?

No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


There was a notoriously violent slave master in the Antebellum U.S. South.  This man also claimed to be a good Christian.  Indeed, he attended church frequently and bore the nickname “Deacon.”  One of Deacon’s slaves left a written testament in which he claimed not to want to go to Heaven if Deacon was going to be there.

Many of us are aware of the Golden Rule and the Shema.  We quote them and make warm and positive statements about the Good Samaritan.  Yet how often do we act to the contrary and/or justify those who do?  Do we really believe our excuses or are we trying to convince ourselves of that which we know to be immoral?

And how much better off would the rest of us be if certain people in some corporations valued the common good more than short-term profits?

This is a very basic topic–one I have covered elsewhere, as the links testify.  So, in the name of not repeating myself too many times, I conclude with these words:  Whatever the cost(s) to ourselves, may we love our neighbors as ourselves.


Week of Proper 16: Wednesday, Year 1   10 comments

Above: Paul Writing His Epistles (1500s)

Image in the Public Domain

A Living Power Among You Who Believe It

AUGUST 30, 2023


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


1 Thessalonians 2:9-13 (The Jerusalem Bible):

Let me remind you, brothers, how hard we used to work, slaving night and day so as not to be a burden on any one of you while we were proclaiming God’s Good News to you.  You are witnesses, and so is God, that our treatment of you, since you became believers, has been impeccably right and fair.  You can remember how we treated every one of you as a father treats his children, teaching you what was right, encouraging you and appealing to you to live a life worthy of God, who is calling you to share the glory of his kingdom.

Another reason why we constantly thank God for you is that as soon as you heard the message that we brought you as God’s message, you accepted it for what it really is, God’s message and not some human thinking; and it is still a living power among you who believe it.

Psalm 126 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,

then were we like those who dream.

2 Then was our mouth filled with laughter,

and our tongue with shouts of joy.

3 Then they said among the nations,

“The LORD has done great things for them.”

4 The LORD has done great things for us,

and we are glad indeed.

5 Restore our fortunes, O LORD,

like the watercourses of the Negev.

6 Those who sowed with tears

will reap with songs of joy.

7 Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed,

will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.

Matthew 23:27-32 (The Jerusalem Bible):

[Jesus continued,]

Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You who are like whitewashed tombs that look handsome on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of corruption.  In the same way you appear to people from the outside like honest men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You who build the sepulchres of the prophets and decorate the tombs of holy men, saying, ‘We would never have joined in shedding the blood of the prophets, had we lived in our fathers’ day.’  So!  Your own evidence tells against you!  You are the sons of those who murdered the prophets!  Very well then, finish off the work that your fathers began.


The Collect:

Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Contact with a corpse made one ritually unclean (Numbers 19:16).  So imagine that it is the month of Adar, and that you, O reader, are a pilgrim in Jesus’ day traveling to Jerusalem for the Passover.  You might become ritually unclean, and therefore ineligible to celebrate Passover, if you come into contact with a roadside tomb.  Fortunately for you, people have whitewashed the tombs in advance, so they will stand out, and pilgrims will not become ritually unclean by accident.

This is the reference to whitewashed tombs in Matthew 23.  But Jesus says that hypocritical professional religious people who lay needless burdens on the faithful are the whitewashed tombs; the scribes and Pharisees are themselves unclean.  How is that for a strong condemnation, one that hits home?  And these scribes and Pharisees are the spiritual heirs of those who have persecuted and killed prophets of God.  At this point in Matthew Jesus is nearing his own death, in which professional religious people were complicit.  (But let us not let the Romans off the hook, for the Procurator authorized the execution and soldiers carried it out.)

This day’s reading from 1 Thessalonians begins with Paul defending himself against unfounded criticisms.  Why else would he have pointed to his work ethic and his treatment of others?  Here we have an example of an old truth:  Whatever you do, somebody is likely to criticize you.  But the part of the reading that attracts my attention is verse 13:  God’s message is a living power among those who believe it.  Belief is trust; it indicates an influence in how one lives.  So belief becomes evident in actions.

The fault of the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus criticized was that their belief was self-serving.  It made them look good to themselves and many others, but it was a disguise for spiritual rot.  Jesus calls us not to be tombs or spiritual memorials, but living testimonies to him.  Once in a while we might have to say something, but our actions ought to do most of the talking.

The aspect of evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity that bothers me most is its preoccupation with individual salvation at the expense of the well-being of one’s community and society.  I have had conversations with people possessed of this spiritual understanding.  Many of them do not care if the world burns; they have Jesus.  (Someone expressed this sentiment to me a few years ago, without embarrassment.)  According to this point of view, social justice can take a back seat as long as a man’s hair is not too long, a woman’s skirt is not too short, and someone is learning that he or she will go to Hell unless he or she comes to Jesus.  Without dismissing the necessity of Jesus (I am a Christian.), I prefer a holistic gospel.  It is pointless to cure one person of spiritual sickness and not care about societal ills.  Indeed, we humans are not separate from our societies.  And love of God is more effective than fear of damnation in drawing one into a spiritually healthy relationship with God.

Disclaimer, for the sake of accuracy:  Many evangelical Christians are quite concerned about social justice and responsible ecology.  I applaud them.  Unfortunately, some of their co-religionists criticize them for the breadth of their concerns.

May we–you and I–exhibit the living power of God to all, so that all who seek it and cross paths with us will see it working within us.  And, to borrow a line from St. Francis of Assisi, may we preach the gospel at all times, using words when necessary.

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.


Week of Proper 16: Tuesday, Year 1   10 comments

Above:  Bottle Feeding an Abandoned Kitten

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Authentic Spirituality

AUGUST 29, 2023


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


1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 (The Jerusalem Bible):

You know yourselves, my brothers, that our visit to you has not proved ineffectual.

We had, as you know, been given rough treatment and been grossly insulted at Philippi, and it was our God who gave us the courage to proclaim his Good News to you in the face of great opposition.  We have not taken to preaching because we are deluded, or immoral, or trying to deceive anyone; it was God who decided that we were fit to be entrusted with the Good News, and when we are speaking, we are not trying to please men but God, who can read our inmost thoughts. You know very well, and we can swear it before God, that never at any time have our speeches been simply flattery, or a cover for trying to get money; nor have we ever looked for any special honour from men, either from you or anybody else, when we could have imposed ourselves on you with the full weight, as apostles of Christ.

Instead, we were unassuming.  Like a mother feeding and looking after her own children, we felt so devoted and protective towards you, and had come to love you so much, that we were eager to hand over to you not only the Good News but our whole lives as well.

Psalm 139:1-9 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 LORD, you have searched me out and known me;

you know my sitting down and my rising up;

you discern my thoughts from afar.

2 You trace my journeys and my resting-places

and are acquainted with all my ways.

3 Indeed, there is not a word on my lips,

but you, O LORD, know it altogether.

4 You press upon me behind and before

and lay your hand upon me.

5 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

it is so high that I cannot attain to it.

6 Where can I go then from your Spirit?

where can I flee from your presence?

7 If I climb up to heaven, you are there;

if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.

8 If I take the wings of the morning

and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

9 Even there your hand will lead me

and your right hand hold me fast.

Matthew 23:23-26 (The Jerusalem Bible):

[Jesus continued,]

Alas for you , scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You who pay tithe of mint and dill and cummin and have neglected the weightier matters of the Law–justice, mercy, good faith!  These you should have practised, without neglecting the others.  You blind guides!  Straining out gnats and swallowing camels!

Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You who clean the outside of cup and dish and leave the inside full of extortion and intemperance. Blind Pharisee!  Clean the inside of cup and dish first so that the outside may become clean as well.


The Collect:

Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


What is the test of authentic spirituality?  Or, to phrase the question differently, what does God require of us?  We ought, when pondering this matter, realize that divinity exists in a realm beyond the limits of our ability to understand; God refuses to fit into our intellectual boxes.  So, as valuable as theology can be (which is to say, very), we need to avoid turning theological concepts into idols.

Karen Armstrong proposes the answer that makes the most sense to me.  Compassion, she says, is the test of authentic spirituality.  Compassion is at the heart of the reading from 1 Thessalonians.  Paul cared deeply for the people of Thessalonica, so he shared his life with them.  Compassion impelled Jesus, too.  This helps explain why he was so critical of those who, in the name of God, obsessed over small matters while neglecting what mattered most–that is, to love God with everything and each other as one self.

Compassion transcends species.  The most appropriate image I could find for this post is the one I have attached to it.  I have provided a link to its source, and the story is worth reading.  David Dixon and Paul Ortega, of Palm Springs, California, rescued four kittens from a trash bag in 2010.  Two survived.  Dixon and Ortega named the survivors Scooter and Dixie.  The men bottle fed the kittens until this was no longer necessary.  The kittens became well and the humans decided to keep them.

Admittedly I have a soft spot for cats, especially vulnerable kittens.  Felines are creatures of God and agents of grace, and human compassion ought to extend to all who are vulnerable, regardless of species.  Jesus would approve of what Dixon and Ortega have done for these cats.

In contrast I read about honor killings, sometimes by immigrants to the United States.  Those who perpetrate these crimes use religion to justify their actions.  But the God I worship does not approve of honor killings.  The God I worship teaches compassion, condemns honor killings, says to love my neighbor as I love myself, and adores kittens.  (Being part of creation, they fall under the description of “good.”) This God does not always agree me with me.  Indeed, I know that I am wrong about certain points, but remain unsure which ones those are.  But compassion matters more than fine points of theology.

May the hallmark of your faith life, O reader, be compassion.