Archive for the ‘1 Thessalonians 4’ Tag

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

Above:  The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, by Friedrich Wilhelm Schadow (1788-1862)

Image in the Public Domain

Eschatological Ethics



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


Amos 5:18-24

Psalm 63:1-8 (LBW) or Psalm 84:1-7 (LW)

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 (15-18)

Matthew 25:1-13 (LBW, LW) or Matthew 23:37-39 (LW)


Lord, when the day of wrath comes

we have no hope except in your grace.

Make us so to watch for the last days

that the consumation of our hope may be

the joy of the marriage feast of your Son,

Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 29


O Lord, we pray that the visitation of your grace

may so cleanse our thoughts and minds

that your Son Jesus, when he shall come,

may find us a fit dwelling place;

through Jesus Christ, our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 89


We have, in the church calendar, turned toward Advent.  The tone in readings has shifted toward the Day of the Lord (Old Testament) and the Second Coming of Jesus (New Testament).  In Matthew, both options, set in the days leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus, have taken a dark turn.

The Psalms are the most upbeat readings.

Amos 5:18-24 issues a collective warning.  Putting on airs of piety while perpetuating and/or excusing social injustice–especially economic injustice, given the rest of the Book of Amos–does not impress God.  It angers God, in fact.  Sacred rituals–part of the Law of Moses–are not properly talismans.

Matthew 23:37-39 includes a denunciation of supposedly pious people executing messengers God has sent.  We readers know that Jesus was about to meet the same fate.  We also read Jesus likening himself to a mother hen–being willing to sacrifice himself for the metaphorical chicks.

The Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) teaches individual spiritual responsibility.  This is consistent with the collective spiritual authority in Amos 5 and Mattthew 23.  Despite the reality of collective spiritual authority, there are some tasks to which one must attend.

My position on how much of the Church–Evangelicalism and fundamentalism, especially–approaches the Second Coming of Jesus and teaches regarding that matter is on record at this weblog.  Evangelicalism and fundamentalism get eschatology wrong.  The rapture is a nineteenth-century invention and a heresy.  Dispensationalism is bunk.  The books of Daniel and Revelation no more predict the future than a bald man needs a comb.

I affirm that the Second Coming will occur eventually.  In the meantime, we need to be busy living the Golden Rule collectively and individually.  In the meantime, we need to increase social justice and decrease social injustice–especially of the economic variety–collectively and individually.  In the meantime, we need to work–collectively and individually–at leaving the world better than we found it.  We can do that much, by grace.








Link to the corresponding post at BLOGA THEOLOGICA


Devotion for the Feast of All Souls/Commemoration of All Faithful Departed (November 2)   Leave a comment

Above:  All Souls’ Day, by Jakub Schikaneder

Image in the Public Domain

Praying for the Dead


The Feast of All Souls originated at the great monastery of Cluny in 998.  The commemoration spread and became an occasion to pray for those in Purgatory.  During the Reformation Era Protestants and Anglicans dropped the feast on theological grounds.  In the late twentieth century, however, the feast–usually renamed the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed–began appearing on Anglican calendars.  The difference between All Saints’ Day and All Faithful Departed, in this context, had become one of emphasis–distinguished saints on November 1 and forgotten saints on November 2.

The idea of Purgatory (a Medieval Roman Catholic doctrine with ancient roots) is that of, as I heard a Catholic catechist, “God’s mud room.”  The doctrine holds that all those in Purgatory will go to Heaven, just not yet, for they require purification.  I am sufficiently Protestant to reject the doctrine of Purgatory, for I believe that the death and resurrection of Jesus constitutes “God’s mud room.”  Purgatory is also alien to Eastern Orthodoxy, which also encourages prayers for the dead.

I pray for the dead, too.  After all, who knows what takes place between God and the departed?





Merciful Father, hear our prayers and console us.

As we renew our faith in your Son, whom you raised from the dead,

strengthen our hope that all our departed brothers and sisters will share in his resurrection,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9 or Isaiah 25:6-9

Psalm 27:1, 4, 7-9, 13-14 or Psalm 103:8, 10, 13-18

Romans 6:3-9 or 1 Corinthians 15:20-28

Matthew 25:31-46 or John 11:17-27

The Vatican II Sunday Missal (1974), 1041-1048


O God, the Maker and Redeemer of all believers:

Grant to the faithful departed the unsearchable benefits of the passion of your Son;

that on the day of his appearing they may be manifested as your children;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with

you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9 or Isaiah 25:6-9

Psalm 130 or Psalm 116:6-9

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 or 1 Corinthians 15:50-58

John 5:24-27

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 665


Originally published at SUNDRY THOUGHTS


Devotion for Friday Before Proper 3, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Salonica, 1913

Above:   Salonica, 1913

J179889 U.S. Copyright Office

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USZ62-66142

The Faithfulness of God

MAY 20, 2016


The Collect:

O God our rock, your word brings life to the whole creation

and salvation from sin and death.

Nourish our faith in your promises, and ground us in your strength,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 38


The Assigned Readings:

Proverbs 15:1-9

Psalm 92:104, 12-15

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18


It is good to give thanks to Yahweh,

to make music for your name, Most High,

to proclaim your faithful love at daybreak,

and your constancy all through the night,

on the lyre, the ten-stringed lyre,

to the murmur of the harp.

–Psalm 92:1-3, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)


The imminent return of Christ was a common expectation during the earliest decades of Christianity.  St. Paul the Apostle harbored it, hence his downplaying of social justice issues in his epistles.  He never, for example, advocated for the end of slavery, a fact many defenders of chattel slavery were fond of citing centuries later.  By 50 C.E., give or take a few years, when St. Paul dictated 1 Thessalonians, perhaps the oldest extant work of Christian literature, members of the first generation of Christians had begun to die.  St. Paul, using his healthy tongue (a tree of life, according to Proverbs 15:4a), consoled the survivors.  The deceased faithful will see the return of Christ, he insisted, for God is faithful in keeping divine promises.

Sometimes God does not meet our expectations.  That fact indicates flaws in our expectations, not in God.  As Martin Luther insisted correctly, we can trust in the faithfulness of God.  May we do so, knowing that we misunderstand frequently and are inconstant much of the time, but that God is constant.









Devotion for Friday Before the First Sunday of Advent, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Great Day of His Wrath

Above: The Great Day of His Wrath, by John Martin

Image in the Public Domain

Promises of God

DECEMBER 1, 2023


The Collect:

Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come.

By your merciful protection awaken us to the threatening dangers of our sins,

and keep us blameless until the coming of your new day,

for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever . Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 18


The Assigned Readings:

Zechariah 14:1-9

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

1 Thessalonians 4:1-18


Restore us, O God of hosts;

show us the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

–Psalm 80:7, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


Zechariah 14 contains a vision of the establishment of the Kingdom of God in all its glory.  That account influenced the Book of Revelation and, before the composition of that text, hopes of the imminent return of Jesus Christ.  By the 50s C.e., however, many of the earliest Christians had died and many of their survivors grieved for fear that the deceased would miss the Second Coming, which many people of the time assumed might occur immediately.  St. Paul the Apostle wrote to comfort those who grieved accordingly.  The deceased will be there, he insisted, for there is a divine promise of that.

As I type these words in late 2014, many more Christians have died without witnessing the Second Coming.  Recent predictions of specific dates for that event have joined their predecessors in the dustbin on history.  Yet the promises of God remain dependable.  So whatever happens, whenever it occurs, and however it comes to pass, there is no need to grieve for fear that we or others have missed out on a promise of God.







Promises of God


Devotion for Monday and Tuesday After Proper 10, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment


Above:  A Boomerang

Image in the Public Domain

A Better Society

JULY 17 and 18, 2023


The Collect:

Almighty God, we thank you for planting in us the seed of your word.

By your Holy Spirit help us to receive it with joy,

live according to it, and grow if faith and love,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 42


The Assigned Readings:

Leviticus 26:3-20 (Monday)

Deuteronomy 28:1-14 (Tuesday)

Psalm 92 (Both Days)

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 (Monday)

Ephesians 4:17-5:2 (Tuesday)


Those who are planted in the house of the LORD

shall flourish in the courts of our God;

They shall still bear fruit in old age;

they shall be green and succulent;

That they may show how upright the LORD is,

my Rock, in whom there is no fault.

–Psalm 92:12-14, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


What we do to others we do to ourselves.  This is a timeless truth which the readings for these two days affirm.  The lessons from Leviticus and Deuteronomy speak of obedience to the Law of Moses as the prerequisite to prosperity and security in the land of Canaan.  The best of the Law of Moses rests partially on an ethic of mutuality.  People, when not stoning others for any of a host of offenses (from committing blasphemy to having premarital sex to working on the Sabbath to being disrespectful to parents) were not supposed to exploit each other.  By harming others they injured themselves and damaged their society.  That reality informed the Pauline readings.  How we treat others in a variety of ways–in attitudes, speech, sexual acts, et cetera–matters, St. Paul the Apostle said accurately.  Why?

…for we are all parts of the same body.

–J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English, Revised Edition (1972)

Thus whatever we do to another we do also to ourselves.  If we love our neighbors in need, we benefit ourselves.  If we seek to enrich ourselves to the detriment of others, we deprive ourselves in the long term and injure ourselves spiritually in the short, medium, and long terms.  Those who make others victims of violence (even that which might prove necessary to a higher purpose) become victims of their own violence.  It is a law of the universe.

The world is a messed-up place.  Often we must engage in or become complicit in bad just to commit some good.  I wish that this were not true, but it is.  We must work within the reality in which we find ourselves, but may we seek to transform it for the positive, so that more people may share in a better society.






A Better Society


Devotion for Monday and Tuesday After Proper 8, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Death of Naboth

Above:  The Stoning of Naboth, by Caspar Luiken

Image in the Public Domain

Tenants, Not Landlords

JULY 3 and 4, 2023


The Collect:

O God, you direct our lives by your grace,

and your words of justice and mercy reshape the world.

Mold us into a people who welcome your word and serve one another,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 40


The Assigned Readings:

1 Kings 21:1-16 (Monday)

1 Kings 21:17-29 (Tuesday)

Psalm 119:161-168 (Both Days)

1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 (Monday)

1 John 4:1-6 (Tuesday)


Princes have persecuted me without a cause,

but my heart stands in awe of your word.

I am as glad of your word

as one who finds great spoils.

As for lies, I hate and abhor them,

but your law do I love.

–Psalm 119:161-163, Common Worship (2000)


The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants.

–Leviticus 25:23, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)


But we belong to God….

–1 John 4:6a, The Revised English Bible (1989)


As for brotherly love, there is no need to write to you about that, since you have yourselves learnt from God to love another….

–1 Thessalonians 4:9, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)


One of the great lessons of the Bible is that we belong to God, the world belongs to God, and we are only tenants and stewards responsible to God and each other. The Law of Moses, in Leviticus 25:23-28, addresses the issue of the ownership, sale, purchase, and redemption of land in the light of that ethic. God is watching us and we have no right to exploit or trample each other. If God is our parental figure metaphorically (usually Father yet sometimes Mother; both analogies have merit), we are siblings. Should we not treat each other kindly and seek to build each other up?

King Ahab and his Canaanite queen, Jezebel, abused their power and violated the ethic I just described. Neither one was of good character. Jezebel plotted perjury, false accusations, and the execution of an innocent man. Ahab consented to this plan. His responsibility flowed partially from his moral cowardice, for he could have prevented his wife’s plot from succeeding. And he, of course, could have been content with what he had already in the beginning of the story. The man was the monarch, after all.

Many of us seek after wealth or try to retain it while laboring under the misapprehension that it does or should belong to us. Actually, all of it belongs to God. Yes, there is a moral responsibility in all societies to provide a basic human standard of living for all people, given the ethic of mutuality and the fact that there is sufficient wealth for everyone to have enough to meet his or her needs. (I do not presume that there is one way all societies must follow to accomplish this goal.) And, if more of us thought of ourselves as stewards and tenants answerable to God, not as lords and masters, a greater number of our fellow citizens would be better off. That is a fine goal to which to strive en route to the final destination of a society based on mutuality.









Proper 27, Year A   17 comments

Above:  Niagara Falls

Image Source = sbittante

“But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”–Amos 5:24

The Sunday Closest to November 9

The Twenty-Fourth Sunday After Pentecost

NOVEMBER 12, 2023



Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25 (New Revised Standard Version):

Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people,

Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors– Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor– lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many.

Now therefore revere the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River, and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.

Then the people answered,

Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods; for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; and the LORD drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.

But Joshua said to the people,

You cannot serve the LORD; for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.

And the people said to Joshua,

No, we will serve the LORD!

Then Joshua said to the people,

You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD, to serve him.

And they said,

We are witnesses.

He said,

Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel.

The people said to Joshua,

The LORD our God we will serve, and him we will obey.

So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem.


Psalm 78:1-7 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Hear my teaching, O my people;

incline your ears to the words of my mouth.

I will open my mouth in a parable;

I will declare the mysteries of ancient times.

That which we have heard and known,

and what our forefathers have told us,

we will not hide from their children.

4 We will recount to generations to come

the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the LORD,

and the wonderful works he has done.

5 He gave his decrees to Jacob

and established a law for Israel,

which he commanded them to teach their children;

6 That the generations to come might know,

and the children yet unborn;

so that they in their turn might tell it to their children;

7 So that they might put their trust in God,

and not forget the deeds of God,

but keep his commandments.


Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16 (New Revised Standard Version):

Wisdom is radiant and unfading,

and she is easily discerned by those who love her,

and is found by those who seek her.

She hastens to make herself known to those who desire her.

One who rises early to seek her will have no difficulty,

for she will be found sitting at the gate.

To fix one’s thought on her is perfect understanding,

and one who is vigilant on her account will soon be free from care,

because she goes about seeking those worthy of her,

and she graciously appears to them in their paths,

and meets them in every thought.


Amos 5:18-24 (New Revised Standard Version):

Alas for you who desire the day of the LORD!

Why do you want the day of the LORD?

It is darkness, not light:

as if someone fled from a lion,

and was met by a bear;

or went into a house and rested a hand against the wall

and was bitten by a snake.

Is not the day of the LORD darkness, not light,

and gloom with no brightness in it?

I hate, I despise your festivals,

and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.

Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,

I will not accept them;

and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals

I will not look upon.

Take away from me the noise of your songs;

I will not listen to the melody of your harps.

But let justice roll down like waters,

and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.


Psalm 70 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  Be pleased, O God, to deliver me;

O LORD, make haste to help me.

2  Let those who seek my life be ashamed

and altogether dismayed;

let those who take pleasure in my misfortune

draw back and be disgraced.

3  Let those who say to me “Aha!” and gloat over me turn back,

because they are ashamed.

4  Let all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you;

let those who love your salvation say to for ever,

“Great is the LORD!”

5  But as for me, I am poor and needy;

come to me speedily, O God.

6  You are my helper and my deliverer;

O LORD, do not tarry.


Wisdom of Solomon 6:17-20 (New Revised Standard Version):

The beginning of wisdom is the most sincere desire for instruction,

and concern for instruction is love of her,

and love of her is the keeping of her laws,

and giving heed to her laws is assurance of of immortality,

and immortality brings one near to God;

so the desire for wisdom leads to a kingdom.


1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (New Revised Standard Version):

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.


Matthew 25:1-13 (New Revised Standard Version):

Jesus said,

Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

The Collect:

O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.



Above:  Sophia, Lady Wisdom

Image Source = Radomil

The Bible uses a variety of metaphors for God.  Most of these are masculine, but some are feminine.  God, in Deuteronomy, is the mother eagle who teaches the eaglets how to fly.  And Jesus likens himself to a mother hen when he laments over Jerusalem.  Then there is Sophia, the wisdom of God personified as a woman in Old Testament wisdom literature, from Proverbs to Sirach/Ecclesiasticus to the Wisdom of Solomon.

Deity, of course, exists beyond human concepts of sex and gender, terms I use in their sociological contexts.  Sex is the physical state, a matter of anatomy.  Gender is what that anatomy means for one.  Is there a glass ceiling?  Which professions does society consider fit and proper for one to pursue?  Does one receive equal pay for equal work?  Can one vote?  And does one carry a purse or a shoulder bag?

The authors of the Bible came from male-dominated societies, so it is not surprising that their vision of God was mainly masculine.  Had they been born into matriarchal societies, metaphors of God the Mother would seem like second nature to us.  My point is this:  Let us not become distracted by metaphors.  No, let us learn from them and focus on the divine reality behind them.

The love of wisdom, we read, leads to eternal life, or life in God.  The love of wisdom, we read, leads to the keeping of the law.  And what fulfills the law?  Love of one’s neighbors does.  See Romans 13:10 for details.


The (Western) Christian year always ends with Proper 29, Christ the King Sunday, in late November.  The readings for the Sundays immediately prior to Christ the King Sunday tend to take an eschatological tone, for Advent is near, with the twelve days of Christmas on its heels.

The reading from Joshua contains foreboding.  The people swear to serve and obey God, but Joshua knows better.  The prophet Amos, a few centuries later, warns of God’s judgments on their descendants.  And what have the people done?  They have practiced idolatry, economic exploitation, judicial corruption, and condoned rampant social inequality beyond that which exists in a simple meritocracy.  They have not loved their neighbors as themselves.  We read in Romans 13:10 that love of one’s neighbors fulfills the law of God.

There is hope, even in Amos.  The divine judgment has not come down yet, so there is still time to repent–to turn around, to change one’s mind.  And Paul, in 1 Thessalonians, does not look upon the return of Jesus with dread.  No, he thinks of it as an occasion to encourage people.  Those who have followed Jesus have no reason to dread the Second Coming, in Paul’ mind, for God has justified them.  And so there is no condemnation for them.  But, as the reading from Matthew cautions us, those who become lax at the wrong time will regret their inaction.

Church history contains many incidents of people predicting the Second Coming of Jesus.  He has not kept any of those dates yet.  One might think that, after a while, more people would learn not to place their trust in dates.  We–you and I–have an assignment from God.  It is to love our neighbors as ourselves and to honor the image of God in ourselves and others, whether or not they are similar to us.  How this translates into actions will vary from person to person, according to one’s time, place, gifts, abilities, and circumstances.  But, however God calls you to live this vocation, may you do so.  Then you will be like a bridesmaid with plenty of oil.


Week of Proper 17: Monday, Year 1   12 comments

Above:  Graveyard and Church

Image in the Public Domain

Death Has No Dominion



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 4:13-18 (The Jerusalem Bible):

We want you to be quite certain, brothers, about those who have died, to make sure that you not grieve about them, like the other people who have no hope.  We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and that it will be the same for those who have died in Jesus:  God will bring them with him.  We can tell you this from the Lord’s own teaching, that any of us who are left alive until the Lord’s coming will not have any advantage over those who have died.  At the trumpet of God, the voice of the archangel will call out the command and the Lord himself will come down from heaven; those who have died in Christ will be the first to rise, then those of us who are still alive will be taken up in the clouds, together with them, to meet the Lord in the air.  So we shall stay with the Lord for ever.  With such thoughts as these you should comfort one another.

Psalm 96 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Sing to the LORD a new song;

sing to the LORD, all the whole earth.

2 Sing to the LORD and bless his Name;

proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day.

3 Declare his glory among the nations

and his wonders among all peoples.

4 For great is the LORD and greatly to be praised;

he is more to be feared than all gods.

5 As for the gods of the nations, they are but idols;

but it is the LORD who made the heavens.

6 Oh, the majesty and magnificence of his presence!

Oh, the power and the splendor of his sanctuary!

7 Ascribe to the LORD, you families of the peoples;

ascribe to the LORD honor and power.

8 Ascribe to the LORD the honor due his Name;

bring offerings and come into his courts.

9 Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness;

let the whole earth tremble before him.

10 Tell it out among the nations:  “The LORD is King!

he has made the world so firm that it cannot be moved;

he will judge the peoples with equity.”

11 Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;

let the sea thunder and all that is in it;

let the field be joyful and all that is therein.

12 Then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joy

before the LORD when he comes,

when he comes to judge the earth.

13 He will judge the world with righteousness

and the peoples with his truth.

Luke 4:16-30 (The Jerusalem Bible):

He [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day as he usually did.  He stood up to read, and they handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.  Unrolling the scroll he found the place where it is written:

The spirit of the Lord has been given to me,

for he has anointed me.

He has sent me bring the good news to the poor,

to proclaim liberty to the captives

and to the blind new sight,

to set the downtrodden free,

to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.

He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the assistant and sat down.  And all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him.  Then he began to speak to them, “This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.”  And he won the approval of all, and they were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips.

They said,

This is Joseph’s son, surely?

But he replied,

No doubt you will quote the saying, “Physician, heal yourself” and tell me, “We have heard all that happened in Capernaum, do the same here in your own countryside.”  And he went on, “I tell you solemnly, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country.  There were many widows in Israel, I can assure you, in Elijah’s day, when heaven remained shut for three years and six months and a great famine raged throughout the land, but Elijah was not sent to any one of those; he was sent to a widow at Zarephath, a Sidonian town.  And in the prophet Elisha’s time there were many lepers in Israel, but none of these was cured, except the Syrian, Naaman.”

When they heard this everyone in the synagogue was enraged.  They sprang to their feet and hustled him out of town; and they took him up to the brow of the hill their town was built on, intending to throw him down the cliff, but he slipped through the crowd and walked away.


The Collect:

Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.


The spirit of the Lord Yahweh has been given to me,

for Yahweh has anointed me.

He has sent me to bring good news to the poor,

to bind up hearts that are broken;

to proclaim liberty to captives,

freedom to those in prison;

to proclaim a year of favour from Yahweh,

a day of vengeance for our God,

to comfort all those who mourn and to give them

for ashes a garland;

for mourning robe the oil of gladness,

for despondency, praise.

–Isaiah 61:1-3a (The Jerusalem Bible)

The story of our Lord and Savior’s rejection in his hometown appears in all three synoptic gospels.  In Mark and Matthew, however, the rejection is immediate.  (Follow the links in “Some Related Posts” to read those texts.)  But Jesus finds immediate adulation in the Lukan account.  Only after he keeps talking about the extension of grace to Gentiles does he face rejection.

None of this bothers me, for I am not a Biblical literalist.  In these devotions I read the accounts in their literary context, not as a great, unified harmony of the gospels.  Minor differences exist among parallel readings, but so be it.  I have my eyes on more important matters.

With this post I follow the Canadian Anglican lectionary into the Gospel of Luke.  The story before this reading is simple:  Mary becomes pregnant.  So does her cousin Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist.  Both women give birth.  Prophecies unfold.  Shepherds visit shortly after the birth of Jesus.  At age 12, Jesus astounds scholars of the Scriptures at the Jerusalem Temple.  Jesus grows up, and eighteen years pass.  John the Baptist announces the coming of the Messiah, baptizes Jesus, and speaks out against the tetrarch Herod, who sends John to prison.  Jesus then goes into the wilderness, passes the test of temptations, and begins to preach, to much acclaim.

So we come to this day’s reading from Luke.  The quote from Isaiah 61 matches one of the central concerns of the Lukan Gospel:  God’s care for the poor.  And let us remember another theme of the book:  The Jews are the chosen people, but God calls Gentiles, too.

Now, for 1 Thessalonians…

You and I, O reader, have an advantage that the Thessalonian Christians of circa 50-51 C.E. lacked.  We have the benefits of subsequent history and theological development.  Christian theology was in its infancy during the time of Paul.  A common expectation among followers of Jesus at the time was that the Lord would return very soon.  But people who had come to faith in Christ began to die.  There was some concern in the Thessalonian church that the deceased believers would be a great disadvantage upon the Second Coming.  This is where history comes in:  Those alive at the time of the writing of 1 Thessalonians died without seeing the Second Coming either.

Paul assured the members of the Thessalonian church that nobody who trusted in Jesus, whether he or she have a pulse or not, was at a disadvantage.  Death did not break the relationship of faith.  Those who have predeceased us are still alive in God.

And, as Luke reminds us, those who can come to this faith include Gentiles.  So God places no obstacles–not even death–in the way of a continued faith life.  Neither race nor ethnicity nor cultural background nor death have dominion.  Jesus came to preach a liberating message, the best news of all.  It is for you, and it is for me.  And Jesus keeps his promises.  Deo gratias!


Week of Proper 16: Saturday, Year 1   13 comments

Above:  Parable of the Talents Woodcut, 1712

Image in the Public Domain

Sins of Omission



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 4:9-12 (The Jerusalem Bible):

As for loving our brothers, there is no need for anyone to write to you about that, since you have learnt from God yourselves to love one another, and in fact that is what you are doing with all the brothers throughout the whole of Macedonia.  However, we do urge you, brothers, to go on making even greater progress and to make a point of living quietly, attending to our own business and earning your living, just as we told you to, so that you are seen to be respectable by those outside the Church, though you do not have to depend on them.

Psalm 98 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Sing to the LORD a new song,

for he has done marvelous things.

2 With his right hand and his holy arm

has he won for himself the victory.

3 The LORD has made known his victory;

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

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

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

5 Shout with joy to the LORD, all you lands;

lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing.

6 Sing to the LORD with the harp,

with the harp and the voice of song.

7 With trumpets and the sound of the horn

shout with joy before the King, the LORD.

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

the lands and those who dwell therein.

9 Let the rivers clap their hands,

and the hills ring out with joy before the LORD,

when he comes to judge the earth.

10 In righteousness shall he judge the world

and the peoples with equity.

Matthew 25:14-30 (The Jerusalem Bible):

Jesus said,

It [the kingdom of heaven] is like a man on his way abroad who summoned his servants and entrusted his property to them.  To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to a third one; each in proportion to his ability.  Then he set out.  The man who had received five talents promptly went and traded with them and made five more.  The man who had received two made two more in the same way.  But the man who had received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.  Now a long time after, the master of those servants came back and went through his accounts with them.  The man who had received five talents came forward bringing five more.  ‘Sir,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents; here are five more I have made.’  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown that you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master’s happiness.’  Next the man with two talents came forward.  ‘Sir,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two talents; here are two more that I have made.’  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master’s happiness.’  Last came forward the man who had the one talent.  ‘Sir,’ said he, ‘I had heard that you were a hard man, reaping where you had not sown and gathering where you had not scattered; so I was afraid, and I went off and hid your talent in the ground.  Here it is; it was yours, you have it back.’  But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant!  So you knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered?  Well then, you should deposited my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have recovered my capital with interest.  So now, take the talent from him and give it to the man who has the five talents.  For to everyone who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough; but from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away.  As for this good-for-nothing servant, throw him out into the dark, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.’


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.


Matthew 25 is a chapter about the Second Coming of Jesus.  It has three distinct and related sections.  The first consists of verses 1-13, the Parable of the Bridesmaids.  Some were prepared, others were not.  Then follows this day’s reading, the Parable of the Talents.  I will return to that in a moment.  The final part of Chapter 25 is the familiar discourse about the final judgment.  Jesus will interview people.  He will inform many of them that they fed him when he was hungry, clothed him when he was naked, and visited him when he was in prison.  Surprised, they will ask when they did this.  And Jesus will say that they did this for him when they did it for others.  Conversely, Jesus will inform others that they did none of these things.  Shocked, they will ask when they did not.  As it turns out, they did not help others in these ways.

These three sections of Matthew 25, taken together, focus on actions, inactions, and their consequences.  Those who act righteously, even if they have little or no idea how righteously they are behaving, will reap what they sow.  Those who act unrighteously, even if they have little or no idea how unrighteously they are acting, will reap what they sow.  And not doing something when that is appropriate and one has the opportunity to do so is a sin of omission.  God frowns on those, as well as sins of commission.

And all of this occurs in the shadow of Golgotha.

So, with preliminaries out of the way, let us explore the Parable of the Talents.

It is a simple story.  A very wealthy landowner entrusts his property to three servants before he goes abroad for a long time.  A talent, according to The New Interpreter’s Bible, was “a large sum of money, equal to the wages of a day laborer for fifteen years” (Volume VIII, page 453).  So each servant, whether he received one, two, or five talents, held a large amount of wealth, especially by the economic standards of most people of that time and place.  The servants entrusted with two and five talents invested it wisely and doubled their amounts.  Their master was pleased with them when he returned.  But one servant buried the talent in the ground.  It was common to bury something valuable in the ground for safe keeping.  This servant was honest; he did not abscond the wealth and flee the area.  But he did nothing.  Neither did he disobey instructions, for there are none in the parable.  But he displeased the master by not even depositing the talent in a local bank.  The servant had nothing to show, for he did nothing.

William R. Herzog II, in Parables as Subversive Speech: Jesus as Pedagogue of the Oppressed (1994), interprets this story in a way unlike I have read anywhere else.  He treats the servant with one talent as the hero of story.  According to Herzog (pages 150-168), the point of the parable is to identify with the vulnerable whistle-blower who, by his inaction, calls attention to the unjust means by which his master accumulates wealth.  As much as I identify with Herzog’s notions of economic justice and injustice, I conclude that he twists more than one parable, including this one, to fit his preconceived ideas.  I skimmed his chapter on the parable before typing the parable word-for-word into this post.  So both are fresh in my mind.  Herzog’s interpretation makes no sense within the textual context of Matthew 25.

The Biblical texts are what the are, and they say what they say.  Sometimes I argue with them.  Other times I agree with them.   But I try first to identify what they say.  And Matthew 25:14-30 does not say what Herzog wants it to say.

The anticipated Second Coming of Jesus also figures into today’s excerpt from 1 Thessalonians.  Some members of the Thessalonian congregation had dropped out of the work force so they could devote themselves to preparing themselves for the great event.  So Paul wrote that they should resume their lives as productive members of society.  Matters of prophecy will tend to themselves, but we have work to do.  May we not be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good.

Reading the Bible according to a lectionary is the best method, for it facilitates the recognition of connections between passages.  The readings from Matthew and 1 Thessalonians are especially appropriate to read together, for a common thread runs through them.  My synthesis of these lessons follows:  Some of us have more to offer to God than others, but all of it comes from God.  We have the option of seeking the safest course in life, which is not to take risks or rock the boat.  But that is not what God calls us to do.  No, God calls us to take risks–even the chance of losing everything without trying to accomplish that end.  But, if we do this faithfully, at least we have been faithful.  Jesus did not “play it safe,” and neither should we who claim to follow him.  What each of has is time, in various quantities.  May we make the most of it, for the glory of God.  As Mother Teresa said, God has calls us to be faithful, not successful.

Too much of religion consists of “playing it safe.”  But I prefer a riskier spiritual route, one I have heard described as “doing a daring dance with God.”  The tango sounds like fun; God will lead.




may have killed the cat; more likely

the cat was just unlucky, or else curious

to see what death was like, having no cause

to go on licking paws, or fathering

litter on litter of kittens, predictable.

Nevertheless, to be curious

is dangerous enough.  To distrust

what is always said, what seems,

to ask odd questions, interfere in dreams,

leave home, smell rats, have hunches,

cannot endear them to those doggy circles

where well-smelt baskets , suitable wives, good lunches

are the order of things, and where prevails

much wagging of incurious heads and tails.

Face it.  Curiosity

will not cause him to die–

only lack of it will.

Never to want to see

the other side of the hill

or some improbable country

where living is an idyll

(although a probable hell)

would kill us all.

Only the curious

have, if they live, a tale

worth telling at all.

Dogs say cats love too much, are irresponsible,

are changeable, marry too many wives,

desert their children, chill all dinner tables

with tales of their nine lives.

Well, they are lucky.  Let them be

nine-lived and contradictory,

curious enough to change, prepared to pay

the cat-price, which is to die

and die again and again,

each time with no less pain.

A cat minority of one

is all that can be counted on

to tell the truth.  And what cats have to tell

on each return from hell

is this:  that dying is what the living do,

that dying is what the loving do,

and that the dead dogs are those who never know

that dying is what, to live, each has to do.

Alastair Reid, 1959

Week of Proper 16: Friday, Year 1   12 comments

Above: The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (1838-1842), by Friedrich Wilhelm Schadow (1788-1862)

Image in the Public Domain

Individual Faith, in Community Context



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 4:1-8 (The Jerusalem Bible):

Finally, brothers, we urge you and appeal to you in the Lord Jesus Christ to make more and more progress in the kind of life that you are meant to live:  the life that God wants, as you learnt from us, and as you are already living it.  You have not forgotten the instructions that we gave you on the authority of the Lord Jesus.

What God wants is for you all to be holy.  He wants you to keep away from fornication, and each one of you to know how to use the body that belongs to him in a way that is holy and honourable, not giving way to selfish lust like the pagans who do not know God.  He wants nobody to at all ever to sin by taking advantage of a brother in these matters; the Lord always punishes sins of that sort, as we told you before and assured you.  We have been called by God to be holy, not to be immoral; in other words, anyone who objects is not objecting to a human authority, but to God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.

Psalm 97 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 The LORD is King;

let the earth rejoice;

let the multitude of the isles be glad.

2 Clouds and darkness are round about him,

righteousness and justice are the foundations of his throne.

3 A fire goes before him

and burns up his enemies on every side.

4 His lightnings light up the world;

the earth sees it and is afraid.

5 The mountains melt like wax at the presence of the LORD,

at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.

6 The heavens declare his righteousness,

and all the peoples see his glory.

7 Confounded be all who worship carved images

and delight in false gods!

Bow down before him, all you gods.

8 Zion hears and is glad, and the cities of Judah rejoice,

because of your judgments, O LORD.

9 For you are the LORD,

most high over all the earth;

you are exalted far above all gods.

10 The LORD loves those who hate evil;

he preserves the lives of the saints

and delivers them from the hand of the wicked.

11 Light has sprung up for the righteous,

and joyful gladness for those who are truehearted.

12 Rejoice in the LORD, you righteous,

and give thanks to his holy Name.

Matthew 25:1-13 (The Jerusalem Bible):

Jesus said,

Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this:  Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.  Five of them were foolish and five sensible:  the foolish ones did take their lamps, but they brought no oil, whereas the sensible ones took flasks of oil as well as their lamps.  The bridegroom was late, and they all grew drowsy and fell asleep.  But at midnight there was a cry.  ‘The bridegroom is here!  Go out and meet him.’  At this, all those bridesmaids woke up and trimmed their lamps, and the foolish ones said to the sensible ones, ‘Give us some of your oil:  our lamps are going out.’  But they replied, ‘There may not be enough for us and for you; you had better go to those who sell it and buy some for yourselves.’  They had gone off to buy it when the bridegroom arrived.  Those who were ready went in with him to the wedding hall and the door was closed.  The other bridesmaids arrived later.  ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us.’  But he replied, ‘I tell you solemnly, I do not know you.’  So stay awake, because you do not know either the day or the hour.


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.


This day’s readings flow naturally from those for the previous day; the theme continues to have an eschatological root.

The wedding custom to which Jesus refers in Matthew 25 is one in which a wedding was a week-long event.  Bridesmaids kept the bride company until the bridegroom arrived.  But nobody knew when the bridegroom would arrive, so the wise bridesmaid was prepared with a lit lamp and spare oil.  And nobody was allowed to process to the wedding without a lit lamp.  Once the doors closed, those who were in were in and those were outside were outside.

Jesus, of course, is the bridegroom, and each of us is a bridesmaid.  The oil stands in for a right relationship with God.  Nobody can borrow this from anyone else.  This relationship with God is in faith community; it is not hyper-individualistic.  But each person must take responsibility for his or her faith life.  Hence the Church has incorporated the balance of individual and community into its rites for baptism, confirmation, and reaffirmation of faith.

The reading from 1 Thessalonians also pertains to marriage.  Paul cautions the recent converts to Christianity to avoid promiscuity, which was apparently common among many pagans.  The reference to taking advantage of a brother refers to wrecking his marriage by luring his wife away from him, hence leading to divorce, or by merely committing adultery with his wife.  Either way, the result was negative.

The subtext is this:  What we do affects others.  All that we do, for good or for ill, we do in community.  And we are how we think; our attitudes influence our actions.  So proper regard for each other is the first link in a chain that leads to a healthy community and society.  We cannot borrow this attitude from anyone else; we must take responsibility for it ourselves.

And who are our neighbors, brothers, and sisters?  All persons are our neighbors, brothers, and sisters.  On that day when God asks us if we have loved them as ourselves, may we be able to say honestly that we have tried more often than not.  Until then, imagine what the world would like if more people followed this ethic.  Then try to make it look more like that.