Archive for the ‘Acts 15’ Tag

Devotion for Monday and Tuesday After Proper 4, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Draw the Circle Wider

Above:  The Cover of a Small Book the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta Publishes

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Trusting and Obeying God (Or Not)

MAY 31, 2021

JUNE 1, 2021


The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God,

throughout time you free the oppressed,

heal the sick,

and make whole all that you have made.

Look with compassion on the world wounded by sin,

and by your power restore us to wholeness of life,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 38


The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 16:13-26 (Monday)

Exodus 16:27-36 (Tuesday)

Psalm 78:1-4, 52-72 (Both Days)

Romans 9:19-29 (Monday)

Acts 15:1-5, 22-35 (Tuesday)


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 pour forth mysteries from of old,

Such as we have heard and known,

which our forebears have told us.

We will not hide from their children,

but will recount to generations to come,

the praises of the Lord and his power

and the wonderful works he has done.

–Psalm 78:1-4, Common Worship (2000)


One reads of the sovereignty, mercy, and judgment of God in Psalm 78.  Other assigned passages for these two days pick up these elements.  We read of God’s mercy (in the form of manna) in Exodus 16 and of divine sovereignty and judgment in Romans 9.  We read also of human fickleness and faithlessness in Exodus 16 and of human faithfulness in Acts 15.

Exodus 16’s place in the narrative is within recent memory of the Exodus from slavery in Egypt.  One might think, therefore, that more people would trust God, who was demonstrably faithful to divine promises.  But, no!  Bad mentalities many people had remained, unfortunately.

The Council of Jerusalem addressed the major question of how much the Law of Moses Gentile Christians had to keep.  Did one have to become a Jew in order to be a Christian?  This was a major question of identity for many observant Jewish Christians.  Not keeping the Law of Moses was, according to Jewish scriptures, negative and had led to the downfall of kingdoms.  The final position of the Council of Jerusalem was to require only that Gentile Christians obey Leviticus 17:8-18:30, which applied to resident aliens.  Gentile Christians were to abstain from three categories of behavior which offended Jewish sensibilities:

  1. Eating food sacrificed to idols,
  2. Drinking blood and eating meat from animals not quite drained of blood, and
  3. Engaging in fornication, most rules of which related to sexual relations with near relatives.

Underlying these rules is a sense of respect:

  1. Acting respectfully toward God is a virtue which requires no explanation here.
  2. Blood, according to the assumptions regarding food laws, carries life.  To abstain from consuming blood, therefore, is to respect the life of the source animal.  (Hence the Christian theology of Transubstantiation, foreshadowed in the Gospel of John, is scandalous from a certain point of view.
  3. And, as for sexual relations, one must, to be moral, respect one’s body and the body of any actual or prospective sexual partner.

As generous as the conclusion of the Council of Jerusalem was, it proved insufficient to satisfy the pro-Law of Moses hardliners.  Generosity of spirit, which sets some boundaries while abolishing stumbling blocks, tends not to satisfy hardliners of either the left wing or the right wing.  Yet, as the French say, C’est la vie.  In my Christian tradition hardliners exist, and I am at odds with many of them.  I try to ignore the rest.

Nevertheless, I ask myself if I have become a hardliner of a sort.  If the answer is affirmative, the proper spiritual response is to ask myself whom I am excluding improperly and, by grace, to pursue corrective action–repentance–changing my mind, turning around.

Trusting God can prove difficult, given our negative mentalities.  Seeking to hoard material necessities leads to excess and is one expression of faithlessness.  Another is comforting oneself with false notions of who is “in” and who is “out,” with oneself being part of the “in” crowd, of course.  But what if God’s definition of the “in” crowd is broader than ours.  How does that affect our identity?








Devotion for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday After Proper 15, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Star of David

Above:  The Star of David

Image in the Public Domain

The Gifts of the Jews

AUGUST 21-23, 2023


The Collect:

God of all peoples, your arms reach out to embrace all those who call upon you.

Teach us as disciples of your Son to love the world with compassion and constancy,

that your name may be known throughout all the earth,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 45


The Assigned Readings:

2 Kings 5:1-14 (Monday)

Isaiah 43:8-13 (Tuesday)

Isaiah 66:18-23 (Wednesday)

Psalm 87 (All Days)

Acts 15:1-21 (Monday)

Romans 11:13-29 (Tuesday)

Matthew 8:1-13 (Wednesday)


Glorious things of thee are spoken,

Zion, city of our God;

He whose word cannot be broken

Formed thee for His own abode:

On the Rock of Ages founded,

What can shake thy sure repose?

With salvation’s walls surrounded,

Thou mayst smile at all thy foes.

–John Newton, 1779, quoted in The Hymnal (1895), Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.


That magnificent hymn, keyed to Psalm 87, fits well with the assigned Isaiah readings, which speak of the Jews as playing a pivotal role in the salvation of the Gentiles.  And the cure of an enemy general’s skin disease comes via a Hebrew servant girl in 2 Kings 5.  In the time of Christ many Gentiles recognized the superiority of the Jewish faith to pagan mythology.  Our Lord and Savior acknowledged the faith of some of them and the early Church decided not to require Gentiles to become Jews before becoming Christians formally.

These were difficult issues because they were matters of identity, something which takes a negative form much of the time.  “I am not…” is a bad yet commonplace starting point for individual and collective identity.  “We are not Gentiles; we are the Chosen People” is as objectionable an identity as is “We are not Jews; we are Christians, who have a faith superior to theirs.”  Examples and rejections of both errors exist in the pages of the Bible.  My encounters with Jews have been positive, I am glad to say, but I have heard the second error repeatedly.

The question in Acts 15 was whether Gentiles had to become Jews to join the Church, thus it concerned male circumcision, a matter of Jewish identity and strong emotions then and now.  The early Church and St. Paul the Apostle, who never ceased being Jewish, favored not placing obstacles in the way of faithful people.  They favored a generous, inclusive policy which, ironically, functioned as an example of excessive leniency in the minds of conservative thinkers.  How much tradition should the nascent Church–still a small Jewish act at the time–retain?  Who was a Jew and who was not?  Keeping laws and traditions was vital, many people argued.  Had not being unobservant led to national collapse and exiles centuries before?

Unfortunately, Anti-Semitism has been a repeating pattern in Christian history.  The writing of the four canonical Gospels occurred in the context of Jewish-Christian tensions, a fact which, I am sure, shaped the telling of the first four books of the New Testament.  Jesus engaged in controversies with religious leaders, I affirm, but how could the conflicts of early Christianity not influence the telling of those stories?  Sometimes I read these accounts and recognize that misreading of them has had devastating effects on uncounted numbers of people over nearly two thousand years and sit in silence and absolute sadness.  On other occasions I focus on other aspects of these accounts.

St. Paul the Apostle offered sage advice.  Gentiles are a branch grafted onto a tree, he wrote.  That branch ought not to consider itself superior to the other branches.  As for the tree itself, I have only respect for the Jews and Judaism, for salvation is of the Jews.  Besides, I, as a Gentile and a Christian, have much to learn from those whom Pope John Paul II called the elder brethren in faith.  To that end I read and study as I thank God for all the gifts of the Jews.







The Gifts of the Jews


Devotion for July 19 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Above:  Hophni and Phinehas

Image in the Public Domain

1 Samuel and Acts, Part I:  God’s Favor

JULY 18, 2023


Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


The Assigned Readings:

1 Samuel 2:18-36

Psalm 51 (Morning)

Psalms 142 and 65 (Evening)

Acts 15:22-41


One of many recurring themes in the Hebrew Scriptures is how God’s grace sometimes defies human preferences for inheritance and/or succession.  The promise passed through the lines of two second sons, Isaac and Jacob.  Eli’s sons did not succeed him; Samuel, who was unrelated to him, did.  David was not the eldest in his family.  And Solomon was not David’s firstborn son.  As I ponder these examples, I conclude that divine favor is the unifying thread.  Jacob was a notorious trickster, and David and Solomon were hardly moral giants.  I care less about the sexual sins of the latter two than about their economically exploitative policies, which affected more people negatively.  But many of my fellow human beings focus so much on matters of sexuality that they overlook or downplay economic exploitation, a topic on which the Bible has much more to say.

But I digress.  Back to my regularly scheduled program….

The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod daily lectionary from the Lutheran Service Book (2006), with these readings, returns to the Acts of the Apostles after a detour through the Letter to the Galatians.  The message from the Council of Jerusalem reminds us that God’s favor crosses other lines and extends to Gentiles.  There are favored Gentiles in the Hebrew Bible, of course; Rahab and Ruth come to mind immediately.  But I detect a new level of this theme in the New Testament.  I, as a Gentile, am grateful.

Where will God’s favor flow next?   I wonder.









Devotion for July 10 and 11 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   5 comments

Above:  Gideon’s Fountain

Image in the Public Domain

Image Source = Library of Congress

Judges and Acts, Part III:  Undue Burdens and Obstacles

JULY 10 AND 11, 2023


Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


The Assigned Readings:

Judges 6:1-24 (July 10)

Judges 6:25-40 (July 11)

Psalm 96 (Morning–July 10)

Psalm 116 (Morning–July 11)

Psalms 132 and 134 (Evening–July 10)

Psalms 26 and 130 (Evening–July 11)

Acts 14:19-15:5 (July 10)

Acts 15:6-21 (July 11)


The Council of Jerusalem decided not to impose circumcision, an undue burden, upon Gentile Christians.  This was a serious and a difficult issue, for circumcision was (and remains) a major issue of Jewish identity.  It reminded men that they owed their existence to God.  But this ritual stood as an obstacle for many Gentiles, understandably.

Back in the Book of Judges, Gideon thought of God’s call as a burden.  Why else would he have kept testing God by asking for confirmation of the mandate to liberate the Israelites from the Midianite oppression?  Yet, as the story after Judges 6 makes clear, God succeeded because of divine power, not Gideon’s military ability or great determination or true grit.

We who claim to follow God need to distinguish between real burdens and imagined ones.  And we need to remember that God provides the means to succeed and/or to persevere on divine missions.  Paul risked his life for God; he lost it eventually for the same purpose.  Elsewhere in the Bible, prophets experienced scorn and ridicule, even exile.  But may we recall the words of God in Judges 6:16:

I will be with you….

(TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures)

And may we not impose any undue spiritual burden on anyone or erect obstacles in their path.  Rather, may we remove them.  May we not get in God’s way, even while trying to do the right thing or what we imagine to be the right thing.






Week of Proper 22: Wednesday, Year 2   14 comments

Above:  A Checkmark

Checklists and Life

OCTOBER 5, 2022


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.


I have expanded the first reading to encompass the entire second chapter of Galatians.–KRT


Galatians 2:1-21 (Revised English Bible):

Fourteen years later, I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and we took Titus with us.  I went in response to a revelation from God; I explained, at a private interview with those of repute, the gospel which I preach to the Gentiles, to make sure that the race I had to run and was running should not be in vain.  Not even my companion Titus, Greek though he is, was compelled to be circumcised.  That course was urged only as a concession to certain sham Christians, intruders who had sneaked in to spy on the liberty we enjoy in the fellowship of Christ Jesus.  These man wanted to bring us into bondage, but not for one moment did I yield to their dictation; I was determined that the full truth of the gospel should be maintained for you.

As for those reputed to be something (not that their importance matters to me:  God does not recognize these personal distinctions)–these men of repute, I say, imparted nothing further to me.  On the contrary, they saw that I had entrusted to take the gospel to the Gentiles as surely as Peter had been entrusted to take it to the Jews; for the same God who was at work in Peter’s mission to the Jews was also at work in mine to the Gentiles.

Recognizing, then, the privilege bestowed on me, those who are reputed to be pillars of the community, James, Cephas, and John, accepted Barnabas and myself as partners and shook hands on it:  the agreement was that we should go to the Gentiles, while they went to the Jews.  All they asked was that we should keep in mind the poor, the very thing I have always made it my business to do.

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.  For until some messengers came from James, he was taking his meals with gentile Christians; but after they came he drew back and began to hold aloof, because he was afraid of the Jews.  The other Jewish Christians showed the same lack of principle; even Barnabas was carried away and played false like the rest.  But when I say that their conduct did not square with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas, in front of the whole congregation,

If you, a Jew born and bred, live like a Gentile, and not like a Jew, how can you insist that Gentiles must live like Jews?

We ourselves are Jews by birth, not gentile sinners, yet we know that no one is ever justified by doing what the law requires, but only through faith in Christ Jesus.  So we too have put our faith in Jesus Christ, in order that we might be justified through this faith, and not through actions dictated by law; for no human being can be justified by keeping the law.

If then, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves no less than the Gentiles turn out to be sinners, does that mean that Christ is a promoter of sin?  Of course not!  On the contrary, it is only if I start building up again all I have pulled down that I prove to be one who breaks the law.  For through the law I died to law–to live for God.  I have been crucified with Christ:  the life I now live is not my life, but the life which Christ lives in my me; and my present mortal life is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me.  I will not nullify the grace of God; if righteousness comes by law, then Christ died for nothing.

Psalm 117 (Revised English Bible):

Praise the LORD, all nations,

extol him, all you peoples;

for his love protecting us is strong,

the LORD’s faithfulness is everlasting.

Praise the LORD.

Luke 11:1-4 (The Jerusalem Bible):

Now once he [Jesus] was in a certain place praying, and when had finished one of his disciples said,

Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.

He said to them,

Say this when you pray:

“Father, may your name be held holy,

your kingdom come;

give us each day our daily bread,

and forgive us our sins,

for we ourselves forgive each one of us who is in debt to us.

And do not put us to the test.”


The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Some Related Posts:

Week of Proper 22:  Wednesday, Year 1:

Take My Life and Let It Be Consecrated, Lord, to Thee:


Galatians 2 begins with an account of the Council of Jerusalem.  Paul’s version is older and more pointed than the account one reads in Acts 15:1-29.  The Luke-Acts version postdates Paul’s death by perhaps two decades, a fact I find interesting because of my fascination with history.  As a student and teacher of history, I know well that historical memory is not static.  Obviously, what happened, happened.  Yet how we humans remember it is flexible.  The Bible is a sacred anthology, but it is also a product of human beings.  So yes, one who reads the two accounts of the Council of Jerusalem extremely closely will detect minor discrepancies, but the descriptions are much more similar than not.  Anyhow, the Pauline retelling of that Council brings up the theme of Christian liberty  from certain details of the Law of Moses, such as male circumcision.

I am trying not to get ahead of myself, to let Galatians unfold from chapter to chapter as much as possible.  Yet I must jump ahead a little bit.  We read in Galatians 3:24 that the Law of Moses was a disciplinarian.  The Greek word for disciplinarian indicated a household servant who kept children from getting into trouble.  So the law, to use Paul’s analogy, was in place to keep people in the straight and narrow–certainly a positive role.  But coloring inside the lines cannot give us a right relationship with God.  We can have that state of justification

only through faith in Christ Jesus,

that is, through grace and self-sacrifice, now that Jesus has come.

A well-written checklist can be essential; we all need our “to do” lists.  And knowing what to avoid can be just as valuable.  But these are means to an end, not the end itself.  My reading of late Second Temple Judaism and the Law of Moses tells me that the Law was never meant to become the legalistic tool some people treated it as being.  The Law was supposed to promote social justice, not cover up greed and justify economic injustice.  And it was not intended to constitute a checklist for the checklist’s sake.  Yet that was how some people treated it.

Embedded within the Law of Moses are the commandments to love another as one loves oneself (Leviticus 19:18) and God fully (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).  These are the sources from which Jesus pulled his summary of the Law of Moses in Mark 12:28-31.  And Rabbi Hillel, a contemporary of our Lord, summarized the Law of Moses with a simple formula:

Here, O Israel, the LORD your God is one.  You shall love the LORD your God with all of your heart, and mind, and strength.  And you shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.  Everything else is commentary.  Go and learn it.

Hillel and Jesus agreed on that point.  So may we refrain from stereotyping the Law of Moses and late Second Temple Judaism falsely.

Paul also wrote of faith.  He meant something far more substantial than lip service or intellectual assent to doctrine.  No, for Paul, faith was inherently active.  In contrast, faith in the Letter of James was more intellectualized, hence that epistle’s fixation on justification by works.  Paul and James really agreed, and one ought to realize this fact after reading each in context.  These subtleties matter to me, one who pays close attention to nuances in many settings, especially Biblical texts.

So God has given us guidelines, some of which are culturally conditioned.  Many literal details in the Law Moses have no bearing to me, given the fact that my lifestyle and technology is far removed from that of the ancient Hebrews.  And I refuse to stone anyone or even to remove the blends from my wardrobe, actions which a hyper-literal reading would require of me.  (And, living in football-crazy Athens, Georgia, I note that the Law of Moses forbids touching a pigskin.)  Yet I recognize that the spirit of overall Law of Moses transcends time and circumstances.  Hillel and Jesus got it right:  focus on the love.  And Paul agreed in Romans 13:8-10; loving one’s neighbor fulfills the Law.  Jesus has, by his example, set the bar high.  and he did not die for nothing, as Paul reminds us.  Jesus died for us; may we live for him.  And, if martyrdom is our vocation, may we also die for him.  But, whatever we do, may we do it for him.  In that is life.