Archive for the ‘Anti-Semitism’ Tag

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

Above:  The Parable of the Unjust Steward, by Jan Luyken

Image in the Public Domain

Perplexing Readings

OCTOBER 10, 2021

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

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

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

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

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

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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1 Samuel 15:1-23 or Jeremiah 31:27-34

Psalm 109:1-5, 21-27, 30-31

Romans 11:1-21

Luke 16:1-15

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We have some perplexing readings this Sunday.  Seldom does a lectionary load a Sunday with difficult lessons.

  1. The attack on the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15 was to avenge an Amalekite attack on Israelites centuries prior, in Exodus 17:8-16.
  2. According to Deuteronomy 20:16-18 and 25:17-19, King Saul and his forces, engaged in a holy war (Is there such a thing?), should have killed all enemies, taken no prisoners, and taken no booty.  They took booty and spared the life of King Agag, though.  This, according to 1 Samuel 15, led to God’s final rejection of Saul, who had blamed others for his violation of the law.  (Are not glad that leaders everywhere no longer deflect blame for their errors?  That is a sarcastic question, of course.)
  3. The tone in Psalm 109 is relentlessly unforgiving.
  4. We read in Romans 11:1-21 that Gentile believers are, by the mercy of God, a branch grafted onto the Jewish tree.  Yet the Gentile branch is not exempt from the judgment of God.  The Gentile branch also has a long and shameful record of anti-Semitism.
  5. The Parable of the Unjust Steward/Corrupt Manager is a challenging text.  The titular character is not a role model, after all.  Yet he is intelligent and able to secure his future by committing favors he can call in when he needs to do so.  One point is that we should be astute, but not corrupt.  Naïveté is not a spiritual virtue.
  6. Money is a tool.  It should never be an idol, although it frequently is.  Greed is one of the more common sins.

I admit my lack of comfort with 1 Samuel 15 and its background.  As Amy-Jill Levine says, people did things differently back then.

I also know well the desire for divine vindication, as well as the unwillingness to forgive.  And, when I want to forgive, I do not always know how to do so.  This reminds me of the predicament of St. Paul the Apostle in Romans 7:19-20.

Each of us is susceptible to many forms of idolatry.  Something or someone becomes an idol when one treats something of someone as an idol.  Function defines an idol.

And what about that parable?  In the context of the Gospel of Luke, one needs also to consider teachings about wealth–blessed are the poor, woe to the rich, et cetera.  The theme of reversal of fortune is germane.  Also, the order not to exalt oneself, but to be kind to those who cannot repay one (Luke 14:7-14) constitutes a counterpoint to the dishonest/corrupt/astute manager/steward.  Remember, also, that if the fictional manager/steward had been honest, he would have kept his job longer, and we would not have that parable to ponder as we scratch our heads.

Obeying the Golden Rule, being as innocent as doves, and being as wise as serpents seems like a good policy.  May we heed the law of God written on our hearts, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 27, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF GEORGE WASHINGTON DOANE, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF NEW JERSEY; AND HIS SON, WILLIAM CROSWELL DOANE, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF ALBANY; HYMN WRITERS

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ANTONY AND THEODOSIUS OF KIEV, FOUNDERS OF RUSSIAN ORTHODOX MONASTICISM; SAINT BARLAAM OF KIEV, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX ABBOT; AND SAINT STEPHEN OF KIEV, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX ABBOT AND BISHOP

THE FEAST OF CHRISTINA ROSSETTI, POET AND RELIGIOUS WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS REMACLUS OF MAASTRICHT, THEODORE OF MAASTRICHT, LAMBERT OF MAASTRICHT, HUBERT OF MAASTRICT AND LIEGE, AND FLORIBERT OF LIEGE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS; SAINT LANDRADA OF MUNSTERBILSEN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBESS; AND SAINTS OTGER OF UTRECHT, PLECHELM OF GUELDERLAND, AND WIRO, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARIES

THE FEAST OF SAINT ZITA OF TUSCANY, WORKER OF CHARITY

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2020/04/27/perplexing-readings/

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

Above:  Elijah Slays the Prophets of Baal

Image in the Public Domain

Uncomfortable and Difficult

SEPTEMBER 13, 2020

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

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

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

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

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

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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

Psalm 58

Hebrews 3

Mark 8:14-21

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

Not for the faint of heart.

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

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

The word of the Lord.

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

Thanks be to God.

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

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

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

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

Sometimes we need for scripture to make us uncomfortable.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 25, 2019 COMMON ERA

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

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

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

Above:  Burying the Body of Joseph

Image in the Public Domain

Hypocrisy

OCTOBER 13, 2019

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

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

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

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

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

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Genesis 50:14-26 or Isaiah 58:1-14

Psalm 31:19-24

1 Corinthians 12:1-13

Matthew 21:10-27

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Avoiding hypocrisy entirely is impossible, but one can avoid it more often than not, by grace.  One can avoid it more today than tomorrow, by grace.

Hypocrisy is the topic that unites the assigned readings.

  1. Joseph’s brothers feared he might have been a hypocrite when he said he forgave them in Chapter 45.  He was no hypocrite.
  2. God, speaking through Third Isaiah, condemned the hypocrisy of fasting (as to appear pious) yet exploiting and otherwise harming people.
  3. The author of Psalm 31 feared lying, wicked people.
  4. Jesus took offense at the hypocrisy of the Temple establishment and Israel in general, hence the Temple Incident (as Biblical scholars call it) and the cursing of the fig tree.

May we of the current generation refrain from a variety of sins, such as anti-Semitism (per the account in Matthew 21) and self-righteousness.  Appearing pious yet exploiting people applies to many people in every time and place.  Hypocrisy is never the sole province of any group of people.

1 Corinthians 12 tells us that the gifts of the Holy Spirit exist to build up the body of Christ.  Yet how often do many of us seek to use the body of Christ or a portion thereof to build up ourselves?  Is that not hypocrisy?  God occupies the center; we do not.  If we think otherwise, we are mistaken.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 15, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA, SEPTEMBER 15, 1963

THE FEAST OF CHARLES EDWARD OAKLEY, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JAMES CHISHOLM, EPISCOPAL PRIEST

THE FEAST OF SAINTS PHILIBERT AND AICARDUS OF JUMIEGES, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOTS

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2018/09/15/hypocrisy/

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Devotion for Friday Before Proper 12, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Caiaphas

Above:  Caiaphas

Image in the Public Domain

Esther III:  National Security

JULY 26, 2019

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The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God, you are always more ready than we are to pray,

and you gladly give more than we either desire or deserve.

Pour upon us your abundant mercy.

Forgive us those things that weigh on our conscience,

and give us those good things that come only through your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 43

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The Assigned Readings:

Esther 3:7-15

Psalm 138

Acts 2:22-36

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Though I live surrounded by trouble

you give me life–to my enemies’ fury!

You stretch out your right hand and save me,

Yahweh will do all things for me.

Yahweh, your faithful love endures for ever,

do not abandon what you have made.

–Psalm 138:7-8, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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The story in Esther picks up at the point at which Haman persuades Ahasuerus to order genocide against the Jews.  The official reason for the decree, according to the royal decree (as contained in Chapter B, as The New American Bible labels it) is national security.  The Jews allegedly follow laws which set them at opposition to all other people and to royal decrees.  The official purpose of the planned genocide is to restore the stability of the Persian Empire.  The actual reasons, of course, are Haman’s egotism and anti-Semitism.  As Dr. Samuel Johnson stated,

Patriotism is the last resort of a scoundrel.

The reading from Acts 2 concerns the crucifixion of Jesus.  Roman imperial personnel executed Jesus, of course, but certain Jewish religious leaders were complicit in the unjust act.  As Caiaphas said in John 11:50,

You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die than to have the whole nation destroyed.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

National security is a legitimate concern, one which requires difficult decisions sometimes.  Nevertheless, genocide is never a justifiable practice.  Just as national security has its place, so does patriotism.  My point is that some scoundrels hide behind these virtues and convince other people to support them in unjust actions.  I would like to be a pacifist, but my sense of reality prevents me from doing that.  I do propose, however, that most violence is immoral and unnecessary.  This is especially true of the violence planned in Esther 3 and the crucifixion of Jesus.

There is a proper balance between individual rights and the common good.  There is also such a thing as the tyranny of the majority or of a powerful minority.  The common good, by definition, cannot justify genocide or judicial murder.  Those with power have no moral right to victimize any person or population.  And nobody has a moral right to be complicit in such a plot or effort.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 17, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PATRICK, BISHOP OF ARMAGH

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/03/17/esther-iii-national-security/

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Devotion for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday After Proper 23, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Rich Man and Lazarus Gustave Dore

Above:  The Rich Man and Lazarus, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain

Making a Positive Difference

OCTOBER 11-13, 2021

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The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God, increase in us your gift of faith,

that, forsaking what lies behind and reaching out to what lies ahead,

we may follow the way of your commandments

and receive the crown of everlasting joy,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 50

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The Assigned Readings:

Obadiah 1-9 (Monday)

Obadiah 10-16 (Tuesday)

Obadiah 17-21 (Wednesday)

Psalm 26 (All Days)

Revelation 7:9-17 (Monday)

Revelation 8:1-5 (Tuesday)

Luke 16:19-31 (Wednesday)

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Give judgment for me, O Lord,

for I have walked with integrity;

I have trusted in the Lord and have not faltered.

–Psalm 26:1, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)

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Edom, according to the Book of Obadiah, is far more than the nation descended from Esau; it refers to all nations other than Israel.  Edom will fall, the text says.  Edom has trusted erroneously in its terrain and human allies.  It will fall by the hand of God, which will restore Israel and initiate the Kingdom of God on Earth.

That prophecy dates from after the destruction of Jerusalem and the fall of the Kingdom of Judah in 586 B.C.E., a time when that hope seemed no less a pipe dream than it does today.  Over time Jewish reinterpretations of the identity of Edom in the Book of Obadiah came to include the Roman Empire and Christendom.  I, as a Christian, choose not to condemn any who read the prophecy as a denunciation of Christendom, given the indefensible record of persecution of Jews by professing Christians and by Christian institutions.  Such hatred and violence harmed many and brought no glory to God.

Another theme common to the pericopes is suffering.  Some suffering results from sins, but other suffering consists of the temporal consequences of obeying God.  The saints in white robes in Revelation had suffered because of their fidelity to God.  On the other hand, the deceased rich man in Luke never cared about the beggar at his gate.  Divies, as tradition calls that rich man, accepted artificial scarcity, did nothing to help even the poor man at his gate, and thought of that man with disdain.  None of the rich man’s bad attitudes changed after his unpleasant afterlife began.

Yes, the fully realized Kingdom of God remains for the future, but that reality does not absolve any of us of moral responsibility.  Unjust social and political systems and structures exist.  People created them, so people can change or destroy and replace them.  And each of us can, as opportunities present themselves, choose to support injustice by active or passive means or to oppose it.

There are reasons for supporting injustice by active or passive means.  These include:

  1. Moral blindness, due perhaps to socialization;
  2. Laziness,
  3. Apathy, perhaps borne out of hopelessness; and a related issue,
  4. Compassion fatigue.

Nobody can do everything, but most people can do something constructive to oppose some form of injustice and to address some social problem.  We humans have the capacity to leave the world better than we found it, if only we will try.  No effort or project is insignificant toward this end.  Fortunately, many people have lived according to this ethic and a host of them continue to do so.  May their numbers increase.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 3, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRY THOMAS SMART, ENGLISH ORGANIST AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH FERRARD, ANGLICAN DEACONESS

THE FEAST OF IMMANUEL NITSCHMANN, GERMAN-AMERICAN MORAVIAN MINISTER AND MUSICIAN; HIS BROTHER-IN-LAW, JACOB VAN VLECK, U.S. MORAVIAN MORAVIAN BISHOP, MUSICIAN, COMPOSER, AND EDUCATOR; HIS SON, WILLIAM HENRY VAN VLECK, U.S. MORAVIAN BISHOP; HIS BROTHER, CARL ANTON VAN VLECK, U.S. MORAVIAN MINISTER, MUSICIAN, COMPOSER, AND EDUCATOR; HIS DAUGHTER, LISETTE (LIZETTA) MARIA VAN VLECK MEINUNG; AND HER SISTER, AMELIA ADELAIDE VAN VLECK, U.S. MORAVIAN COMPOSER AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF JOHN CENNICK, BRITISH MORAVIAN EVANGELIST AND HYMN WRITER

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/07/03/making-a-positive-difference/

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Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before Proper 3, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Christ and the Woman Taken In Adultery

Above:  Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery, by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (Guercino), 1621

Image in the Public Domain

Divine Faithfulness, Judgment, and Mercy

MAY 24, 2018

MAY 25, 2018

MAY 26, 2018

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The Collect:

 Loving God, by tender words and covenant promise

you have joined us to yourself forever,

and you invite us to respond to your love with faithfulness.

By your Spirit may we live with you and with one another

in justice, mercy, and joy,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 37

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The Assigned Readings:

Ezekiel 16:1-14 (Thursday)

Ezekiel 16:44-52 (Friday)

Ezekiel 16:53-63 (Saturday)

Psalm 103:1-13, 22 (All Days)

Romans 3:1-8 (Thursday)

2 Peter 1:1-11 (Friday)

John 7:53-8:11 (Saturday)

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The LORD is full of compassion and mercy,

slow to anger and of great kindness.

The LORD will not always accuse us

nor remain angry forever.

The LORD has not dealt with us according to our sins,

nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.

–Psalm 103:8-10, Book of Common Worship (1993)

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Yet we read elsewhere:

Because you did not remember the days of your youth, but infuriated Me with all those things, I will pay you back for your conduct–declares the LORD God.

–Ezekiel 16:43, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

That statement is consistent with Ezekiel’s position that God deals with each person according to his or her actions, in other words, that God does not punish anybody for the sin of an ancestor.

The related themes of judgment and mercy reside at the heart of the complex of pericopes for these days.

Ezekiel 16 weaves a metaphorical narrative regarding Jerusalem and its people.  God showered extravagant mercy upon them, but they rebelled against God instead.  They will face the consequences of their actions, but God will renew the covenant and forgive them.  That covenant requires the people to remember the mighty and faithful works of God, to remember human sins, and to respond to God faithfully.  Caring for the less fortunate constitutes part of responding to God faithfully.  And the only acceptable boast is in God’s grace.

Ezekiel 16 meshes well with Romans 3:1-8, a text one ought never to twist into Anti-Semitism.  (I condemn all -isms, phobias, and other attitudes which denigrate any of my fellow human beings.)  God’s judgment is just, St. Paul the Apostle insists, and no amount of human faithfulness can nullify the faithfulness of God.  Furthermore, the Apostle writes, the Jews might have the Law of Moses, but Gentiles can fulfill it also, for they can perceive the commandments of God too.  Thus, according to this line of reasoning, God has placed Jews and Gentiles on a level playing field, and human actions, no matter how pious they are, can function as protective talismans against the consequences of sins.  Faith, the Apostle understood, is inherently active, hence his theology of faith, works, and justification by the former, not the latter.  Thus, if good works flow from faith as a matter of course (unlike as in the Letter of James, due to a different definition of faith there, hence that text’s theology of justification by works), we have no right to boast of our good deeds because they cannot save us from judgment.  They are, as Lutheran confessions of faith state, laudable yet insufficient for salvation.  Only grace can save us.  And grace comes from God.

Moving along, we arrive at 2 Peter 1:1-11.  The text reminds us that we depend on the faithfulness of God to divine promises.  Thus our only boasts should be in God.  And grace is free for us (but not for God; ask Jesus) yet not cheap.  It requires much of those of us who receive it.  Grace mandates ethical, compassionate living.  Perceived doctrinal purity alone is insufficient, for orthodoxy and orthopraxy should be like two sides of the same coin.  (I sound like the Letter of James now.  Actually, St. Paul and the author of the Letter of James arrived at the same conclusion, just with different definitions of faith.  Their two positions differ only on a semantic level.)  I recall the narrative of an African-American slave who, with help, escaped to freedom in Canada in the 1800s.  His master, a Simon Legree-kind of person, was a Baptist deacon.  The former slave wrote that the deacon died and that he (the former slave) did not know if the deacon went to Heaven or to Hell.  The freedman did know, however, that he did not want to go to the same destination as the deacon.

John 7:53-8:11 is a floating pericope of Synoptic origin which landed in the Johannine Gospel.  The pericope fits well between 7:52 and 8:12, but one can skip over it and follow the original Johannine narrative without missing a beat.  The scribes and Pharisees in question have used the woman to set a trap for Jesus.  They do not even care that they have allowed the man to get away.  (One cannot commit adultery alone.)  Jesus, being perceptive, reverses the trap  and reminds them subtly that, if she dies for having committed adultery, the Law of Moses states that they should die also for their related offense.  Thus they are not without sin in this case and have no right to cast the first stone.  Her accusers leave, and Jesus forgives the woman.

The Law, St. Paul the Apostle reminds us, convicts us of our sins by establishing rules and categories.  The Law calls for judgment and provides guidelines (often culturally and historically specific applications of timeless and universal principles) for ethical living.  Obeying the Law can be positive, but it cannot deliver us from the consequences of our sins.  Only God can do that.  Fortunately, God seems to be more merciful than many human beings much of the time.  I recognize that both judgment and mercy exist relative to God.  I also notice that God is more prone to mercy in some biblical texts and more inclined toward judgment in others.  The biblical authors were people, so some of these texts include human projections onto the nature of God.  That is something I take as a given.  Something else I take as a given is that we mere mortals cannot grasp the entirety of the nature of God.  Thus some of what we say and write about God will be wrong, but much will be correct.  Thus theological humility is appropriate.  As for me, I hope that God is at least as merciful as Jesus in John 7:53-8:11 and that the author of Psalm 103:8-10 is closer to the truth than the author of Ezekiel 16:43.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 1, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF DANIEL MARCH, SR., U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST AND PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, POET, HYMN WRITER, AND LITURGIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT MAXIMILLIAN OF TREVESTE, ROMAN CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT THEOPHANES THE CHRONICLER, DEFENDER OF ICONS

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/03/02/divine-faithfulness-judgment-and-mercy/

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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 17-19, 2020

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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

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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)

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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.

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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.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 15, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF RUTH, ANCESTOR OF KING DAVID

THE FEAST OF SAINT BONAVENTURE, THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT SWITHUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF WINCHESTER

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/07/20/the-gifts-of-the-jews/

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Devotion for Wednesday After Proper 7, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Mary_dyer_being_led

Above:  The Quaker Mary Dyer Being Led to Execution on Boston Common, 1 June 1660

Image in the Public Domain

Victims and Religious Persecution

JUNE 24, 2020

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The Collect:

Teach us, good Lord God, to serve you as you deserve,

to give and not to count the cost,

to fight and not to heed the wounds,

to toil and not to seek for rest,

to labor and not to ask for reward,

except that of knowing that we do your will,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 40

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 38:1-13

Psalm 6

Matthew 10:5-23

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Some Related Posts:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/05/28/a-prayer-for-those-who-are-tortured/

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/05/28/a-prayer-for-those-who-inflict-torture/

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My eyes are wasted with grief

and worn away because of all my enemies.

–Psalm 6:7, Common Worship (2000)

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Follow God and face persecution.

How is that for a message to use when recruiting and seeking to retain servants of God? Ebed-melech the Ethiopian risked his life to save the life of the prophet Jeremiah, who had sunk into the mud in a cistern. Jesus and most of the original twelve Apostles died violently and suffered before that happened. Nearly two millennia have passed since the time of Christ. During that span countless numbers of Christians have suffered for the faith. Many have become martyrs.

I am among the fortunate Christians who have not faced any form of persecution, partially because of the freedom of religion and the separation of religion and state. But I know that persecution and martyrdoms continue. Cases of them do not always make headlines, but they persist, unfortunately. And the blood of the martyrs continues to water the church.

Perversely, many people who make others martyrs do so in the name of God; they believe that they are acting righteously. This has been the case in the past and remains so in the present. Puritans who hanged Quakers in colonial New England in the 1600s thought they acted righteously to defend their community from a great threat—pacifistic egalitarians in a hierarchical society, actually. (People who kill pacifists do not impress me.)  In parts of the world Islamic extremists attack Christian churches, but many other Muslims defend their Christian neighbors’ houses of worship. And the shameful track record of anti-Semitism in Christian history, from merely bad attitudes to small-scale attacks to large-scale pogroms, needs no further comment here. May we criticize the extremists and mistake them as true representatives of entire faith systems.

One lesson to draw from such cases is, in the name of Christ, to act compassionately toward others, especially those with whom we disagree theologically. Torturing, imprisoning, and killing others in the name of Jesus, himself an innocent victim of capital punishment, is wrong, regardless of one’s concept of God. Yes, sometimes life brings us to some unpleasant circumstances with only bad choices—such as violent ones as the means of survival—but there is a difference between self-defense and religious intolerance acted out. I am not naïve about that reality.

Yet the definition of freedom includes liberty to those who differ from and with us. And moral absolutes do exist. Among them are the immoral natures of torture and religious persecution, terms one should never apply when they are not applicable. May we stand with the victims, not those who victimize them. And may we certainly never victimize anyone in the name of God or any other name.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 23, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT DESIDERIUS/DIDIER OF VIENNE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT GUIBERT OF GORZE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN BAPTIST ROSSI, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF NICOLAUS COPERNICUS, SCIENTIST

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/victims-and-religious-persecution/

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Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before Proper 6, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

03128v

Above:  March on Washington, August 28, 1963

Photographer = Warren K. Leffler

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-ppmcsa-03128

A Good Society

THURSDAY-SATURDAY, JUNE 11-13, 2020

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The Collect:

God of compassion, you have opened the way for us and brought us to yourself.

Pour your love into our hearts, that, overflowing with joy,

we may freely share the blessings of your realm and faithfully proclaim

the good news of your Son, Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 39

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The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 4:18-23 (Thursday)

Exodus 4:27-31 (Friday)

Exodus 6:28-7:13 (Saturday)

Psalm 100 (All Days)

Hebrews 3:1-6 (Thursday)

Acts 7:35-43 (Friday)

Mark 7:1-13 (Saturday)

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Know that the Lord is God;

it is he that has made us and we are his;

we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.

–Psalm 100:2, Common Worship (2000)

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Moses was a great man. His brother Aaron, a better speaker, joined Moses on a mission from God. Alas, the forces of the Egyptian Empire were not the only foes Moses faced, for he had to contend with his own people also. The miracle of the Exodus was that God freed the Hebrews. The text attempted a scientific explanation of the parting of the waters. Indeed, one can probably explain the plagues and the parting of the waters of the Sea of Reeds scientifically; I have heard attempts to do so. Assuming that these are accurate, they do not address the main point of the story: God freed the people.

Then the people rebelled. And they continued to do so, even creating a powerful monarchy which featured economic exploitation. In the time of our Lord and Savior religious authorities even accepted gifts which they knew placed the donor’s relatives at a financial disadvantage. How was that for complicity in dishonoring one’s parents?

As for ritual washing, I am somewhat sympathetic in attitude. Study of the past informs me that Medieval European Jews, who washed ritually, were cleaner than their Gentile fellow nationals. Such cleanliness contributed to a lower rate of transmission of the Bubonic Plague among Jews during the Black Death in the 1300s. This, ironically, became an excuse for anti-Semitic Gentiles to blame, attack, and kill Jews, some of whom confessed to false stories of poisoning wells to make the torture stop.

I embrace public cleanliness and health. Those are not the issues in Mark 7:1-13, however. No, the main issue there is persnickiness in minor matters and disregard for major ones. Contenting ourselves with low-hanging fruit and not addressing issues which challenge us where it hurts—as in money and status—is not a formula for true piety. Yet I read in history of people blaming women for the sin of prostitution when (A) these women had to choose between that and starvation, and (B) these critics did nothing to address the social structures of gender inequality which created the problem. We are reluctant to challenge a system which benefits us. We might even live in blindness to our sin of complicity due to our socialization.

Moses tried to create a society in which everyone was interdependent and mutually responsible. He attempted to forge a society which did not allow for exploitation. But the society, being people, became what the majority of its members preferred.

Society in my nation-state, the United States of America, has changed, as in the case of civil rights. It is changing—for both better and for worse. It is an ever-changing thing. May it change in the direction of mutuality, interdependence, and the rejection of exploitation.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 14, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF FRANCIS MAKEMIE, FATHER OF U.S. PRESBYTERIANISM

THE FEAST OF EDWARD HENRY BICKERSTETH, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF EXETER

THE FEAST OF JOHN ROBERTS/IEUAN GWYLLT, FOUNDER OF WELSH SINGING FESTIVALS

THE FEAST OF NGAKUKU, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/a-good-society/

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Proper 11, Year B   26 comments

Above:  Mosaic of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, from Ravenna, Italy

Beyond Estrangement

The Sunday Closest to July 20

The Eighth Sunday After Pentecost

JULY 18, 2021

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FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #1

2 Samuel 7:1-14a (New Revised Standard Version):

When David, the king, was settled in his house, and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan,

See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.

Nathan said to the king,

Go, do all that you have in mind; for the LORD is with you.

But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan:

Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the LORD: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the LORD of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.

Psalm 89:20-37 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

20  I have found David my servant;

with my holy oil have I anointed him.

21  My hand will hold him fast

and my arm will make him strong.

22  No enemy shall deceive him,

nor any wicked man bring him down.

23  I will crush his foes before him

and strike down those who hate him.

24  My faithfulness and love shall be with him,

and he shall be victorious through my Name.

25  I shall make his dominion extend

from the Great Sea to the River.

26  He will say to you, ‘You are my Father,

my God, and the rock of my salvation.’

27  I will make him my firstborn

and higher than the kings of the earth.

28  I will keep my love for him for ever,

and my covenant will stand firm for him.

29  I will establish his line for ever

and his throne as the days of heaven.”

30  ”If his children forsake my law

and do not walk according to my judgments;

31  If they break my statutes

and do not keep my commandments;

32  I will punish their transgressions with a rod

and their iniquities with the lash;

33  But I will not take my love from him,

nor let my faithfulness prove false.

34  I will not break my covenant,

nor change what has gone out of lips.

35  Once for all I have sworn by my holiness:

‘I will not lie to David.

36  His line shall endure for ever

and his throne as the sun before me;

37  It shall stand fast for evermore like the moon,

the abiding witness in the sky.'”

FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #2

Jeremiah 23:1-6 (New Revised Standard Version):

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!

says the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people:

It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the LORD. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing,

says the LORD.

The days are surely coming,

says the LORD,

when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.”

Psalm 23 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  The LORD is my shepherd;

I shall not be in want.

2  He makes me lie down in green pastures

and leads me beside still waters.

3  He revives my soul

and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.

4  Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I shall fear no evil;

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5  You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me;

you have anointed my head with oil,

and my cup is running over.

6  Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

SECOND READING

Ephesians 2:11-22 (New Revised Standard Version):

Remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision” — a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands– remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

GOSPEL READING

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 (New Revised Standard Version):

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them,

Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.

For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

The Collect:

Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Some Related Posts:

Proper 11, Year A:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/31/proper-11-year-a/

2 Samuel 7:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2011/06/05/fourth-sunday-of-advent-year-b/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/advent-devotion-for-december-24/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2011/06/12/week-of-3-epiphany-wednesday-year-2/

Jeremiah 23:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/advent-devotion-for-december-18/

Mark 6:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/third-day-of-epiphany/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/09/week-of-4-epiphany-saturday-year-1/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/09/week-of-5-epiphany-monday-year-1/

Matthew 14 (Parallel to Mark 6):

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/14/proper-13-year-a/

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The Pauline reading from Ephesians (from perhaps 58-59 C.E.) speaks of reconciliation in Christ between Jews and Gentiles.  Members of the two groups “are no longer strangers and aliens, but…citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.”  It is a beautiful vision.

History, however, tells a different story.  The estrangement between Christians and Jews was unmistakable by 85 C.E., at the composition of the Gospel of Matthew, written to Jewish Christians, marginalized members of the Jewish community.  And, about a decade later, came the Gospel of John, which utilizes invective against Jews.  From there the history of Christian Anti-Semitism spans millennia and includes shameful instances of violence and discrimination.

It did not have to be this way.  Beyond Jewish-Christian relations, there is a long and shameful history of professing Christians justifying and perpetrating racism, xenophobia, nativism, and other forms of hatred toward their fellow human beings.  It did not have to be this way.  It does not have to be this way.  It does not have to continue to be this way.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd of all sheep who will come to him and all whom he draws successfully to himself.  We sheep are Gentiles, Jews, members of various racial and ethnic groups, parts of various cultures and subcultures, heterosexuals and homosexuals.  In Christ there is no hostility among us.  So, if such hostility does exist among us, we are not mutually in Christ, are we?

There is much work to do.  We have communities to build and walls to destroy.  All of this work is in Christ, our Good Shepherd.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2011/09/20/beyond-estrangement/