Archive for the ‘Deuteronomy 30’ Tag

Devotion for Proper 6, Year B (Humes)   Leave a comment

Above:  Jesus and His Apostles

Image in the Public Domain

Presumption

JUNE 14, 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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Job 38:1-41 (portions) or Deuteronomy 30:5-6, 11-20

Psalm 46

James 5:1-11

Mark 3:20-34

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The law of God may be on our hearts and lips, if we are in a healthy spiritual state, but we should not assume healthy spirituality where none exists.  Besides, even if one is spiritually healthy at one moment, one still has weaknesses lurking in the shadows.  As Bernhard Anderson wrote in various editions of his Introduction to the Old Testament, Job and his alleged friends committed the same sin–presumption regarding God.  That is what the poem indicates.  However, God agrees with Job in the prose portion of Job 42.

Presumption is one of the sins on display in Mark 3:20-34.  I hope that none of us will go so far into presumption as to mistake the work of God for evil, but some will, of course.

Presumption rooted in high socio-economic status is a theme in James 4 and 5.  The epistle makes clear that God disapproves of the exploitation and other bad treatment of the poor.  The Letter of James, in so doing, continues a thread from the Hebrew Bible.  The Bible contains more content about wealth and poverty, the rich and the poor, than about sex, but one does know that if one’s Biblical knowledge comes from reactionary ministers dependent on large donations.  Presumption rooted in high socio-economic status remains current, unfortunately.  Human nature is a constant factor.

There is also the presumption that we know someone better than we do, as in Mark 3:31-34.  This is a theme in the Gospel of Mark, in which those who were closest to Jesus–his family, the disciples, and the villagers who saw him grow up–did not know him as well as they thought they did.  On the other hand, the the Gospel Mark depicts strangers and demons as recognizing Jesus for who he really was.  People we think we know will surprise us, for good or ill, sometimes.

May God deliver us from the sin of presumption present in ourselves and in others.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 18, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ADOLPHUS NELSON, SWEDISH-AMERICAN LUTHERAN MINSTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHANN FRANCK, HEINRICH HELD, AND SIMON DACH, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITERS

THE FEAST OF RICHARD MASSIE, HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM BINGHAM TAPPAN, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

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Originally published at ADVENT, CHRISTMAS, AND EPIPHANY DEVOTIONS

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Devotion for Thursday Before Proper 20, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Scroll

Above:   Scroll

Image in the Public Domain

Go and Learn It

SEPTEMBER 19, 2019

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The Collect:

God among us, we gather in the name of your Son

to learn love for one another.  Keep our feet from evil paths.

Turn our minds to your wisdom and our hearts to the grace

revealed in your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 48

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The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 23:1-9

Psalm 113

Romans 3:1-8

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Who is like the LORD our God, who sits enthroned on high,

but stoops to behold the heavens and the earth?

He takes up the weak out of the dust and lifts up the poor from the ashes.

He sets them with the princes, with the princes of his people.

–Psalm 113:5-7, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures one reads of the importance of obeying divine law faithfully.  God commands obedience to the law and warns of the dire consequences of disobedience.  Two kingdoms fall and, after the fact, the Jewish tradition repeats the theme of the importance of obedience to the law.  I wonder, then, how to read St. Paul the Apostle in his Letter to the Romans.  Perhaps his target was the legalistic interpretation and keeping of the Law of Moses.  In Romans 2, for example, we read of the necessity of the circumcision of the heart.  As a note in The Jewish Annotated New Testament (2011) informs me, that is consistent with Deuteronomy 10:16 and 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4, 9:25-26, and 38:33; and Ezekiel 44:7.

As for the portion of the Law of Moses we find in Exodus 23:1-9, it is timeless, with some culturally specific examples of principles.

  1. One must not bear false witness, commit perjury, or spread false rumors.
  2. One must speak the truth and act impartially, showing deference to nobody because of wealth or the lack thereof.
  3. One must return wandering livestock belonging to an enemy.  (This commandment’s principle extends beyond livestock.)
  4. One must help and enemy raise his beast of burden which has collapsed.  (This commandment’s principle also extends beyond livestock.)
  5. One must not subvert the rights of the poor.
  6. One must not make or support a false allegation.
  7. One must not send the innocent to execution.
  8. One must not accept bribes.
  9. One must not oppress strangers.

These are commandments, not suggestions.

I think of the famous story of Rabbi Hillel (110 B.C.E.-10. C.E.), who summarized the Torah by citing the commandment to love God fully (the Shema, found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5) and the Golden Rule (Leviticus 19:18).  Then he concluded,

The rest is commentary.  Go and learn it.

That statement applies well to Exodus 23:1-9, some of the provisions of which are politically sensitive.  Justice, however, is what it is.  May we learn it and act accordingly.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 19, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANDREW BOBOLA, JESUIT MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT DUNSTAN OF CANTERBURY, ABBOT OF GLASTONBURY AND ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY

THE FEAST OF SAINT IVO OF CHARTRES, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT IVO OF KERMARTIN, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND ADVOCATE OF THE POOR

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/05/19/go-and-learn-it/

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Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before Proper 4, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

GFS_7888

Above:  Bishop Robert C. Wright (Episcopalian) and Archbishop Wilton Gregory (Roman Catholic) at the Good Friday Pilgrimage for Immigrants, April 18, 2014

Image Source = Bill Monk, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

Of Externals and Internals

NOT OBSERVED THIS YEAR

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The Collect:

O God our rock, you offer us a covenant of mercy,

and you provide the foundation of our lives.

Ground us in your word, and strengthen our resolve to be your disciples,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 38

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The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 24:1-8 (Thursday)

Deuteronomy 30:1-5 (Friday)

Amos 2:6-11 (Saturday)

Psalm 31:1-5, 19-24 (All Days)

Romans 2:17-29 (Thursday)

Romans 9:6-13 (Friday)

Matthew 7:1-6 (Saturday)

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Be my strong rock, a fortress to save me,

for you are my rock and my stronghold;

guide me, and lead me for your name’s sake.

–Psalm 31:3, Common Worship (2000)

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One of the faults of certain varieties of Protestantism is overemphasizing the internal and unseen while underemphasizing the external and the seen. Pietists, for example, dismiss “externals” frequentlu, as if “externals” are meaningless. They are not necessarily so.

No, a ritual (such as a sacrifice or circumcision) can matter quite a lot, for we humans need visible signs and rites of passage. How else are we to mark the difference between one stage of life and another or to note a covenant to God? We need externals beause we see, touch, feel, hear, and smell; we are not disembodied sentients. The scriptures command many rituals in particular settings, in fact.

The scriptures also make clear that rituals are not supposed to be talismans which protect us from punishment for sins of which we have not repented, individually or collectively. Rituals one performs piously have meaning, but those one performs while disobeying divine commandments, such as how to treat people, offend God.

For crime after crime of Israel

I shall grant them no reprieve,

because they sell honest folk for silver

and the poor for a pair of sandals.

They grind the heads of the helpless into the dust

and push the humble out of their way.

Father and son resort to the temple girls,

so profaning my holy name.

–Amos 2:6-7, The Revised English Bible

God, the Bible tells us, cares deeply about how we act toward our fellow human beings. We ought to seek God’s best for them, not exploit them for our own gain and pleasure. We should seek to raise the status of the powerless, the less powerful, and the marginalized among us. Each of us bears the image of God and therefore deserves respect. When we seek to do those things may we succeed by grace. And may we engage in rituals which create holy atmospheres for our spiritual benefit and glorify—not mock—God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 10, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THEODORE PARKER, ABOLITIONIST AND MAVERICK UNITARIAN PASTOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTONY PIEROZZI, A.K.A. ANTONINUS OF FLORENCE, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF FLORENCE

THE FEAST OF JOHN GOSS, ANGLICAN CHURCH COMPOSER AND ORGANIST; AND WILLIAM MERCER, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF NICOLAUS LUDWIG VON ZINZENDORF, RENEWER OF THE CHURCH

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/05/28/of-externals-and-internals/

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Devotion for November 7 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   6 comments

AgnusDeiWindow

Above:  The Logo of the Moravian Church, Set in Stained Glass

Image Source = JJackman

Jeremiah and Matthew, Part VI:  The Sovereignty of God

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 7, 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 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

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 11:11-23

Psalm 97 (Morning)

Psalms 16 and 62 (Evening)

Matthew 24:1-28

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The author of Psalm 62, in the context of persecution because of his holiness, wrote:

Yet be still my soul, and wait for God:

from whom comes my hope of deliverance.

–verse 5, A New Zealand Prayer Book (1989)

I detect echoes of the Jeremiah and Matthew readings in the Psalms appointed for today.  The above quote is just one example of that.

Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, fulfilled his unpleasant duty faithfully while arguing with God.  The prophet announced doom for idolatry and a host of social injustices–in short, breaking the covenant with God, per Deuteronomy 30:15-20.  The prophet placed himself in harm’s way by doing this.  He likened himself to a docile sheep led to the slaughter and asked God to avenge him.

That image of a lamb led to the slaughter is one which Christian tradition has applied to Jesus, although he was hardly docile in Matthew 24 and elsewhere.  Our Lord and Savior was far from docile in Matthew 21 (“the Temple Incident,” as New Testament scholars call it) or in John 18 or in Matthew 26.  Yet the image of a lamb, when applied to Jesus, works well, for he was both the high priest and the sacrificial animal, metaphorically speaking.

In Mathew 24 Jesus warned the Apostles against, among other ills, false prophets and religious persecution:

You will be handed over for punishment and execution; all nations will hate you for your allegiance to me.  At that time many will fall from their faith; they will betray one another and hate one another.  Many false prophets will arise, and will mislead many; and as lawlessness spreads, the love of many will grow cold.  But whoever endures to the end will be saved.  And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the earth as a testimony to  all nations; and then the end will come.

–verses 9-14, The Revised English Bible

This is a devotion for November 7, at the latter part of the Season after Pentecost.  Advent is not far away from November 7–less than one month, in fact.  (Advent can begin as early as November 27 and as late as December 3.)  By November 7 the Sunday readings in the Revised Common Lectionary have taken a dark turn.

Yet, in the darkness of the tail end of Ordinary Time there is hope.  Yes, Jeremiah suffered greatly, but God proved him correct.  And nobody who tried to kill the prophet succeeded.  Yes, sometimes there is persecution for following Jesus, but God still wins in the end.  And God is faithful to the faithful, some of whom will lose their bodies in service to God but none of whom will lose their souls thereby.  And Advent is around the corner.  Christmas will follow.  The summary of the hope of which I write is the Sovereignty of God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 3, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MORAND OF CLUNY, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK AND MISSIONARY

THE FEAST OF SAINTS LIPHARDUS OF ORLEANS AND URBICIUS OF MEUNG, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOTS

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF UGANDA

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/06/06/jeremiah-and-matthew-part-vi-the-sovereignty-of-god/

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Devotion for November 5 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   2 comments

First Temple

Above:  The First Temple

Image in the Public Domain

Jeremiah and Matthew, Part IV:  False Talismans

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 5, 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 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

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 7:1-29

Psalm 42 (Morning)

Psalms 102 and 133 (Evening)

Matthew 23:1-12

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Don’t put your trust in illusions and say, “The Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the Lord are those [buildings].”  No, if you mind your ways and your actions; if you execute justice between one man and another; if you do not oppress the stranger, the orphan, and the widow; if you do not shed the blood of the innocent in this place; if you do not follow other gods, to your own hurt–then only will you dwell in this place….

–Jeremiah 7:4-7a, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

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I have eaten ashes for bread

and mingled my drink with weeping,

Because of your indignation and wrath,

for you have taken me up and cast me down.

My days fade away like a shadow,

and I am withered like grass.

–Psalm 102:10-12, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)

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Jeremiah’s Temple sermon condemned idolatry, economic injustice, judicial corruption, and insensitivity toward the needs of others.  It cited these as reasons for God’s wrath against the kingdom.  It picked up a theme from Deuteronomy 28 and 30, especially 30:15-20.  But Jeremiah’s words fell on deaf ears.

One of Jeremiah’s main criticisms was that people treated the Temple and its rituals as talismans–that people thought they could therefore do as they wanted and that the Temple and its rituals would protect them.  Jesus criticized Temple authorities who acted hypocritically and imposed needless burdens on sincere people while seeking opportunities for prestige, not service.  Their alleged talismans did not protect them from the wrath of the Roman Empire in 70 CE.

Yes, there is divine mercy.  Yes, there is divine judgment.  And often that judgment is simply the consequences of our misdeeds backfiring on us.  We err when we forget that each of us is here on the planet to, among other things, care actively and deeply for each other–to serve each other in the name of God and to respect the Image of God in each other.  This ethic is inconsistent with violence and exploitation, whether one commits them or merely consents to them passively.  This ethic is inconsistent with such deeds and their root attitudes regardless of whether they flow from the political left wing or right wing.

God is watching us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 24, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF IDA SCUDDER, REFORMED CHURCH IN AMERICA MEDICAL MISSIONARY IN INDIA

THE FEAST OF EDWARD KENNEDY “DUKE” ELLINGTON, COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF JACKSON KEMPER, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF WISCONSIN

THE FEAST OF MOTHER EDITH, FOUNDER OF THE COMMUNITY OF THE SACRED NAME

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/06/06/jeremiah-and-matthew-part-iv-false-talismans/

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Devotion for October 28 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   5 comments

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Above:  Jesus Blessing the Children

An Image from 1891

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-pga-01427

Deuteronomy and Matthew, Part XIX:  The Kingdom of the Powerless

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 28, 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 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

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The Assigned Readings:

Deuteronomy 30:1-20

Psalm 62 (Morning)

Psalms 73 and 8 (Evening)

Matthew 19:1-15

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Women and children were among the most vulnerable members of our Lord’s society.  Widows and orphans especially at risk.  Thus in Matthew 19:1-15, Jesus affirmed the dignity of women and children and the importance of commitments.  Some men divorced their wives for casual reasons, thereby placing the divorced women at great risk of falling through the cracks of society.  And, as Richard Horsley has taught me, some Pharisees permitted elites to divorce and remarry for reasons of consolidating control over land and other resources.  (Source = Jesus and Empire:  The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder, Minneapolis, MN:  Fortress Press, 2003, page 122).  Jesus frowned upon people making a mockery of solemn commitments to God and each other.

Children were powerless.  So Jesus, of course, spoke highly of such socially invisible people.  The man who dined with notorious sinners, spoke at length about profound topics with women, and scandalized the defenders and guardians of ritual purity codes said:

Let the children come to me; do not try to stop them, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.

–Matthew 19:14, The Revised English Bible

Welcome, O reader, to the Kingdom of God, where the meek inherit the earth, the hungry eat, the thirsty drink, and the powerless and socially invisible people are role models.  This is consistent with the best of the Law of Moses and the commandments of God in our mouths and hearts.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 9, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE FEAST OF THOMAS TOKE LYNCH, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ANNA LAETITIA WARING, HUMANITARIAN AND HYMN WRITER; AND HER UNCLE, SAMUEL MILLER WARING, HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT GREGORY OF NAZIANZUS, BISHOP OF CONSTANTINOPLE

THE FEAST OF SAINTS WILLIBALD OF EICHSTATT AND LULLUS OF MAINZ, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS; SAINT WALBURGA OF HEIDENHELM, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBESS; SAINTS PETRONAX OF MONTE CASSINO, WINNEBALD OF HEIDENHELM, WIGBERT OF FRITZLAR, AND STURMIUS OF FULDA, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOTS; AND SAINT SEBALDUS OF VINCENZA, ROMAN CATHOLIC HERMIT AND MISSIONARY

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/05/28/deuteronomy-and-matthew-part-xix-the-kingdom-of-the-powerless/

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Proper 18, Year C   9 comments

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Above:  A Prospector and His Dog in Alaska, 1900-1930

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-ppmsc-01605

Image Source = Library of Congress

Packing and Unpacking for Discipleship

The Sunday Closest to September 7

Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost

SEPTEMBER 8, 2019

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 18:1-11 and Psalm 139:105, 12-17

or 

Deuteronomy 30:15-20 and Psalm 1

then 

Philemon 1-21

Luke 14:25-33

The Collect:

Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for everAmen.

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Some Related Posts:

Prayer of Praise and Adoration:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/03/23/prayer-of-praise-and-adoration-for-the-sixteenth-sunday-after-pentecost/

Prayer of Confession:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/03/23/prayer-of-confession-for-the-sixteenth-sunday-after-pentecost/

Prayer of Dedication:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/03/23/prayer-of-dedication-for-the-sixteenth-sunday-after-pentecost/

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I used to think that Onesimus was a runaway slave.  Authority figures in church told me that he was.  Commentaries and notes in study Bibles told me that he was.  Then, one day, I read another perspective, which prompted me to reread the short epistle again.  And it turns out that nowhere does Paul indicate why Onesimus and Philemon were in separate cities.  And the Greek text of verse 16 translates as

as if a slave,

not

as though a slave.

So the text itself does not indicate that Onesimus was a slave, much less a fugitive.  These close readings of the actual text–not the imagined one–prove to be useful reminders of the importance of reading what the Bible says, not what one thinks it says.

The definition of Christian discipleship is following Jesus.  One must pack lightly for that journey, leaving much behind.  (A partial list follows.)  One must leave behind misunderstandings and false preconceptions.  One must leave behind hatred, violence, grudges, and unfounded fears, which bring out the worst in human behavior.  One must leave behind the desire to scapegoat.  Jesus became a scapegoat and a victim of violence, but the Romans still destroyed Jerusalem in time.  And God reversed death, the major consequence of the violence which killed our Lord.  We must leave behind willful disobedience to God.  I refer you, O reader, to the rest of Jeremiah 18; that text speaks of willful disobedience, not ignorant sinning.  We must also leave behind ignorant sinning, which is also destructive.

Instead, may we pack, among other things, love and respect for God and each other.  Recently I reread Ephesians, a fine epistle which makes clear that how we treat others matters very much to God.  That letter encourages putting up with each other’s weaknesses and  not grieving the Holy Spirit, not committing violence against each other.  (See Chapters 4 and 5.)  May we pack the Golden Rule.  May we pack kindness.  May we pack the willingness to sacrifice self for another.  May we pack the awareness that what we do and do not do affects others.  May we pack compassion.  Our task demands no less of us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 4, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE ELEVENTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS

THE FEAST OF MIEP GIES, RIGHTEOUS GENTILE

THE FEAST OF SAINT DAVID I, KING OF SCOTLAND

THE FEAST OF GEORGE FOX, QUAKER FOUNDER

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAULINUS OF AQUILEIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC PATRIARCH

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/05/27/packing-and-unpacking-for-discipleship/

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Proper 1, Year A   20 comments

Above:  A Street in Ancient Corinth

Summarizing the Law:  The Path of Life

The Sunday Closest to May 11

NOT OBSERVED THIS YEAR

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Deuteronomy 30:15-20 (New Revised Standard Version):

Moses said,

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.  If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.  But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.  I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.  Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the LORD swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

OR

Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 15:15-20 (New Revised Standard Version):

If you choose, you can keep the commandments,

and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice.

He has placed before you fire and water;

stretch out your hand for whichever you choose.

Before each person are life and death,

and whichever one chooses will be given.

For great is the wisdom of the Lord;

he is mighty in power and sees everything;

his eyes are on those who fear him,

and he knows every human action.

He has not commanded anyone to be wicked,

and he has not given anyone permission to sin.

THEN

Psalm 119:1-8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Happy are they whose way is blameless,

who walk in the law of the LORD!

2 Happy are they who observe his decrees

and seek him with all their hearts!

3 Who never do any wrong,

but always walk in his ways.

4 You laid down your commandments,

that we should fully keep them.

5 Oh, that my ways were made so direct

that I might keep your statutes!

6 Then I should not be put to shame,

when I regard all your commandments.

7 I will thank you with an unfeigned heart,

when I have learned your righteous judgments.

8 I will keep your statutes;

do not utterly forsake me.

THEN

1 Corinthians 3:1-9 (New Revised Standard Version):

And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.  I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food.  Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh.  For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?  For when one says,

I belong to Paul,

and another,

I belong to Apollos,

are you not merely human?

What then is Apollos?  What is Paul?  Servants through whom you have come to believe, as the Lord assigned to each.  I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.  So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.  The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each.  For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.

THEN

Matthew 5:21-37 (New Revised Standard Version):

[Jesus continued,]

You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’  But I say that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the hell of fire.  So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.  Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison.  Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’  But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Again, you have heard it said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’  But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or the earth, for it is his footstool.  And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.  Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

The Collect:

Remember, O Lord, what you have wrought in us and not what we deserve; and, as you have called us to your service, make us worthy of our calling; through 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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These readings (especially Matthew) cover much territory.  One could choose just one of these lessons and write extensively about it.  But the combination of them is far richer than just one of them.

A clever legalist can find a way to obey the letter of the law while violating the spirit thereof.  For example, the Law of Moses permits a husband to divorce his wife for a good but poorly defined cause.  For her protection, however, the law requires him to give her a certificate of divorce so she can remarry.

But some husbands divorced their wives for trivial reasons, such as bad cooking, and rendered the women economically vulnerable.  So Jesus advocated protecting the rights of married women.

And, to use another example, some people made worthless oaths, therefore mocking the purpose of an oath.  So Jesus said to say what one means.

The basic message of the readings, especially from Matthew, is that how and what we think defines us.  We are what we think.  Jesus chose not to become focused on legal minutae; he cut to the chase.  So, as Jesus presented it, love defined the Kingdom of Heaven.  Love was (and is) antithetical to hostility, predation, exploitation, and obfuscation.

And love of Jesus was (and is) antithetical to out-of-hand factionalism.  Sometimes we mere mortals have difficulty seeing past the messenger of God to God.  An icon shows us God, but an idol takes the place of God.  Paul and Apollos never sought to become idols, but merely to function as messengers.  They tried, in the fullest sense of the word, to be icons of God.  Thus they expressed their understanding of what Ben Sira and the Deuteronomist said about the path of life and the path of death.

May we understand this, too.  Instead of losing ourselves purposefully or accidentally in religious minutae, may we grasp that we are what we think.  If we have proper priorities, many details will fall into place, and we will choose the path of spiritual life.  We will focus on Jesus, and not excessively on any human messenger of his, and we will not exploit or hate one another.  Love in God yields good works.

Which fruits do you bear?  And what motivates you?

KRT