Archive for the ‘Esau’ Tag

Devotion for Proper 15, Year A (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Joseph Reveals His Dream to His Brethren, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

Trusting in God, Part II

AUGUST 18, 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 37:1-28 or Isaiah 30:15-25

Psalm 18:16-30

1 Corinthians 6:1-11

Matthew 11:2-19

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Patriarchs in Genesis had dysfunctional families.  Abraham tried to kill his son Isaac, on faith that God had told him to do so.  (Yes, I argue with that story.)  Isaac’s son Jacob, with the help of Jacob’s mother, fooled him and defrauded Esau.  Jacob seemed not to care about the rape of his daughter Dinah and, in a different context, acted in such a way as to foster tension among his sons, most of whom fooled him into thinking that his son Joseph was dead.  With family like that, who needs enemies?

The main idea in 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 is that believers ought to conduct themselves in ways that glorify God and distinguish them from unbelievers.  Yet even when holy people do that, they will still receive criticism, for some people thrive on finding faults, even if those faults are imaginary.  It is preferable that the criticisms be baseless; that way they show up the critics.

During the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah (reigned 727/715-698/687 B.C.E.), the kingdom entered into a military alliance with Egypt against Assyria.  This was an ill-advised alliance; Egypt was not trustworthy.  The author of Isaiah 30 argued that the alliance indicated a lack of trust in God, who was reliable.  After the announcement of divine wrath followed the prediction of mercy.

Trusting in God liberates one to do as one should and become the person one should be.  One can lay aside the desire for revenge, not to lead a life defined by anger, and value justice instead.  With confidence in God one can avoid foolish decisions that end badly.  One, trusting in God, can find the source of ultimate peace and strength.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 30, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CLARENCE JORDAN, SOUTHERN BAPTIST MINISTER AND WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF SAINT PETER CHRYSOLOGUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF RAVENNA AND DEFENDER OF ORTHODOXY

THE FEAST OF SAINT VICENTA CHÁVEZ OROZCO, FOUNDRESS OF THE SERVANTS OF THE HOLY TRINITY AND THE POOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT WILLIAM PINCHON, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2018/07/30/trusting-in-god-part-viii/

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Devotion for Proper 12, Year A (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Jacob Struggles with the Angel, from the Gutenberg Bible

Image in the Public Domain

Wrestling with God

JULY 26, 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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Genesis 32:3-31 or Isaiah 14:5-20

Psalm 15

1 Corinthians 3:10-23

Matthew 10:1-15

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Jacob had been wrestling all his life.  In the womb he and his brother Esau had struggled with each other.  Jacob had, so to speak, wrestled with Esau during childhood and adulthood.  Jacob had also been wrestling with himself.  On the eve of what turned out to be reconciliation with Esau, Jacob literally wrestled with God or an angel in human form and received a blessing, as well as a limp.  Jacob, literally “supplanter,” also became Israel, literally “may God rule.”

I admire Judaism, from which I learn much.  One aspect of Judaism I find especially helpful is struggling with God as part of a relationship with God.  One finds evidence of that collective struggle throughout the Hebrew Bible.  One also finds evidence of divine judgment and mercy, hence restoration following exile.  The reading from Isaiah 14 is a song of taunting against the defeated Babylonian/Neo-Chaldean monarch.

According to the high standards of Psalm 15, not one of we mere mortals has any hope, except via grace.  Moral perfectionism is an impossible standard, but we should still strive to be the best versions of ourselves we can be.

St. Paul the Apostle wrote to the quarrelsome Corinthian church that it was God’s temple.  (The “you” is plural in the reading.)  That congregation needed to shape up and come closer to its spiritual potential.  Unfortunately, as anyone who has studied the (First) Letter to the Corinthians from St. Clement (I) of Rome (circa 100) should know, the congregation remained quarrelsome and troublesome for at least a generation after St. Paul’s demise.

As my father taught me, troubled people cause trouble..  They are like Jacob.  They are wrestling, metaphorically, with themselves and others.  Perhaps they are wrestling with God also.  In the meantime, in the context of congregational life, are holding a church back, and other members of that community are permitting them to do so.  This is a dynamic present in come congregations I have observed.

One progression in the Gospel of Matthew is the expansion of the audience for the message.  The audience in 7:6 consists of Jews.  Yet, in 28:19, the audience is

all nations.

I, as a Gentile, am grateful for this expansion of the audience.  Through it the wisdom of Judaism, has come to me.  As I struggle with God, others, and myself, I hope that I cause no trouble in churches.  I hope that I am improving spiritually.  I hope that people will recognize the light of Christ in me.  To the extent any of this comes true, God deserves all the glory.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 24, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THOMAS À KEMPIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK, PRIEST, AND SPIRITUAL WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHN NEWTON, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WALTER RAUSCHENBUSCH, U.S. BAPTIST MINISTER AND THEOLOGIAN OF THE SOCIAL GOSPEL

THE FEAST OF SAINTS VINCENTIA GEROSA AND BARTHOLOMEA CAPITANIO, COFOUNDERS OF THE SISTERS OF CHARITY OF LOVERE

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2018/07/24/wrestling-with-god-part-ii/

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Devotion for Proper 10, Year A (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Jacob’s Dream, by William Blake

Image in the Public Domain

The Call of God

JULY 12, 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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Genesis 28:10-19 or Isaiah 5:1-7

Psalm 13

1 Corinthians 2:1-16

Matthew 8:18-34

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Isaiah 5:1-7 and Psalm 13 point in one theological direction.  Genesis 28:10-19 points in another direction.  The note of judgment for injustice and iniquity sounds in Isaiah 5:1-7 and Psalm 13, but God shows mercy to the deceitful Jacob, on the run from Esau, his vengeful brother, whom he had cheated more than once, in Genesis 28:10-19.  Via the dream of Jacob’s Ladder (more of a stairway or a ramp, actually), God confirms that Jacob is the carrier of the patriarchal promise.  Sometimes the wisdom of God seems foolish.

The call of God on our lives is to follow without making excuses.  The call of God on our lies is to follow even when doing so is inconvenient–or more.  The call of God on our lives is to function as vehicles of grace, to leave others better than they were when first our paths crossed theirs, the owners of the herd of swine in Matthew 8:23-24 not withstanding.

That which we do to others, we do to ourselves; this is a profound statement.  If one takes it seriously, one will be less likely to act in selfish ways that benefit me (at the expense of others) in the short term.  If one takes this truth seriously, one will be less likely to fail to recognize problems of others, as being problems that God will also affect one.  If we internalize this truth, we will be less likely to make excuses and shirk our responsibilities.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 24, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THOMAS À KEMPIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK, PRIEST, AND SPIRITUAL WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHN NEWTON, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WALTER RAUSCHENBUSCH, U.S. BAPTIST MINISTER AND THEOLOGIAN OF THE SOCIAL GOSPEL

THE FEAST OF SAINTS VINCENTIA GEROSA AND BARTHOLOMEA CAPITANIO, COFOUNDERS OF THE SISTERS OF CHARITY OF LOVERE

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2018/07/24/the-call-of-god-vii/

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Devotion for Proper 8, Year A (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Esau Selling His Birthright, by Hendrick ter Brugghen

Image in the Public Domain

Vehicles of Grace

JUNE 30, 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 25:17-34 or Isaiah 1:1-20 (portions)

Psalm 11

1 Corinthians 1:1-18

Matthew 7:15-29

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Waiting on and trusting in God can be very difficult, but it is the thematic thread uniting these readings.  Nevertheless, some of the figures from certain readings for today seem like unlikely exemplars of waiting on and trusting in God.

The narrative about Jacob portrays Israel in its earthiest and most scandalous appearance in Genesis.  The narrative is not edifying in any conventional religious or moral sense.  Indeed, if one comes to the narrative with such an agenda, the narrative is offensive.  But for that very reason, the Jacob narrative is most lifelike.  It presents Jacob in the crude mixture of motives.  The grandson of the promise is a rascal compared to his faithful grandfather Abraham or his successful father Isaac.  The affirmations of faith in this narrative are especially robust.  The narrator knows that the purposes of God are tangled in a web of self-interest and self-seeking.

–Walter Brueggemann, Genesis (1982), page 204

Saul of Tarsus thought he was obeying God while oppressing Christians.  After realizing his error, he became St. Paul the Apostle, a vital figure in the mission to the Gentiles.

Each of us is imperfect.  All of us can do better.  Each of us can be a vehicle of grace, by grace.  Seeking to obey God is laudable, but how can we succeed?  The judgments of our culture are not always helpful in this matter.  Furthermore, if we think we are listening to God, we might be, but we might also be conducting on internal dialogue instead.  As much as one might try to wait on and trust in God, one might miss the channel, so to speak.

I offer no easy answers because I have none.  Besides, an easy answer to a difficult question is a wrong answer.  I suggest, however, that one is less likely to go wrong by seeking the good of other people rather than by living selfishly.  One might sin in how one seeks to build up others, but at least on is pointing in the right direction.  Yet good intentions are the pavement stones in road to Hell, so one needs grace to make wise decisions daily.  Good intentions are at least good, but they are insufficient.

Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.

That truth is a quote from the Westminster Larger Catechism.  The sentence is a fine general statement of principle.  The particulars vary according to the circumstances of life–who, where, and when one is.  May we, by grace, bear good fruit for God, and therefore glorify him, and enjoy him fully forever.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 13, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CLIFFORD BAX, POET, PLAYWRIGHT, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT EUGENIUS OF CARTHAGE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF JOHANNES RENATUS VERBEEK, MORAVIAN MINISTER AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF PETER RICKSEEKER, U.S. MORAVIAN MINISTER, MISSIONARY, MUSICIAN, MUSIC EDUCATOR, AND COMPOSER; STUDENT OF JOHANN CHRISTIAN BECHLER, MORAVIAN MINISTER , MUSICIAN, MUSIC EDUCATOR, AND COMPOSER; FATHER OF JULIUS THEODORE BECHLER, U.S. MORAVIAN MINISTER, MUSICIAN, EDUCATOR, AND COMPOSER

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2018/07/13/vehicles-of-grace/

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Devotion for Friday and Saturday Before Proper 24, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Jacob and Esau Are Reconciled

Above:   Jacob and Esau Are Reconciled, by Jan Van den Hoecke

Image in the Public Domain

Building Up Others

OCTOBER 18 and 19, 2019

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The Collect:

O Lord God, tireless guardian of your people,

you are always ready to hear our cries.

Teach us to rely day and night on your care.

Inspire us to seek your enduring justice for all the suffering world,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 50

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The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 31:43-32:2 (Friday)

Genesis 32:3-21 (Saturday)

Psalm 121 (Both Days)

2 Timothy 2:14-26 (Friday)

Mark 10:46-52 (Saturday)

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He will not let your foot be moved and he who watches over you will not fall asleep.

Behold, he who keeps watch over Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD himself watches over you; the LORD is your shade at your right hand,

So that the sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.

The LORD shall preserve you from all evil; it is he who shall keep you safe.

The LORD shall watch over your going out and your coming in, from this time forth for evermore.

–Psalm 121:3-8, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Here is a saying you may trust:

“If we died with him, we shall live with him;

if we endure, we shall reign with him;

if we disown him, he will disown us;

if we are faithless, he remains faithful,

for he cannot disown himself.”

Keep on reminding people of this, and charge them solemnly before God to stop disputing about mere words; it does no good, and only ruins those who listen.

–2 Timothy 2:11-14, The Revised English Bible (1989)

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God seeks to build us up; we should strive to the same for each other.  That is the unifying theme of these lessons.

Distracting theological arguments constitute “mere words” (2 Timothy 2:14).  Of course, many people do not think that such theological arguments are distracting and destructive.  Partisans certainly understand them to be matters of fidelity to God.  Such arguments help to explain the multiplicity of Christian denominations.  I think in particular of the Church of God (Guthrie, Oklahoma), which separated from the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) in 1910-1911 over, in part, the parent body’s liberalization with regard to Sola Scriptura (or, more to the point, that which the Reformed churches call the Regulative Principle of Worship) and worldliness.  The Anderson Church began to (gasp!) permit the wearing of neckties!  (Shock horror)  Granted, the original, narrow meaning of Sola Scriptura, especially in Lutheran theology, applies only to requirements for salvation, but certain schools of Christianity have expanded its scope to matters beyond salvation–from liturgy to the presence or absence of neckties.

Legalism does not build up the body of Christ.  Reconciliation, however, does.  We read a prelude to the reconciliation of Jacob and Esau (effected in Genesis 33) in Chapter 32.  Jacob, who had, with the help of his mother, cheated his brother out of his birthright in Genesis 27, had gone on to become a recipient of trickery in Chapter 29.  He parted company with his father-in-law, Laban, with whom he had a difficult relationship, in Genesis 31, and was nervous about what might happen at a reunion with Esau, who proved to be conciliatory.

The healing of blind Bartimaeus (literally, son of Timaeus) is familiar.  Jesus, unlike many people in the account, has compassion for the blind man calling out to him.  Those others, we might speculate with little or no risk of being wrong, thought of Bartimaeus as a nuisance at worst and an irritant at best.  One need not use one’s imagination much to grasp the application of this story in daily life.  Do we see people, or do we see irritants and nuisances?

A moral law of the universe is that, whatever we do to others, we do to ourselves also.  This challenges us all, does it not?  Tearing others down might be in one’s short-term interests, but, in the long term, those who injure others do so to their detriment.

How is God calling you to build up others today, O reader?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 31, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE VISITATION OF MARY TO ELIZABETH

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/05/31/building-up-others-2/

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Devotion for Monday and Tuesday After Proper 20, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Jacob's Ladder William Blake

Above:  Jacob’s Ladder, by William Blake

Image in the Public Domain

Flawed Agents of Grace

SEPTEMBER 21 and 22, 2020

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The Collect:

Almighty and eternal God, you show perpetual lovingkindness to us your servants.

Because we cannot rely on our own abilities,

grant us your merciful judgment,

and train us to embody the generosity of your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 48

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The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 27:1-29 (Monday)

Genesis 28:10-17 (Tuesday)

Psalm 106:1-12 (Both Days)

Romans 16:1-16 (Monday)

Romans 16:17-20 (Tuesday)

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Remember me, O LORD, with the favor you have for your people,

and visit me with your saving help;

That I may see the prosperity of your elect

and be glad with the gladness of your people,

and I may glory with your inheritance.

–Psalm 106:4-5, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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One of the challenges one faces in reading the Bible intelligently is understanding cultural nuances.  What does it matter, for example, that a father imparts a blessing on his son?  That was important in the culture of Isaac, Jacob/Israel, and Esau/Edom, for the blessing or curse, in the minds of many people, determined the destiny of the recipient of the pronouncement.

Isaac was a pitiful character.  The fact that his father, Abraham, had tried to kill him once must have messed him up psychologically.  Wife Rebekah plotted to deceive him in order to promote her second son, Jacob.  She succeeded, and the promise flowed through the second son again, Isaac having been the second son of Abraham.  The confirmation of the promise came in a dream about angels on a ladder.  But Jacob remained a trickster, one whom Laban fooled.  The promise of God, this chain of events tells me, does not depend on purity of human character or motivation.  This is good news, for it the divine promise did depend on such factors, it would be vain hope.

St. Paul the Apostle, after a long list of commendations in Romans 16, advised people to avoid

those who stir up quarrels and lead others astray, contrary to the teaching you received

–Romans 16:17b, The Revised English Bible (1989).

The process of sorting out core Christian doctrines entailed centuries of debates among those who asked sincere questions.  Many of these seekers of the truth were objectively wrong about certain details, but at least they proceeded from a good motivation.  When they were wrong, their contribution led to the formulation of correct doctrines, so we Christians of the twenty-first century are indebted to them.  St. Paul the Apostle might have considered some of these individuals to be among “those who stir up quarrels and lead others astray,” for he was quite opinionated.  There were also actual mischief-makers.  Maybe you, O reader, have encountered the type–people who ask questions to provoke, not to seek an answer.

Those who sow the seeds of dissension seem to have great internal discord, for those at peace with themselves make peace and troubled people cause trouble.  I have witnessed these dynamics in congregations.  And I recognize it in family life, such as in the account in Genesis 27 and 28.  Much of the narrative of the Old Testament reads like a catalog of bad parenting and of sibling rivalry.  The texts are honest about character flaws, though, so we modern readers need not feel guilty about thinking of them as less than heroic all the time.  These were flawed people–as we are–and God worked through them as God works through us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 16. 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN DIEFENBAKER AND LESTER PEARSON, PRIME MINISTERS OF CANADA; AND TOMMY DOUGLAS, FEDERAL LEADER OF THE NEW DEMOCRATIC PARTY

THE FEAST OF JOHN JONES OF TALYSARN, WELSH CALVINISTIC METHODIST MINISTER AND HYMN TUNE COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF BROTHER ROGER OF TAIZE, FOUNDER OF THE TAIZE COMMUNITY

THE FEAST OF THE HOLY WOMEN OF THE NEW TESTAMENT

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/08/17/flawed-agents-of-grace/

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Proper 10, Year A   24 comments

Above:  Soil Profile

Image in the Public Domain

A Call for Righteous Deeds

The Sunday Closest to July 13

The Sixth Sunday After Pentecost

JULY 12, 2020

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FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #1

Genesis 25:19-34 (New Revised Standard Version):

These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. The children struggled together within her; and she said,

If it is to be this way, why do I live?

So she went to inquire of the LORD. And the LORD said to her,

Two nations are in your womb,

and two peoples born of you shall be divided;

the one shall be stronger than the other,

the elder shall serve the younger.

When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. Afterward his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.

When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. Esau said to Jacob,

Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!

(Therefore he was called Edom.) Jacob said,

First sell me your birthright.

Esau said,

I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?

Jacob said,

Swear to me first.

So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

Psalm 119:105-112 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

105 Your word is a lantern to my feet

and a light upon my path.

106 I have sworn and am determined

to keep your righteous judgments.

107 I am deeply troubled;

prserve my life, O LORD, according to your word.

108 Accept, O LORD, the willing tribute of my lips,

and teach me your judgments.

109 My life is always in my hand,

yet I do not forget your law.

110 The wicked have set a trap for me,

but I have not strayed from your commandments.

111 Your decrees are my inheritance for ever;

truly, they are the joy of my heart.

112 I have applied my heart to fulfill your statutes

for ever and to the end.

FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #2

Isaiah 55:10-13 (New Revised Standard Version):

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,

and do not return there until they have watered the earth,

making it bring forth and sprout,

giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;

it shall not return to me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,

and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

For you shall go out in joy,

and be led back in peace;

the mountains and the hills before you

shall burst into song,

and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;

instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;

and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial,

for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

Psalm 65:(1-8), 9-14 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 You are to be praised, O God, in Zion;

to you shall vows be performed in Jerusalem.

2 To you that hear prayer shall all flesh come,

because of their transgressions.

3 Our sins are stronger than we are,

but you will blot them out.

4 Happy are they whom you choose

and draw to your courts to dwell there!

they will be satisfied by the beauty of your house,

by the holiness of your temple.

5 Awesome things will you show us in your righteousness,

O God of our salvation,

O Hope of all the ends of the earth

and of the seas that are far away.

6 You make fast the mountains by your power;

they are girded about with might.

7 You still the roaring of the seas,

the roaring of their waves,

and the clamor of the peoples.

8 Those who dwell at the ends of the earth will tremble at your marvelous signs;

you make the dawn and the dusk to sing for joy.

9 You visit the earth and water it abundantly;

you make it very plenteous;

the river of God is full of water.

10 You prepare the grain,

for so you provide for the earth.

11 You drench the furrows and smooth out the ridges;

with heavy rain you soften the ground and bless its increase.

12 You crown the year with your goodness,

and your paths overflow with plenty.

13 May the fields of the wilderness be rich for grazing,

and the hills be clothed with joy.

14 May the meadows cover themselves with flocks,

and the valleys cloak themselves with grain;

let them shout for joy and sing.

SECOND READING

Romans 8:1-11 (New Revised Standard Version):

There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.  For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,  so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.  For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.  For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law– indeed it cannot,  and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.  Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.  Buf if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your moral bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

GOSPEL READING

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 (New Revised Standard Version):

Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying:

Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!

Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.

The Collect:

O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; 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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Our sins are stronger than we are,

but you will blot them out….

You visit the earth and water it abundantly;

you make it very plenteous;

the river of God is full of water.

–Psalm 65:3, 9 (1979 Book of Common Prayer)

This Sunday’s readings, taken together, constitute a call for righteous deeds.

One aspect of a righteous deed is that it lacks resentment.  Esau had every right to be resentful.  His brother, Jacob, forced him to sell his birthright.  Jacob was a schemer, and his plots got him into much needless difficulty over the years.  They did reconcile eventually, but not before much family drama played out.

A righteous deed is a faithful response to God.  God has acted.  And God continues to act.  God shows the initiative in Isaiah 55 and Psalm 65.  And God (specifically Jesus) is the sower in Matthew 13.  This chapter is eschatological.  After the Parable of the Sower we have the tares, which resemble wheat.  God will sort out the difference at the time of the harvest, or the final judgment.

With eschatology in mind, the fates of the seeds take on meanings beyond “What kind of soil am I?” in the context of mere daily life.  The author of the Gospel of Matthew expected Jesus to return very shortly, a fact we must consider.  Another relevant detail is the presence of Roman persecutions of Christianity.  So seeds never sprout, others do for a time but do not survive adversity, and still other seeds take root and yield much.  Christians are supposed to yield much, a harvest possible only in God.

The harvest yields are unrealistic in agricultural terms, thus the parable is not agricultural; it is spiritual.  No farmer could expect such yields in First Century C.E. Judea reasonably.  So the yields must be the work of God, in concert with faithful people.  Stakes do not get much higher than eschatological ones, and, if one thinks the schedule is short, yields need to be greater to make up for the lack of time.

That was in 85-90 C.E.  I write these words on Christmas Day in 2010.  Between the 85 and 2010 many have speculated as to when Jesus might return.  They have all been wrong.  I have a 1979 paperback book explaining why Jesus will return by 1988.  That author was incorrect.  There is another date (May 2011) making the rounds as I write these words.  The fact that I am writing a devotion for July 10, 2011, indicates my opinion of that date.  We ought not obsess over dates, which come and go.  No, our mandate is to be faithful Christians who cooperate with God more often than not.  We cannot cooperate with God all the time, due to sin, but, by grace, we can improve spiritually.  The formula is this:  see and hear, understand, then act accordingly.

As for eschatology, God will handle those details.  The human track record on trying to understand it has not proved promising.  So let us focus on what God calls to do:  bear good fruit.  May we sink our roots into the river of God, which always has plenty of water.

KRT