Archive for the ‘Martin Luther’ Tag

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

Salonica, 1913

Above:   Salonica, 1913

J179889 U.S. Copyright Office

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USZ62-66142

The Faithfulness of God

MAY 20, 2016

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The Collect:

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

and salvation from sin and death.

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

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 38

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The Assigned Readings:

Proverbs 15:1-9

Psalm 92:104, 12-15

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

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It is good to give thanks to Yahweh,

to make music for your name, Most High,

to proclaim your faithful love at daybreak,

and your constancy all through the night,

on the lyre, the ten-stringed lyre,

to the murmur of the harp.

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

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

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

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 27, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ANNE LINE AND ROGER FILCOCK, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF SAINT BALDOMERUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF GEORGE HERBERT, ANGLICAN PRIEST

THE FEAST OF SAINT VICTOR THE HERMIT

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/02/27/the-faithfulness-of-god-2/

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Devotion for Monday and Tuesday After Proper 20, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   3 comments

House of Naaman, Damascus

Above:  House of Naaman, Damascus, 1900-1920

Image Source = Library of Congress

Humility Before God

SEPTEMBER 24 and 25, 2018

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The Collect:

O God, our teacher and guide,

you draw us to yourself and welcome us as beloved children.

Help us to lay aside all envy and selfish ambition,

that we may walk in your ways of wisdom and understanding

as servants of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 48

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The Assigned Readings:

2 Kings 5:1-14 (Monday)

2 Kings 11:21-12:16 (Tuesday)

Psalm 139:1-18 (Both Days)

James 4:8-17 (Monday)

James 5:1-6 (Tuesday)

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LORD, you have searched me out and known me;

you know my sitting down and my rising up;

you discern my thoughts from afar.

–Psalm 139:1, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The Temple at Jerusalem was approximately 140 years old.  The Ark of the Covenant was there.  Repairing the structure of the Temple, which, like all buildings, required maintenance, should have been a priority long before King Jehoash made it one.  The lack of upkeep indicated an improper attitude toward God.

The proper attitude toward God includes humility.  God is God; none of us is God.  We depend entirely upon God (and rely upon each other), so any thought to the contrary is mistaken.  Our interdependence and mutual responsibility (to and for each other) leaves no room for sins such as oppression, exploitation, and gossiping.  Our total dependence on God leaves no room for excessive pride.

Naaman learned humility and monotheism.  Unfortunately, the narrative ended with the beginning of his journey back home.  I wonder how the experience at the River Jordan changed him and how that altered reality became manifest in his work and daily life.  I also wonder if that led to any negative consequences for him.

Martin Luther referred to James as an “epistle of straw.”  The letter’s emphasis on works (including justification by them) offended the reformer, who was reacting, not responding, to certain excesses and abuses of the Roman Catholic Church.  The epistle’s emphasis on works was–and remains–necessary, however.  The book’s condemnations of exploitation and hypocrisy have called proper attention to injustices and other sins for millennia.

I am not a wealthy landowner exploiting impoverished workers (James 5:1-6), but part of these days’ composite reading from the epistle speaks to me.  The condemnation of judging others (4:1-11) hits close to home.  My estimate is that judging others is the sin I commit most often.  If I am mistaken, judging others is one of the sins I commit most frequently.  I know better, of course, but like St. Paul the Apostle, I know well the struggle with sin and my total dependence upon God.  Knowing that one has a problem is the first step in the process of resolving it.

Caution against moral perfectionism is in order.  Public statements by relatives of victims of the White supremacist gunman who killed nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Charleston, South Carolina, have been impressive.  The capacity for forgiveness has come quickly to some.  I rejoice that divine grace is so richly evident in their lives.  For some of us (including the author), however, the capacity to forgive those who have committed lesser offenses has arrived later rather than sooner.  For others it remains in transit.  In any circumstance may it arrive in God’s time.  May the rest of us refrain from judging those struggling with that (and other) issues.

The Didache, an essential Christian text from the second century of the Common Era, opens with an explanation of the Way of Life (filling a page and a half in my copy) and the Way of Death (just one paragraph–about one-third of a page).  The accent on the positive aspect of morality is laudable.  The section on the two Ways ends with two sentences:

Take care that nobody tempts you away from the path of this Teaching, for such a man’s tuition can have nothing to do with God.  If you can shoulder the Lord’s yoke in its entirety, then you will be perfect; but if that is too much for you, do as much as you can.

Early Christian Writings:  The Apostolic Fathers (Penguin Books, 1987), p. 193

We, to succeed, even partially, depend on grace.  Even so, I am still trying to do as much as I can, to borrow language from the Didache, for human efforts are not worthless.  I am imperfect; there is much room for improvement.  Much has improved already, by grace.  The potential for spiritual growth excites me.  The only justifiable boast will be in God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 30, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN OLAF WALLIN, ARCHBISHOP OF UPPSALA AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ARTHUR JAMES MOORE, UNITED METHODIST BISHOP IN GEORGIA

THE FEAST OF HEINRICH LONAS, GERMAN MORAVIAN ORGANIST, COMPOSER, AND LITURGIST

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/06/30/humility-before-god/

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Devotion for Wednesday After Proper 18, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   2 comments

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

Above:  Exorcising a Boy Possessed by a Demon

Image in the Public Domain

Glorifying God, Not Ourselves

SEPTEMBER 12, 2018

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The Collect:

Gracious God, throughout the ages you transform

sickness into health and death into life.

Openness to the power of your presence,

and make us a people ready to proclaim your promises to the world,

through Jesus Christ, our healer and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 47

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The Assigned Readings:

Judges 15:9-20

Isaiah 38:10-20

Matthew 17:14-21

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The LORD is at hand to save me;

so let the music of our praises resound

all our life long in the house of the LORD.

–Isaiah 38:20, The Revised English Bible (1989)

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The story in Isaiah 38 is that God has extended the life of King Hezekiah of Judah by fifteen years.  The monarch, grateful that he is no longer at death’s door, writes a poem (the end of which I have quoted above).  Unfortunately, in the next chapter, he shows off to an emissary of the king of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire (not yet a threat to Judah), prompting the ire of God and Isaiah:

Isaiah said to Hezekiah:  “Hear the word of the LORD of Hosts:  The time is coming, says the LORD, when everything is your palace, and all that your forefathers have amassed till the present day, will be carried away to Babylon; not a thing will be left.  And some of your sons, your own offspring, will be taken to serve as eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”  Hezekiah answered, “The word of the LORD is good,” for he was thinking to himself that peace and security would last his lifetime.

–Isaiah 39:5-8, The Revised English Bible (1989)

The Book of Judges speaks of Samson’s connection to God.  The vivid translation in TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) refers to the spirit of the LORD gripping him immediately prior to a feat of physical strength.  Such is the case in Judges 15:9-20.  The spirit of the LORD grips Samson in verse 14.  Samson kills a thousand Philistine men with the jawbone of an ass in verse 15.  In verse 16, however, Samson fails to give credit to God:

Then Samson said:

“With the jaw of an ass,

Mass upon mass!

With the jaw of an ass

I have slain a thousand men.”

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Samson was, as the Book of Judges presents him, a dolt who lived to satisfy his id.  Nevertheless, God worked through him, and he was aware of that reality.  Would giving credit to God when credit was due have been so difficult?

The pericope from Matthew 17 became more interesting the deeper I delved into its background.  The Gospel of Mark is the oldest of the canonical Gospels, dating to no earlier than 67 C.E.  It is one of the sources for the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, both of which contain the “Markan spine,” elaborate upon it, and add material from other sources.  Thus a version of a story from Mark is usually pithier than a version of the same story from Matthew or Luke.  That statement does not apply to Matthew 17:14-21, which is abbreviated from Mark 9:14-29.  It is as if the author of Matthew wanted to get to the point.  He has also changed the meaning of the story from a statement to Christology to the background for a pronouncement regarding the power of faith, faith meaning trust in divine power, in this case.

The pericope from Matthew 17 indicates that the Apostles could not heal the boy, whom the culture said was moonstruck, or afflicted by the moon goddess Selene, because they had insufficient trust in the power of God, which was available to them.  They could have done more, via divine power, of course, had they been more confident in God.

Martin Luther, a morally troublesome character in many ways, was correct much of the time.  For example, his advice when baptized people questioned their salvation was to trust in the faithfulness of God.  That counsel applies to other circumstances also.  And, as we trust in divine faithfulness, may we glorify God, not ourselves.

JUNE 6, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRY JAMES BUCKOLL, AUTHOR AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF SAINT CLAUDE OF BESANCON, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, MONK, ABBOT, AND BISHOP

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM KETHE, PRESBYTERIAN HYMN WRITER

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/06/06/glorifying-god-not-ourselves/

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Devotion for Monday After Proper 14, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   2 comments

Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath--Bartholomeus Breenbergh

Above:  Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath, by Bartholomeus Breenbergh

Image in the Public Domain

Building Up Our Neighbors, Part IV

AUGUST 13, 2018

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The Collect:

Gracious God, your blessed Son came down from heaven

to be the true bread that gives life to the world.

Give us this bread always,

that he may live in us and we in him,

and that, strengthened by this food,

may live as his body in the world,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 44

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The Assigned Readings:

1 Kings 17:1-16

Psalm 81

Ephesians 5:1-4

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Oh, that my people would listen to me!

that Israel would walk in my ways!

–Psalm 81:13, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Much of Christianity has condemned personal sins (such as swearing, gambling, fornicating, and fighting) exclusively or primarily while justifying oppressive violence and unjust economic systems over time.  One could point to, among other examples, the tradition of Roman Catholic support for feudalism and manorialism then for various dictators (such as Francisco Franco of Spain; at least he was anti-Communist) or to the Lutheran tradition of supporting the state, even when that is dubious.  And Martin Luther (1483-1546) did support the brutal repression of a peasants’ revolt by the German ruler who was protecting his life during the earliest years of the Protestant Reformation.  I cannot forget that fact either.  (To be fair, the Roman Catholic Church has also opposed dictatorships and many German Lutherans opposed the Third Reich.)  I choose to emphasize an example of which many people are unaware.  The Presbyterian Church in the United States, the old “Southern” Presbyterian Church, began in 1861 with a narrow range of moral concerns:  private behavior.  Slavery was not a moral concern fit for the church.  No, that was a matter for governments to address.  This was an example of the “Spirituality of the Church,” one of the biggest cop-outs I have encountered.  In the 1930s part of the left wing of that denomination succeeded in expanding the church’s range of moral concerns to include structural economic inequality, war and peace, et cetera.  In 1954 the Southern Presbyterians became the first U.S. denomination to affirm the ruling in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) as consistent with scripture and Christian values.  Much of the right wing of that denomination objected to these changes vocally, even to the point of defending Jim Crow laws in print.  (I have index cards full of evidence.)  Nevertheless, did not Jesus command people to love their neighbors as they love themselves?

“How long will you judge unjustly,

and show favor to the wicked?

Save the weak and the orphan;

defend the humble and the needy;

Rescue the weak and the poor;

deliver them from the power of the wicked….”

–Psalm 82:2-4, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

Sins come in the personal and collective responsibilities, among others.  Infractions of both kinds require confession and repentance, but addressing offenses in the former category is easier than seeking to correct offenses in the latter category.  Focusing on the former primarily or exclusively is, I suppose, a way (albeit an unsuccessful way) to seek to let oneself off the proverbial hook morally.

God commands us to care for people actively and effectively.  Sometimes this occurs on a small scale, as in the pericope from 1 Kings 17.  On other occasions the effort is massive and might even entail resisting unjust laws which place the poor at further disadvantage.  All of these efforts are consistent with the command to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 28, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN H. W. STUCKENBERG, LUTHERAN PASTOR AND SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF EDWIN POND PARKER, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARGARET POLE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/05/28/building-up-our-neighbors-part-iv/

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Devotion for Thursday and Friday Before Trinity Sunday, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Swords Into Plowshares

Above:  Swords into Plowshares

Image in the Public Domain

Righteousness from God

MAY 24 and 25, 2018

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The Collect:

God of heaven and earth,

before the foundation of the universe and the beginning of time

you are the triune God:

Author of creation, eternal Word of creation, life-giving Spirit of wisdom.

Guide us to all truth by your Spirit,

that we may proclaim all that Christ has revealed

and rejoice in the glory he shares with us.

Glory and praise to you,

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 37

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 1:1-4, 16-20 (Thursday)

Isaiah 2:1-5 (Friday)

Psalm 29 (Both Days)

Romans 8:1-8 (Thursday)

Romans 8:9-11 (Friday)

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The LORD shall give strength to his people;

the LORD shall give his people the blessing of peace.

–Psalm 29:11, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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St. Paul the Apostle, at the end of Romans 7, lamented that, although he often knew right from wrong and wanted to act properly, he behaved sinfully much of the time.  He lived in a “body of death,” he wrote, and his deliverance from it came via Jesus Christ.

The conclusion that we humans are slaves to the law of God in our minds yet slaves to the law of sin in our flesh precedes the “therefore” clause in Romans 8:1:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Christ,  St. Paul the Apostle wrote, has freed us from the law of sin and death.  Yes, there remains the dichotomy of the Spirit (God) and the flesh (all that pertains to human beings).  Yes, we are all “in the flesh,” during this life, but we need not live “according to the flesh,” which sin has compromised.  Righteousness comes from God.

We, turning to the Isaiah pericopes, find human disobedience, a divine call for obedience and social justice, a reminder of how much better the situation can become, a statement of how bad it can become, and a vision of what the future will entail when the Kingdom of God has become fully realized on Earth.  In Isaiah, as in Romans, righteousness comes from God and we mere mortals fall far short of that divine standard.

None of this negates the importance of free will, for the desire to obey God and act justly matters greatly.  It is a positive development and something with which God can work–multiply like loaves and fishes.  A faithful response to God is, in itself, inadequate, but it is something, at least.  And we rely on God’s strength, not ours.  Martin Luther, who knew much firsthand about the conflict between the higher and lower natures, affirmed correctly the principle of relying on the faithfulness of God.  I am content  to do as he advised in that matter, for the alternatives lead me to negative spiritual destinations, which range from hopelessness to a lack of any spirituality to the vain and frustrating quest for moral perfection or something approximate to it in this life (hence my strong objections to Pietism).

We are all broken and in need of God, so why pretend to the contrary?  A healthy spiritual quest begins where one is.  I prefer to acknowledge that point of origin without excuses, delusions, or self-recrimination.  Acknowledging one’s sin and confessing it need not turn into spiritual self-flagellation.  I have learned that admitting the reality of my spiritual state, with all its negatives and positive aspects, refraining from berating myself yet handing the burdens over to God instead is a good way to begin.  This life is short, anyway, so I seek to spend as much of it as possible enjoying and glorifying God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 14, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MATHILDA, QUEEN OF GERMANY

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/03/17/righteousness-from-god/

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Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before Proper 13, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Martin Luther

Above:  Martin Luther

Image in the Public Domain

The Surprises and Faithfulness of God

AUGUST 3, 2017

AUGUST 4, 2017

AUGUST 5, 2017

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The Collect:

Glorious God, your generosity waters the world with goodness,

and you cover creation with abundance.

Awaken in us a hunger for the food that satisfies both body and spirit,

and with this food fill all the starving world,

through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 43

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The Assigned Readings:

Proverbs 10:1-5 (Thursday)

Isaiah 51:17-23 (Friday)

Isaiah 44:1-5 (Saturday)

Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21 (All Days)

Philippians 4:10-15 (Thursday)

Romans 9:6-13 (Friday)

Matthew 7:7-11 (Saturday)

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The LORD is faithful in all his words

and merciful in his deeds.

–Psalm 145:14, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The faithfulness of God was among the theological emphases of Martin Luther.  That point, an excellent one, unifies the assigned readings for these days.

God is full of surprises from human perspectives.  God works outside of human traditions–such as primogeniture–much of the time.  Even repentant prostitutes and collaborators with the Roman Empire preceded certain respectable religious people into Heaven, according to Jesus.  We desire cheap grace, that forgives our sins yet requires nothing of us.  Yet we receive free grace, that which we cannot buy yet which requires much of us.  It is therefore free yet costly.  It cost St. Paul the Apostle a life of comfort inside the religious establishment then cost him his life.  This grace, which does not remove the temporal consequences of sin, waits for us nevertheless at the end of punishment.

Sometimes we mere mortals are God’s chosen channels and vehicles of grace.  May we be the best and most faithful such channels and vehicles possible, by grace.  (Everything seems to come back to grace.)  If we fail in this function, the consequences to others can be severe.  Proverbs 10:4 (The New Revised Standard Version, 1989) reads:

A slack hand causes poverty,

but the hand of the diligent makes rich.

This is not always true.  Had the author of that verse not heard of the working poor and the idle rich?  Most people in Palestine in antiquity were peasants, but not lazy individuals.  The masses were poor, the upper class constituted a minority, and the middle class was scarce or absent.  Structural barriers to upward mobility remain in our world.  They are, fortunately, not as intense in some places as in others, but their continued existence is sinful.

How will God surprise us next?  The divine call to all of us will differ in details.  Some of us ought to oppose social structures of injustice as our primary vocation, functioning as thorns in the sides of powerful and dangerous people.  St. Paul thought that Jesus would return within his lifetime, so he left reforming society to God.  That was about two thousand years ago, so I propose that this work is a legitimate calling from God.  Others of us will have different assignments to complete.  There is plenty to do.  May each of us listen attentively for our instructions then obey them.  When we do that, what potential might God unlock in us and in those around us, those to whom God sends us, and those whom God sends to us?  May we discover the answer to that question, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 14, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BASIL THE GREAT, FATHER OF EASTERN MONASTICISM

THE FEAST OF DOROTHY FRANCES BLOMFIELD GURNEY, ENGLISH POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT METHODIUS I OF CONSTANTINOPLE, PATRIARCH

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This is Post #600 of ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS.

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/06/15/the-surprises-and-faithfulness-of-god/

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Devotion for Saturday Before Proper 3, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Tissot

Above:  The Blind and Mute Man Possessed by Devils, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

The Sure Promises of God

NOT OBSERVED THIS YEAR

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The Collect:

God of tender care, like a mother, like a father, you never forget your children,

and you know already what we need.

In all our anxiety give us trusting and faithful hearts,

that in confidence we may embody the peace and justice

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 37

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 31:1-9

Psalm 131

Luke 11:14-23

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O Lord, my heart is not proud:

my eyes are not raised too high.

I do not occupy myself with matters too great for me:

or with marvels that are beyond me.

But I have stilled and made quiet my soul,

like a weaned child nestling to its mother:

so like a child, my soul is quieted within me.

O trust in the Lord:

from this time forth and for ever.

–Psalm 131, A New Zealand Prayer Book (1989)

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To place one’s trust in the wrong place is to commit a grave error. Egypt was not material for an ally, so the alliance to which Isaiah 31 refers was stupid, foolish, and other choice adjectives. And Jesus, by bypassing the healing function of religious authorities, made powerful enemies. They trusted in the power structure which collaborated with the Roman Empire—again not the cloth from which to create the garment of a good alliance.

Egypt and Rome acted according to form. The former was no ally and the latter brooked no opposition or the semblance thereof. The Roman Empire, as Tacitus wrote, made a desert and called it peace. This violence was the foundation of the Pax Romana.

But, as Jesus said,

…the kingdom of God has come to you.

–Luke 11:20, The New Revised Standard Version

That kingdom stands not on violence, but on love and righteousness. It stands upon God, the rock. It is the kingdom of the Beatitudes. And that kingdom is simultaneously present with us and not realized fully. Its unveiling remains an ongoing process.

The message of this day’s readings is to trust God, who is faithful. As Martin Luther affirmed in various theological debates and questions, the promises of God are sure, thus our spiritual emphasis belongs there.

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/the-sure-promises-of-god/

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