Archive for the ‘Presbyterian Church in the United States’ Tag

Devotion for Monday After Trinity Sunday, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Apples

Above:   Apples, Currier & Ives, 1868

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USZC2-3226

Free to Love in God

JUNE 17, 2019

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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 salvation, life-giving Spirit of wisdom.

Guide is 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:

Proverbs 7:1-4

Psalm 124

Ephesians 4:7-16

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…our help is in the name of Yahweh,

who made heaven and earth.

–Psalm 124:8, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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The main two lections for this day urge the readers to heed God’s wisdom.  Proverbs 7 uses the imagery of binding divine decrees to one’s fingers and writing them on the tablet of one’s heart, even identifying Wisdom as one’s sister and Understanding as one’s kinswoman.  We read in Galatians that St. Paul the Apostle had become vexed by the influence of Judaizers and the willingness of many Christians in that city to heed their words, not his.  They had surrendered their freedom in Christ, the Apostle insisted.  Even keeping the Jewish liturgical calendar was too much for St. Paul.

I, as a historian of religion, know that the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (the old “Southern Presbyterian Church”) of 1899 passed a resolution condemning the religious observance of Christmas and Easter.  I found the text of that resolution on page 430 the journal of that General Assembly:

There us no warrant for the observance of Christmas and Easter as holy days, but rather contrary (see Galatians iv. 9-11; Colossians ii. 16-21), and such observance is contrary to the principles of the Reformed faith, conducive to will-worship, and not in harmony with the simplicity of gospel in Jesus Christ.

I also denounce any such interpretation of that verse, for the rhythms of the liturgical year facilitate my spiritual life and define my three lectionary-based weblogs, including this one.  To focus in Galatians 4:10 outside of its textual, cultural, and historical contexts is to miss the point.

The point is that we, through Christ, are heirs of and members of the household of God.  We are free to love God, love each other in God, and glorify God.  We are free to knock down, not erect, artificial barriers to God–barriers which people have created and maintained for their own purposes, not those of God.  We are free to include those whom God includes, not to exclude them wrongly.  (The wrongly excluded in Galatians 4 were Gentiles.)  We are free to root our identity in God (in whom is our help) alone, not in the fact that we are not like those other people we dislike so much.

That is a teaching I am comfortable calling the apple of my eye.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 26, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALEXANDER OF ALEXANDRIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF EMILY MALBONE MORGAN, FOUNDER OF THE SOCIETY OF THE COMPANIONS OF THE HOLY CROSS

THE FEAST OF FRED ROGERS, EDUCATOR AND U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/02/26/free-to-love-in-god/

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Devotion for Monday After Proper 14, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

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 Saturday Before Proper 14, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Virgin with David and Solomon

Above:  The Virgin with David and Solomon

Image in the Public Domain

Building Up Our Neighbors, Part III

AUGUST 11, 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 2:1-9

Psalm 34:1-8

Matthew 7:7-11

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Taste and see that the LORD is good;

happy are they who trust in him!

–Psalm 34:8, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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King David’s final advice to his son and royal heir, Solomon, disturbs me.  The counsel to obey divine commandments is good, but the elements about killing people detracts from that noble sentiment.  In contrast, after Matthew 7:7-11, where we read that God knows how to bless people, we find the Golden Rule in verse 12.  Smiting people does not constitute obeying the Golden Rule relative to them.  Then again, the theological position of much of the Bible is that Yahweh is the Smiter-in-Chief.

I have strong doses of idealism and realism (not in the Greek philosophical meanings of those words) in my thinking.  Sometimes delivering one person from a dangerous situation entails smiting others, especially when they are unrepentant.  Yet I also understand that God loves everybody and that all people are my neighbors.  Part of the reality of living with flawed human nature is having to make the least bad decisions sometimes.

Nevertheless, to seek to build up as many of our neighbors as possible is a fine ethic by which to live.  It is one which we can accomplish by grace.  We might know that we ought to do it, but being able to follow through successfully is a different matter.  As the former Presbyterian Church in the United States (the “Southern” Presbyterian Church) declared in A Brief Statement of Belief (1962) regarding total depravity:

Sin permeates and corrupts our entire being and burdens us with more and more fear, hostility, guilt, and misery.  Sin operates not only within individuals but also within society as a deceptive and oppressive power, so that even men of good will are unconsciously and unwillingly involved in the sins of society.  Man cannot destroy the tyranny of sin in himself or in his world; his only hope is to be delivered from it by God.

The Confession of Faith of The Presbyterian Church in the United States Together with the Larger Catechism and the Shorter Catechism (Richmond, VA:  The Board of Christian Education, 1965; reprint, 1973), page 332

May we do the best we can, by the grace of God.

MAY 27, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALFRED ROOKER, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST PHILANTHROPIST AND HYMN WRITER; AND HIS SISTER, ELIZABETH ROOKER PARSON, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF CHARLES WILLIAM SCHAEFFER, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, HISTORIAN, THEOLOGIAN, AND LITURGIST

THE FEAST OF CLARENCE DICKINSON, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN ORGANIST AND COMPOSER

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

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Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before Proper 17, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

05791v

Above:  Civil Rights Memorial, Montgomery, Alabama

Photographer = Carol M. Highsmith

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-highsm-05791

Christian Liberty to Love Our Neighbors

AUGUST 27-29, 2020

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The Collect:

O God, we thank you for your Son,

who chose the path of suffering for the sake of the world.

Humble us by his example,

point us to the path of obedience,

and give us strength to follow your commands,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 46

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 14:13-18 (Thursday)

Jeremiah 15:1-9 (Friday)

Jeremiah 15:10-14 (Saturday)

Psalm 26:1-8 (All Days)

Ephesians 5:1-6 (Thursday)

2 Thessalonians 2:7-12 (Friday)

Matthew 8:14-17 (Saturday)

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I will wash my hands in innocence, O Lord,

that I may go about your altar,

To make heard the voice of thanksgiving

and tell of all your wonderful deeds.

Lord, I love the house of your habitation

and the place where your glory abides.

–Psalm 26:6-8, Common Worship (2000)

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Christian liberty is the freedom to follow Christ without the shackles of legalism.  All the Law of Moses and the Prophets point to the love of God and one’s fellow human beings, our Lord and Savior said.  Rabbi Hillel, dead for about two decades at the time, would have continued that teaching with

Everything else is commentary.  Go and learn it.

Many of those laws contained concrete examples of timeless principles.  A host of these examples ceased to apply to daily lives for the majority of people a long time ago, so the avoidance of legalism and the embrace of serious study of the Law of Moses in historical and cultural contexts behooves one.  St. Paul the Apostle, always a Jew, resisted legalism regarding male circumcision. In my time I hear certain Protestants, who make a point of Christian liberty from the Law of Moses most of the time, invoke that code selectively for their own purposes.  I am still waiting for them to be consistent –to recognize the hypocrisy of such an approach, and to cease from quoting the Law of Moses regarding issues such as homosexuality while ignoring its implications for wearing polyester.  I will wait for a long time, I suppose.

My first thought after finishing the readings from Jeremiah was, “God was mad!”  At least that was the impression which the prophet and his scribe, Baruch, who actually wrote the book, left us.  In that narrative the people (note the plural form, O reader) had abandoned God and refused repeatedly to repent–to change their minds and to turn around.  Destruction would be their lot and only a small remnant would survive, the text said.  Not keeping the Law of Moses was the offense in that case.

The crux of the issue I address in this post is how to follow God without falling into legalism.  Whether one wears a polyester garment does not matter morally, but how one treats others does.  The Law of Moses, when not condemning people to death for a host of offenses from working on the Sabbath to engaging in premarital sexual relations to insulting one’s parents (the latter being a crucial point the Parable of the Prodigal Son/Elder Brother/Father), drives home in a plethora of concrete examples the principles of interdependence, mutual responsibility, and complete dependence on God.  These belie and condemn much of modern economic theory and many corporate policies, do they not?  Many business practices exist to hold certain people back from advancement, to keep them in their “places.”  I, without becoming lost in legalistic details, note these underlying principles and recognize them as being of God.  There is a project worth undertaking in the name and love of God.  The working conditions of those who, for example, manufacture and sell our polyester garments are part of a legitimate social concern.

Abstract standards of morality do not move me, except occasionally to frustration.  Our Lord and Savior gave us a concrete standard of morality–how our actions and inactions affect others.  This is a paraphrase of the rule to love one’s neighbor as one loves oneself.  I made this argument in a long and thoroughly documented paper I published online.  In that case I focused on the traditional Southern Presbyterian rule of the Spirituality of the Church, the idea that certain issues are political,  not theological, so the denomination should avoid “political” entanglements.  In 1861 the founders of the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America (the Presbyterian Church in the United States from 1865 to 1983) invoked the Spirituality of the Church to avoid condemning slavery, an institution they defended while quoting the Bible.  By the 1950s the leadership of the PCUS had liberalized to the point of endorsing civil rights for African Americans, a fact which vexed the openly segregationist part of the Church’s right wing.  From that corner of the denomination sprang the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) in 1973.  This fact has proven embarrassing to many members of the PCA over the years, as it should.  The PCA, to its credit, has issued a pastoral letter condemning racism.  On the other hand, it did so without acknowledging the racist content in the documents of the committee which formed the denomination.

May we, invoking our Christian liberty, seek to love all the neighbors possible as we love ourselves.  We can succeed only by grace, but our willingness constitutes a vital part of the effort.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 19, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT POEMAN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT; AND SAINTS JOHN THE DWARF AND ARSENIUS THE GREAT, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONKS

THE FEAST OF SAINT AMBROSE AUTPERT, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN PLESSINGTON, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT MACRINA THE YOUNGER, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/07/20/christian-liberty-to-love-our-neighbors/

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Devotion for Thursday and Friday Before Proper 9, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Candle Flame

Above:  Candle Flame

Image in the Public Domain

Lights in the Darkness

JULY 2 and 3, 2020

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The Collect:

You are great, O God, and greatly to be praised.

You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.

Grant that we may believe in you, call upon you, know you, and serve you,

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 41

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The Assigned Readings:

Zechariah 1:1-6 (Thursday)

Zechariah 2:6-13 (Friday)

Psalm 145:8-14 (Both Days)

Romans 7:1-6 (Thursday)

Romans 7:7-20 (Friday)

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All your works praise you, O LORD,

and your faithful servants bless you.

They make known the glory of your kingdom

and speak of your power;

That the peoples may know of your power

and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.

–Psalm 145:10-12, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The readings from First Zechariah encourage societal repentance.  The remnant of the Hebrews consisted of descendants of members of a society which had rebelled against God–to the extent of engaging in ritual child sacrifice–and paid terribly for its actions.  The repentance to which God called the Hebrews was not for their sake alone.  No, they were to become a light to the nations; that was their calling.

Each of us, likewise, has a vocation to function as an instrument of God in the midst of those around us at any given moment.  This point brings me to Romans 7.  The law, St. Paul the Apostle reminds us, provides labels for and convicts us of our sins.  We ought to do better, but we cannot succeed on our own power.  As the best part of the chapter, which our lections omit, tells us:

I discover this principle, then:  that when I want to do right, only wrong is within my reach.  In my inmost self, I delight in the law of God, but I perceive in my outward actions a different law that my mind that my mind approves, and making me a prisoner under the law of sin which controls my conduct.  Wretched creature that I am, who is there to rescue me from this state of death?  Who but God?  Thanks be to him through Jesus Christ our Lord!  To sum up then:  left to myself I serve God’s law with my mind, but with my unspiritual nature I serve the law of sin.

–Romans 7:21-25, The Revised English Bible (1989)

And, since society is just people, this principle applies on the societal level also.  As A Brief Statement of Belief (1962) of the former Presbyterian Church in the United States (1861-1983), the old “Southern Presbyterian Church,” summarizes total depravity so well, with a Neo-Orthodox twist:

Sin permeates and corrupts our entire being and burdens us more and more with fear, hostility, guilt, and misery.  Sin operates not only within individuals but also within society as a deceptive and oppressive power so that even men of good will are unconsciously and unwillingly involved in the sins of society.  Man cannot destroy the tyranny of sin in himself or in his world; his only hope is to be delivered from it by God.

The Confession of Faith of The Presbyterian Church in the United States (Richmond, VA:  Board of Christian Education, 1973), page 332

That quote summarizes many social problems past and present well, does it not?

As for me, I read St. Paul’s words about not doing what he wants to do and doing what he does not want to do and identify with them.  I have, for example, known that God has called me to forgive certain people.  I have wanted to obey that command, but I have been unable to do so on my own power.  I have, in fact, been of two minds on the subject.  But at least I have wanted to obey God; that has been a fine start.  And God has empowered me to do the rest.  So thanks to God, I have found the freedom of forgiveness, which only one who has struggled to forgive can know.

Our duty is to respond favorably to God, who will empower us to do the rest.  Our free will, by which we can say “yes” to God is itself evidence of grace, so we live in the midst of divine graciousness.  May we therefore say with the author of Psalm 145:

The LORD is gracious and full of compassion,

slow to anger and of great kindness.

–Verse 8, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

Then may we endeavor to act graciously, compassionately, and kindly, becoming be grace beacons of the light of God, seeking to change unjust social and political structures (in which many of us are unwittingly complicit) and inspiring others to do the same.  Hebrew prophets would certainly approve.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 2, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MARGARET E. SANGSTER, HYMN WRITER, NOVELIST, AND DEVOTIONAL WRITER

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF LYONS (A.K.A. SAINT BLANDINA AND HER COMPANIONS)

THE FEAST OF REINHOLD NIEBUHR, UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT STEPHEN OF SWEDEN, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY, BISHOP, AND MARTYR

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/06/15/lights-in-the-darkness/

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Devotion for September 15, 16, and 17 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   5 comments

King Josiah

Above:  King Josiah

Image in the Public Domain

2 Chronicles and Colossians, Part III:  Suffering and the Glory of God

TUESDAY-THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 15-17, 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:

2 Chronicles 34:1-4, 8-11, 14-33 (September 15)

2 Chronicles 35:1-7, 16-25 (September 16)

2 Chronicles 36:1-23 (September 17)

Psalm 19 (Morning–September 15)

Psalm 136 (Morning–September 16)

Psalm 123 (Morning–September 17)

Psalms 81 and 113 (Evening–September 15)

Psalms 97 and 112 (Evening–September 16)

Psalms 30 and 86 (Evening–September 17)

Colossians 2:8-23 (September 15)

Colossians 3:1-25 (September 16)

Colossians 4:1-18 (September 17)

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In the readings from 2 Chronicles we find good news followed by bad news succeeded by worse news followed by good news again.  The tradition which produced those texts perceived a link between national righteousness and national strength and prosperity.  That sounds too much like Prosperity Theology for my comfort, for, as other passages of the Bible (plus the record of history) indicate, good things happen to bad people, bad things happen to good people, good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad people.  The fictional character of Job, in the book which bears his name, suffered, but not because of any sin he had committed.  And Jesus, being sinless, suffered, but not for anything he had done wrong.

Many of the instructions from Colossians are comforting and not controversial–or at least should not be.  Living according to

…compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience

–3:12, Revised English Bible

seems like something almost everyone would applaud, but it did lead to controversies during our Lord and Savior’s lifetime and contribute to his execution.  I, as a student of history, know that many people have suffered for following that advice.  When society favors the opposite,

compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience

lead to trouble for those who enact them.

Other advice is culturally specific.  Colossians 2:16-21 comes to mind immediately.  It, taken outside of its context, becomes a distorted text.  In 1899, for example, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS), the old Southern Presbyterian Church, cited it to condemn observing Christmas and Easter as holy occasions:

There is no warrant for the observance of Christmas and Easter as holy days, but rather contrary (see Galatians iv. 9-11; Colossians ii. 16-21), and such observance is contrary to the principles of the Reformed faith, conducive to will-worship, and not in harmony with the simplicity of the gospel in Jesus Christ.

Journal of the General Assembly, page 430

Still other advice should trouble us.  I will not tell a slave to obey his or her master, for no form of slavery should exist.  And I, as a feminist, favor the equality of men and women.  So 3:18-25 bothers me.  4:1 does, however, level the slave-master playing field somewhat, however.

Suffering flows from more than one cause.  If we are to suffer, may we do so not because of any sin we have committed.  No, may we suffer for the sake of righteousness, therefore bringing glory to God.  May virtues define how we love, bringing glory to God in all circumstances.  And may we not become caught up in the legalistic minutae of theology and condemn those who seek only to glorify God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 25, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT GREGORY OF NAZIANZUS THE ELDER, SAINT NONNA, AND THEIR CHILDREN:  SAINT GREGORY OF NAZIANZUS THE YOUNGER, SAINT CAESARIUS OF NAZIANZUS, AND SAINT GORGONIA OF NAZIANZUS

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH FEDDE, LUTHERAN DEACONESS

THE FEAST OF JOHN ROBERTS, EPISCOPAL MISSIONARY TO THE SHOSHONE AND THE ARAPAHOE

THE FEAST OF SAINT TARASIUS, PATRIARCH OF CONSTANTINOPLE

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/05/28/2-chronicles-and-colossians-part-iii-suffering-and-the-glory-of-god/

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Devotion for June 27 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   3 comments

Above:  The Baptism of the Eunuch, by Rembrandt van Rijn

Joshua and Acts, Part II:  Religion and Nationalism

SATURDAY, JUNE 27, 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:

Joshua 2:1-24

Psalm 36 (Morning)

Psalms 80 and 27 (Evening)

Acts 8:26-40

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Among the few named women in the Matthew version of our Lord’s family tree is Rahab, a prostitute of Jericho.  Danna Nolan Fewell, in her chapter on the Book of Joshua (pages 63-66) from The Woman’s Bible Commentary (1992), edited by Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe, makes much of Rahab’s marginal status.  Yet the prostitute recognized Yahweh’s power, and thereby became an insider.  Four chapters later, she and her family found refuge in the midst of slaughter.

The notes on page 466 of The Jewish Study Bible (2004) explain how Jewish and Christian interpreters have dealt with a Bible story in which a prostitute is a heroic figure.  One tradition says that she converted, married Joshua, and became the mother of prophets.  Or perhaps, some have said, she was an innkeeper, not a harlot.  They point to the linguistic similarity between two Hebrew words.  Yet I think that the scandal of the story is something to accept, not from which to flee.

Another outsider who became an insider was the Ethiopian eunuch who struggled with Isaiah 53 until St. Philip the Evangelist, one of the early deacons, helped him to understand.  Of St. Philip we know little, but he did obey God and aid the eunuch in coming to Christ.

These stories point toward the universality of God’s call to we human beings.  The old (and yet current) notion of a tribal deity who favors just one nation or country is both inadequate and inaccurate.  Unfortunately, that tribal God notion pervades the Book of Joshua, which also contains the Rahab story, which offers a different vision.  The concept of a tribal God can prove quite appealing and comforting, for we assume quite often that God is on our side.  If, for example, God favors the State of Israel, what about the oppressed Palestinians? (They are people too.)  When does one cross a dangerous line and erect a national religion?  I am an American.  Is God always on the my country’s side in wars?  No!  My leaders, like those of all other countries, are mere mortals.

In my country’s past the Confederate States of America (CSA) fought for, among other things, the preservation of slavery; its founders said so before they claimed otherwise after the Civil War.  The CSA understood God to be on its side.  This was a great misapprehension.  I have read postwar church documents from the South.  In late 1865, for example, the newly-renamed Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS), founded four years earlier as the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America (PCCSA), expressed official shock and confusion over Confederate defeat.  God could not have been angry about the existence of slavery, for the Bible condoned and commanded that institution, they reasoned.  So maybe Southerners had not managed the institution properly, they said.  They misunderstood the situation.  As Abraham Lincoln said, the real question is not whether God is on our side but whether we are on God’s side.

May we–you, O reader, and I–be on guard against religious nationalism, which misrepresents God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 17, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF BENNETT J. SIMS, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF ATLANTA

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF COMPIEGNE

THE FEAST OF SAINT NERSES LAMPRONATS, ARMENIAN APOSTOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF TARSUS

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM WHITE, PRESIDING BISHOP OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/05/03/joshua-and-acts-part-ii-religion-and-nationalism/

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