Archive for the ‘Prosperity Theology’ Tag

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

Above:  Stamps of Saint Teresa of Calcutta

Image in the Public Domain

The Idol of Success

AUGUST 14, 2022


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


Genesis 7:11-24 or Acts 24:1, 10-23, 27

Psalm 131

Revelation 3:7-13

John 8:12-30


We Gentiles need to be very careful to push back against any Anti-Semitic interpretations of our assigned readings from Revelation 3, John 8, and Acts 24.  We may need someone to remind us that the struggle within the Gospel of John was intra-Jewish.   So was the conflict between the Jewish Christian community that produced it and the Jews around them.  We may need a reminder that St. Paul the Apostle was Jewish, too.

The church at Philadelphia was Gentile.  It was also small, poor, and at odds with many local Jews.  Conflict produced invective.

Being small may or may not be beautiful.  What is beautiful is being faithful.  And Christ promises to honor that faithfulness.

–Ernest Lee Stoffel, The Dragon Bound:  The Revelation Speaks to Our Time (1981), 34

If we stop thinking about importance in human terms, we will do well spiritually.  Large does not equal important, in the eyes of God.  Neither does wealthy.  Neither does successful.  Neither does being free.  Neither does being popular.

St. Teresa of Calcutta said that God calls us to be faithful, not successful.  Many people have worshiped at the altar of success, long a popular idol.  The heresy of Prosperity Theology has appealed to many people for a very long time.  Yet the prophet Jeremiah, by human standards, was a failure.  So was Jesus.

Does anyone reading this post want to argue that Jeremiah and Jesus were failures?  Not I.










Devotion for Thursday and Friday Before Proper 7, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Beheading of St. Paul

Above:  The Beheading of St. Paul, by Enrique Simonet

Image in the Public Domain

The Problem of Suffering

JUNE 17 and 18, 2021


The Collect:

O God of creation, eternal majesty,

you preside over land and sea, sunshine and storm.

By your strength pilot us,

by your power preserve us,

by your wisdom instruct us,

and by your hand protect us,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 40


The Assigned Readings:

Job 29:1-20 (Thursday)

Job 29:21-30:15 (Friday)

Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32 (Both Days)

Acts 20:1-16 (Thursday)

Acts 21:1-16 (Friday)


Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,

and his mercy endures for ever.

Let all those whom the LORD has redeemed proclaim

that he redeemed them from the hand of the foe.

–Psalm 107:1-2, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


Placing that Psalm in the lectionary for these two days seems ironic, especially when considering the other two pericopes.

The titular character of the Book of Job suffered, but not because of any sin he committed.  Compounding his plight was the fact that he had to endure alleged friends, who blamed him for his plight.  They insisted that, since God does not punish the innocent, Job must have sinned, thus prompting his extreme suffering.  They advised him to repent of his sins, therefore.  Actually, the text tells us, God permitted the suffering as a test of loyalty.  Job protested his innocence and lamented his fate.  Anyone who speaks of the “patience of Job,” as if he had any, ought to pay better attention to the story.

Meanwhile, in the Acts of the Apostles, St. Paul the Apostle was traveling to Jerusalem.  He hoped to arrive in time for the first day of Pentecost.  At Caesarea the Apostle learned that his journey would take him to a bad fate.  He accepted the prophecy calmly, saying,

…I am ready not only to be bound but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.

–Acts 21:13c, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

He went on to die for the name of the Lord Jesus Christ at Rome “off-camera,” so to speak, after the end of the Acts of the Apostles.

The alleged friends of Job thought that suffering resulted necessarily from sins.  Yet St. Paul the Apostle suffered for the sake for the sake of righteousness.

Nevertheless, the assumption that we suffer solely or primarily because of our wrongdoing persists.  Also commonplace is a related assumption which says that, if we live righteously, we will prosper and be safe and well.  This is the heresy of Prosperity Theology.

Tell that heresy to Jesus and to the Christian martyrs, if you dare,

I say.  I conclude that false ideas live on because too many people pay little or no attention to the evidence around them.  Perhaps these individuals are merely incurious.  (Many people are not very inquisitive, intellectually or otherwise.)  Or maybe they are distracted among the other details of life.  Regardless of the reason(s), they need to pay better attention and respond to the situation that is, not the situation they imagine exists.

To claim that God never punishes the innocent or permits them to suffer is to make a pious comment–one which is false.  What is the functional difference between permitting innocent people to suffer and punishing them?  I recognize none.  One is passive and the other is active, but the results are the same.  The problem of suffering is complicated for we monotheists, for we lack the luxury of blaming an evil deity for misfortune while letting a good deity off the hook.  Yes, how we live on this plane of reality affects the afterlife, but the rain still falls on the just and on the unjust in this life.  Wicked people still prosper and righteous people still suffer on this side of Heaven.  All of this can be difficult to reconcile with the idea of a loving and just God, hence bad theology in defense of God.  I prefer an honest question to a false certainty, however.









Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before Proper 15, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Crucifix II July 15, 2014

Above:  One of My Crucifixes

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Suffering and Triumph

AUGUST 17-19, 2023


The Collect:

God of all peoples, your arms reach out to embrace all those who call upon you.

Teach us as disciples of your Son to love the world with compassion and constancy,

that your name may be known throughout all the earth,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 45


The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 45:20-25 (Thursday)

Isaiah 63:15-19 (Friday)

Isaiah 56:1-5 (Saturday)

Psalm 67 (All Days)

Revelation 15:1-4 (Thursday)

Acts 14:19-28 (Friday)

Matthew 14:34-36 (Saturday)


Be gracious to us, O God, and bless us:

and make the light of your face to shine upon us,

that your ways may be known upon earth:

your saving power among all nations.

Let the peoples praise you, O God:

let all the peoples praise you.

–Psalm 67:1-3, A New Zealand Prayer Book (1989)


Why do people suffer?  The Book of Job refutes one traditional argument, the one that all suffering constitutes the consequences of sin.  Yet that argument remained alive and well in the time of Christ, who fielded questions based on this false assumption.  And that traditional argument lives today.  Often the assumption is that, if we suffer, we must have done something wrong.  The other side of that assumption is that, if we prosper, we must have done something right.  Related to this assumption are Prosperity Theology (an old heresy) and the Positive Thinking Theology (also a heresy) of Norman Vincent Peale and Robert Schuller.  If, as Schuller has said, “If it’s meant to be, it’s up to me,” the verdict on those who strive and fail is devastating and judgmental.  No, as Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, God calls us to be faithful, not successful.  To the proponents of these named heresies old and new I say,

Tell that to Jesus and all the faithful martyrs who have suffered and died for the sake of righteousness.  Also tell that, if you dare, to those who have suffered (although not fatally) for the faith.  And stop spouting such false clichés.

Yes, sometimes we suffer because of something or the accumulation of things we have done wrong.  Reality requires a nuanced explanation, however, for circumstances are more complicated than clichés.  Sometimes one suffers for the sake of righteousness as in Acts 14:22 and Revelation 15:1.  On other occasions one is merely at the wrong place at the wrong time, suffering because of the wrong desires of someone or of others who happen to be in the area.  For example, I have read news reports of people dying of gang violence while in their homes, minding their own business.  These were innocent victims not safe from bullets flying through windows.  These were non-combatants stuck in a bad situation.

A timeless message from the Book of Revelation is to remain faithful to God during times when doing so is difficult and costly, even unto death.  When we follow our Lord and Savior, who suffered and died partly because he confronted powerful people and threatened their political-economic basis of power and their social status, we follow in dangerous footsteps.  Yet he triumphed over his foes.  We can also prove victorious via him.  That victory might come at a time and in a manner we do not expect or even desire, but it is nevertheless a positive result.







Suffering and Triumph


Devotion for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday After Proper 6, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment


Above:  The Civil Rights March from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, 1965

Photographer = Peter Pettus

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USZ6-2329

Righteousness and Results

JUNE 19-21, 2023


The Collect:

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

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

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

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 39


The Assigned Readings:

Joshua 1:1-11 (Monday)

1 Samuel 3:1-9 (Tuesday)

Proverbs 4:10-27 (Wednesday)

Psalm 105:1-11, 37-45 (All Days)

1 Thessalonians 3:1-5 (Monday)

2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5 (Tuesday)

Luke 6:12-19 (Wednesday)


Seek the Lord and his strength;

seek his face continually.

–Psalm 105:4, Common Worship (2000)


The Psalm tells us to seek God and divine strength continually. That is good advice at all times and in all places. It is also advice consistent with the rest of the assigned readings.

The lections from Joshua and Proverbs are overly optimistic. They follow a certain formula: Obey God and good results will follow; one will prosper, et cetera. This is the overly optimistic viewpoint which leads to the heresy of Prosperity Theology: love God, do the right things, and get rich.

Tell that to Jesus (crucified), St. Paul the Apostle (beheaded after many years of troubles), and most of the original twelve Apostles (the majority of whom died violently). Tell that to the Thessalonian Christians. Tell that to nearly 2000 years’ worth of Christian martyrs and about 5000 years’ worth of faithful Hebrews.

When we challenge social institutions and systems which violate th law of love we confront powerful forces. In so doing we challenge people who might even cite God in attempts to justify their unjustifiable actions and attitudes. And we place ourselves at great risk. We need divine strength to live faithfully and to avoid the pitfalls of hatred, vengeance, and misdirected anger. We should be angry sometimes, for righteous anger does exist. But we ought to channel it properly, lest it corrupt our cause and compromise us.

We can succeed only by the power of God.









Devotion for November 6 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   1 comment


Above:  Woe Unto You, Scribes and Pharisees, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

Jeremiah and Matthew, Part V:  Hope Amid Judgment

NOVEMBER 6, 2023


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


The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 8:18-9:12

Psalm 89:1-18 (Morning)

Psalms 1 and 33 (Evening)

Matthew 23:13-39


Why is the land in ruins,

Laid waste like a wilderness,

with none passing through?

The LORD replied, Because they forsook the teaching I had set before them.  They did not obey Me and they did not follow it, but followed their own heart and followed the Baalim, as their fathers had taught them.  Assuredly thus says says the LORD of Hosts, he God of Israel:  I am going to feed that people wormwood and make them drink a bitter draft.  I will scatter them among nations which their fathers never knew; and I will dispatch the sword after them until I have consumed them.

–Jeremiah 9:11b-15, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures


The assigned Psalms speak of God as the defender of the righteous.  They also, like the lections from Jeremiah and Matthew, mention God’s destructive side.  One ethic–obey God’s rules and stay on the good side of God or disobey them and suffer the consequences–unites these readings.  There is suffering for righteous deeds sometimes, of course, as the examples of Jesus and uncounted martyrs attest, but it is better to suffer for being on God’s side.

We need to avoid false generalizations, such as those found in Prosperity Theology.  There is no metaphysical righteousness machine whereby one inserts the coins of holiness and receives an automatic reward, a sort of quid pro quo.  We cannot buy grace.  If we could do so, it would not be grace.  Also, bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people.  The strong element of human free will, applied for nefarious ends, has warped societies, cultures, and subcultures.

But nothing so warped lasts forever.  The readings from Jeremiah and Matthew come from cultures which ceased to exist a long time ago.  And people have changed, altering their societies, cultures, and subcultures with them.  The modern Civil Rights Movement in the United States of America comes to mind immediately.  Yes, many attitudes are slow to change in some circumstances, but hope for repentance remains.  From that fact I derive much hope.








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

SEPTEMBER 15-17, 2023


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


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)


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.









Proper 17, Year C   9 comments

Christ Pantocrator Moody

Above:  Christ Pantocrator, Daphni, Greece

Duties to God and Each Other

The Sunday Closest to August 31

Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost

AUGUST 28, 2022


The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 2:4-13 and Psalm 81:1, 10-16


Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 10:12-18 or Proverbs 25:6-7 and Psalm 112


Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

Luke 14:1, 7-14

The Collect:

Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Some Related Posts:

Prayer of Praise and Adoration:

Prayer of Confession:

Prayer of Dedication:


Let mutual love continue.

–Hebrews 13:1, New Revised Standard Version

Thus I find my theme for this post.  That theme unites the assigned readings for Proper 17, Year C.  The rest of the Hebrews lection speaks of our obligations to God and each other.  These duties exist in the context of mutual love.

I am, among other things, intellectually honest.  The readings from Jeremiah 2, Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 10, and Psalm 81 speak of divine judgment for faithlessness among people for God has done much.  These lections do not seem loving.  And Psalm 112 sounds too much like Prosperity Theology for my comfort.  I can think of parts of both Testaments which contradict it.  If you, O reader, expect me to provide simple answers to these, I will disappoint you.  I could provide such answers, but I would do so insincerely and they would be useless.

I write these words during Advent 2012.  (I like to write ahead of schedule.)  During this time the words attributed to Hannah in 1 Samuel 2 and Mary in Luke 1 ring in my head.

The LORD makes poor and makes rich,

he brings low, he also exalts.

He raises up the poor from the dust;

he lifts up the needy from the ash heap,

to make them sit with princes

and inherit a seat of great honor.

–1 Samuel 2:7-8a, New Revised Standard Version


He has routed the proud and all their schemes;

he has brought down monarchs from their thrones,

and raised high the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich empty away.

–Luke 1:51b-53, Revised English Bible

Those beloved passages are consistent with Jeremiah 2, Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 10, and Psalm 81.  Whether this reversal of fortune is good news depends on who one is.

The context for this reversal of fortune is faithlessness to God, who has done much for us.  It is polite to be grateful to one who delivers, is it not?  So attitudes occupy the heart of the matter.  And we cannot love God, whom we cannot see, unless we love people, whom we can see.  Our deeds will reveal our creeds.  That much I know for certain.  As for the rest, ask God.









Proper 15, Year B   24 comments

Above:  The Right Reverend Keith Whitmore, Assistant Bishop of Atlanta, Celebrating the Holy Eucharist at St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia,  October 31, 2010

Image Source = Bill Monk, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

Living Wisely, Maturely, and In the Ways of Insight

The Sunday Closest to August 17

The Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost

AUGUST 15, 2021



1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14 (New Revised Standard Version):

David slept with his ancestors, and was buried in the city of David. The time that David reigned over Israel was forty years; he reigned seven years in Hebron, and thirty-three years in Jerusalem. So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David; and his kingdom was firmly established.

Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places. The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said,

Ask what I should give you.

And Solomon said,

You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?

It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him,

Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you. If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.

Psalm 111 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):


I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart,

in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.

2 Great are the deeds of the LORD!

they are studied by all who delight in them.

3 His work is full of majesty and splendor,

and his righteousness endures for ever.

4 He makes his marvelous works to be remembered;

the LORD is gracious and full of compassion.

He gives food to those who fear him;

he is ever mindful of his covenant.

6 He has shown his people the power of his works

in giving them the lands of the nations.

7 The works of his hands are faithfulness and justice;

all his commandments are sure.

8 They stand fast for ever and ever,

because they are done in truth and equity.

He sent redemption to his people;

he commanded his covenant for ever;

holy and awesome is his Name.

10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;

those who act accordingly have a good understanding;

his praise endures for ever.


Proverbs 9:1-6 (New Revised Standard Version):

Wisdom has built her house,

she has hewn her seven pillars.

She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine,

she has also set her table.

She has sent out her servant girls, she calls

from the highest places in the town,

You that are simple, turn in here!

To those without sense she says,

Come, eat of my bread

and drink of my wine I have mixed.

Lay aside immaturity and live,

and walk in the way of insight.

Psalm 34:9-14 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Fear the LORD, you that are his saints,

for those who fear him lack nothing.

10 The young lions lack and suffer hunger,

but those who seek the LORD lack nothing that is good.

11 Come, children, and listen to me;

I will teach you the fear of the LORD.

12 Who among you loves life

and desires long life to enjoy prosperity?

13 Keep your tongue from evil-speaking

and your lips from lying words.

14 Turn from evil and do good;

seek peace and pursue it.


Ephesians 5:15-20 (New Revised Standard Version):

Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.


John 6:51-58 (New Revised Standard Version):

Jesus said,

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying,

How can this man give us his flesh to eat?

So Jesus said to them,

Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.

The Collect:

Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Some Related Posts:

Proper 15, Year A:

1 Kings 2 and 3:


In the Gospel of John, the Last Supper is implicit, but Eucharistic language and imagery pervade the book.  The combination of such language and imagery in John 6 and Proverbs 9 unifies this Sunday’s readings.

We read in Ephesians 5 not to “be foolish,” but to “understand what the will of the Lord is.”  Likewise, in 1 Kings 3, King Solomon (in a dream) asks God for wisdom.  And, in Proverbs 9, we see Sophia, divine wisdom personified, setting her table, inviting people to eat of her bread, drink her wine, and “lay aside immaturity, and live and walk in the way of insight.”  Then, in John 6, we read of the imperative to eat the body and drink the blood of Jesus, so that we will have life in us.

I have already ( covered much of the Eucharistic content in John 6.  So some other thoughts follow:

  1. It is not enough to start well.  One must also finish well.  Solomon started well yet lost his way.
  2. We must imitate our Lord’s example, his holy life.  He came to serve, not to be served (Matthew 20:28).  He acted compassionately on many occasions; this was his pattern.  And he did not shrink back from confronting those who imposed needless burdens, especially economic ones, on others, especially the pious poor (Matthew 21:12-13, for example).
  3. It can be relatively easy to identify ancient examples of foolishness and immaturity, but more difficult (not to mention politically loaded) to do the same for contemporary times.  I have my list; you, O reader, probably have yours.  I share an easy, generally non-controversial item from my list:  Televangelists and pastors who give away or sell prayer cloths and/or “healing” spring water, pretend to be able to heal people, and/or teach the heresy called Prosperity Theology.  This kind of hokum is a variety of religion which deserves Karl Marx’s label “the opiate of the masses.”  And here is another item:  I oppose all who use religion to incite or encourage any form of bigotry or to distract people from the imperative to take care of each other in various ways.  This post is not a proper venue to name names, so I refrain from doing so.

By grace may we succeed in living wisely, maturely, and in the ways of insight that, after we die, God will say to each us,

Well done, good and faithful servant.


Week of Proper 29: Wednesday, Year 1   12 comments

Above:  Belshazzar’s Feast, by Rembrandt van Rijn

Image in the Public Domain

Then God Acted

NOVEMBER 29, 2023


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.



Daniel 5:1-6, 13-31 (Revised English Bible):

King Belshazzzar gave a grand banquet for a thousand of his nobles and he was drinking wine in their presence.  Under the influence of the wine, Belshazzar gave orders for the vessels of gold and silver which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple at Jerusalem to be fetched, so that he and his nobles, along with his concubines and courtesans, might drink from them.  So those vessels belonging to the house of God, the temple at Jerusalem, were brought, and the king, the nobles, and the concubines and courtesans drank from them.  They drank their wine and they praised their gods of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.

Suddenly there appeared the fingers of a human hand writing on the plaster of the palace wall opposite the lamp, and the king saw the palm of the hand as it wrote.  At this the king turned pale; dismay filled his mind, the strength went from his leg, and his knees knocked together.

Daniel was then brought into the royal presence, and the king addressed him:

So you are Daniel, one of the Jewish exiles whom my royal father brought from Judah.  I am informed that the spirit of the gods resides in you and that you are known as a man of clear insight and exceptional wisdom.  The wise men, the exorcists, have just been brought before me to read this writing and make its interpretation known to me, but they have been unable to give its meaning.  I am told that you are able to furnish interpretations and unravel problems.  Now, if you can read this writing and make known the interpretation, you shall be robed in purple and have a gold chain hung round your neck, and you shall rank third in the kingdom.

Daniel replied,

Your majesty, I do not look for gifts from you; give your rewards to another.  Nevertheless I shall read your majesty the writing and make known to you its interpretation.

My lord king, the Most High God gave a kingdom with power, glory, and majesty to your father Nebuchadnezzar; and, because of the power he bestowed on him, all peoples and nations of every language trembled with fear before him.  He put to death whom he would and spared whom he would, he promoted them at will and at will abased them.  But, when he became haughty and stubborn and presumptuous, he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory.  He was banished from human society, and his mind became like that of an animal; he had to live with the wild asses and to feed on grass like oxen, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he came to acknowledge that the Most High God is sovereign over the realm of humanity and appoints over whom he will.  But although you knew all this, you, his son, Belshazzar, did not humble your heart.  You have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven; his temple vessels have been fetched for you and your nobles, your concubines, and courtesans to drink from them.  You have praised gods fashioned from silver, gold, bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which cannot see or hear or know, and you have not given glory to God, from whom comes your every breath, and in whose charge are all your ways.  That is why he sent the hand and why it wrote this inscription.

The words inscribed were:  “Mene mene tekel u-pharsin.”  Their interpretation is this:  mene, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought you to an end; tekel, you have been weighed in the balance and found wanting; u-pharsin, your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and the Persians.

Then at Belshazzar’s command Daniel was robed in purple and a gold chain hung round his neck, and proclamation was made that he should rank third in the kingdom.

That very night Belshazzar king of the Chaldaeans was slain, and Darius the Mede took the kingdom, being then about sixty-two years old.


Canticle 12, Part I (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

(Part of the Song of the Three Young Men)

Glorify the Lord, you angels and all powers of the Lord,

O heavens and all waters above the heavens.

Sun and moon and stars of the sky, glorify the Lord,

Praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Glorify the Lord, every shower of rain and fall of dew,

all winds and fire and heat.

Winter and summer, glorify the Lord,

praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Glorify the Lord, O chill and cold,

drops of dew and and flakes of snow.

Frost and cold, ice and sleet, glorify the Lord,

praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Glorify the Lord, O nights and days,

O shining light and enfolding dark.

Storm clouds and thunderbolts, glorify the Lord,

praise him and highly exalt him for ever.


Psalm 98 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Sing to the LORD a new song,

for he has done marvelous things.

With his right hand and his holy arm

has he won for himself the victory.

The LORD has made known his victory;

his righteousness has he openly shown in the sight of the nations.

He remembers his mercy and faithfulness to the house of Israel,

and all the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.

Shout with joy to the LORD, all you lands;

lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing.

Sing to the LORD with the harp,

with the harp and the voice of song.

With trumpets and the sound of the horn

shout with joy before the King, the LORD.

Let the sea make a noise and all that is in it,

the lands and those who dwell therein.

Let the rivers clap their hands,

and let the hills ring out with joy before the LORD,

when he comes to judge the earth.

10 In righteousness shall he judge the world

and the peoples with equity.


Luke 21:10-19 (Revised English Bible):

Then Jesus added,

Nation will go to war against nation, kingdom against kingdom; there will be severe earthquakes, famines, and plagues in many places, and in the sky terrors and great portents.

But before all this happens they will seize you and persecute you.  You will be handed over to synagogues and put in prison; you will be haled before kings and governors for your allegiance to me.  This will be your opportunity to testify.  So resolve not to prepare your defence beforehand, because I myself will give you such words and wisdom as no opponent can resist or refute.  Even your parents and brothers, your relations and friends, will betray you.  Some of you will be put to death; and everyone will hate you for your allegiance to me.  But not a hair of your head will be lost.  By standing firm you will win yourselves life.


The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


First I must deal with raw, documented history.  Historians from ancient times from the present agree that Cyrus II (“the Great”) became King of the Persians the Medes in the year we call 559 B.C.E., and that his forces conquered the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire in 539 B.C.E.  Cyrus, being born circa 600 B.C.E., was approximately sixty-two years old at the time of the conquest.  Thus his age matches that of the mysterious “Darius the Mede” from the end of Daniel 5.  In point of fact, the Book of Daniel is the only ancient source to mention “Darius the Mede” as an immediate predecessor of Cyrus II, who succeeded Cambyses I immediately, almost twenty years before the setting of this story.  There is a simple explanation:  The author of this part of the Book of Daniel was confused as to Persian royal succession.

Belshazzar was a son of and the viceroy of Nabonidus (reigned 556-539 B.C.E.), the last Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian king.   He (Belshazzar) was a powerful prince and a person with whom to reckon, but not a regnal monarch.  History records that he died when the Persian forces, commanded by General Gobyras, captured Babylon.  Gobyras went on to become Cyrus the Great’s governor in Babylon, so some have speculated that Gobyras was “Darius the Mede.”  This seems like a stretch to me, given my propensity for the historical-critical method and my preference for Ockham’s Razor.  It is, however, one way for those who prefer discredited theories of inerrancy and infallibility to explain away a minor (and irrelevant) inaccuracy in the text.

As Galileo Galilei observed in the 1600s, the Bible is not a science book.  And, in certain minor and occasional historical matters, it gets some quibbling and irrelevant details wrong.  This is to be expected, for people wrote many of these texts down a long time after the events the texts describe.   So some out-of-chronological-order references crept into the narrative.  C’est la vie.  Such inaccuracies do not bother me, for I am far from a Biblical literalist.  I prefer instead to focus on the main point of such texts, not permitting minor historical quibbles to become distractions from great spiritual truths.  As a spiritual mentor of mine asked of any Biblical text, “What is really going on here?”  That is where I place my emphasis.

Let us  consider the story from Daniel 5 as it is.  The son and viceroy of the last Chaldean king commits sacrilege with confiscated vessels from the late Jerusalem Temple.  He sees a disembodied hand write a text on a wall.  All the viceroy”s usual advisors cannot interpret the text, but Daniel can.  Belshazzar promises Daniel a promotion in exchange for an accurate reading, but the faithful Daniel says that such a nice act is not necessary; he is willing to interpret the text and retain his current standing.  Daniel delivers the bad news.  Belshazzar, much to his credit, promotes Daniel anyway.  The viceroy dies that night, during the Persian conquest.

This is a story about God acting to deliver his people.  History records that the Jews fared much better under the Persians than they did under the Assyrians or the Chaldeans/Neo-Babylonians.  I have covered this ground already, beginning with this post:  link.  It was not always a pleasant political situation, and not all Persian kings were favorably disposed toward Jewish interests, but the Persian Empire did facilitate the building of the Second Temple.

The reading from Luke 21 spoke of circumstances many Christians at the time of the writing that gospel experienced.  Indeed, with a few minor changes in terminology, it speaks of circumstances many Christians face today.  But, Jesus says, persecution is an opportunity to testify to him, himself a persecuted one.  By enduring, our Lord says, we will win our lives, even if we die.  Or, as Paul wrote, if we suffer with Christ, we will reign with Christ.

These are the kinds of passages which cause me to wonder how prosperity theologians can say what they do.  These men and women sell theological snake oil to those who either choose not to investigate their claims or lack enough Biblical knowledge to know where to begin.  It is rather discouraging, is it not?

This day we have two readings which speak of God acting during times of great difficulty.  In the first the good guys live, but in the second they almost certainly die.  Yet they live with God.  The Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, is honest:  Sometimes faithfulness leads to persecution, even torture and death.  It is unjust, I grant you, but not entirely unexpected.  If we do not grasp this message, it is not because of false advertising in the sacred anthology we call the Bible.


Week of Proper 2: Tuesday, Year 1   10 comments

Above:  Orthodox Icon of Jesus at Golgotha, by Theophanes the Cretan (1500s)

Righteousness and Suffering



Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 2:1-11 (Revised English Bible):

My son, if you aspire to be a servant of the Lord,

prepare yourself for testing.

Set a straight course and keep to it,

and do not be dismayed in the face of adversity.

Hold fast to him and never let go,

if you would end your days in prosperity.

Bear every hardship that is sent you,

and whenever humiliation comes, be patient;

for gold is assayed in the fire,

and the chosen ones in the furnace of humiliation.

Trust him and he will help you;

steer a straight course and fix your hope on him.

You that fear the Lord, wait for his mercy;

do not stray, for fear you will fall.

You that fear the Lord, trust in him,

and you will not be baulked of your reward.

You that fear the Lord, hope for prosperity

and lasting joy and favour.

Consider the past generations and see:

was anyone who trusted the Lord ever disappointed?

Was anyone who stood firm in the fear of him ever abandoned?

Did he ever ignore anyone who called to him?

For the Lord is compassionate and merciful;

he forgives sin and saves in time of trouble.

Psalm 112 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Hallelujah!

Happy are they who fear the Lord

and have great delight in his commandments!

2 Their descendants will be mighty in the land;

the generation of the upright will be blessed.

3 Wealth and riches will be in their house,

and their righteousness will last for ever.

4 Light shines in the darkness for the upright;

the righteous are merciful and full of compassion.

5 It is good for them to be generous in lending

and to manage their affairs with justice.

6 For they will never be shaken;

the righteous will be kept in everlasting remembrance.

7 They will not be afraid of any evil rumors;

their heart is right;

they put their trust in the Lord.

8 Their heart is established and will not shrink,

until they see that desire upon their enemies.

9 They have given freely to the poor,

and their righteousness stands fast for ever;

they will hold up their head with honor.

10 The wicked will see it and be angry;

they will gnash their teeth and pine away;

the desires of the wicked will perish.

Mark 9:30-37 (Revised English Bible):

They left that district and made their way through Galilee.  Jesus did not want anyone to know, because he was teaching his disciples, and telling them,

The Son of Man is now to be handed over into the power of men, and they will kill him; and three days after being killed he will rise again.

But they did not understand what he said, and were afraid to ask.

So they came to Capernaum; and when he had gone indoors, he asked them,

What were you arguing about on the way?

They were silent, because on the way they had been discussing which one of them was the greatest.  So he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them,

If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself the last of all and servant of all.

Then he took a child, set him in front of them, and put his arm round him.

Whoever receives a child like this in my name,

he said,

receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.


The Collect:

Almighty and merciful God, in your goodness keep us, we pray, from all things that may hurt us, that we, being ready both in mind and body, may accomplish with free hearts those things which belong to your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.


Consider the Lukan version of the Beatitudes, from the Sermon on the Plain:

Blessed are you who are in need;

the kingdom of God is yours.

Blessed are you who now go hungry;

you will be satisfied.

Blessed are you who weep now;

you will laugh.

Blessed are you when people hate you and ostracize you, when they insult you and slander your very name, because of the Son of Man.  On that day exult and dance for joy, for you have a rich reward in heaven; that is how their fathers treated the prophets.

But alas for you who are rich;

you have had your time of happiness.

Alas for you who are well fed now;

you will go hungry.

Alas for you who laugh now;

you will mourn and weep.

Alas for you when all speak well of you;

that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.

–Jesus in Luke 6:20-26 (Revised English Bible)

Then reread Sirach 2:1-11 and Psalm 112.  They are quite different, are they not?

Prosperity Theology is a heresy.  Love God and get rich and be healthy, is says.  This a simplified version of that line of thought, but Prosperity Theology is an oversimplification itself.  Part of good Biblical interpretation is balance.  For example, we are sinful (That is in the Bible.), but we also bear the image of God (That, too, is in the Bible.).  So it is heretical to state we are either equivalent to pond scum (to the exclusion of the image of God) or that we are “a little lower than the angels” (to the exclusion of our sinfulness).  One needs to weigh Biblical subtleties intelligently.

As a student of history, I know of the Northern Renaissance, an offshoot of the Italian Renaissance.  I consider myself a partial product of the Northern Renaissance, which favored following the example of Jesus more than ecclesiastical doctrines and dogmas.  So, with that mind, let us consider the example of Jesus in today’s reading from Mark.  He foretells his arrest, torture, execution and resurrection.  He uses plain language to do this.  The Apostles do not understand, but they are afraid to ask for an explanation. They have, however, been debating among themselves which is the greatest.  The greatest, Jesus says, is the lowliest in society–the servant and the child, in particular.

Which examples might Jesus use if he were giving this teaching today?  I suspect he would speak of immigrants, foster children, minimum-wage employees, and other vulnerable, powerless people.  This is my list, for I am North American.  If Jesus were delivering this teaching in India, he might say that anyone who welcomes a Dalit receives God.

It is vital to inject the reading from Mark with contemporary analogies.  Otherwise, we might not face the raw power of the teaching of Jesus, surely the most righteous man who ever lived.  And what happened to him?  We know the answer to that question, do we not?  If Jesus had lived in more modern times, we might not have crosses in churches; we might have replicas of an electric chair, a gas chamber, or a noose in churches.  Clarence Jordan translated the story of Jesus into the Southern U.S. idiom in his Cotton Patch versions of the Gospels.  Jordan’s Jesus died during a lynching.

Yet it is also true that, as Ben Sira tells us, gold is tested in the fire, and the righteous ones of God in the furnace of humiliation.  I am fortunate that I live in a nation and a society in which I can worship freely.  My society is not perfect, as outbreaks of blind, irrational, and hateful Islamophobia, especially in Republican Party politics demonstrate.  (I write on the eve of the 2010 U.S. midterm elections.)  But we, as a society, are more tolerant than are many others.  If I were Christian in southern Sudan or anywhere in Iran, for example, I would certainly be at great risk of religious persecution.  For such Christians the reading I quoted from Luke is a potent reality.  Yet discipleship, even for a persecution-free Christian such as myself, must entail sacrifice.  And I must not mistake popularity with divine approval.

These are difficult readings from the Gospels.  Jesus challenges us to follow his example, wherever that takes us and regardless of the cost to ourselves.  But this is the path to holiness.  I have noticed many Lutheran churches named “Cross and Crown” or “Cross of Life.”  Such labels are spiritually correct.  I invite you, O reader, to ponder them and what you might have to sacrifice for the sake of righteousness.

And may the love of God flow through you and to all your fellow human beings, for everyone is a child of God.  Some are more rebellious than others, to be sure, but all stand in the need of grace and bear the image of God.  May love, not intolerance, characterize those of us who claim the label “Christian.”  The way of cross is not the path of hatred and other forms of intolerance.


Published originally as Week of 7 Epiphany:  Tuesday, Year 1, at ADVENT, CHRISTMAS, AND EPIPHANY DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on November 1, 2010