Archive for the ‘Romans 1’ Tag

Devotion for Thursday and Friday Before Proper 28, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Saul Consulting the Spirit of Samuel

Above:   Saul Consults the Spirit of Samuel

Image in the Public Domain

God Concepts and Violence

NOVEMBER 14 and 15, 2019

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The Collect:

O God, the protector of all who trust in you,

without you nothing is strong, nothing is holy.

Embrace us with your mercy, that with you as our ruler and guide,

we may live through what is temporary without losing what is eternal,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 53

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The Assigned Readings:

1 Samuel 28:3-19 (Thursday)

2 Samuel 21:1-14 (Friday)

Psalm 98 (Both Days)

Romans 1:18-25 (Thursday)

2 Thessalonians 1:3-12 (Friday)

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In righteousness shall he judge the world

and the peoples with equity.

–Psalm 98:10, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Judgment and mercy exist in balance (as a whole) in the Bible, but God seems bloodthirsty in 1 Samuel 15 and 28 and in 2 Samuel 21.

The divine rejection of Saul, first King of Israel, was due either to an improper sacrifice (1 Samuel 13:8-14) or his failure to kill all Amelikites (1 Samuel 15:2f), depending upon the source one prefers when reading 1-2 Samuel (originally one composite book copied and pasted from various documents and spread across two scrolls).  1 Samuel 28 favors the second story.  In 2 Samuel 21, as we read, David, as monarch, ended a three-year-long drought by appeasing God.  All the king had to do was hand seven members of the House of Saul over to Gibeonites, who “dismembered them before the LORD” on a mountain.

The readings from the New Testament are not peace and love either, but at least they are not bloody.  Their emphasis is on punishment in the afterlife.  In the full context of scripture the sense is that there will be justice–not revenge–in the afterlife.  Justice, for many, also includes mercy.  Furthermore, may we not ignore or forget the image of the Holy Spirit as our defense attorney in John 14:16.

I know an Episcopal priest who, when he encounters someone who professes not to believe in God, asks that person to describe the God in whom he or she does not believe.  Invariably the atheist describes a deity in whom the priest does not believe either.  I do not believe in the God of 1 Samuel 15 and 28 and 2 Samuel 21 in so far as I do not understand God in that way and trust in such a violent deity.  No, I believe–trust–in God as revealed in Jesus of Nazareth, who would not have ordered any genocide or handed anyone over for death and dismemberment.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 6, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF FRANKLIN CLARK FRY, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED LUTHERAN CHURCH IN AMERICA AND THE LUTHERAN CHURCH IN AMERICA

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

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

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM KETHE, PRESBYTERIAN HYMN WRITER

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/06/06/god-concepts-and-violence/

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Devotion for Monday and Tuesday After Proper 13, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Moses

Above:  Moses, by Michelangelo Buonarotti

Image in the Public Domain

Trusting in God

AUGUST 3 and 4, 2020

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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:

Deuteronomy 8:1-10 (Monday)

Deuteronomy 26:1-15 (Tuesday)

Psalm 78:1-8, 17-29 (Both Days)

Romans 1:8-15 (Monday)

Acts 2:37-47 (Tuesday)

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We will recount to generations to come

the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the LORD,

and the wonderful works he has done.

He gave his decrees to Jacob

and established a law for Israel,

which he commanded them to teach their children;

That the generations to come might know,

and the children yet unborn;

that they might in turn tell it to their children;

So that they might put their trust in God,

and not forget the deeds of God,

but keep his commandments;

And not be like their forefathers,

a stubborn and rebellious generation,

a generation whose heart was not steadfast,

and whose spirit was not faithful to God.

–Psalm 78:4-8, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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To believe in God, in the Biblical sense, is to trust in God.  The Psalm speaks of trusting in God, hence the focus of this post.  Deuteronomy, placing words in the mouth of Moses, reminds people of what God had done for them–how faithful God had been–and how faithful they should be.  Among the commandments to keep were orders to care for the widows and the orphans, and, by extension, all the vulnerable members of society.  There was more than enough for them to eat, dress, and have shelter properly in God’s economic plan.  If we have faith that God will provide enough for all of us to have a sufficient supply of necessities, we will have a secure place from which to extend hospitality to others, as God commands us to do.

We humans are at our worst when we act out of fear.  We protect ourselves and our families at the expense of others at such times.  We might even seek to harm others actively because we imagine that there is not enough for everyone to have enough of necessities.  In such cases we might affirm the existence of God, but we do not trust in God.

Whenever I hear people speaking of belief in God I suppose that they really mean affirming the existence of God.  An Episcopal priest I know has an excellent way of dealing with people who claim not to believe in God.  He asks them to describe the deity in whom they do not believe.  He winds up replying that the does not believe in that God either.  But, to the larger point of trusting in God versus merely affirming the existence of God, I have my own answer.  I affirm the existence of God consistently, but I trust in God most of the time.  And I seek to trust God more often.

How about you, O reader?

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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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/06/15/trusting-in-god-3/

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Devotion for Monday and Tuesday After Proper 9, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Zedekiah

Above:  King Zedekiah

Image in the Public Domain

Righteousness, Justification, Justice, and Awe

JULY 6 and 7, 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:

Jeremiah 27:1-11, 16-22 (Monday)

Jeremiah 28:10-17 (Tuesday)

Psalm 131 (Both Days)

Romans 1:18-25 (Monday)

Romans 3:1-8 (Tuesday)

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O LORD, I am not proud;

I have no haughty looks.

I do not occupy myself with great matters,

or with things that are too hard for me.

But I still my soul and make it quiet,

like a child upon its mother’s breast;

my soul is quieted within me.

O Israel, wait upon the LORD,

from this time forth for evermore.

–Psalm 131, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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“Righteousness” and “justification” are English translations of the same Greek word.  “Justification” refers to how we get right with God.  St. Paul the Apostle, understanding faith as something which comes with works as a component of it (as opposed to the author of the Letter of James, who comprehended faith as intellectual and therefore requiring the addition of works for justification), argued that faith alone was sufficient for justification.  The two men agreed in principle, but not their definition of faith.  They arrived at the same conclusion by different routes.  That conclusion was that actions must accompany thoughts if the the thoughts are to be of any good.

A note on page 2011 of The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003) makes an excellent point:

In the OT, righteousness and justice repeatedly characterize God’s nature and activity, particularly in relationship  to the covenant with Israel.

Thus we arrive at the lections from Jeremiah, excerpts from a section of that book.  The prophet argued that God had made Judah a vassal state of the Babylonians, so rebellion against them would constitute a sin.  Hananiah was a false prophet who advocated for the opposite point of view.  The argument that a fight for national liberation is wrong might seem odd to many people, but it made sense to Jeremiah in a particular context.

Discerning the will of God in a given context can prove to be challenging at best.  Often the greatest obstacle to overcome is our penchant for confirmation bias–to reinforce what we think already.  Are we listening to God’s message or conducting an internal monologue?  But, when we succeed in discerning the divine will, we might realize that we do not understand or agree with it.  Honesty is the best policy with God; may we acknowledge truthfully where we stand spiritually and proceed from that point.  If divine justice confuses or frustrates us, may we tell God that.  If we argue, may we do so faithfully, and so claim part of our spiritual inheritance from the Jews, our elder siblings in faith.  Jeremiah, for example, argued with God often.

And may we trust in the faithfulness of God, the mysteries of whom we can never hope to explore completely.  Mystery can be wonderful, inspiring people with a sense of awe, the meaning of “the fear of God.”  Such awe provides us with proper context relative to God.  Such awe shows us how small we are relative to ultimate reality, God.  And such awe reinforces the wondrous nature of grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 13, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTONY OF PADUA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF G. K. (GILBERT KEITH) CHESTERTON, AUTHOR

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/06/15/righteousness-justification-justice-and-awe/

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Week of Proper 23: Tuesday, Year 1   33 comments

Above:  James Tissot’s (Public Domain) Depiction of Saint Paul

Image in the Public Domain

Of Faith and Works

OCTOBER 15, 2019

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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.

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Romans 1:16-25 (Revised English Bible):

For I am not ashamed of the gospel.  It is the saving power of God for everyone who has faith–the Jew first, but the Greek also–because in it the righteousness of God is seen at work, beginning in faith and ending in faith; as scripture says,

Whoever is justified through faith shall gain life.

Divine retribution is to be seen at work, falling from heaven on all the impiety and wickedness of men and women who in their wickedness suppress the truth.  For all that can be known of God lies plain before their eyes; indeed God himself has disclosed it to them.  Ever since the world began God himself has disclosed it to them.  Ever since the world began his invisible attributes, that is to say his everlasting power and deity, have been visible to the eye of reason, in the things he has made.  Their conduct, therefore, is indefensible; knowing God, they have refused to honour him as God, or to render him thanks.  Hence all their thinking has ended in futility, and their misguided minds are plunged in darkness.  They boast of their wisdom, but they have made fools of themselves, exchanging the glory of  the immortal God for an image shaped like mortal man, even for images like birds, beasts, and reptiles.

For this reason God has given them up to their own vile desires, and the consequent degradation of their bodies.  They have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and have offered reverence and worship to created things instead of to the Creator.  Blessed is he for ever, Amen.

Psalm 19:1-4 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  The heavens declare the glory of God,

and the firmament shows his handiwork.

2  One day tells its tale to another,

and one night imparts knowledge to another.

3  Although they have no words or language,

and their voices are not heard,

4  Their sound has gone out into all lands,

and their message to the ends of the world.

Luke 11:37-41 (Revised English Bible):

When he [Jesus] had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to a meal, and he came in and sat down.  The Pharisee noticed that he had not begun by washing before the meal.  But the Lord said to him,

You Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and plate; but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.  You fools!  Did not he who made the outside make the inside too?  But let what is inside be given to charity, and all is clean.

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The Collect:

Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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“Faith” is a word with more than one meaning.  In Hebrews 11, for example, it means “conviction issuing in action,” as Volume IX of The Interpreters’ Bible (1954) describes it.  Such faith empowers one to endure suffering rather than deny a proposition one cannot prove empirically.  The author of James understood faith to mean intellectual acceptance of a proposition, hence most of James 2.  Faith of that sort is insufficient alone; one needs works, too.

Paul, however, understood faith differently.  For him faith was “the attitude of condition of perfect trust in God’s mercy or ‘grace,’ complete reliance on it–rather than one’s own effort or merit–for one’s salvation, and eager receptivity.”  (The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IX, 1954, page 392).   So, when Paul wrote of the sufficiency of faith, he meant this–not what James did when the author of that short epistle wrote,

You see then it is by action and not by faith alone that a man is justified….As the body is dead when there is no breath left in it, so faith divorced from action is dead.  (James 2:24 and 26, Revised English Bible)

Yet for Paul, writing in Romans 1, faith and action could not be divorced from each other.  Rather, his understanding was close to that in Hebrews 11.  These are examples of fine distinctions that merely casual readers and not-so-casual scoffers do not consider important.  Yet such details matter greatly.  I begin with them because starting with an accurate grasp of the text increases my probability of arriving at a correct understanding of what it means.

Let us consider the portion from Luke 11.  (We will continue the story with the post for the next day’s readings.)  Ceremonial washing of hands, pots, and other items was part of Judaism.  It still is, especially if one is Orthodox.  There is nothing wrong with this, for all of us, in our religious traditions, engage in certain acts which make no or little sense to those who believe and practice differently.  The problem was legalism, however.  Insisting on ritual washing while ignoring the Biblical imperatives for social and economic justice annoyed Jesus.  First Century C.E. Palestinian Jewish orthodoxy of the sort Jesus condemned was the kind that one could not afford to practice if one were poor, as were most Jews at that time and place.  So our Lord and Savior condemned an exclusive, self-congratulatory system of religious practice.

Now let us consider Paul’s understanding of faith again.  It is a complete reliance on divine mercy, not one’s merit.  Do see the link between the readings in your life?  In matters of faith–as Paul understood it in Romans 1–are you more like Jesus or his dinner host?  And where ought your answer to that question to lead you spiritually?  I cannot answer that for you.  May you be responsive to God’s leading in your life with regard to this and all other questions.  And may I be likewise responsive to divine guidance in mine.

May the peace of God be with you now and forever.  Amen.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/of-faith-and-works/

Week of Proper 23: Monday, Year 1   7 comments

Above:  Trinity Episcopal Church, Statesboro, Georgia (Note the cross with triumphant Jesus on it.)

Image Source = Parish Album at the parish website

Christ Crucified and Raised–Hopefully Not a Disappointment To Us

OCTOBER 14, 2019

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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.

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With this post I switch translations again.  I do this occasionally to add some variety, truly the spice of life.  I do this also to make a simple point:  I am writing devotions based on the Bible, not one translation of it.  All translations of the Bible are human efforts, and translating from Language A into Language B can be an inexact process.  Something becomes lost in translation.  In addition, one can become so accustomed to certain wordings that one does not really read or listen to certain passages.  So, to mix things up, why not find another version of the Bible and compare and contrast it with the ones I choose to quote?

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Romans 1:1-7 (Revised English Bible):

From Paul, servant of Christ Jesus, called by God to be an apostle and set apart for service of his gospel.

This gospel God announced beforehand in sacred scriptures through his prophets.  It is about his Son:  on the human level he was a descendant of David, but on the level of the spirit–the Holy Spirit–he was proclaimed Son of God by an act of power that raised him from the dead; it is about Jesus Christ our Lord.  Through him I received the privilege of an apostolic commission to bring people of all nations to faith and obedience in his name, including you who have heard the call and belong to Jesus Christ.

I send greetings to all of you in Rome, who are loved by God and called to be his people.  Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

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 11:29-32 (Revised English Bible):

With the crowds swarming round him [Jesus] he went on to say:

This is a wicked generation.  It demands a sign, and the only sign that will be given it is the sign of Jonah.  For just as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man to this generation.  The queen of the south will appear in court when the men of this generation are on trial, and ensure their condemnation; for she came up from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and what is here is greater than Solomon.  The men of Nineveh will appear in court when this generation is on trial, and ensure its condemnation; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and what is here is greater than Jonah.

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The Collect:

Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Paul probably dictated the Letter to the Romans in 57 C.E.  Consider that the crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus most likely occurred in 29 or 30 C.E., so Paul wrote about these events within a generation of them happening.  It would be like me writing today about an event from the early or middle 1980s, if only in relative temporal terms.

Paul understood correctly that Jesus was the Son of God prior to the Resurrection (Romans 8:3).  But he also grasped that the Resurrection constituted, among other things, a divine proclamation and declaration of Jesus’ true status.  This was a death and Resurrection for the sake of all people.  As Martin Luther understood, one might not be predestined for Heaven, but one still has access to it via Jesus.

Speaking of Jesus…

The reading from Luke 11 contains references to those who traveled far to preach the word of God to strangers or seek wisdom God has bestowed.  The Queen of Sheba was a Gentile.  The character of Jonah was an idiot, but his story teaches, among other things, that God can work even through such people.  And Jonah had a mission to hostile Gentiles.  The Gentiles, hostile or not, were receptive.  So, Jesus is saying, what is wrong with these local people of his tribe?  They want signs.  When they get them, they do not like them.  Some of these locals have even argued that he performed them on the wrong day of the week–the Sabbath, for example.  They refused to be satisfied.

Why was that?  Jesus was not what they wanted him to be.  He did not confirm that they and their form of organized religion were correct.  He disturbed them.

There is a perhaps apocryphal story about a lady who traveled on the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) lecture circuit in the United States in the late 1800s.  She gave her standard stump speech in one town then did something risky:  she asked if anyone had a question.  One polite young man raised his hand.  She called on him.  He asked,

If what you say is true, how do you explain Jesus turning water into wine?

The woman answered,

I would like him better if he had not done that.

Does Jesus disappoint us?  Does he not measure up according to our standards?  If so, we need to reexamine our standards.  He is the incarnate Son of Man.  If anyone did not recognize this, his Resurrection should have made it plain.  If we do not see this and act accordingly, what more do we want?

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/christ-crucified-and-raised-hopefully-not-a-disappointment-to-us/

Proper 4, Year A   32 comments

Above:  The Sermon on the Mount Window, Stanford Memorial Church, Stanford, California

Beginning Again

The Sunday Closest to June 1

NOT OBSERVED THIS YEAR

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FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #1

Genesis 6:9-22; 7:24; 8:14-19 (New Revised Standard Version):

These are the descendants of Noah.  Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation:  Noah walked with God.  And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.  And God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth.  And God said to Noah,

I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth.  Make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch.  This is how you are to make it:  the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits.  Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above; and put the door of the ark in its side; make it with lower, second, and third decks.  For my part, I am going to bring a flood of waters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life, everything that is on the earth shall die.  But I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.  And of every living thing, of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female.  Of the birds according to their kinds, of every creeping things of the ground according to its kind, two of every kind shall come in to you, to keep them alive.  Also take with you every kind of food that is eaten, and store it up; and it shall serve as food for you and for them.

Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.

And the waters swelled on the earth for one hundred fifty days.

In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry.  Then God said to Noah,

Go out of the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you.  Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh–birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth–so that they may abound on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.

So Noah went out with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives.  And every animal, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out of the ark by families.

Psalm 46 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 God is our refuge and strength,

a very present help in trouble.

2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved,

and though the mountains be toppled into the depths of the sea;

3 Though its waters rage and foam,

and though the mountains tremble at its tumult.

4 The LORD of hosts is with us;

the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

5 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,

the holy habitation of the Most High.

6 God is in the midst of her;

she shall not be overthrown;

God shall help her at the break of day.

7 The nations make much ado, and the kingdoms are shaken;

God has spoken, and the earth shall melt away.

8 The LORD of hosts is with us;

the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

9 Come now and look upon the works of the LORD,

what awesome things he has done on earth.

10 It is he who makes war to cease in all the world;

he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear,

and burns the shields with fire.

11 “Be still, then, and know that I am God;

I will be exalted among the nations;

I will be exalted in the earth.”

12 The LORD of hosts is with us;

the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #2

Deuteronomy 11:18-21, 26-28 (New Revised Standard Version):

You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead.  Teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.  Write them on the doorposts of your house and and on your gates, so that your days and the days the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the LORD swore to your ancestors to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.

See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse:  the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today; and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn from the way that I am commanding you today, to follow other gods that you have not known.

Psalm 31:1-5, 19-24 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 In you, O LORD, have I taken refuge;

let me never be put to shame;

deliver me in your righteousness.

2 Incline your ear to me;

make haste to deliver me.

3 Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe,

for you are my crag and my stronghold;

for the sake of your Name, lead me and guide me.

4 Take me out of the net that they have secretly set for me,

for you are my tower of strength.

5 Into your hands I commend my spirit,

for you have redeemed me,

O LORD, O God of truth.

19 How great is your goodness, O LORD!

which you have laid up for those who fear you;

which you have done in the sight of all

for those who put their trust in you.

20 You hide them in the covert of our presence from those who slander them;

you keep them in your shelter from the strife of tongues.

21 Blessed be the LORD!

for he has shown me the wonders of his love in a besieged city.

22 Yet I said in my alarm,

“I have never been cut off from the sight of your eyes.”

Nevertheless, you heard the sound of my entreaty

when I cried out to you.

23 Love the LORD, all you who worship him;

the LORD protects the faithful,

but repays to the full those who act haughtily.

24 Be strong and let your heart take courage,

all you who wait for the LORD.

SECOND READING

Romans 1:16-17; 3:22b-31 (New Revised Standard Version):

For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written,

The one who is righteous will live by faith.

For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith.  He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies  the one who has faith in Jesus.

Then what becomes of boasting?  It is excluded.  By what law?  By that of works?  No, but by the law of faith.  For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.  Or is God the God of Jews only?  Is he not the God of Gentiles also?  Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of faith and the uncircumcised through the same faith.  Do we then overthrow the law by this faith?  By now means!  On the contrary, we uphold the law.

GOSPEL READING

Matthew 7:21-29 (New Revised Standard Version):

[Jesus said,]

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’  Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’

Everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.  The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.  And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The fain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat against that house, and it fell–and great was its fall!

Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.

The Collect:

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth:  Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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Beginning with Proper 4, the Revised Common Lectionary provides options for the First Reading and the Psalm.  As I ponder these choices for Proper 4, Year A, I detect some common ground.  It consists of the following elements:

  1. God prepares chosen people for a new beginning, whether in the case of Noah’s Ark or of the Israelites on the verge of entering Canaan.
  2. God is a refuge, strength, and stronghold.

I propose that God grants new beginnings out of mercy while imposing certain obligations.  This is where the reading from Deuteronomy applies:  obey God.  My thinking, with its emphasis on higher biblical criticism, tells me that the Deuteronomist was not Moses, and that this speech postdates Moses by centuries.  So this speech, put into the mouth of Moses, functioned as a criticism of the Kingdom of Judah late in its life.  My paraphrase of the Deuteronomist’s agenda:  “That is where we went wrong so long ago; we disobeyed God.  We have become at least as corrupt as was the generation in the time of Noah.  We have squandered an opportunity God has granted us.”

The readings from the New Testament remind us in prose and parable that the righteous live by faith.  We must build on the rock, Jesus says.  And Jesus himself is the rock.  The storms of life will come, but the house of faith built with a solid foundation will survive intact.  It is important to have a firm foundation, but also to possess sufficient flexibility, though.  The storms of life include strong winds, and, if one cannot sway with the winds, one will snap in two.  And what good is that?  Have you ever watched tall pine trees during a strong wind?  They remain standing because they are rooted firmly, but they remain whole because they sway with the wind.

Holiness is not abstract.  Much of it consists of how we treat each other.  Do we respect one another, or do we seek to exploit each other?  Do we love one another, or do we demonize each other?  In the name of God, do we extend helping hands to each other, or do we turn into cynical, Social Darwinian, every man, woman, and child-for-himself-and-herself types?  Is justice truly blind, or is it on the dole?  Do we nurture beauty, or do we nourish that which is coarse?  I could continue, but I trust that I have made my point clearly.

Thanks to grace, we get to start over periodically.  But this is not cheap grace, that which costs us nothing.  No, this grace demands something of us.  We must love God and each other if we are to make the most of each new beginning.  We must live by faith and practice good religion, that built on love, not hatred.

In grace we have a firm foundation.  Let us build on it, or continue to do so.

KRT