Archive for the ‘Romans 4’ Tag

Devotion for Proper 14, Year C (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  The Importune Neighbour, by William Holman Hunt

Image in the Public Domain

Getting Off Our Values and Getting to Work

AUGUST 8, 2021

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Judges 19 (portions) or Jeremiah 13:1-11

Psalm 94:1-15

Romans 4:13-25

Luke 10:38-11:13

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We have quite a collection of readings this Sunday!

  1. Judges 19 gives us a tale of rape, death, dismemberment, and the prelude to genocide, played out in Judges 20 and 21.
  2. Stay away from God’s bad side, as in Jeremiah 13 and Psalm 94.
  3. Romans 4 reminds us of the importance of living according to faith.
  4. The executive summary of the lesson from Luke is to learn from Jesus (even to violate social conventions to do so) and to act according to those teachings.

Judges 19, the first portion of a section spanning chapters 19-21, contains enough material for many posts, given its background, its literary contexts, and the ink many exegetes have spilled regarding the story.  However, my purpose in this post entails reading Judges 19 in the context of the other lessons.  One note from The Jewish Study Bible (2nd. ed.) offers a useful sentence:

The story depicts a unified society, sensitive to the problems of ethics and serving the LORD.

–536

The society Jeremiah critiqued was insensitive to ethics and serving the LORD.  On the other hand, St. Mary of Bethany, St. Paul the Apostle, and the author of Psalm 94 were sensitive to ethics and serving the LORD.  So was St. Martha of Bethany, also insistent on being a good hostess who offered proper hospitality, a Biblical virtue.

Prayer comes attached to action in Luke 11:9-13.  That is an important lesson:  pray then, as able, act to effect positive change.  Self-serving politicians who offer “thoughts and prayers” after terrible events then do nothing, even though they have the power to do so, make a mockery of the teaching in Luke 11:9-13.  One of the lessons my father taught me is that prayer should have feet whenever possible.  Be salt and light in the world, Jesus still commands us.

I recall an editorial from a Roman Catholic periodical during the middle 1990s, when many politicians beat the drum of “family values” with more words than deeds.  As I remember, the title of the editorial was,

GET OFF YOUR VALUES AND GET TO WORK.

Talk is cheap.  We need to get off our values and get to work.  After all, faith, in the theology of St. Paul the Apostle, is inherently active.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 18, 2020 COMMON ERA

SATURDAY IN EASTER WEEK

THE FEAST OF ROGER WILLIAMS, FOUNDER OF RHODE ISLAND; AND ANNE HUTCHINSON, REBELLIOUS PURITAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT CORNELIA CONNELLY, FOUNDRESS OF THE SOCIETY OF THE HOLY CHILD JESUS

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIA ANNA BLONDIN, FOUNDRESS OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE SISTERS OF SAINT ANNE

THE FEAST OF SAINTS MURIN OF FAHAN, LASERIAN OF LEIGHLIN, GOBAN OF PICARDIE, FOILLAN OF FOSSES, AND ULTAN OF PERONNE, ABBOTS; AND SAINTS FURSEY OF PERONNE AND BLITHARIUS OF SEGANNE, MONKS

THE FEAST OF SAINT ROMAN ARCHUTOWSKI, POLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1943

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2020/04/18/getting-off-our-values-and-getting-to-work/

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Devotion for Proper 13, Year C (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Icon of the Good Samaritan

Image in the Public Domain

Character, Part III

AUGUST 1, 2021

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Judges 16:17-31 or Jeremiah 11:1-14

Psalm 93

Romans 4:1-12

Luke 10:35-37

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Deeds reveal creeds.  Deeds also reveal one’s character, for good and ill.

Consider the Good Samaritan, O reader.

The term “Good Samaritan” seemed like an oxymoron.  Jews and Samaritans tended to be mutually hostile.  The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) stood in contrast to the hostile Samaritans in Luke 9:51-56, as well as to the priest and the Levite from the parable.  The ambiguity of the parable vis-à-vis their motivation for passing by on the other side has long invited readers and listeners to examine their motivations for not helping people in need.  Fear for one’s safety was  well-founded in the context of that road.  Or did at least one passer-by not care about the man beaten, robbed, and left for dead?  The Good Samaritan revealed his goodness in his deeds.

Our character, individually and collectively, is manifest in our deeds.  Many, like Samson, have little or no impulse control and can resist anything except temptation.  We read part of Jeremiah’s critique of his society.  If we are the people and cultures we ought to be, we praise God in words and deeds; we act faithfully and build up the poor and the vulnerable in the name of God.

May we do so, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 17, 2020 COMMON ERA

FRIDAY IN EASTER WEEK

THE FEAST OF DANIEL SYLVESTER TUTTLE, PRESIDING BISHOP OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH

THE FEAST OF EMILY COOPER, EPISCOPAL DEACONESS

THE FEAST OF LUCY LARCOM, U.S. ACADEMIC, JOURNALIST, POET, EDITOR, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MAX JOSEF METZGER, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1944

THE FEAST OF WILBUR KENNETH HOWARD, MODERATOR OF THE UNITED CHURCH OF CANADA

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2020/04/17/character-part-iii/

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Week of Proper 24: Monday, Year 1   13 comments

Above:  Some of Charles Foster Kane’s Possessions after His Death, from Citizen Kane (1941)

(The image is a screen capture.)

Possessions and Attitudes

OCTOBER 18, 2021

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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 4:13, 19-25 (Revised English Bible):

It was not through law that Abraham and his descendants were given the promise that the world should be their inheritance, but through righteousness that came from faith.

His faith did not weaken when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old),  and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; no distrust made him doubt God’s promise, but, strong in faith, he gave glory to God, convinced that what he had promised he was able to do.  And that is why Abraham’s faith was

counted to him as righteousness.

The words “counted to him” were meant to apply not only to Abraham but to us; our faith too is to be “counted,” the faith in the God who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead; for he was given up to death for our misdeeds, and raised to life for our justification.

THEN 

Canticle 16 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

The Song of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79) plus the Trinitarian formula

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel;

he has come to his people and set them free.

He has raised up for us a mighty savior,

born of the house of his servant David.

Through his holy prophets he promised of old,

that he would save us from our enemies,

from the hands of all who hate us.

He promised to show mercy to our fathers

and to remember his holy covenant.

This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham,

to set us free from the hands of our enemies,

Free to worship him without fear,

holy and righteous in his sight

all he days of our life.

You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High,

for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,

To give his people knowledge of salvation

by the forgiveness of their sins.

In the tender compassion of our God

the dawn from on high shall break upon us,

To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,

and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit;

as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever.  Amen.

OR

Psalm 89:19-29 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

19  You spoke once in a vision and said to your faithful people:

“I have set the crown upon a warrior

and have exalted one chosen out of the people.

20  I have found David my servant;

with my holy oil have I anointed him.

21  My hand will hold him fast

and my arm will make him strong.

22  No enemy shall deceive him,

nor any wicked man bring him down.

23  I will crush his foes before him

and strike down those who hate him.

24  My faithfulness and love shall be with him,

and he shall be victorious through my Name.

25  I shall make his dominion extend

from the Great Sea to the River.

26  He will say to you, ‘You are my Father,

my God, and the rock of my salvation.’

27  I will make him my firstborn

and higher than the kings of the earth.

28  I will keep my love for him for ever,

and my covenant will stand firm for him.

29  I will establish his line for ever

and his throne as the days of heaven.”

THEN

Luke 12:13-21 (Revised English Bible):

Someone in the crowd said to him [Jesus],

Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family property with me.

He said to the man,

Who set me over you to judge or arbitrate?

Then to the people he said,

Beware!  Be on your guard against greed of every kind, for even when someone has more than enough, his possessions do not give him life.

And he told them this parable:

There was a rich man whose land yielded a good harvest.  He debated with himself: “What am I to do?  I have not the space to store my produce.  This is what I will do, ” said he:  “I will pull down my barns and build them bigger.  I will collect in them all my grain and other goods, and I will say to myself, ‘You have plenty of good things laid by, enough for many years to come:  take life easy, eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.'”  But God said to him, “You fool, this very night you must surrender your life; and the money you have made, who will get it now?” That is how it is with the man who piles up treasure for himself and remains a pauper in the sight of God.

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The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession 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.

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The end of Citizen Kane haunts me.  Charles Foster Kane has died recently.  He has left behind a large house stuffed with possessions, none of which mean anything to those who clean up after him.  In fact, they burn many of them.

We cannot take our possessions with us, and others will have to clean up after us.  How much work will we make them do?  In the interim, how much work will we make ourselves do every time we move?

People matter far more than possessions, for positive relationships can alleviate loneliness but money and “stuff” cannot.  Abraham was wealthy, but we do not recall him mainly as a rich patriarch.  His legacy, as Paul understood it, is faith.  So not only do people matter more than possessions; so does faith, which, in the Pauline formulation, is inherently active.

I have many books, and intend to keep a large library for as long as possible.  But I use it for various purposes, including devotions.  And I feel good when I reduce the size of my library by giving books to students, for I do not need anymore dust collectors.  Furthermore, I become painfully aware of the size of my library every time I move.  It can become an albatross if I am not careful.

Having many possessions is not a problem; neither is being wealthy.  Money and items are morally neutral.  What matters most is our attitude toward them, as well as the actions flowing from this mindset.  Faith, in Paul’s formulation, entails acknowledging and accepting our complete dependence on God’s grace alone, not on anything we bring to the table.  So any attitude which stands in the way of embracing this fact of life needs to change.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/05/09/possessions-and-attitudes/

Week of Proper 23: Saturday, Year 1   10 comments

Above:  NGC 3603

Image Source = Hubble Space Telescope

The Favor of God and What That Requires of Us

OCTOBER 16, 2021

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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 4:13-18 (Revised English Bible):

It was not through the law that Abraham and his descendants were given the promise that the world would be their inheritance, but through righteousness that came from faith.  If the heirs of are those who hold by the law, then faith becomes pointless and the promise goes for nothing; law can bring only retribution, and where there is no law there can be no breach of law.  The promise was made on the ground of faith in order that it might be valid for all Abraham’s descendants, not only for those who hold by the law, but also for those who have Abraham’s faith.  For he is the father of all, as scripture says:

I have appointed you to be father of many nations.

In the presence of God, the God who makes the dead live and calls into being things that are not, Abraham had faith.  When hope seemed hopeless, his faith was such that he became “father of many nations,” in fulfillment of the promise,

So shall your descendants be.

Psalm 105:5-10, 42-45 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

5  Remember the marvels the LORD has done,

his wonders and the judgments of his mouth,

6  O offspring of Abraham his servant,

O children of Jacob his chosen.

7  He is the LORD our God;

his judgments prevail in all the world.

8  He has always been mindful of his covenant,

the promise he made for a thousand generations:

9  The covenant he made with Abraham,

the oath that he swore to Isaac,

10  Which he established as a statute for Jacob,

an everlasting covenant for Israel….

42  For God remembered his holy word

and Abraham his servant.

43  So he led forth his people with gladness,

his chosen with shouts of joy.

44  He gave his people the lands of the nations,

and they took the fruit of others’ toil,

45  That they might keep his statutes,

and observe his laws.

Hallelujah!

Luke 12:8-12 (Revised English Bible):

[Jesus continued,]

I tell you this:  whoever acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will acknowledge before the angels of God; but whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God.

Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but for him who slanders the Holy Spirit there will be no forgiveness.

When you are brought before synagogues and state authorities, do not worry about how you will conduct defence or what you will say.  When that time comes the Holy Spirit will instruct you what to say.

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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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I have long been prone to sacramentalism.  It should come as no surprise, then, that I chose to become and remain an Episcopalian.  The catechism in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer defines sacraments as follows:

The sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.

Grace, in turn, is:

…God’s favor towards us, unearned and undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills.

Sacraments are primarily about what God has done, is doing, and will do.  Consider baptism, for example.  We baptize infants, thereby marking their entry into Christian community.  There is confirmation, another sacrament, by which, in time, the chronologically more mature claim faith for themselves in public and enter into formal church membership.  But none of this would mean anything if God had not acted first.

Divine grace scandalizes or at least shocks us sometimes.  Why did God passover more likely candidates and choose a shepherd boy to be a king or a man with a speech impediment to be his messenger before the Pharaoh of Egypt?   How did a former Roman collaborator become one of our Lord’s Apostles and an erstwhile persecutor of nascent Christianity one of its most influential evangelists?  We might wonder:  How dare God offer healing from leprosy to an enemy general by means of a great Hebrew prophet?  And how did an impetuous fisherman become the leader of the Apostles at Pentecost?

This grace requires of us a faithful and affirmative response to God via free will, which God has implanted in us.  Peter, the fisherman, died when people crucified him upside down.  Matthew, the former collaborator, also died as a martyr.  Moses bore the burden of leadership of his people for a generation, and David had to govern a kingdom.  Naaman, the general, who had his life back, praised the God of a people foreign to himself.

What will grace require of you?

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/the-favor-of-god-and-what-that-requires-of-us/

Week of Proper 23: Friday, Year 1   9 comments


Above:  Chipping Sparrow

Image Source = Dr. Thomas G. Barnes, University of Kentucky, 1980s

Trust in God

OCTOBER 15, 2021

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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 4:1-8 (Revised English Bible):

What, then, are we to say about Abraham, our ancestor by natural descent?  If Abraham was justified by anything he did, then he has grounds for pride.  But not in the eyes of God!  For what does scripture say?

Abraham put his faith in God, and that faith was counted to him as righteousness.

Now if someone does a piece of work, his wages are not “counted” to be a gift; they are paid as his due.  But if someone without any work to his credit simply puts his faith in him who acquits the wrongdoer, then his faith is indeed “counted as righteousness.”  In the same sense David speaks of the happiness of the man whom God “counts” as righteous, apart from any good works:

Happy are they,

he says,

whose lawless deeds are forgiven,

whose sins are blotted out;

happy is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him.

Psalm 32 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven,

whose sin is put away!

Happy are they to whom the LORD imputes no guilt,

and in whose spirit there is no guile!

While I held my tongue, my bones withered away,

because of my groaning all day long.

For your hand was heavy upon me day and night;

my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you,

and did not conceal my guilt.

I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.”

Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.

Therefore all the faithful will make their prayers to you in time of trouble;

when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them.

You are my hiding-place;

you preserve me from trouble;

you surround me with shouts of deliverance.

9  “I will instruct you and teach you in the way that you should go;

I will guide you with my eye.

10  Do not be like horse or mule, which have no understanding;

who must be fitted with bit and bridel,

or else they will not stay near you.”

11  Great are the tribulations of the wicked;

but mercy embraces those who trust in the LORD.

12  Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the LORD;

shout for joy, all who are true of heart.

Luke 12:1-7 (Revised English Bible):

Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, packed so close that they were trampling on one another, he [Jesus] began to speak first to his disciples:

Be on your guard against the leaven of the Pharisees–I mean their hypocrisy.  There is nothing covered up that will not be uncovered, nothing hidden that will not be made known.  Therefore everything you have said in the dark will be heard in broad daylight, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be shouted from the housetops.

To you who are my friends I say:  do not fear those who kill the body and after that have nothing more they can do.  I will show you whom to fear:  fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell.  Believe me, he is the one to fear.

Are not five sparrows sold for two-pence?  Yet not one of them is overlooked by God.  More than that, even the hairs of your head have all been counted.  Do not be afraid; you are worth more than any number of sparrows.

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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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A brief note is in order first:  This is one of a series of devotions based on nearly continuous readings from Romans and Luke.  I have, especially in Romans, been dealing with some fine distinctions, notably in definitions of faith.  So, rather than repeat here everything I have written in the previous few posts, I encourage the reading of the previous few posts, especially if this is the first time you, O reader, have come across this series.

Now I begin with my discussion of the lessons for this day.

Abraham was the father of the Hebrew people.  So many observant Jews in Jesus’ and Paul’s times spoke of him with great awe and respect.  Consider this text, Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 44:19-21, as the Revised English Bible renders it:

Abraham was the great father of a host of nations;

no one has ever been found to equal him in fame.

He kept the law of the Most High;

he entered into a covenant with him,

setting the mark of it on his body.

When put to the test he proved steadfast.

Therefore the Lord assured him on oath

that through his descendants nations should find blessing,

and that his family should be countless as the dust of the earth

and be exalted as high as the stars;

that their territories should extend from sea to sea,

from the river to the ends of the earth.

Abraham’s works, many rabbis during the time of Jesus and Paul insisted, justified him.  He kept the law even before God gave it to Moses, they said.

Yet Paul reached back to another passage Genesis 15:6, which the Revised English Bible renders:

Abram put his faith in the LORD, who reckoned it to him as righteousness….

Paul, in Romans 3, had written of the sole sufficiency of divine grace and trusting in it without clinging to any illusions that any act one commits justifies one. Keeping minute details of the Law of Moses does not justify one, Paul wrote.  Choosing not to rob a local bank or liquor store does not justify one.  Volunteering at a local soup kitchen or donating much food to a local food pantry does not justify one.  These are laudable, but they do not justify one.

The passage from Genesis is interesting.  English translations render a certain Hebrew word as either “trusted” or “believed.”  I prefer “trusted,” for it is more to the point.  Many people misunderstand the Biblical concept of belief as merely intellectual acceptance.  The true meaning, however, is trust, which leads to actions, for our attitudes lead to deeds, accidents excluded.  Another very good alternative to the “trusted” translation is “beloved.”  This fits the Abraham saga well, for he and God, according to the texts, had many conversations and were usually on friendly terms.

So, Paul wrote, Abraham beloved and trusted God and acted accordingly.  Thus Abraham had faith, which Paul understood as acceptance of one’s complete reliance on divine grace.  Thus, out of faith, which is inherently active, Abraham obeyed God.  This obedience was part and parcel of the man’s faith.  This was the faith which justified him.

This, as we say in my part of the United States, is where the rubber meets the road.  Will we trust?  Will we obey?  This can be very difficult, especially when we look at the world in which we live.  I think about the reference to sparrows in Luke 12, for example.  We humans are far more valuable than they to God, the passage says.  Yet I write just a few minutes’ drive from a tent city of homeless people.  And, elsewhere in the same town, there is a notorious, dangerous, and drugs-and-gang-ridden low-income housing project on the margin of downtown, with “First” churches and local merchants, many of them upscale.  Nevertheless, the fact that reality is what it is does not absolve us of the imperative to act as we can to create a new one.  Societies and communities are what they are because people have made them that way, so we can change them.  And active faith can help us improve them.

After all, faith in the Pauline sense is inherently active.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/trust-in-god/

Proper 5, Year A   32 comments

Above:  The Calling of St. Matthew (1621), by Hendrick ter Brugghen

Being Moral Consists of Far More Than Following a Checklist

The Sunday Closest to June 8

NOT OBSERVED THIS YEAR

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FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #1

Genesis 12:1-9 (New Revised Standard Version):

Now the LORD said to Abram,

Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him.  Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.  Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan.  When they had come to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh.  At that time the Canaanites were in the land.  Then the LORD appeared to Abram, and said,

To your offspring I will give this land.

So he build there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him.  From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the LORD and invoked the name of the LORD.  And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.

Psalm 33:1-12 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Rejoice in the LORD, you righteous;

it is good for the just to sing praises.

2 Praise the LORD with the harp;

play to him upon the psaltery and the lyre.

3 Sing for him a new song;

sound a fanfare with all your skill upon the trumpet.

4 For the word of the LORD is right,

and all his works are sure.

5 He loves righteousness and justice;

the loving-kindness of the LORD fills the whole earth.

6 By the word of the LORD were the heavens made,

by the breath of his mouth all the heavenly hosts.

7 He gathers up the waters of the ocean as in a water-skin

and stores up the depths of the sea.

8 Let all the earth fear the LORD;

let all who dwell in the world stand in awe of him.

9 For he spoke, and it came to pass;

he commanded, and it stood fast.

10 The LORD brings the will of the nations to naught;

he thwarts the designs of the peoples.

11 But the LORD’s will stands fast for ever,

and the designs of his heart from age to age.

12 Happy is the nation whose God is the LORD!

happy the people he has chosen to be his own!

FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #2

Hosea 5:15-6:6 (New Revised Standard Version):

[Yahweh speaking]

I will return again to my place

until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face.

In their distress they will beg my favor.

Come, let us return to the LORD;

for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us;

he has struck down, and he will bind us up.

After two days he will revive us;

on the third day he will raise us up,

that we may live before him.

Let us know, let us press on to know the LORD;

his appearing is as sure as the dawn;

he will come to us like the showers,

like the spring rains that water the earth.

What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?

What shall I do with you, O Judah?

Your love is like a morning cloud,

like the dew that goes away early.

Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets,

I have killed them by the words of my mouth,

and my judgment goes forth as the light.

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,

the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

Psalm 50:7-15 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

7 Hear, O my people, and I will speak:

“O Israel, I will bear witness against you;

for I am God, your God.

8 I do not accuse you because of your sacrifices;

your offerings are always before me.

9 I will take no bull-calf from your stalls,

nor he-goats out of your pens;

10 For all the beasts of the forest are mine,

the herds in their thousands upon the hills.

11 I know every bird in the sky,

and the creatures of the fields are in my sight.

12 If I were hungry, I would not tell you,

for the whole world is mine and all that is in it.

13 Do you think that I eat the flesh of bulls,

or drink the blood of goats?

14 Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving

and make good your vows to the Most High.

15 Call upon me in the day of trouble;

I will deliver you, and you shall honor me.

SECOND READING

Romans 4:13-25 (New Revised Standard Version):

For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.  If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.  For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.

For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)–in the presence of God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.  Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said.  He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old) or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.  No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.  Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.”  Now the words, “it was reckoned to him” were written not for his sake alone, but for ours alone, but for ours also.  It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.

GOSPEL READING

Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26 (New Revised Standard Version):

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him,

Follow me.

And he got up and followed him.

And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples.  When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples,

Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?

But when he had heard this, he said,

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’  For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.

While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying,

My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.

And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples.  Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself,

If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.

Jesus turned, and seeing her he said,

Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.

And instantly the woman was made well.  When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, he said,

Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.

And they laughed at him.  But when the crowd had been put outside, he went up and took her by the hand, and the girl got up.  And the report of this spread throughout that district.

The Collect:

O God, from whom all good proceeds:  Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them; 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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The Second Reading reading for this Sunday ties into the Genesis option for the First Reading, and the Gospel Reading connects to the Hosea choice for the First Reading.  And everything links together into a wonderful and consistent package.  My summary of that package is this:  Being moral consists of far more than living according to a checklist of “You shall” and “You shall not” statements.  Rather, proper priorities form the seat of morality.  And what is more moral than showing mercy and trusting in God?

Let us begin with Jesus and work backward from there.  First, he ate with tax collectors and other notorious sinners.  This was a great scandal to those preoccupied with ritual purity.  Besides, a self-respecting person concerned about ritual purity took great care in choosing with whom he broke bread.  Tax collectors were not salaried people, so they collected the Roman imperial rate plus the money they used to support themselves.  They were tax thieves.  This was common knowledge, and they were despised, considered traitors to their own Jewish people.  And here was Jesus, eating with them!  In North America we have a cliche:  He who lies down with dogs rises with fleas.  There was probably a similar saying in Aramaic.  But Jesus did not seek respectability according the such standards.  The other notorious sinners violated many parts of the Jewish law code, probably without remorse.  But the law was so complicated that only a small elite proportion of the population could obey the law in its entirety, as they interpreted it.  Yet these men, who lived according to the letter of the law, that is, a checklist, frequently violated the spirit of said law.  So even they broke the religious law.

You see, O reader, nobody could keep the law in its entirety, spirit and letter.  This, I think, is part of why Paul emphasized the role of faith.  As a former legalist, he understood this lesson well.  And Paul, by mentioning Abraham, a paragon of faith, made a chronology-based point that the great patriarch’s righteousness could not and did not rely on the law, for Abraham lived and died before the days of Moses.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus quoted Hosea, channeling Yahweh:

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,

the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

(Note:  The difference in translation between Hosea and Matthew is easy to explain.  The author of the Gospel of Matthew quoted the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.)

Jesus showed mercy to his dinner guests, whose potential he recognized.  He knew what they were but focused on what they could become.  May we look upon others in the same way.

And Jesus showed mercy on his way to satisfy the request of a grieving father.  The woman with the hemorrhage was, by the Law of Moses, ritually impure.  She had been for years.  Imagine how desperate she must have been for healing and restoration to society, for she was marginalized and destitute.  Her plight was itself an indictment of the law.  Jesus had mercy on this woman who had nothing but faith and helped Jairus, who had only one alternative to faith.  That alternative was to bury his daughter.

As one reads the four canonical gospels closely, one notices that Jesus violated and countermanded aspects of the religious law, as the Pharisees practiced it.  He did not wash his hands ritually.  He gleaned food from fields on the Sabbath.  He did not maintain a morality checklist beyond loving God fully and one’s neighbor as oneself.  One rule, treating others as one wants others to treat one, covers much of morality in just a few words.

As a student of U.S. history and of religion, I know the well-plowed ground that is the sad tale of how many professing Christians in Antebellum America quoted the Bible to justify slavery.  (The best book to cover this material is H. Shelton Smith’s In His Image, But….)  The pro-slavery case rested mostly on a a literal reading of selected passages of scripture, along with creative explanations about how keeping someone enslaved is consistent with the Golden Rule.  The anti-slavery case rested almost entirely on the Golden Rule.  And really, what else should it have needed?  The pro-slavery interpretation of the Bible was a highly selective checklist attempting to maintain the letter of the law; it was masterpiece of prooftexting.  But the anti-slavery case was gloriously simple, focusing on the spirit of the law.

I challenge you, O reader, as much as I challenge myself, to focus on the letter of the law and to let the details fall into the place.  This letter of the law is really quite simple:

  • Love and trust the Lord your God with everything you have and are.
  • Love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Live mercifully.

KRT

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