Archive for the ‘Sarai’ Tag

Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before Proper 11, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Parable of the Sower

Above:  The Parable of the Sower

Image in the Public Domain

Grace and Character Flaws

JULY 18, 2019

JULY 19, 2019

JULY 20, 2019

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The Collect:

Eternal God, you draw near to us in Christ, and you make yourself our guest.

Amid the cares of our lives, make us attentive to your presence,

that we may treasure your word above all else,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 43

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The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 12:10-20 (Thursday)

Genesis 13:1-18 (Friday)

Genesis 14:1-16 (Saturday)

Psalm 15 (All Days)

Hebrews 5:1-6 (Thursday)

Ephesians 3:14-21 (Friday)

Luke 8:4-10 (Saturday)

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Yahweh, who can find a home in your tent,

who can dwell on your holy mountain?

Whoever lives blamelessly,

who acts uprightly,

who speaks the truth from the heart,

who keeps the tongue under control,

who does not wrong a comrade,

who casts no discredit on a neighbour,

who looks with scorn on the vile,

but honours those who fear Yahweh,

who stands by an oath at any cost,

who asks no interest on loans,

who takes no bribe to harm the innocent.

No one who so acts can ever be shaken.

–Psalm 15, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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Abram (later Abraham) was a fascinating, contradictory, and frequently puzzling figure, for he was a human being.  In Genesis 12-14 alone he pretended that Sarai (his wife) was his sister, lied to the Pharaoh (who, unlike Abram, suffered because of the lie), prospered (in large part due to that lie), remained in Canaan and engaged in warfare while Lot, his nephew, moved to Sodom.  At the end of Chapter 14 Abram encountered Melchizedek, hence one reason for the reading from Hebrews 5, I suppose.

The traditional name of the reading from Luke 8 is the Parable of the Sower.  Nevertheless, the emphasis in the story is the soils, so, as some commentators I have read have argued, we should refer to the Parable of the Four Soils.  Each of us is, under the best circumstances, good soil, albeit not entirely so.  That is a fact of human nature.  Abram/Abraham and Sarai/Sarah had serious defects of character, as did St. Paul the Apostle.  Likewise, you, O reader, and I have character flaws.  Nevertheless, may the lovely prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21 be others’ prayer for us and our prayer for others.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 16, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ADALBALD OF OSTEVANT, RICTRUDIS OF MARCHIENNES, AND THEIR RELATIONS

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ABRAHAM KIDUNAIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC HERMIT, AND MARY OF EDESSA, ROMAN CATHOLIC ANCHORESS

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/03/16/grace-and-character-flaws/

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Proper 14, Year C   12 comments

Above:  The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., 1964

Photograph by Dick DeMarsico, World Telegraph and Sun

Image Source = Library of Congress

Active, Abrahamic Faith

The Sunday Closest to August 10

Ninth Sunday After Pentecost

AUGUST 11, 2019

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 and Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24

or 

Genesis 15:1-6 and Psalm 33:12-22

then 

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

Luke 12:32-40

The Collect:

Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; 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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Some Related Posts:

Prayer of Praise and Adoration:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/03/21/prayer-of-praise-and-adoration-for-the-twelfth-sunday-after-pentecost/

Prayer of Confession:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/03/21/prayer-of-confession-for-the-twelfth-sunday-after-pentecost/

Prayer of Dedication:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/03/21/prayer-of-dedication-for-the-twelfth-sunday-after-pentecost/

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We human beings use the same word in different ways, with a variety of meanings.  Consider, O reader, the word “day,” for example.  People say,

In my day…

and

Back in the day…,

as well as

There is a new day coming.

Or “day” might apply literally, as in when today separates yesterday from tomorrow.

The same principle applies to “faith” in the New Testament.  The Apostle Paul, in Romans, used it to mean something inherently active, which leads to works.  A Pauline formula is that as a person thinks, so he or she is.  The Letter of James contains a different definition, that of intellectual assent to a proposition or set of propositions.  So, according to that definition, faith without works is dead.  Both epistles agree on the imperative of active faith, so one need not imagine a discrepancy between their conclusions.

And there is the definition of faith from Hebrews 11:1-3:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  Indeed, by faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is was made from things that are not visible.

New Revised Standard Version

In other words, faith applies in circumstances in which one can neither prove nor disprove a proposition according to scientific methods or documentary evidence.  That is an anachronistic definition, I know, but it works well.  Science can tell us much; I respect it and reject all anti-scientific sentiments and statements.  God gave us brains; may we use them as fully and critically as possible.  And documents form the basis of the study of history as I practice it.  Objective historical accuracy and the best scientific data available ought to override dogma, superstition, and bad theology.  So, no matter what the Gospels say, demon possession does not cause epilepsy, for example.  Yet there does exist truth which these twin standards of modernism (as opposed to postmodernism) cannot measure.  Such truth is good theology, which one can grasp by faith.

We read in Hebrews of the faithful example of Abram/Abraham (and by implication, of Sarai/Sarah), which harkens back to Genesis.  Theirs is a fantastical story, one which challenges understandings of biology.  But that is not the point.  The point is that God does unexpected things, and that the people of God should accept this reality.  And whether a certain unexpected thing is good news or bad news depends upon one’s spiritual state, as in Luke 12.

The reading from Isaiah 1 caught and held my attention most of all.  I, as an observant Episcopalian, am an unrepentant ritualist.  The text does not condemn ritualism itself.  No, the text damns insincere ritualism mixed with the neglect of vulnerable members of society:

Wash yourselves clean;

Put your evil things

Away from my sight.

Cease to do evil;

Learn to do good.

Devote yourselves to justice;

Aid the wronged.

Uphold the rights of the orphan;

Defend the cause of the widow.

–Isaiah 1:16-17, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

Do it or else, the text says.  This is a call to society; Enlightenment notions of individualism do not apply here.  The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1967, called for

…a true revolution of values

from a society focused on things to one which places the priority on people.  In the same speech, the one in which he opposed the Vietnam War without equivocation, he said:

A nation that continues to spend year after year more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

A Testament of Hope:  The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.  (Edited by James M. Washington, 1986), page 241

The Prophet Isaiah would  have agreed.

Eternal God, heavenly Father,

you have graciously accepted us as living members

of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ,

and you have fed us with spiritual food

in the sacrament of his Body and Blood.

Send us now into the world in peace,

and grant us strength and courage

to love and serve you

with gladness and singleness of heart;

through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 365

Do we have the Abrahamic faith to do that?  And how much better will our societies be for all their members if we do?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 16, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALL CHRISTIAN MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS

THE FEAST OF HUGH LATIMER, NICHOLAS RIDLEY, AND THOMAS CRANMER, ANGLICAN MARTYRS

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/05/27/active-abrahamic-faith/

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Proper 9, Year A   29 comments


Above: Paul Writing His Epistles (1500s C.E. Painting)

Image in the Public Domain

The Victory Belongs to God Alone

The Sunday Closest to July 6

The Fifth Sunday After Pentecost

JULY 5, 2020

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FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #1

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67 (New Revised Standard Version):

The servant said to Laban,

I am Abraham’s servant. The LORD has greatly blessed my master, and he has become wealthy; he has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female slaves, camels and donkeys. And Sarah my master’s wife bore a son to my master when she was old; and he has given him all that he has. My master made me swear, saying, `You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live; but you shall go to my father’s house, to my kindred, and get a wife for my son.’

I came today to the spring, and said, `O LORD, the God of my master Abraham, if now you will only make successful the way I am going! I am standing here by the spring of water; let the young woman who comes out to draw, to whom I shall say, “Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,” and who will say to me, “Drink, and I will draw for your camels also” — let her be the woman whom the LORD has appointed for my master’s son.’

Before I had finished speaking in my heart, there was Rebekah coming out with her water jar on her shoulder; and she went down to the spring, and drew. I said to her, `Please let me drink.’ She quickly let down her jar from her shoulder, and said, `Drink, and I will also water your camels.’ So I drank, and she also watered the camels. Then I asked her, `Whose daughter are you?’ She said, `The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ So I put the ring on her nose, and the bracelets on her arms. Then I bowed my head and worshiped the LORD, and blessed the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to obtain the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son. Now then, if you will deal loyally and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so that I may turn either to the right hand or to the left.

And they called Rebekah, and said to her,

Will you go with this man?

She said,

I will.

So they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with Abraham’s servant and his men. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her,

May you, our sister, become thousands of myriads; may your offspring gain possession of the gates of their foes.

Then Rebekah and her maids rose up, mounted the camels, and followed the man; thus the servant took Rebekah, and went his way. Now Isaac had come from Beer-lahai-roi, and was settled in the Negeb. Isaac went out in the evening to walk in the field; and looking up, he saw camels coming. And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she slipped quickly from the camel, and said to the servant,

Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?

The servant said,

It is my master.

So she took her veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.

AND

Psalm 45:11-18 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

11 “Hear, O daughter; consider and listen closely;

forget your people and your father’s house.

12 The king will have pleasure in your beauty;

he is your master; therefore do him honor.

13 The people of Tyre are here with a gift,

the rich among the people seek your favor.”

14 All glorious is the princess as she enters;

her gown is cloth-of-gold.

15 In embroidered apparel she is brought to the king;

after her the bridesmaids follow in procession.

16 With joy and gladness they are brought,

and enter into the palace of the king.

17 “In place of fathers, O king, you shall have sons;

you shall make them princes over all the earth.

18 I will make your name to be remembered

from one generation to another;

therefore nations will praise you for ever and ever.”

OR

Song of Solomon 2:8-13 (New Revised Standard Version):

The voice of my beloved!

Look, he comes,

leaping upon the mountains,

bounding over the hills.

My beloved is like a gazelle

or a young stag.

Look, there he stands

behind our wall,

gazing in at the windows,

looking through the lattice.

My beloved speaks and says to me:

Arise, my love, my fair one,

and come away;

for now the winter is past,

the rain is over and gone.

The flowers appear on the earth;

the time of singing has come,

and the voice of the turtledove

is heard in our land.

The fig tree puts forth its figs,

and the vines are in blossom;

they give forth fragrance.

Arise, my love, my fair one,

and come away.

FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #2

Zechariah 9:9-12 (New Revised Standard Version):

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!

Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!

Lo, your king comes to you;

triumphant and victorious is he,

humble and riding on a donkey,

on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim

and the war-horse from Jerusalem;

and the battle bow shall be cut off,

and he shall command peace to the nations;

his dominion shall be from sea to sea,

and from the River to the ends of the earth.

As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you,

I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.

Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope;

today I declare that I will restore to you double.

For I have bent Judah as my bow;

I have made Ephraim its arrow.

I will arouse your sons, O Zion,

against your sons, O Zion,

and wield you like a warrior’s sword.

Psalm 145:8-15 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

8 The LORD is gracious and full of compassion,

slow to anger and of great kindness.

9 The LORD is loving to everyone

and his compassion is over all his works.

10 All your works praise you, O LORD,

and your faithful servants bless you.

11 They make known the glory of your kingdom

and speak of your power;

12 That the peoples may know of your power

and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.

13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom;

your dominion endures throughout all ages.

14 The LORD is faithful in all his words

and merciful in all his deeds.

15 The LORD upholds all those who fall;

he lifts up those who are bowed down.

SECOND READING

Romans 7:15-25a (New Revised Standard Version):

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.  Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good.  But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.  For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand.  For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law oat war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.  Wretched man that I am!  Who will rescue from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.

GOSPEL READING

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 (New Revised Standard Version):

Jesus said to the crowd,

To what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,

“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;

we wailed, and you did not mourn.”

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.

At that time Jesus said,

I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

The Collect:

O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; 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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Sometimes I can tie all lectionary readings for a day together neatly via a common thought.  This unifying theme might be easy or difficult to locate, but I can find it–much of the time.  Proper 9, Year A, is an exception to this rule.  So I state quickly that genuine romantic love between adult human beings, especially those bound to each other by the sacrament of marriage, is beautiful and that God is present there.  Now I move along to Zechariah, Paul, and Matthew.

I take these readings in chronological order.

The Book of Zechariah exists in two parts:  Chapters 1-8 and 9-14, each section having separate authorship.  Zechariah 9-14 contains prophesies about how God will deal with the Jewish people from the time of Hellenistic domination of the Holy Land to the coming of the Messiah.  The texts say that God will act, so the victory will belong to God.  Worthless shepherds will not obstruct these deeds, for God will replace them with a worthy shepherd, the Messiah.

Jesus, of course, was (and is) that Messiah.  People criticized him for many reasons:  he ate and drank too much or he fasted too much; he healed on the Sabbath; the man could not satisfy some people regardless of how good he was.  Some people will find fault with anyone, even Jesus.  But he was (and is) the Good Shepherd, and through him God has made atonement for sins.

Speaking of sins, Paul struggled with them.  I know this feeling, but I take it as more positive than negative.  The term “immoral” indicates that one knows the difference between right and wrong, and chooses the latter.  But “amoral” indicates that one cannot make the distinction.  At least the person who is immoral at least some to the time knows the difference, and God can work with that.  It is vital to try and to want to do the right thing.  We humans are deeply flawed, “but dust” as the Book of Psalms says, but we also bear the image of God (Genesis 1).  So we need to honor the divine image within ourselves and each other, and to trust God to help us distinguish between right and wrong, and to believe that God will help us choose what is correct.

Culture can affect our perceptions of morality, sometimes for the worse.  As a student of U.S. history, I know that many Antebellum Southerners thought that keeping slaves was moral, and that anyone who said or thought otherwise did not understand the Bible correctly.  Also, I have a book containing a 1954 sermon from Texas entitled “God the Original Segregationist.”  The pastor continued to sell copies of this sermon via the mail through at least 1971.  It is easy for me to point out these moral misunderstandings, but I am blind to my own.

So I read Paul’s confession and identify with it.  And I take comfort that the victory is God’s work, and that neither I nor anyone else will stand in its way.  But I hope I am not and will never be a would-be obstacle God must sweep aside.  No, I want to be on God’s side.  By grace, may as many of us as possible be there.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/02/06/the-victory-belongs-to-god-alone/

Week of Proper 8: Friday, Year 1   13 comments

Above: Rebecca and Eliezar, by Bartolome Esteban Perez Murillo (1600s)

Image in the Public Domain

Proper Forms of Inclusion

JULY 2, 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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Genesis 23:1-4, 19; 24:1-8, 62-67 (An American Translation):

The length of Sarah’s life was one hundred and twenty-seven years.  Sarah died at Kirjath-arba (that is, Hebron), in the land of Canaan, and Abraham proceeded to wail and weep for Sarah.  Rising from the side of his dead, Abraham said to the Hittites,

Since I am an immigrant and a serf under you, give me some property with you as a burial ground, that I may inter my dead.

Following that Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave in the field of Machpelah, facing Mamre (that is Hebron), in the land of Canaan.

Now that Abraham was old and well advanced in life, having been blessed by the LORD in all things, Abraham said to the oldest slave of his household, who had charge of everything that belonged to him,

Put your hand under my thigh, while I make you swear by the LORD, the God of the heavens and the earth, that you will not marry my son to a daughter of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, but that you will go to my own land and kindred to get a wife for my son Isaac.

The son said to him,

Suppose the woman is unwilling to follow me to this land; am I to take your son back to the land that you left?

Abraham said to him,

See to it that you do not take my son back there!  It was the LORD, the God of the heavens, who took me from my father’s home and the land of my birth, who spoke to me and made this promise, ‘It is to your descendants that I am going to give this land’–it is he who will send his angel ahead of you, so that you shall get a wife for my son there.  But if the woman should be unwilling to follow you, then you will be absolved from this oath to me; only you must never take my son back there.

Now Isaac had moved from the neighborhood of Beer-lahai-roi, and was living in the land of the Negeb.  One evening Isaac went out to stroll in the fields, and raising his eyes, he saw camels coming.  Rebekah too raised her eyes, and seeing Isaac, she dismounted from her camel, saying to the slave,

Who is the man yonder that is walking through the field toward us?

The slave said,

He is my master.

Then she took her veil, and covered herself.

The slave told Isaac all that he had done; so Isaac brought her into his tent.  He married Rebekah and she became his wife; and in loving her, Isaac found consolation for the death of his mother.

Psalm 78:1-8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Hear my teaching, O my people;

incline your ears to the words of my mouth.

2 I will open my mouth in a parable;

I will declare the mysteries of ancient times.

3 That which we have heard and known,

and what our forefathers have told us,

we will not hide from their children.

4 We will recount to generations to come

the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the LORD,

and the wonderful works he has done.

5 He gave his decrees to Jacob

and established a law for Israel,

which he commanded them to teach their children;

6 That the generations to come might know,

and the children yet unborn;

so that they in their turn might tell it to their children;

7 So that they might put their trust in God,

and not forget the deeds of God,

but keep his commandments;

8 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.

Matthew 9:9-13 (An American Translation):

Afterward, as Jesus was passing along from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tollhouse, and he said to him,

Follow me!

And he got up and followed him.

While Jesus was at home at table, a number of tax-collectors and irreligious people came in joined Jesus and his disciples at table.  And the Pharisees observed it, and they said to his disciples,

Why does your master eat with tax-collectors and irreligious people?

But he heard it, and said,

It is not the well but the sick who have to have the doctor!  Go and learn what the saying means, ‘It is mercy, not sacrifice, that I care for.’  I did not come to invite the pious but the irreligious.

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone:  Grant to us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; 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 two readings for this day address the difficult issue of inclusion.

Abraham arranges the marriage of nearly forty-year-old son by sending Eliezar of Damascus to find a female cousin, who turns out to be Rebekah.  Abraham is clear in his instructions; the marriage must not be a religiously mixed one, with the other side being Canaanite.

Yet Abraham is living as foreigner among Hittites, with whom he has respectful relationships, so he is not xenophobic.

Meanwhile, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus dines with irreligious people and Jewish collaborators of the Roman Empire, thereby causing a scandal.  Eating with such people was not respectable, yet there Jesus was, in their company.

Nobody is beyond the reach of mercy, and many of those we consider outsiders are or can be insiders, according to God’s definition.

But where ought we to draw the line between including people, and in which social relationships?

I am single, never having married.  This is my preferred state.  So far be it from me to give marital advice to anyone.  But I know that if I were to marry, I would seek certain points of compatibility in the woman.  Among these would be spiritual and religious.  In other words, I would seek a wife with whom I could attend church comfortably and with whom I could engage in excellent religious discussion.  So Abraham’s choice makes sense to me.

One purpose of a home, as I understand it, is to propagate faith.  This has been my experience, and I am grateful for it.  So I argue affirmatively for marriage within a religion.

I also defend Jesus’ choice to associate repeatedly with the allegedly unclean, such as Gentiles, apostates, and collaborators, for nobody is beyond grace.  One never knows who can bring to God if one does not try. More people than we might suspect are insiders, according to the divine standard.  May we not judge them as being outsiders unjustly.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/02/06/proper-forms-of-inclusion/

Week of Proper 8: Wednesday, Year 1   12 comments

Above: The Casting Out of Hagar, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain

Identifying With the Outcasts

JUNE 30, 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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Genesis 21:5, 8-21 (An American Translation):

…Abraham himself being one  hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.

So the child grew and was weaned; and on the day that Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast.  But Sarah noticed the son of Hagar, the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac; so she said to Abraham,

Get rid of this slave-girl and her son; for the slave-girl’s son must not share the inheritance with my son Isaac.

The proposal, however, was very displeasing to Abraham, for his son’s sake; but God said to Abraham,

Do not be distressed for the boy and your slave; follow Sarah’s bidding in all that she tells you; for it is through Isaac that you are to have descendants bearing your name.  As for the slave-girl’s son, I will make a nation of him, too, because he is your child.

So next morning Abraham rose early, and taking some bread and a skin of water, he gave them to Hagar, along with her son, and putting them on her shoulder, he sent her away.  So she departed, and wandered about in the desert of Beersheba.  Then the water in the skin became exhausted, and throwing the child under one of the bushes, she went and sat down about a bowshot away;

For,

said she,

I cannot bear to see the child die!

So she sat down some way off, and lifted up her voice in weeping.

God, however, heard the boy’s cry, and the angel of God called from the heavens to Hagar, and said to her,

What is the matter with you, Hagar?  Fear not; for God has heard the boy’s cry, even here where he is.  Come, pick up the boy, and hold fast to him; for I am going to make a great nation of him.

Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water, whereupon she went and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.  So God was with the boy, and he grew up.  He lived in the desert, and became expert with the bow.  He settled in the desert of Paran, and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

Psalm 34:1-8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 I will bless the LORD at all times;

his praise shall ever be in my mouth.

2 I will glory in the LORD;

let the humble hear and rejoice.

3 Proclaim with me the greatness of the LORD;

let us exult his Name together.

4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me

and delivered me out of all my terror.

5 Look upon him and be radiant,

and let not your faces be ashamed.

6 I called in my affliction and the LORD heard me

and saved me from all my troubles.

7 The angel of the LORD encompasses those who fear him,

and he will deliver them.

8 Taste and see that the LORD is good;

happy are they who trust in him.

Matthew 8:28-34 (An American Translation):

When he [Jesus] reached the other side, in the region of Gadara, two men possessed by demons came out of the tombs and confronted him; they were so extremely violent that nobody could go along that road.  And they suddenly screamed out,

What so you want of us, you Son of God?  Have you come here before the appointed time to torture us?

Now at some distance from them there was a great drove of pigs feeding.  And the demons entreated him, saying,

If you are going to drive us out, send us into the drove of pigs.

And he said to them,

Begone!

And they came out and went into the pigs.  And suddenly the whole drove rushed over the steep bank into the sea, and perished in the water.  And the men who tended them ran away and went off to the town and told it all, and the news about the men possessed by demons.  And the whole town came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him they begged him to go away from their district.

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone:  Grant to us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; 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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Some people are inconvenient to us, so we think that they must be apart from us, for our own comfort.  This is a sin.

This day’s reading from Genesis comes from the Elohist, who was sympathetic to the lineage of Isaac.  So it is no surprise that this text depicts God as pro-Isaac.  Yet even the Elohist depicts Hagar and Ishmael kindly.  Recall that Hagar’s status as mother of Abraham’s firstborn son and the fact of Ishmael’s existence flowed from one of Sarah’s suggestions.  She was clearly in the wrong.

Tradition states that Ishmael became the father of the Arabs, for your information.  Jealousies continue, just for different reasons.  Human jealousies are like that too often.  But they ought to die more frequently than they do.

Genesis 21 says that God came to the aid of Hagar and Ishmael, saving their lives.  God was with the outcasts.

Speaking of outcasts, we have also the tale of the two demoniacs in Matthew 8.  Read Mark 5:1-20 and Luke 8:26-39 as well, for those texts have one demoniac.  These are clearly variants of the same story, down to the pigs.  Demon possession was a common diagnosis at the time of Jesus.  Today we would say epilepsy, schizophrenia, multiple personalities, or some other medical condition.  These men lived in tombs, at the edge of society.  Once healed, they could rejoin the social order.  Healing was often about more than correcting physical illnesses; there were also emotional, social, and psychological aspects.

The former demoniacs (or whatever they were) were grateful to Jesus.  Of course, those for whom the pigs provided income had a different opinion.

There was another reason to ask Jesus to leave, however.  The people knew who they were, or rather, who they were not, in relation to the demoniacs.  They were not those dangerous, sick people living in tombs.  So who were they now, that the men were well?  The social restoration of outcasts can disturb the self-defined insiders.  We humans tend to like the concept of outsiders, outcasts.  Their existence confirms that we are insiders.  But, with God, the number of insiders is far greater than according to human definitions.  And, if that disturbs us, we need to take this to God and repent.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2011/08/26/identifying-with-the-outcasts/

Week of Proper 7: Saturday, Year 1   15 comments

Above:  Terebinth Trees (Such as Those at Mamre)

Image in the Public Doman

Nothing is Too Wonderful for God

JUNE 26, 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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FIRST READING:  Genesis 18:1-15 (An American Translation):

The LORD appeared to him [Abraham] at the terebinth of Mamre, as he was sitting at the doorway of his tent in the heat of the day.  Raising his eyes, he saw three men standing near him.  On seeing them, he ran from the door of his tent to meet them, and bowing to the earth, said,

O sirs, if perchance I find favor with you, please do not pass by without stopping with your servant.  Let a little water be brought to wash your feet, and stretch yourselves out under the tree, while I fetch a bit of food that you may refresh yourselves.  Afterward you may proceed on your way, since you will then have paid your servant a visit.

They said,

Do as you propose.

So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah and said,

Quick, three seahs of the best flour!  Knead it, and make it into cakes.

Abraham then ran to the heard, and picked out a bullock, tender and plump, which he gave to a servant, who quickly prepared it.  Then, taking curds and milk and the bullock that he had prepared, he set them before them, and as he waited on them under the tree, they ate.

Where is your wife Sarah?

they said to him.

Inside the tent there,

said he.

Then he said,

I will come back to you at the time for life to appear, when your wife Sarah shall have a son.

Now Sarah was behind the door of the tent listening.  Since both Abraham and Sarah were old, being well advanced in life, and women’s periods had ceased with Sarah, Sarah laughed to herself, saying,

Now that I am worn out and my husband old, can there be marriage pleasure for me?

The LORD said to Abraham,

Why is it that Sarah laughs, saying, ‘Can I really bear a child when I am so old?’  Is anything too wonderful for the LORD?  I will come back to you at the appointed time, at the time for life to appear, and Sarah will have a son.

Because she was afraid, Sarah denied it, saying,

I did not laugh.

He said,

No, but you did laugh.

RESPONSE, OPTION #1:  Canticle 15 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

(The Magnificat, Luke 1:46-55)

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,

my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;

for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed;

the Almighty has done great things for me,

and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him

in every generation.

He has shown the strength of his arm,

he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,

and his lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things,

and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel,

for he has remembered his promise of mercy,

The promise he made to our fathers,

to Abraham and his children for ever.

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.

RESPONSE, OPTION #2:  Psalm 123 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 To you I lift up my eyes,

to you enthroned in the heavens.

2 As the eyes of the servants look to the hand of their masters,

and the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,

3 So our eyes look to the LORD our God,

until he show us his mercy.

4 Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy,

for we have had more than enough of contempt,

5 Too much of the scorn of the indolent rich,

and of the derision of the proud.

GOSPEL READING:  Matthew 8:5-17 (An American Translation):

When he [Jesus] got back to Capernaum, a Roman captain came up and appealed to him,

My servant, sir, is lying sick with paralysis at my house, in great distress.

He said to him,

I will come and cure him.

But the captain answered,

I am not a suitable person,sir, to have you come under my roof, but simply say the word, and my servant will be cured.  For I am myself under the orders of others and I have soldiers under me, and I tell one to go, and he comes, and my slave to do something, and he does it.

When Jesus heard this he was astonished, and said to his followers,

I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such faith as this.  And I tell you, many will come from the east and from the west and take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the Kingdom of of Heaven, while the heirs to the kingdom will be driven into the darkness outside, there to weep and grind their teeth!

Then Jesus said to the captain,

Go!  You shall find it just as you believe!

And the servant was immediately cured.

Jesus went into Peter’s house, and there he found Peter’s mother-in-law sick in bed with fever.  And he touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and waited on him.

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The Collect:

O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving-kindness; 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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First, a technical note:  There is much similarity between the content of Genesis 17 (from the previous post) and that of Genesis 18 (from this post).  The most likely reason for this is that the two chapters come from different sources.  Professor Richard Elliott Friedman identifies Genesis 17 as coming from the Priestly source and Genesis 18 as having Yahwistic origin.  I have no reason to doubt these conclusions.

But let us not become so preoccupied with higher biblical criticism that we forget to read the Bible for formation, not just information.  The purpose of this post is devotional, after all.  So, without further ado, I turn to my theme for today.  That theme is “Nothing is too wonderful for God.”

In Genesis 18, God, whom Abraham knows as El Shaddai, or God of the Mountains, appears in the flesh.  This is a mysterious incarnation; whether the author (J) means to say that God is all three men or that God and two angels visit, is vague.  Anyhow, God appears to Abraham in the flesh and delivers good news to Abraham and Sarah.  Abraham extends his visitors the hospitality his culture requires, thereby demonstrating great respect.  And Sarah, eavesdropping, laughs when she hears that she will be a mother.  It is a laugh of doubt, one God does not seem to hold against her.

The pairing of the Magnificat with Genesis 18:1-15 is appropriate.  Although Mary and Sarah were at different stages of life, the pregnancy of each was a profound grace for each and for succeeding generations.  Both lives demonstrate the grace is the great leveler, and that God is very generous.

With that thought fresh in mind, let us continue to Matthew 8:5-17.  The Roman Centurion was, by profession, an agent of the oppression and occupation of the Jews.  Yet Jesus found great faith in the man, who asked healing for his paralyzed servant, not for himself.  Then our Lord and Savior healed the mother-in-law of Simon Peter.  Jesus extended grace to Jews and Gentiles alike.  The text does not indicate whether the servant believed in the healing power of Jesus, or if the mother-in-law did.  It does say, however, that the centurion believed and implies that Peter did, also.

Nothing is too wonderful for God.  Sometimes we doubt this, given our circumstances and our interpretation of them.  God can break through our doubts and confirm the faith of others, however.  God’s best plan for us is more wonderful than anything we can imagine.  By grace, may we embrace the divine imagination and dream with God.

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/02/06/nothing-is-too-wonderful-for-god/

Week of Proper 7: Friday, Year 1   16 comments

Above:  Jesus Healing a Leper

God Seeks To Be Gracious

JUNE 25, 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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Genesis 17:1, 9-10, 15-22 (An American Translation):

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him,

…You on your part must keep my covenant, and likewise your descendants after you throughout all generations.  The covenant between myself and you and your descendants is this:  everyone of your males must be circumcised….As for your wife Sarai, you are not to call her Sarai, but Sarah.  I will bless her, and furthermore, I will give you a son by her; I will bless her, so that she shall become the mother of nations, with kings of peoples coming from her.

Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, saying to himself,

Can one who is one hundred years old become a father, or can Sarah at the age of ninety bear a child?

So Abraham said to God,

May Ishmael live in thy favor!

But God said,

No, it is a fact; your wife Sarah is to bear you a son, and you are to call his name Isaac [laughter]; I will establish my covenant with his descendants after him.  With reference to Ishmael, I have heard you, and will indeed bless him; I will make him prolific, and will make him grow more and more numerous; he shall be the ancestor of twelve princes; I will make a great nation of him.  I will likewise establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.

Having finished speaking with him, God left Abraham.

Psalm 128 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Happy are they who all fear the LORD,

and who follow in his ways!

2 You shall eat the fruit of your labor;

happiness and prosperity shall be yours.

3 Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine within your house,

your children like olive shoots round about your table.

4 The man who fears the LORD

shall thus be blessed.

5 The LORD bless you from Zion,

and may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life.

6 May you live to see your children’s children;

may peace be upon Israel.

Matthew 8:1-4 (An American Translation):

When Jesus came down from the mountain, great crowds of people followed him.  And a leper came up to him and fell on his knees before him, saying,

If you only choose, sir, you can cure me!

So he stretched out his hand and touched him, saying,

I do choose!  Be cured!

And his leprosy was immediately cured.  Then Jesus said to him,

See that you tell nobody, but go!  Show yourself to the priest, and in proof of your cure, offer the gift that Moses prescribed.

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The Collect:

O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving-kindness; 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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God seeks to be gracious.  Consider the previous day’s reading from Genesis and the lections for this day, for example.  In Genesis so far in this Monday-Saturday series, God has promised Abram a future status as the father of many nations.  In this day’s readings God changes Abram’s name to Abraham and Sarai’s name to Sarah.  These are slight name changes from one variant to another, but the change of names is important.  It symbolizes a change of status.  Members of monastic orders receive new names, for example.  A person with a new name is a new creation, and God does the re-creating in Genesis 17.

The sign of the Abrahamic Covenant is circumcision, a potent reminder that God is the source of life.  The yet-unborn Isaac will become Abraham’s heir and Ishmael (about 13 years old by the time of Genesis 17) will have his own destiny, according to God.  Both sons are meant to fulfill their divinely-granted destinies.  Everyone has a role to play, and nobody needs to feel excluded.  Life for all is the divine plan.  But, to hint at events after Genesis 17, exclusion will come by human actions.  But this is not God’s plan in the narrative.

The term leprosy, in the biblical sense, applies to a variety of skin conditions, as well as Hansen’s Disease.  The physical conditions labeled leprosy carried a strong social stigma in the time of Jesus.  So the diagnosis of leprosy made one a pariah.  This was difficult to take.  Such a man calls out to Jesus in desperation in Matthew 8:1-4.  The man does not presume; he asks.  And he trusts that Jesus can heal him.  Jesus does heal him, thereby restoring the man to society.  Our Lord and Savior was most gracious to the leper.

We who claim to follow God incur the obligation to act accordingly more often than not.  So, if God is love, and if God seeks to be gracious, we ought to love ourselves and others in the name of God and to be gracious toward our fellow human beings in the name of God.  The God of my faith is the God best understood in human theology as the Holy Trinity.  So it is the name of the Trinity that I perform good deeds and pursue beauty and intellectual knowledge.  I know that my actions affect others, and the deeds of others affect me.

May we be gracious to one another, in the name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/god-seeks-to-be-gracious/

Week of Proper 7: Thursday, Year 1   9 comments

Above:  A Dutch House Subsiding Because of An Inadequate Foundation

Image Source = Vincent van Zeijst

Declaring the Mighty Acts of God–Or Not

JUNE 24, 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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Genesis 16:1-12, 15-16 (An American Translation):

Abram’s wife Sarai had borne him no children, but she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar.  So Sarai said to Abraham,

Seeing now that the LORD has prevented me from having children, suppose you marry my maid; I might perhaps build up a family through her.

Abram agreed to the suggestion of Sarai; so Abram’s wife Sarai took Hagar, her Egyptian maid (it was after Abram had been living in the land of Canaan for ten years), and gave her in marriage to her husband Abram.  He had intercourse with Hagar, and she had conceived.  When she found that she had conceived, she looked with disdain upon her mistress.  So Sarai said to Abram,

May the wrong done me fall on you.  It was I who put my maid in your arms, but when she found that she had conceived, she looked with disdain upon me.  May the LORD judge between you and me!

Abram said to Sarai,

Your maid is in your power; do what you like with her.

Then Sarai treated her so cruelly that she ran away from her.  But the angel of the LORD came upon her beside a spring in the desert (the spring on the road to Shur) and said,

Hagar, maid of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?

She said,

I am running away from my mistress Sarai.

The angel of the LORD said to her,

Return to your mistress, and submit to her authority.

Further, the angel of the LORD said to her,

I will make your descendants so numerous that they will be too many to count.

The angel of the LORD also said to her,

You are with child, and are going to bear a son; you are to call his name Ishmael [God heard], because the LORD has heard of your ill-treatment.  He shall be a wild-ass of a man, with his hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him; he shall live on the outskirts of all his kindred.

So Hagar bore a son to Abram, and Abram gave the name of Ishmael to his son, whom Hagar bore.  Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to him.

Psalm 106:1-5 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Hallelujah!

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,

for his mercy endures for ever.

2 Who can declare the mighty acts of the LORD

or show forth all his praise!

3 Happy are those who act with justice

and always do what is right!

4 Remember me, O LORD, with the favor you have for your people,

and visit me with your saving help;

5 That I may see the prosperity of your elect

and be glad with the gladness of your people,

that I may glory with your inheritance.

Matthew 7:21-29 (An American Translation):

[Jesus continued,]

It is not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ who will get into the Kingdom of Heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father in heaven.  Many will say to me on that Day, ‘Lord! Lord!  Was it not in your name that we prophesied, and by your name that we drove out demons, and by your name that we did many mighty acts?’  Then I will say to them plainly, ‘I never knew you!  Go away from me, you who do wrong!’

Everyone, therefore, who listens to this teaching of mine and acts upon it, will be like a sensible man who built his house on rock.  And the rain fell, and the rivers rose, and the winds blew, and beat about that house, and it did not go down, for its foundations were on rock.  And anyone who listens to this teaching of mine and does not act upon it, will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  And the rain fell, and the rivers rose, and the winds blew and beat down that house, and it went down, and its downfall was complete.

When Jesus had finished this discourse, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them like one who had authority and not like their scribes.

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The Collect:

O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving-kindness; 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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And Peter opened his mouth and said:  “Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him….”

–Acts 10:34-35 (Revised Standard Version)

Deeds reveal creeds, but good deeds can reveal more than one creed.  This is one lesson from the finale of the Sermon on the Mount.  Let us look up and read Acts 10:34-35 again; one must act properly and fear, that is, have awe for, God in on order to be acceptable to God.  So, by the proper combination of words and deeds, one declares the mighty acts of God.  The ultimate goal for one’s life should be that it, by grace, will become prayer.

Consistent with this thought, one needs to build on a solid foundation.  As a Christian, I state that the solid foundation is God, specifically Jesus of Nazareth, the incarnated Second Person of the Trinity and the Word of God.  What greater authority can there be?  He did not need to cite learned scholars of the Hebrew Scriptures as authorities, for he predated the book.

Speaking of that sacred anthology, it is brutally honest about the shortcomings of heroes of faith.  Consider Abram and Sarai, for example.  For a season they did not trust God to fulfill the divine promise to make Abram the origin of a great nation.  So they took matters into their own hands.  Sarai became jealous of Hagar after Abram did what she (Sarai) had suggested, so she (Sarai) abused Hagar, her maid servant now pregnant with Abram’s (firstborn) child.  So Hagar ran away, only to receive divine assurance of favor and a promise parallel to that God had made to Abram.  God heard Hagar, who never asked for any of her afflictions to come upon her, yet remained faithful to Abram and Sarai.  Grace flows where it will.

This story is only part of the Abraham saga, of course, so we ought to read and ponder it within that context.  One lesson I derive by doing this and placing the reading from Genesis next to the end of the Sermon on the Mount is that our lives, warts and all, can declare the mighty acts of God (to steal a phrase from the psalm) by grace.  The operative question here is: What is the dominant pattern of our lives?  Moral perfection is impossible in this life, but that is no excuse for not trying more often than not to do the right thing and to live in an awestruck relationship with God, who knows that we are “but dust.”  Between single predestination and the witness of the Holy Spirit everyone has an opportunity to declare the mighty acts of God in words and deeds.  Will the dominant pattern in our lives indicate a positive or a negative reply?

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/declaring-the-mighty-acts-of-god-or-not/

Week of Proper 7: Wednesday, Year 1   20 comments

Above:  A 2000-Year-Old Olive Tree in Bar, Montenegro

Image Source = Bratislav Tabas

You Can Tell Them By Their Fruit

JUNE 23, 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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Genesis 15:1-21 (An American Translation):

After these events the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision,

Do not be afraid, Abram; I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.

But Abram said,

O Lord GOD, what canst thou give me, seeing that I am childless, and that my heir is a Damascene, Eliezer?

Abram said,

Since you have given me no posterity, my household slave will be my heir.

But there came to him this message from the LORD,

No such person is to be your heir, but one born of your own body is to be your heir.

Then he took him outside, and said,

Now, look at the sky, and count the stars if you can.  So shall your descendants be,

he said to him.

And he trusted in the LORD, who counted it to his credit, and said to him,

I am the LORD, who brought you out of the Chaldean city of Ur to give you possession of this land.

But he said,

O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?

So he said to him,

Procure a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old she-goat, a three-year-old he-goat, a dove, and a young pigeon.

Procuring all these, he cut them in two–but not the birds–and placed the pieces opposite each other.  The birds of prey swooped down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them off.  Then, as the sun was going down, a trance fell on Abram; indeed a great and awful gloom fell upon him.  Then the LORD said to Abram,

Know of a surety that your descendants shall be immigrants in a land not their own, where they shall be slaves, and be oppressed for four hundred years; but I will in turn bring judgment upon the nation that made slaves of them, after which they shall escape with great wealth.  (As for yourself, you shall join your fathers in peace, and be buried at a ripe old age.)  It will only be in the fourth generation, however, that they will return here; for the guilt of the Amorites is not yet complete.

When the sun had set and it was quite dark, there appeared a smoking fire-pot and a blazing torch that passed between the pieces.  That day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying,

To your descendants I give this land, from the River of Egypt as far as the Great River, the river Euphrates–that of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaim, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites.

Psalm 47 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Clap your hands, all you peoples;

shout to God with a cry of joy.

2 For the LORD Most High is to be feared;

he is the great King over all the earth.

3 He subdues the peoples under us,

and the nations under out feet.

4 He chooses our inheritance for us,

the pride of Jacob whom he loves.

5 God has gone up with a shout,

the LORD with the shout of the ram’s-horn.

6 Sing praises to God, sing praises;

sing praises to our King, sing praises.

7 For God is King of all the earth;

sing praises with all your skill.

8 God reigns over the nations;

God sits enthroned upon his holy throne.

9 The nobles of the peoples have gathered together

with the people of the God of Abraham.

10 The rulers of the earth belong to God,

and he is highly exalted.

Matthew 7:15-20 (An American Translation):

[Jesus continued,]

Beware of the false prophets, who come to you disguised as sheep but are ravenous wolves underneath.  You can tell them by their fruit.  Do people pick grapes off thorns, or figs off thistles?  Just so any sound tree bears good fruit, but a poor tree bears bad fruit.  No sound tree can bear bad fruit, and no poor tree can bear good fruit.  Any tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and burned.  So you can tell them by their fruit.

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The Collect:

O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving-kindness; 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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As I have written before, deeds reveal creeds.

Let us begin with Genesis.  The lectionary skips over Chapter 14, and Chapter 15 begins with, “After these events….”  In Chapter 14, the following events transpired:

  1. The kings of Shinar (a.k.a. Babylon), Ellasar, Elam, and Goiim waged war on the kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Adman, Zeboiim, and Bela (a.k.a. Zoar).  The latter alliance, subject to the king of Elam for twelve years, rebelled, so the Elamite king and his allies attacked.
  2. The attacking alliance of four kings conquered Rephaim, Zuzim, Emim, Horites, Amalekites, and Amorites along the way.
  3. The attacking alliance of four kings captured Lot, members of his household, and his possessions, and removed all of them from Sodom.
  4. Abram and members of his household defeated the attacking alliance of four kings and rescued Lot and all members of his household and retrieved Lot’s possessions.
  5. After the battle, Abram met the kings of Sodom and Salem.  Melchizedek, the priest-king of Salem, blessed El Shaddai for delivering Abram.
  6. Abram, consistent with his familial obligations and a promise to his God, declined to keep any of Lot’s possessions, although Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre, who had accompanied Abram, did claim their shares with Abram’s permission.

So, in Chapter 15, God repeated the previously stated promise that Abram would have many descendants.  After an animal sacrifice and advance notice of Hebrew slavery in Egypt, the Exodus, and the wandering in the wilderness, God established a covenant with Abram.  The patriarch trusted that God, whom he knew as El Shaddai, would keep divine promises, that is, Abram believed in God.  There would be rough patches and long, deep valleys, but the promises of God were–and are–trustworthy.

Abram, of course, did not always trust before Genesis 15:1-21 or after.  He was a mortal, not a flawless individual.  But he did well enough for biblical authors to look back on him as a role model of faithfulness.

The metaphor of good and bad trees and fruit is easy to understand.  We cannot hide who we are forever, no matter how good we are at playing parts in public life.  We are as we think, and the truth will emerge in time.  Abram was a good tree.  May we be good trees, too.

The Gospel of Matthew dates to approximately 85 C.E.  The original audience understood prophets well, as such men still roamed the roads and proclaimed messages they claimed came from God.  Some prophets were true; others were false.  The message for the audience in 85 C.E. was plain:  Consider the source.  This is a timeless lesson.  In my North American context, I can think of a murderous false prophet (Jim Jones) and numerous fraudulent false prophets (many televangelists, especially alleged faith healers who “heal” people planted in the audience).  A few years ago I received an unsolicited piece of mail from the Reverend Ike.  There was a paper “prayer cloth” featuring the outline of a hand.  The instructions said to put my hand in that hand, a stand-in for God’s hand, when praying.  I did no such thing.

I regret that many people mistake such confidence men as messengers from God.  Their fraud is well-documented, and they distract spiritually needy people from true shepherds who can provide guidance in person.  When I ponder Karl Marx’s famous statement that religion is the opiate of the masses, I wonder what he would have made of televangelism.

You shall know them by their fruits.

My parting thought is this:  What kind of tree are you?  Considering the reality of human imperfections and thus laying aside illusions of moral perfection, do you bear good fruit?  Do you lead people to God or do you distract them?

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/you-can-tell-them-by-their-fruit/

Week of Proper 7: Tuesday, Year 1   7 comments

Above: Golden Rule, by Norman Rockwell (1961)

Images of this painting are plentiful online, but I took it from http://gardenofpraise.com/art12.htm.

The Golden Rule

JUNE 22, 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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Genesis 13:2, 5-18 (An American Translation):

Abram was now very rich in cattle, silver, and gold.

Lot, who accompanied Abram, also had flocks and herds, as well as tents.  The land could not support them both; for their possessions were so great that they could not live together.  Trouble arose accordingly between the herdsmen of Abram’s stock and those of Lot’s.  (The Canaanites and the Perizzites were living in the land at that time.)

There simply must be no quarrel between you and me,

Abram said to Lot,

nor between your herdsmen and mine; for we are kinsmen.  The whole land is open to you, is it not?  Please part from me then.  If you go to the left, I will go the right; or if you go to the right, I will go to the left.

Then Lot looked out, and saw that the whole basin of the Jordan was well watered everywhere (this was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) like the LORD’s own garden, like the land of Egypt in the vicinity of Zoar.  So lot chose the whole Jordan basin.  Lot set off eastward, and thus they parted from each other.  Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled in the cities of the Basin, extending his tents as far as Sodom.  (Now the men of Sodom were wicked, being great sinners against the LORD.)

After Lot had parted from him, the LORD said to Abram,

Raise your eyes now, and look out from the place where you are, north, south, east, and west; for all the land that you see, I am going to give to you and your descendants for all time.  I am going to make your descendants like the dust of the earth, so that it will be as possible to count the dust of the earth as to count your descendants.  Go and travel the length and breadth of the land; for I am giving it to you.

So Abram moved his tent, and went to live beside the terebinth of Mamre at Hebron, where he built an altar to the LORD.

Psalm 15 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 LORD, who may dwell in your tabernacle?

who may abide upon your holy hill?

2 Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right,

who speaks the truth from his heart.

3 There is no guile upon his tongue;

he does no evil to his friend;

he does not heap contempt upon his neighbor.

4 In his sight the wicked is rejected,

but he honors those who fear the LORD.

5 He has sworn to do no wrong

and does not take back his word.

6 He does not give his money in hope of gain,

nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.

7 Whoever does these things

shall never be overthrown.

Matthew 7:6, 12-14 (An American Translation):

[Jesus continued,]

Do not give what is sacred to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, or they will trample them under their feet and turn and tear you in pieces….Therefore you must always treat other people as you would like them to have them treat you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Go in at the narrow gate.  For the road that leads to destruction is broad and spacious, and there are many who go in by it.  But the gate is narrow the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few that find it.

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The Collect:

O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving-kindness; 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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Many readers of the Bible (especially novices to the sacred anthology) become bogged down in the Hebrew Scriptures.  My experience was different, for my first real reading of of any part of the Old Testament was the Joseph epic from Genesis.  There are so many wonderful and epic stories in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Among these is the Abraham epic, through which the Canadian Anglican lectionary I am following guides a reader.  Since our previous lection, famine has forced Abram (later to renamed Abraham) and his family into fertile Egypt.  No sooner had they gone to collect on a divine promise than circumstances had forced them to delay claiming it.  Abram was concerned that royal officials might kill him and claim his lovely wife, Sarai (later to be renamed Sarah), so he claimed that she was actually his sister.  (This was partially true, for she was his half-sister.  But a half-truth is still a half-truth.) Most English versions of the Bible use a euphemism for what happened next, for they claim that the Pharaoh took Sarai into his palace, his house, or his household.  Kenneth N. Taylor’s The Living Bible, which cuts through euphemisms like a knife through butter, gets to the point:

…and she was taken into the harem.  (12:15)

In exchange, the Pharaoh bestows upon Abram much livestock, silver, and gold.

Let us pause here.  There are Bible stories and portions thereof that one does not find discussed often (or at all) in children’s Bible story books and in juvenile Sunday School classes.  I understand why, for the Bible does not carry a “G” rating.  But we are adults here, and we should be able to discuss the R-rated portions of the Bible intelligently and maturely.  This portion of the story of Abram and Sarai has an unsavory taste about it.  He benefited financially (as did she in the medium term and the long term, despite immediate risks) from her compromising situation.

This is an early example of Abram not trusting God to fulfill divine promises.  It is not the most notable one.  Even Abram, a great man of faith, was imperfect.  And God still protected and blessed him.  We can take comfort from that.

Genesis 12 tells us that God caused “great plagues” to befall the Phaoronic household, so the Egyptian monarch deported Abram, Sarai, and company–along with the livestock, silver, and gold.  They returned (in Genesis 13) to Bethel, where there was too little space for Abram, his nephew Lot, and their livestock and herdsmen.  So Abram and Lot parted company and relocated, so that each would have sufficient space and harmony might be preserved.   Then God reiterated the divine promise to Abram.

Genesis 13 contains foreboding foreshadowing regarding Lot, but I will not discuss it here and now.  I intend to follow the events of the Abraham epic in sequentially in this lectionary series.

Now I turn toward the excerpt from Matthew.

Matthew 7:6 is a difficult saying.  Swine were unclean beasts, and dogs were wild scavengers, not beloved pets.  So who among the humans were supposed to be the swine and dogs?

Reading in textual context is especially useful here.  Matthew 7:6 follows 7:1-5, the “do not judge” teaching.  Jesus reminds us that the standard we apply to others will apply to us, as well, and that we ought to notice and deal with our own faults before focusing on those of others.  Then we have this admonition not to throw pearls before swine and to give dogs what is sacred.

I have consulted various books with regard to this verse.  The best interpretation comes from W. Clyde Tilley in The Surpassing Righteousness:  Evangelism and Ethics in the Sermon on the Mount (Smyth & Helwys, 1992).  Tilley writes:

We cannot simply assume that all the beneficiaries of our good deeds, all of the hearers of our treasured teachings, will receive them with equal gratitude.  We cannot even assume that they will be received at all….Now we are being reminded in this case that one’s own perception can be so distorted that the sharing of the sharing of true values with that person can may be hopeless for him and harmful to ourselves….Maybe the only certainty we can have here is that such persistent and final rejecters do exist, even if we must ever defer to God for the final judgment about who these are.  (pages 149-150)

This interpretation is consistent with 7:13-14, the teaching about the narrow gate and the wide road.

In the middle of all this we have 7:12, the Golden Rule.  God is the final judge, and we are not to judge others.  We are called to love one another and ourselves actively, treating others at all times in ways we would want them to treat us.  I recall the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3b-9, 18-23):  many seeds will come to naught.  But we have to try, do we not?

And, by the way, would not the world be a vastly better place if many more people went about practicing the Golden Rule?  Try it on a smaller scale; practice the Golden Rule among all those with whom you come into contact.  Witness the results, in full knowledge that, in a “do unto others before they do unto you” world, you might experience what state intelligence agents call blowback, or unintended negative consequences.  But God is the final judge about who is worthy.  Let us not play God.

Chiefly, may we trust God.  Abram trusted God some of the time, as do we.  Decisions he made when he did not trust God had bad consequences–sometimes for himself and other times for others.  And, as we attempt to live according to the Golden Rule, may we trust that God is just, that our judgment and knowledge are limited, and that loving God and respecting human dignity are always good standards of ethical behavior.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/the-golden-rule/