Archive for the ‘Valdosta Georgia’ Tag

Week of Proper 23: Monday, Year 2   11 comments

Above:  A Chart of the Western Christian Year

Image Source = Patnac

Rituals and Their Value

OCTOBER 12, 2020

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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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Galatians 4:1-5:1 (Revised English Bible):

This is what I mean:  so long as the heir is a minor, he is no better off than a slave, even though the whole estate is his; he is subject to guardians and trustees until the date set by his father.  So it is with us:  during our minority we were slaves, subject to the elemental spirits of the universe, but when the appointed time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to buy freedom for those who were under the law, in order that we might attain the status of sons.

To prove that you are sons, God has sent into our hearts the Spirit of his Son, crying,

Abba, Father!

You are therefore no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, an heir by God’s own act.

Formerly, when you did not now God, you were slaves to gods to gods who are not gods at all.  But now that you do acknowledge God–or rather, now that he has acknowledged you–how can you turn back to those feeble and bankrupt elemental spirits?  Why do you propose to enter their service all over again?  You keep special days and months and seasons and years.  I am afraid that all my hard work on you may have been wasted.

Put yourselves in my place, my friends, I beg you, as I put myself in yours.  You never did me any wrong:  it was bodily illness, as you will remember, that originally led to my bringing you the gospel, and you resisted any temptation to show scorn or disgust at my physical condition; on the contrary you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as you might have welcomed Christ Jesus himself.  What has become of the happiness you felt then?  I believe you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me, had that been possible!  Have I now made myself your enemy by being frank with you?

Others are lavishing attention on you, but without sincerity:  what they really want is to isolate you so that you may lavish attention on them.  To be the object of sincere attentions is always good, and not just when I am with you.  You are my own children, and I am in labour with you all over again until you come to have the form of Christ.  How I wish I could be with you now, for then I could modify my tone; as it is, I am at my wits’ end with you.

Tell me now, you that are so anxious to be under the law, will you not listen to what the law says?  It is written there that Abraham had two sons, the one by a slave, the other by a free-born woman.  The slave’s son was born in ordinary course of nature, but the free woman’s through God’s promise.  This is an allegory:  the two women stand for two covenants.  The one covenant comes from Mount Sinai; that is Hagar, and her children are born into slavery.  Sinai is a mountain in Arabia and represents the Jerusalem of today, for she and her children are in slavery.  But the heavenly Jerusalem is a free woman; she is our mother.  For scripture says,

Rejoice, O barren woman who never bore a child; break into a shout of joy, you who have never been in labour; for the deserted wife will have more children than she who lives with her husband.

Now you, my friends, like Isaac, are children of God’s promise, but just as in those days the natural-born son persecuted the spiritual son, so it is today.  Yet what does the scripture say?

Drive out the slave and her son, for the son of the slave shall not share the inheritance with the son of the free woman.

You see, then, my friends, we are no slave’s children; our mother is the free woman.  It is for freedom that Christ set us free.  Stand firm, therefore, and refuse to submit to the yoke of slavery.

Psalm 138 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

I will give thanks to you, O LORD, with my whole heart;

before the gods I will sing your praise.

I will bow down toward your holy temple

and praise your Name,

because of your love and faithfulness;

3 For you have glorified your Name

and your word above all things.

4 When I called, you answered me;

you increased my strength within me.

All the kings of the earth will praise you, O LORD,

when they have heard the words of your mouth.

They will sing of the ways of the LORD,

that great is the glory of the LORD.

7 Though the LORD be high, he cares for the lowly;

he perceives the haughty from afar.

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe;

you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies;

your right hand shall save me.

9 The LORD will make good his purpose for me;

O LORD, your love endures for ever;

do not abandon the works of your hands.

Luke 11:29-32 (Revised English Bible):

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

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

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Christian liberty is a theme which runs through the Letter to the Galatians.  This liberty frees us to fulfill our spiritual potential as heirs, not servants, and as children of God.  That is the context for Paul’s words which follow:

Your religion is beginning to be a matter of observing special days and months and seasons and years.–Galatians 4:10, The New Testament in Modern English, J. B. Phillips, 1972

Paul referred to the legalistic observance of Jewish fasts and feasts, as well as to certain Gentile (Pagan) celebrations.  The key word in the previous sentence is “legalistic.”  Many rituals are inherently neutral; the good or bad of them comes from those who observe them.

I am an Episcopalian and an unrepentant ritualist.  I remember a conversation from the early 1990s.  Some students from the Baptist Student Union at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, Tifton, Georgia, criticized formal worship, saying that it consisted of merely going through the motions.  The wording they used suggested that they understood the most sincere worship to be the simplist worship.  They did not grasp that one can go through the motions regardless of whether one has two or thirty-two of them.  And, as Father Peter Ingeman, Rector of Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta, Georgia, has said correctly, a liturgy is simply an agreed-upon, regular, and predictable pattern of worship.  So anyone who attends a church with an agreed-upon, regular, and predictable pattern of worship goes to a liturgical church.

There is a story, which might be true.  The pastor of First Baptist Church in a county seat town in the U.S. South hosted a community Thanksgiving service.  The local Episcopal priest participated.  At the appointed time, the host pastor introduced the priest:

Now Father Jones from the Episcopal Church will say one of his…written prayers.

The priest walked to the pulpit and said,

Let us pray.  Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name….

Paul did not write that Christians should no longer observe festivals and keep the Sabbath, although an inaccurate reading of the passage can point in that direction.  Indeed, the interpretation of Galatians 4:9-11 has led to the condemnation of the religious observance of Christmas and Easter.  A textbook example of one variety of Calvinist Jure Divino theology is the following resolution, which the 1899 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, the old “Southern Presbyterian Church,” passed:

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

The Journal of the General Assembly, 1899, page 430

Rituals mark time and transitions.  This time differs from that time, and a certain ritual divides them.  One can argue convincingly, for example, that a couple is (or ought to be) spiritually married prior to the marriage ceremony, but the ritual does define the moment they become married in the eyes of the church, the state, or both.  This is an important distinction in law and society.  And I had become a de facto Episcopalian prior to my confirmation, but now I have a date to observe every year.  (The anniversary of my confirmation is December 22.)  Rituals help with regard to social cohesion.  What separates boys from men, informal couples from married people, lay people from clergy, and students from graduates?  Rituals.  And what gives unique characters to the seasons of Advent, Christmas, the Season after Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and the Season after Pentecost?  Rituals.

Paul meant that one ought not observe certain days then think that one has fulfilled one’s duties.  Religion ought not to consist entirely of such occasions, but they can enrich it.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2011/11/03/rituals-and-their-value/

Week of Proper 8: Thursday, Year 1   9 comments

Above: The Sacrifice of Isaac (1603 version), by Caravaggio

Image in the Public Domain

Arguing With God

JULY 4, 2019

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

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Genesis 22:1-19 (An American Translation):

Some time after this [the covenant with Abimelech] God put Abraham to the test.

Abraham!

he said to him.

Here am I,

he said.

Take your son,

he said,

your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and there offer him as a burnt-offering on one of the hills which I shall designate to you.

So next morning Abraham rose early, and harnessing his ass, he took two of his servants with him and his son Isaac, and having cut wood for the burnt-offering, he started off for the sanctuary which God had designated to him.  On the third day, when Abraham raised his eyes, he saw the sanctuary in the distance.  So Abraham said to his servants,

Stay here with the ass, while I and the boy go yonder to perform our devotions, after which we shall return to you.

So Abraham took the wood for the burnt-offering and put on the back of his son Isaac, while he carried in his own hand the fire and the knife.  So the two of them went off together.

Father!

said Isaac to his father Abraham.

Yes, my son,

he responded.

Here are the fire and the wood,” he said, “but where is the sheep for a burnt-offering?

Abraham said,

God will provide himself with the sheep for a burnt-offering, my son.

Thereupon the two of them proceeded on their way together.

When they had arrived at the sanctuary which God had designated to him, Abraham built the altar there, arranged the wood, and binding his son Isaac, laid him on the altar on top of the wood.  But as Abraham put out his hand to grasp the knife to slay his son, the angel of the LORD called to him from the heavens,

Abraham, Abraham!

He replied,

Here I am.

He said,

Do not lay hands on the boy; do nothing of the sort to him; for I know now that you revere God, in that you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.

When Abraham raised his eyes, he saw behind him a ram caught in the brushwood by its horns!  So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up as a burnt-offering in place of his son.  Then Abraham called the name of that sanctuary Yahweh-jireh, which today is interpreted as

At the hill of the LORD provision is made.

A second time the angel of the LORD called to Abraham from the heavens,

I swear by myself

–that is the oracle of the LORD–

that since you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and will surely make your descendants as numerous as the stars of the sky, or the sands of that are on the seashore, so that your descendants shall take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your descendants all the nations of the earth shall invoke blessings on one another–just because you have heeded my injunction.

Abraham then returned to his servants, and together they started off for Beersheba; and in Beersheba Abraham made his home.

Psalm 116:1-8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 I love the LORD, because he has heard the voice of my supplication,

because he has inclined his ear to me whenever I called upon him.

2 The cords of death entangled me;

the grip of the grave took hold of me;

O came to grief and sorrow.

3 Then I called upon the Name of the LORD;

“O LORD, I pray you, save my life.”

4 Gracious is the LORD and righteous;

our God is full of compassion.

5 The LORD watches over the innocent;

I was brought very low, and he helped me.

6 Turn again to your rest, O my soul,

for the LORD has treated you well.

7 For you have rescued my life from death,

my eyes from tears, and my feet from stumbling.

8 I will walk in the presence of the LORD

in the land of the living.

Matthew 9:1-8 (An American Translation):

So he [Jesus] got into the boat and crossed the sea, and returned to his own city.

Some people came bringing to him on a bed a man who was paralyzed.  Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic,

Courage, my son!  Your sins are forgiven.

Some of the scribes said to themselves,

This man is talking blasphemy!

Jesus knew what they were thinking, and he said,

Why do you have such wicked thoughts in your hearts?  For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?  But would you know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth.”

Then he said to the paralytic,

Get up, pick up your bed, and go home!

And he got up and went home. And when the crowd saw it, they were filled with awe, and praised God for giving such power to men.

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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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I attended Valdosta State University, Valdosta, Georgia, from 1993 to 1996.  During that time I belonged to and attended Christ Episcopal Church, across the street from the campus.  One year I attended the passion play at Park Avenue United Methodist Church.  The opening scene of “God Hath Provided the Lamb” was the near-sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham.  The play reflected a traditional Christian interpretation of this horrible story, that of prefiguring the sacrifice of Jesus.  (The play also embraced Penal Substitutionary Atonement, another bad idea.)

Today, December 17, 2010, for the second time in a few days, I have typed out the entire text of Genesis 22:1-19.  The previous time I typed out the text according to the New Revised Standard Version for the Proper 8, Year A, Revised Common Lectionary post.  This is one reading that rips out my heart every time.  How would you, O reader, feel if you were Isaac?  Abraham bargains with God for the lives of strangers in Genesis 18 yet never for that of his own flesh and blood.  The concept of obedience to God has that strong a hold over him.

Obviously, I reject the premise that God told Abraham to sacrifice his son.  Only a sadistic deity would do such a thing, and my image of God comes from Jesus, love incarnate.

Once I heard a brief comparison of Islam and Judaism.  The chief value in Islam is submitting to God, but people argue with God in Judaism.  I like arguing with God.  And what better time is there to argue with God than in defense of a family member?  If the argument does nothing else, it might clear up any confusion:  “Did you, O God, really command me to sacrifice my son?”  The best way to get an answer to ask a question.

In Matthew 9:1-8 Jesus is back home in Capernaum, where some friends bring a paralyzed man to be healed.  A common belief at the time and place held that physical ailments had their origin in sin, so perhaps the paralyzed man believed this.  His condition might have been psychosomatic.  Jesus addresses both sides–the spiritual/psychological and the physical–and receives criticism from religiously orthodox people of the time and place.  Was Jesus committing blasphemy by forgiving sins?

I note that these critics focused on their narrow theological concerns, not the well-being of the paralyzed man.  Therein resided their wickedness.  They needed to care about people more than abstract theology.  They failed to understand that the best theology finds expression not only in words but in compassionate deeds as well.

In Matthew 9:1-8 we have an example of when arguing with God was inappropriate.  Lest we content ourselves with praising Jesus and condemning his critics, we need to ask ourselves some difficult questions:  Who are we in this story?  Are we so bound to our own traditions that, if, were we of a different time, place, and culture, we would probably defend traditions and propositions we reject today?  These are questions of personality and spiritual type.

I answer for myself, and for myself alone.  I do not know where I would have stood in relation to Jesus under such hypothetical circumstances.  I like to think that I would have followed him, but this is just a hope.  I suspect that I would have been agnostic at best and critical at worst, for I prefer certain traditions.

Knowing when to argue with God can be difficult.  May we choose wisely.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2011/08/26/arguing-with-god/