Archive for February 2022

Devotion for the Third Sunday in Lent, Year A (ILCW Lectionary)   1 comment

Above:  Healing of the Man Born Blind, by El Greco

Image in the Public Domain

Spiritual Blindness

MARCH 12, 2023

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According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)

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Isaiah 42:14-21

Psalm 142

Ephesians 5:8-14

John 9:1-41 or John 9:13-17, 34-39

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Eternal Lord, your kingdom has broken into our troubled world

through the life, death, and resurrection of your Son. 

Help us to hear your Word and obey it,

so that we become instruments of your redeeming love;

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 18

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Almighty God, because you know

that we of ourselves have no strength,

keep us both outwardly and inwardly that we may be defended

from all adversities that may happen to the body

and from all evil thoughts that may assault and hurt the soul;

through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 36

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Light and darkness function as literal descriptions and as metaphors.  Pseudo-Paul, in Ephesians, reminds us down the corridors of time to live as children of light and to eschew the fruitless works of darkness.  We read Psalm 142, in which the psalmist (not David) suffered from pursuers who committed fruitless works of darkness.  When we turn to Isaiah 42, near the end of the Babylonian Exile, we read that God will vindicate sinful exiles for the sake of divine glory.  The vindication of the Jewish exiles would become an example of God’s loyalty and ability to save, we read.  The darkness is both literal (for the man born blind) and spiritual (for those who rejected him and questioned his parents) in John 9.  Likewise, light is both literal and spiritual for the man.

The canonical Gospels include stories (some of them Synoptic doubles or triples) of Jesus healing blind people.  These accounts frequently double as commentaries on spiritual blindness.  John 9:1-41 does.

The Pharisees of John 9:1-41 sere spiritually blind.  Jesus contradicted their expectations.  He refused to meet their standards.

Criticizing long-dead Pharisees is easy; it is like fishing with dynamite.  However, honestly evaluating oneself spiritually can be challenging and uncomfortable.  Ask yourself, O reader, how often Jesus, in the canonical Gospels, contradicted your expectations and violated your standards.  As yourself how you may have responded or reacted to Jesus, had you been present in certain Biblical scenes.  You may suffer from spiritual blindness Jesus can heal.

According to a story that may be apocryphal, a woman on the lecture circuit of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) spoke in a particular town.  After she had completed her prepared remarks, the speaker asked if anybody in the audience had questions.  One man raised his hand.  The woman called on him.  He asked,

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

The speaker replied,

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

Each of us has some threshold past which one says or thinks,

I would like Jesus better if he had not done or said that.

Be honest about yourself, O reader.  I am honest about myself.  Christ makes all of us uncomfortable sometimes.  That is our problem, not his.  The desire to domesticate Jesus is ancient and misguided.

The description of God in the Hebrew Bible is that of an undomesticated deity–one who is, who refuses all human attempts at control, and sometimes acts on motivations we may not understand.  So be it.

If you, O reader, expect me to offer easy answers to challenging questions, I will disappoint you.  I do not pretend to grasp the nature of God.  I argue with certain Biblical texts.  This is unavoidable when certain Biblical texts contradict other Biblical texts.  And I embrace a fact of spiritual life:  What I do not know outweighs what I do know.  I possess a relatively high comfort level with the unknown.  Yet, on occasion, I still wish that Jesus had not done or said x.  Sometimes I continue to crave false certainty over trust in God.

I know that I have spiritual blind spots.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 8, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSEPHINE BAKHITA, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN

THE FEAST OF CORNELIA HANCOCK, U.S. QUAKER NURSE, EDUCATOR, AND HUMANITARIAN; “FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE OF NORTH AMERICA”

THE FEAST OF SAINT JEROME EMILIANI, FOUNDER OF THE COMPANY OF THE SERVANTS OF THE POOR

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JOHN OF MATHA AND FELIX OF VALOIS, FOUNDERS OF THE ORDER OF THE MOST HOLY TRINITY

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSEPHINA GABRIELA BONINO, FOUNDER OF THE SISTERS OF THE HOLY FAMILY

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIA ESPERANZA DE JESUS, FOUNDER OF THE HANDMAIDS OF MERCIFUL LOVE AND THE SONS OF MERCIFUL LOVE

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Link to the corresponding post at BLOGA THEOLOGICA

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Devotion for the Second Sunday in Lent, Year A (ILCW Lectionary)   1 comment

Above:  Abraham’s Journey from Ur to Canaan, by József Molnár

Image in the Public Domain

Faith and Works

MARCH 5, 2023

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According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)

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Genesis 12:1-8

Psalm 105:4-11

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

John 4:5-26 (27-30, 39-42)

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Heavenly Father, it is your glory always to have mercy. 

Bring back all who have erred and strayed from your ways;

lead them again to embrace in faith

the truth of your Word and hold it fast;

through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

or

God our Father, your Son welcomed

an outcast woman because of her faith. 

Give us faith like hers,

that we also may trust only in our Love for us

and may accept one another as we have been accepted by you;

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 18

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O God, whose glory is always to have mercy,

be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways,

and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith

to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word;

through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 34

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I grew up with a stereotype of Second Temple Judaism.  I learned that the Judaism of Christ’s time was a legalistic faith with works-based righteousness.  I learned a lie.

As E. P. Sanders thoroughly documented in his seminal work, Paul and Palestinian Judaism (1977), Second Temple Judaism taught Covenantal Nomism.  Salvation came by the grace of being born Jewish.  The maintenance of that salvation was a matter of habitually keeping the moral mandates in the Law of Moses.  The failure to do so resulted in dropping out of the covenant.  St. Paul’s objection to Second Temple Judaism was that it was not Christianity.  For the Apostle, the death and resurrection of Jesus changed everything.

The Law of Moses, which postdated Abraham, defined the lines one should not cross.  “Do this, not that,” was necessary guidance.  The application of timeless principles to culturally-specific circumstances was essential.

It remains so.  Unfortunately, many devout people fall into legalism by failing to recognize the difference between timeless principles and culturally-specific examples.

Faith, for St. Paul the Apostle, was inherently active.  He dictated, in Greek translated into English:

For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

–Romans 3:28, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

The author of the Letter of James defined faith differently.  He understood faith as intellectual assent to a proposition.  Therefore, he reminded his audience that faith without works is dead (2:17) then wrote that Abraham’s works justified the patriarch (2:21f):

See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

–James 2:24, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

Despite the superficial discrepancy between Romans and James, no disagreement exists.  When people use the same word but define it differently, they may seem to disagree when they agree.

Or justification may not be a factor at all.

Consider a different translation, O reader.  David Bentley Hart, The New Testament:  A Translation (2017) is a literal version that, in the words of its Eastern Orthodox translator, “provokes Protestants.”  Hart renders Romans 3:28 as:

For we reckon a man as vindicated by faithfulness, apart from observances of the Law.

“Justified” becomes “vindicated,” and “works” become “observances.”  Then we turn to James 2:24:

You see that a human being is made righteous by works, and not by faith alone.

“Justified” becomes “made righteous.”

Justification is a legal term.  “Vindicated” and “made righteous” are not.  That is a crucial distinction.  I acknowledge the existence of the matter.  Nevertheless, the point about using the same word and understanding it differently holds in both interpretations.

The reading from John 4 has become the subject of much misinterpretation, too.  For nearly two millennia, a plethora of Christian exegetes have sullied the reputation of the Samaritan woman at the well.  Yet Jesus never judged her.  And his conversation with her was the longest one recorded in the canonical Gospels.

Jesus violated two major social standards in John 4.  He spoke at length with a Samaritan and a woman he had not previously met.  Jesus was not trying to be respectable.  He had faith in the Samaritan woman at the well, who reciprocated.

For reasons I cannot fathom, God seems to have faith in people.  My opinion of human nature is so low as to be subterranean.  Observing the irresponsible behavior of many people (especially government officials who block policies intended to save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic) confirms my low opinion of human nature.  Yet God seems to have faith in people.

May we reciprocate.  And may our deeds and words be holy.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 4, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CORNELIUS THE CENTURION

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Link to the corresponding post at BLOGA THEOLOGICA

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Devotion for the First Sunday in Lent, Year A (ILCW Lectionary))   1 comment

Above:  The Garden of Eden, by Thomas Cole

Image in the Public Domain

Misquoting God

FEBRUARY 26, 2023

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According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)

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Genesis 2:7-9, 15-17; 3:1-7

Psalm 130

Romans 5:12 (13-16) 17-19

Matthew 4:1-11

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O Lord God, you led your ancient people through the wilderness

and brought them to the promised land. 

Guide now the people of your Church, that, following our Savior,

we may walk through the wilderness of this world

toward the glory of the world to come;

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

or

Lord God, our strength,

the battle of good and evil rages within and around us,

and our ancient foe tempts us with his deceits and empty promises. 

Keep us steadfast in your Word, and,

when we fall, raise us again and restore us

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 17-18

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O almighty and eternal God, we implore you

to direct, sanctify, and govern our hearts and bodies

in the ways of your laws and the works of your laws

and the works of your commandments

that through your mighty protection, both now and ever,

we may be preserved in body and soul;

through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 33

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I have been composing lectionary-based devotions for more than a decade.  I have, therefore, covered the temptation of Jesus already.

I make one comment about it, though:  one function of the story is to help Christians know how to resist temptation.

This combination of readings–about temptation, confession of sin, and repentance–works well as a unit.  The First Reading provides my main point:  we must resist the temptation to misquote God, as Eve did in the myth.  Read that text again, O reader, and realize that God did not forbid touching the fruit of the knowledge of good and bad.  Misquoting God gave the mythical snake his opening.

The Talmud teaches:

He who adds [to God’s words] subtracts [from them].

–Quoted in The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014), 15

The words of God are what God has said and says.  Scripture, channeled through human lenses and experiences, provide many of God’s words.  The Reformed tradition within Christianity speaks of God’s second book, nature.  The mystical tradition within Christianity recognizes another method by which God speaks. I report some experiences I cannot explain rationally.  I do know if I I listened to God, a guardian angel, or intuition.  Yet I know that I listened and acted, to my benefit in practical, automotive matters.

I am an intellectual.  I reject the inerrancy and infallibility of scripture, based on having studied the Bible closely and seriously.  And I take the Bible seriously.  I try to understand first what a given text says, in original context.  Then I extrapolate to today.  I try not to misquote or misinterpret any text of scripture.  Neither do I shut down the parts of my mind that respect history and science.  Good theology, good history, and good science are in harmony.  As Galileo Galilei said:

The Bible tells us now to go to Heaven, not how the heavens go.

O reader, what is God saying to you today?  Do mis misquote it.  No, listen carefully.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 2, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE PRESENTATION OF JESUS IN THE TEMPLE

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Link to the corresponding link at BLOGA THEOLOGICA

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