Archive for the ‘February’ Category

Guide to Lenten Devotions in February 2018   1 comment

Above:  Sinai Desert Scene, 1898

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-11863

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ASH WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 14, 2018:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2017/06/05/devotion-for-ash-wednesday-ackerman/

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2016/10/08/devotion-for-ash-wednesday-year-d/

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/first-day-of-lent-ash-wednesday/

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/devotion-for-ash-wednesday-lcms-daily-lectionary/

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2013/11/06/devotion-for-ash-wednesday-years-a-b-and-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

Second Day of Lent:  Thursday, February 15:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2014/12/06/devotion-for-thursday-and-friday-before-the-first-sunday-in-lent-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/04/28/devotion-for-the-second-day-of-lent-lcms-daily-lectionary/

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/second-day-of-lent/

Third Day of Lent:  Friday, February 16:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2014/12/06/devotion-for-thursday-and-friday-before-the-first-sunday-in-lent-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/05/02/devotion-for-the-third-day-of-lent-lcms-daily-lectionary/

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/third-day-of-lent/

Fourth Day of Lent:  Saturday, February 17:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2014/12/06/devotion-for-saturday-before-the-first-sunday-in-lent-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/05/02/devotion-for-the-fourth-day-of-lent-lcms-daily-lectionary/

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/fourth-day-of-lent/

THE FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT, YEAR B:  FEBRUARY 18, 2018:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2017/06/05/devotion-for-the-first-sunday-in-lent-ackerman/

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2016/10/09/devotion-for-the-first-sunday-in-lent-year-d/

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2011/07/24/first-sunday-in-lent-year-b/

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/05/07/devotion-for-the-first-sunday-in-lent-lcms-daily-lectionary/

Fifth Day of Lent:  Monday, February 19:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2014/12/06/devotion-for-monday-and-tuesday-after-the-first-sunday-in-lent-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/05/07/devotion-for-the-fifth-day-of-lent-lcms-daily-lectionary/

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/fifth-day-of-lent/

Sixth Day of Lent:  Tuesday, February 20:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2014/12/06/devotion-for-monday-and-tuesday-after-the-first-sunday-in-lent-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/devotion-for-the-sixth-day-of-lent-lcms-daily-lectionary/

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/sixth-day-of-lent/

Seventh Day of Lent:  Wednesday, February 21:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2014/12/06/devotion-for-wednesday-after-the-first-sunday-in-lent-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/05/12/devotion-for-the-seventh-day-of-lent-lcms-daily-lectionary/

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/seventh-day-of-lent/

Eighth Day of Lent:  Thursday, February 22:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2014/12/06/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-the-second-sunday-in-lent-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/05/12/devotion-for-the-eighth-and-ninth-days-of-lent-lcms-daily-lectionary/

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/eighth-day-of-lent/

Ninth Day of Lent:  Friday, February 23:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2014/12/06/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-the-second-sunday-in-lent-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/05/12/devotion-for-the-eighth-and-ninth-days-of-lent-lcms-daily-lectionary/

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/ninth-day-of-lent/

Tenth Day of Lent:  Saturday, February 24:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2014/12/06/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-the-second-sunday-in-lent-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/05/14/devotion-for-the-tenth-day-of-lent-lcms-daily-lectionary/

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/tenth-day-of-lent/

THE SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT, YEAR B:  FEBRUARY 25, 2018:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2017/06/06/devotion-for-the-second-sunday-in-lent-ackerman/

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2016/10/09/devotion-for-the-second-sunday-in-lent-year-d/

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2011/07/25/second-sunday-in-lent-year-b/

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/05/14/devotion-for-the-second-sunday-in-lent-lcms-daily-lectionary/

Eleventh Day of Lent:  Monday, February 26:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2014/12/08/devotion-for-monday-and-tuesday-after-the-second-sunday-in-lent-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/05/15/devotion-for-the-eleventh-and-twelfth-days-of-lent-lcms-daily-lectionary/

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/eleventh-day-of-lent/

Twelfth Day of Lent:  Tuesday, February 27:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2014/12/08/devotion-for-monday-and-tuesday-after-the-second-sunday-in-lent-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/05/15/devotion-for-the-eleventh-and-twelfth-days-of-lent-lcms-daily-lectionary/

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/twelfth-day-of-lent/

Thirteenth Day of Lent:  Wednesday, February 28:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2014/12/08/devotion-for-wednesday-after-the-second-sunday-in-lent-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/05/15/devotion-for-the-thirteenth-and-fourteenth-days-of-lent-lcms-daily-lectionary/

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/thirteenth-day-of-lent/

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Devotion for the Second Sunday in Lent (Ackerman)   2 comments

Above:  St. Titus

Image in the Public Domain

Difficulty

FEBRUARY 25, 2018

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The Collect:

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

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

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

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

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

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 9:18-27

Psalm 39:4-8a

Titus 2:1-10

Matthew 12:38-42

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Some of the readings for this Sunday are difficult.  Genesis 9:18-27 gives us the misnamed Curse of Ham (“Cursed be Canaan,” verse 25 says).  This curse follows a euphemistic description of either the castration or the incestuous and homosexual rape of Noah by his son Ham.  As one acquainted with the shameful history of racism, slavery, and institutionalized racial segregation  in the United States knows well, the misuse of this passage to justify these sins is an old story.  I know that story well, due to reading in both primary and secondary sources.  Primary sources include back issues of The Presbyterian Journal (founded as The Southern Presbyterian Journal), a publication by and for ardent defenders of racism and institutionalized racial segregation in the 1940s forward, some of whom went on to found the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), schismatic to the Presbyterian Church in the United States, or, informally, the old Southern Presbyterian Church, in 1973.  (The events of 1942-1972 are not ancient history!)  I have index cards from which I can cite many examples of quoting this and other passages of scripture to criticize efforts to work for the civil rights of African Americans, so nobody should challenge me regarding the facts of this objective matter.

Titus 2:1-10 is likewise troublesome.  Insisting upon submissive wives and slaves is indefensible.  If one thinks that Jesus might return during one’s lifetime, one might not argue for social reform.  God will take care of that, right?  Maybe not!  Besides, do we not still have the moral obligation to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  The epistle dates to the first century C.E.  I am typing this post in  2017, however.  The passage of time has proven the inaccuracy of the expectation that Jesus would return in the first century C.E.

David Ackerman summarizes these two readings as focusing

on ways in which God calls Christians to repent of misusing the Bible to the unjust exclusion and oppression of others.

Beyond the Lectionary (2013), pages 37-38

The lack of faith of certain scribes and Pharisees is evident in Matthew 12, for they request a sign from Jesus.  (Faith requires no signs.)  Our Lord and Savior replies in such a way as to indicate

rejection experienced in death yet God’s victory over it.

The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003), page 1768

The possibility of death is evident in Psalm 39.  A sense of awareness of one’s mortality and vulnerability pervades the text.  The author turns to God for deliverance.

Sometimes deliverance from death does not come.  Yet, in God, there is victory over death.

May, via God, there also be an end to

unjust exclusion and oppression of others.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 6, 2018 COMMON ERA

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

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

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

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM KETHE, PRESBYTERIAN HYMN WRITER

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2017/06/06/difficulty/

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Devotion for the First Sunday in Lent (Ackerman)   2 comments

Above:  Amos

Image in the Public Domain

Love, the Fulfillment of the Law of Moses

FEBRUARY 18, 2018

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The Collect:

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

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

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

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

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

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Amos 2:4-8, 13-16

Psalm 25:16-18

Galatians 5:2-12

Matthew 23:27-36

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The author of Psalm 25 was an observant Jew contending with enemies who disapproved of his piety.  He trusted in God, to whom he appealed for help.

That piety was sorely lacking in the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah.  (Aside:  I recommend reading all of Amos 2, for doing so makes the designated passages thereof more meaningful than they are otherwise.)  That lack of piety, made manifest in ritual offenses and violations of human dignity (including the infamous selling of the poor for a poor of sandals in 2:6) YHWH was most displeased.  Dire consequences ensued.

Although Amos supported the Law of Moses, the attitude of St. Paul the Apostle in Galatians was different.  For St. Paul requiring a Gentile convert to Christianity to become a Jew first was wrong.  The apostle had written earlier in that epistle that the Law of Moses was like a disciplinarian or house servant who performed his or her work until the arrival of Christ (Chapter 3:23f):

The distinction between circumcised and uncircumcised is irrelevant in Christ.  What counts is faith that expresses itself in love, because love is the fulfillment of the Law (5:14; Romans 13:8-10).

The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003), page 2087

That love was absent from the attitudes and actions of certain scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:27-36.

In all fairness I feel obligated to defend the motivations of the Judaizers, of whom St. Paul was critical.  Although I am grateful for St. Paul and his work, from which I, as a Gentile, benefit, I acknowledge the pious motives of the Judaizers, defenders of tradition, as they understood it.  I think of them as pious folk who took to heart passages such as Amos 2 and Psalm 25.  Nevertheless, their error, I perceive, was on of which I have been guilty:  maintaining barriers God has knocked down.

We humans like boundaries, literal as well as metaphorical.  They tell us who falls into what category.  There are divinely established categories, I affirm, but they are not necessarily ours.  Furthermore, we might not know where the differences between God’s plan and our definitions lie.  This fact complicates one’s quest to lead a holy life, does it not?

I offer no easy answers regarding how to read God’s mind, for nobody cam read the divine mind.  I do, however, suggest that trusting in God’s grace to treat each other selflessly and self-sacrificingly is a fine spiritual discipline, for love is the fulfillment of the Law of Moses, which contains both timeless principles and culturally specific examples thereof.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 5, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ANDERS CHRISTENSEN ARREBO, “THE FATHER OF DANISH POETRY”

THE FEAST OF OLE T. (SANDEN) ARNESON, U.S. NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN HYMN TRANSLATOR

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2017/06/05/love-the-fulfillment-of-the-law-of-moses/

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Devotion for Ash Wednesday (Ackerman)   2 comments

Above:  Jeremiah, by Lorenzo Monaco

Image in the Public Domain

Idolatry and Social Justice

FEBRUARY 14, 2018

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The Collect:

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

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

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

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

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

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 7:1-5

Isaiah 29:9-10, 13-16

James 1:12-16

Matthew 6:7-13

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David Ackerman has selected a cohesive set of readings for Ash Wednesday.

In Jeremiah 7 the prophet, delivering his Temple sermon, grouped social injustice, violence, economic exploitation, idolatry, adultery, and false oaths together.  Abandon these practices, Jeremiah decreed, and YHWH will return to the Temple.  The prophet’s words were immediately for naught, of course; the public did not repent–turn around.  A prediction of renewal of that divine-human relationship after the Babylonian Exile came in Isaiah 29, after the condemnation of a skewed view of that relationship, one in which one mistakes the potter for the clay.

The author of Matthew and James reminded their audiences that God does not tempt anyone.  Those writers also encouraged repentance before God.

I do not know anyone who opposes the idea of social justice.  I do, however, know people who understand that concept differently.  Invariably, somebody, acting in the name of social justice will commit social justice and probably be oblivious to that fact.  We humans do, after all, have social and personal moral blinders.  I like that Jeremiah 7 defines social justice in concrete terms. Nevertheless, even those standards are subject to disagreement regarding how best to avoid committing them.  So, of course, someone will invariably support an economically exploitative policy while genuinely opposing economic exploitation.

May God deliver us from being either oblivious to the demand for social justice, defined as how we treat each other–individually and collectively–or from our blind spots regarding how best to effect social justice.  May God also deliver us from all forms of idolatry, such as those that stand between us and social justice.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 5, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ANDERS CHRISTENSEN ARREBO, “THE FATHER OF DANISH POETRY”

THE FEAST OF OLE T. (SANDEN) ARNESON, U.S. NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN HYMN TRANSLATOR

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2017/06/05/idolatry-and-social-justice/

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Devotion for the Second Sunday in Lent (Year D)   2 comments

lake-umbagog-wilderness-refuge

Above:  Umbagog Lake State Park, New Hampshire, United States of America

Image in the Public Domain

The Sin of Exclusionary Identity Politics

FEBRUARY 25, 2018

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The Collect:

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

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

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

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

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

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Ezekiel 47:1-12

Psalm 143

John 7:14-36 (37-39)

James 2:(14-17) 18-26 or James 2:(1-10) 11-13 (14-17) 18-26 or Galatians 2:1-14 (15-21)

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Water is essential for life; one can life longer with water and without food than without water.  The preciousness of water is especially obvious in a parched and barren place.  In that context we read, from the early stage of the Babylonian Exile, a prediction of God’s recreation of the world and the restoration of the Kingdom of Judah and of worship at the Temple in Jerusalem.  The rebuilt temple will occupy the central place in creation, we read, and from beneath the new Temple will flow life-giving waters.

That vision of post-exilic paradise on earth proved to be overly optimistic, however.  Life in post-exilic Judea did not match the vision of Ezekiel 47.  Nevertheless, God had acted.  Certainly many post-exilic Jews recited Psalm 124 with gratitude.

Part of post-exilic Judaism was a renewed focus on obeying the Law of Moses.  Some, however, took this principle to legalistic extremes.  One was supposed to do no work on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11), under pain of death (Numbers 15:32-36), with few exceptions.  Among these exceptions was circumcising a newborn boy on the eighth day, even if that day fell on the Sabbath (Leviticus 12:3).  Jesus healed on the Sabbath, pronounced the performing of good deeds on that day holy, and even noted the value of basic human needs, such as gathering food, permissible on that day.  He pointed to the hypocrisy of certain critics, who condemned him for healing on the Sabbath yet approved of removing valuable livestock from peril on that day.  In John 7 had Jesus committed a capital offense by healing on the Sabbath?  Some thought he had.  The poor man stoned in Numbers 15 had only gathered sticks on the Sabbath.

As James 2 reminds us, faith without works is dead and one should fulfill the law by acting according to the Golden Rule.  When I read the lection from John 7 I detect identity politics among the critics of our Lord and Savior.  I recall that they had set themselves apart from the Gentile-dominated world via their religion, with its laws and rituals.  I also detect such identity politics in the background of Galatians 2, although St. Paul the Apostle won approval for his mission to Gentiles, fortunately.

Religion should be about glorifying God, not our psyches.  It should teach us of our proper identities in God, not function as an excuse to exclude others, whom God considers insiders, wrongly.  Religion, with necessary rules, ought never to become an excuse for ignoring the commandment to act compassionately.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 9, 2016 COMMON ERA

PROPER 21:  THE TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF SAINT DENIS, BISHOP OF PARIS, AND HIS COMPANIONS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF SAINT LUIS BERTRAN, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY PRIEST

THE FEAST OF ROBERT GROSSETESTE, SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF WILHELM WEXELS, NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR; HIS NIECE, MARIE WEXELSEN, NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN NOVELIST AND HYMN WRITER; LUDWIG LINDEMAN, NORWEGIAN ORGANIST AND MUSICOLOGIST; AND MAGNUS LANDSTAD, NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, FOLKLORIST, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMNAL EDITOR

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/10/09/the-sin-of-exclusionary-identity-politics/

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Devotion for Ash Wednesday (Year D)   2 comments

christ-healing-the-paralytic-at-bethesda

Above:  Christ Healing the Paralytic at Bethesda, by Palma Giovane

Image in the Public Domain

The Sin of Legalism

FEBRUARY 14, 2018

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The Collect:

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

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

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

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

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

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 57:1-21

Psalm 102

John 5:1-18

James 1:1-16 or Ephesians 2:11-22 or Galatians 1:1-24

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Penitence is related to repentance.  Frequently, in everyday vocabulary, they become interchangeable terms, but they are different.  To repent is to turn one’s back on sin–sin in general and a particular sin or set of sins.  The theological focus on Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent is repentance.

Timothy Matthew Slemmons has done an excellent job of selecting appropriate texts for Ash Wednesday while avoiding the usual suspects.

  1. We read in Isaiah 57 that Judah needs to repent of idolatry.  We also read that judgment will ensue, but that mercy will follow it.
  2. The penitence in Psalm 102 is individual.  In that text the consequences of the sins have caught up with the author, who is in distress and pleading for mercy.
  3. James 1 advises us to rejoice and to trust in God during times of trial, not to yield to temptation during them.  We read that Jesus breaks down barriers between us and God and among us.  Why, then, do many of us insist on maintaining and erecting barriers, especially for others?
  4. Galatians 1 informs us that Jesus liberates us to serve, enjoy, and glorify God.
  5. In John 5 we read of Jesus liberating  man from a physical disability and intangible, related problems.  Then, we read, some strict Sabbath keepers criticize the newly able-bodied man for carrying his bed roll on the Sabbath.  I detect misplaced priorities in the critics.

Each of us has much for which to be pentitent and much of which to repent.  At this time I choose to emphasize legalism, which is a thread in some of the readings.  Legalism, in some cases, has innocent and pious origins; one seeks to obey divine commandments.  Out of good intentions one goes astray and becomes a master nit picker lost amid the proverbial trees and unable to see the forest.  Rules become more important than compassion.  This might be especially likely to happen when one is a member of a recognizable minority defined by certain practices.  Creating neat categories, thereby defining oneself as set apart and others as unclean, for example, can become quite easily an open door to self-righteousness.  It is a sin against which to remain vigilant as one notices a variety of sins in one’s vicinity.

The list of sins I have not committed is long.  So is the list of sins of which I am guilty.  The former does not make up for the latter.  The fact that I have never robbed a liquor store speaks well of me yet does not deliver me from my sins and the consequences thereof; it does, however, testify to what Lutheran theology calls civic righteousness.  Although I have the right to condemn the robbing of liquor stores, I have no become self-righteous and legalistic toward those who have.  They and I stand before God guilty of many sins.  All of us need to be penitent and to repent.  All of us need the mercy of God and the merits of Jesus Christ.

I am no less prone to legalism than any other person is.  My inclination is to break down roadblocks to God, not to create or maintain them.  Nevertheless, I recognize the existence of certain categories and approve of them.  This is healthy to an extent.  But what if some of my categories are false? This is a thought I must ponder if I am to be a faithful Christian.  Am I marginalizing people God calls insiders?  Are you, O reader?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 8, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ABRAHAM RITTER, U.S. MORAVIAN MERCHANT, HISTORIAN, MUSICIAN, AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF ERIK ROUTLEY, HYMN WRTIER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM DWIGHT PORTER BLISS, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND ECONOMIST; AND RICHARD THEODORE ELY, ECONOMIST

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/10/08/the-sin-of-legalism/

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Devotion for Monday and Tuesday After the Third Sunday in Lent, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Zedekiah

Above:  King Zedekiah of Judah

Image in the Public Domain

Spiritual Responsibility

FEBRUARY 29 and MARCH 1, 2016

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The Collect:

Eternal God, 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,

and bring your saving love to fruition in our lives,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 28

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 11:1-17 (Monday)

Ezekiel 17:1-10 (Tuesday)

Psalm 39 (Both Days)

Romans 2:1-11 (Monday)

Romans 2:12-16 (Tuesday)

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You chastise mortals in punishment for sin,

consuming like a moth what is dear to them;

surely everyone is a mere breath.

–Psalm 39:11, The Book of Worship of North India (1995)

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The judgment of God is righteous, the readings for these days tell us.

Ezekiel 17:1-10 requires explanation, for it uses metaphorical language.  The references involving the cedar, the vine, and the eagles refer to international relations from 598 to 588 B.C.E.  In verses 3-6 the meaning is that King Nebuchadnezzar II of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire had taken many prominent people of Judah, including King Jehoiachin (reigned in 597 B.C.E.), into exile, after which King Zedekiah (reigned 597-586 B.C.E.), who was initially loyal to Nebuchadnezzar II, came to the throne of Judah.  The eagle in verses 7-8 is the Pharaoh of Egypt, to whom Zedekiah transferred his loyalty.  The pericope concludes that the survival of Zedekiah and Judah is impossible.

Part of the background of the assigned passage from Ezekiel is the position that pursuing those alliances with dangerous foreign leaders was not only foolish but faithless.  Obey and trust in God instead, prophets said.  Theological interpretation in the context of the Babylonian Exile reinforced that position.  The people and bad kings of Judah reaped what they sowed, the final versions of certain books of the Hebrew Bible argued.  (There were, of course, good kings of Judah.)

God is angry with Judah in Jeremiah 11:1-17.  The people, having generally (with some notable exceptions) refused to obey the covenant with God, will suffer the punishments for noncompliance which the covenant contains.  Among the accusations is rampant idolatry.

The first word of Romans 2 is “therefore,” which leads me back into chapter 1.  The essence of Romans 1 is that Gentiles have no excuse for persistent unrighteousness, including idolatry.  Divine punishment for them for these offenses is therefore justified.  Then, in Romans 2, St. Paul the Apostle tells his Jewish audience not to be spiritually complacent.

The very fact that the Jew agrees so entirely with Paul’s charge against the Gentile shows that he himself is without excuse and subject to the wrath of God.

–Anders Nygren, Commentary on Romans (1944); Translated by Carl C. Rasmussen (Philadelphia, PA:  Muhlenberg Press, 1949), page 113

Furthermore, some Gentiles have the law of God inscribed on their hearts, when even some Jews do not.  Doing is better than merely hearing, according to the Apostle.

Three thoughts come to my mind at this point.  The first is that St. Paul was correct.  He echoed Jeremiah 31:31f (the inner law), but expanded the text to include Gentiles.  St. Paul also sounded much like Jesus in Matthew 7:1-5.

Do not judge, and you will not be judged.  For as you judge others, so will yourselves be judged, and whatever measure you deal out will be dealt to you.

–Matthew 7:1-2, The Revised English Bible (1989)

The Gospel of Matthew did not exist during St. Paul’s lifetime, but the Apostle did have some familiarity with oral traditions and perhaps some written sayings of Jesus, from which the author of the Gospel of Matthew drew.

My second thought is that St. Paul’s challenge to question one’s assumptions and prejudices is timeless.  Who are those we define as spiritual outsiders?  Some of them might be closer to God than we are, and we might not be as close to God as we think we are.

My final thought in this collection is that St. Paul sounds very much like the perhaps later Letter of James.

Exhibit A:

For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

–Romans 2:13, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

The emphasis here is on active faith.  The Pauline definition of faith was confidence, in the absence of evidence for or against, which leads to actions.  Thus, later in the epistle, St. Paul argued:

Therefore since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ….

–Romans 5:1, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Romans 2:13 and 5:1 stand as portions of a unified, steadily building case in a theological treatise.

Exhibit B:

What good is it, my friends, for someone to say he has faith when his actions do nothing to show it?  Can faith save him?…So with faith; if it does not lead to action, it is by itself a lifeless thing.

–James 2:14, 17, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Exhibit C:

Do you have to be told, you fool, that faith divorced from action is futile?…You see then it is by action and not by faith alone that a man is justified.

–James 2:20, 24, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Faith, in the Letter of James, is intellectual, hence the necessity of pairing it with deeds.  On the surface the theologies of justification in the Letter of James and the Letter to the Romans might seem mutually contradictory, but they are not.  No, they arrive at the same point from different destinations.

The judgment of God exists alongside divine mercy.  The balance of the two factor resides solely in the purview of God.  Our actions influence divine judgment and mercy in our cases, however.  One can find that teaching in several places in the Bible, including Ezekiel 18, Matthew 7:1-5, Romans 2:6f, and James 2:8f.  Yes, the legacies of ancestors influence us, but our spiritual responsibility for ourselves remains intact.  May we exercise it properly.

Related to one’s spiritual responsibility for oneself is one’s spiritual responsibility for others, as in Romans 2:17-24.  That, however, is a topic for another post.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 19, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN HERMANN SCHEIN, GERMAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF F. BLAND TUCKER, EPISCOPAL PRIEST

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