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Thoughts and Questions About the Temptations of Jesus   1 comment

Above:  The Temptations of Jesus

Image in the Public Domain

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For St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia

Lent 2019

 

Texts:  Mark 1:12-13; Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13

Reading the Bible for spiritual formation is an ancient Benedictine practice.  My primary purpose in writing this short piece is to ask, how do the accounts (mainly the Lukan and Matthean ones) of the temptations of Jesus challenge us, both as individuals and a parish, to follow Jesus better than we do.

The Temptation to Turn Stones into Bread

Bread was especially precious in ancient Palestine, with relatively little arable land.

We are blessed to be able to purchase our bread inexpensively at stores.  Bread is abundant in our context, so we probably take it for granted more often than not.  We can, however, think of some tangible needs related to scarcity.

One challenge is not to permit tangible needs to overtake intangible necessities.  We all depend entirely on God and dwell within a web of mutual responsibility and dependence.  According to the late Henri Nouwen, this temptation is the temptation to be relevant.  Relevance is not necessarily bad; in fact, it is frequently positive.  However, maintaining the proper balance of tangible and intangible needs is essential.  Furthermore, Christ’s refusal to cave into the temptation to use his power to make bread—to cease to depend on God—ought to remind us never to imagine that we do not depend entirely on God.

Questions

  1. Do we permit tangible needs to distract us from intangible necessities?  If so, how?
  2. Do we manifest the vain idea that we do not depend entirely on God?  If so, how?

The Temptation to Jump from the Pinnacle of the Temple

Many scholars of the New Testament have proposed what the pinnacle of the Temple was.

That matter aside, this temptation is, according to Nouwen, the temptation to be spectacular.  It is also the temptation to attempt to manipulate God by trying to force God to intervene in a miraculous way.  That effort, like turning stones into bread, would indicate a lack of faith.

We humans frequently like the spectacular, do we not?  We tell ourselves and others that, if only God would do something spectacular, we will believe.  We are like those who, in the Gospels, only wanted Jesus to do something for them, and not to learn from him.

Questions

  1. Does our attraction to the spectacular distract us from the still, small voice of God?  If so, how?
  2. Does our attraction to the spectacular reveal our lack of faith?  If so, how?
  3. Does our attraction to the spectacular unmask our selfishness?  If so, how?

The Temptation to Worship Satan in Exchange for Earthly Authority

Many Palestinian Jews at the time of Christ thought of Satan as the power behind the Roman Empire and of the Roman pantheon as a collection of demons.  Jesus affirmed God the Father as the only source of his identity.

This temptation is about idolatry, power, and morally untenable compromises.

Many well-intentioned people—ministers, politicians, and appointed office holders, for example—have, in the name of doing good, become corrupt and sacrificed their suitability to do good.  They have sacrificed their moral integrity on the altar of amoral realism.

Some compromises are necessary, of course.  As Reinhold Niebuhr reminded us, we cannot help but commit some evil while trying to do good, for human depravity has corrupted social systems and institutions.

Questions

  1. Have we established our identity apart from God?  If so, how?
  2. How have we, with good intentions, committed or condoned evil?
  3. Have we made morally untenable compromises?  If so, how?

The Good News

The good news is both collective and individual.

I discover the principle, then:  that when I want to do right, only wrong is within my reach.  In my inmost self I delight in the law of God, but I perceive in my outward actions a different law, fighting against the law that my mind approves, and making me a prisoner under the law of sin which controls my conduct.  Wretched creature that I am, who is there to rescue me from this state of death?  Who but God?  Thanks be to him through Jesus Christ our Lord!  To sum up then:  left to myself I serve God’s law with my mind, but with my unspiritual nature I serve the law of sin.

–Romans 7:21-25, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Jesus has modeled the way to resist temptation—to trust God and to understand scripture.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 10, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF MARIE-JOSEPH LAGRANGE, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF SAINT AGRIPINNUS OF AUTUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; SAINT GERMANUS OF PARIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; AND SAINT DROCTOVEUS OF AUTUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN OGLIVIE, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT MACARIUS OF JERUSALEM, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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Adapted from this post:

https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2019/03/10/thoughts-and-questions-about-the-temptations-of-jesus/

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Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before the Third Sunday in Lent, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Moses on Mount Sinai

Above:  Moses on Mount Sinai, by Jean-Leon Gerome

Image in the Public Domain

Epiphanies of God

MARCH 1, 2018

MARCH 2, 2018

MARCH 3, 2018

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The Collect:

Holy God, through your Son you have called us to live faithfully and act courageously.

Keep us steadfast in your covenant of grace,

and teach us the wisdom that comes only 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:

Exodus 19:1-9a (Thursday)

Exodus 19:9b-15 (Friday)

Exodus 19:16-25 (Saturday)

Psalm 19 (All Days)

1 Peter 2:4-10 (Thursday)

Acts 7:30-40 (Friday)

Mark 9:2-8 (Saturday)

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The law of the LORD inspires reverence and is pure;

it stands firm for ever,

the judgements of the LORD are true;

they form a good code of justice.

–Psalm 19:10, The Psalms Introduced and Newly Translated for Today’s Readers, Harry Mowvley (1989)

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We are always in the presence of God.

Where can I go from your spirit?

Or where can I flee from your presence?

If I climb up to heaven, you are there;

if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.

If I take the wings of the morning

and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

Even there your hand shall lead me,

your right hand hold me fast.

–Psalm 139:6-9, Common Worship:  Daily Prayer (2005)

Nevertheless, sometimes the presence of God becomes evident in an unusually spectacular way.  How one ought to respond to those occasions is one topic in the assigned readings for these three days.

1 Peter 2 and Exodus 19 bring up the point of the faithful people of God having the responsibility to be a light to the nations.  First, however, the faithful people must become that light.  This was originally the call of the Jews, who retain that call as well as their status as the Chosen People.  Far be it from me to give short shrift to the Jews, my elder siblings in faith!  I, a Gentile, belong to the branch which God grafted onto their tree.

But how should one respond to a spectacular manifestation of the presence of God?  Those details, I suppose, are culturally specific, as is much of the Law of Moses.  Moses removed his sandals in the presence of the burning bush.  At Mt. Sinai the people were to wash their clothing, abstain from sexual relations for three days, and avoid touching the mountain.  There was a case of fatal holiness, a repeated motif in the Hebrew Scriptures.  People were supposed to maintain a safe distance from God.  As for sexual activity, it would cause ritual impurity (see Leviticus 15:18) in the Law of Moses, which they were about to receive.  And, in the words of scholar Brevard S. Childs:

The holy God of the covenant demands as preparation a separation from those things which are normally permitted and good in themselves.  The giving of the covenant is different from an ordinary event of everyday life.  Israel is, therefore, to be prepared by a special act of preparation.

The Book of Exodus:  A Critical Theological Commentary (Philadelphia, PA:  Westminster Press, 1974), page 369

As for women and the Law of Moses, I cannot help but notice that the code reflects a negative view of gynaecology.  May such sexism become increasingly rare in today’s world.

One pious yet misguided response to a spectacular manifestation of the presence of God is to seek to institutionalize it.  That was just one error St. Simon Peter committed at the Transfiguration, the description of which I understand as being more poetic than literally accurate.  (Could any description do the event justice?)  Another error was that the three proposed booths would be the same size; one should have been larger than the others.

Although we dwell in the presence of God and might even be aware of that reality most of the time, we still need moments when we experience it in unusual and spectacular ways.  Mundane blessings are wonderful and numerous, but sometimes we need another variety of blessing and a reminder of the presence of God.  I have had some of them, although they were substantially toned down compared to the Transfiguration, the burning bush, and the giving of the Law of Moses.  They were, however, out of the ordinary for me.  Thus I remember them more vividly than I do the myriads of mundane blessings and encounters with God.  These unusual epiphanies have edified me spiritually at the right times.  They have also called me to continue on my spiritual walk with God through easy and difficult times.  That journey is one for the glory of God and the benefit of others–perhaps including you, O reader.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 10, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN ROBERTS, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF HOWELL ELVET LEWIS, WELSH CONGREGATIONALIST CLERGYMAN AND POET

THE FEAST OF KARL BARTH, SWISS REFORMED THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF THOMAS MERTON, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MONK

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/12/11/epiphanies-of-god/

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The Death of Dreams and Aspirations   Leave a comment

Death of Dreams and Aspirations

Above:  The Original Text

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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Loving God, who loves us, mourns with us, and rejoices with us,

the death of dreams and aspirations is among the most traumatic losses to endure.

It cuts to the emotional core of a person, causing great anguish, grief, and anger.

Regardless if the dream was indeed the one a person should have followed

(assuming that it was not morally wrong, of course),

the pain and disappointment are legitimate, I suppose.

I have known these emotions in this context more than once.

I wish them upon nobody, not even those who inflicted them upon me.

May we, by grace, function as your ministers of comfort

to those experiencing such a death or the aftermath of one

and who are near us or whom you send our way.

And may we, by grace, help others achieve their potential

and refrain from inflicting such pain upon others.

In the name of Jesus, who identified with us, suffered, died, and rose again.  Amen.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 19, 2014 COMMON ERA

HOLY SATURDAY, YEAR A

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Devotion for the Fifth and Sixth Days of Lent, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   5 comments

09744v

Above:  Crucifix, Tyrol, Italy, Between 1890 and 1900

Image Creator = Detroit Publishing Company

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-ppmsc-09744

Suffering

MONDAY, MARCH 2, 2020, and TUESDAY, MARCH 3, 2020

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The Collect:

Lord God, our strength, the struggle between good and evil rages within and around us,

and the devil and all the forces that defy you tempt us with empty promises.

Keep us steadfast in your word, and when we fall, raise us again and restore us

through your Son, 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 26

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The Assigned Readings:

1 Kings 19:1-8 (5th Day)

Genesis 4:1-16 (6th Day)

Psalm 32 (Both Days)

Hebrews 2:10-18 (5th Day)

Hebrews 4:14-5:10 (6th Day)

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You are a place for me to hide in;

you preserve me from trouble;

you surround me with songs of deliverance.

–Psalm 32:8, Common Worship (2000)

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The theological problem of why people suffer is a golden oldie.  Some attempts to answer it prove unsatisfactory, often blaming the victim.  The arguments of Job’s alleged friends come to mind immediately.  Such theodicies cross the line separating good piety from idiocy and cruelty.

The assigned readings for these two days offer some scenarios in which people suffer:

  1. Suffering results from one’s own sin, as in Psalm 32.
  2. Suffering results from another person’s malice, as in the other lessons.

And sometimes God provides for a suffering person, as in 1 Kings 19 and Genesis 4.  In the latter case, divine protection covered a murderer.  In offer no explanations or justifications.  No, I function merely as a reporter.

Yet I know that suffering can lead to useful spiritual lessons.  And I take great comfort in the truth that God, by virtue of the Incarnation, sympathizes with us in our weakness and suffering.  We are not alone, no matter how much we might feel alone.  Thanks be to God!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 18, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ARTHUR TOZER RUSSELL, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT HILDA OF WHITBY, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBESS

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/01/14/suffering/

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Prayers of the People for Lent–Second Order   Leave a comment

Lent

Above:  Lent Wordle

I found the image in various places online, including here:  http://standrewauh.org/a-study-for-lent/

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The congregational response to “We pray to you, O God” is “Hear our prayer.”

We pray for the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, that it may show the face of Christ to the world and draw people to you,

We pray to you, O God.

We pray for

  • Katharine, our Presiding Bishop;
  • Robert and Keith, our Bishops; and
  • Beth, our Rector;
  • and all clergy and lay members,
  • that they may serve you faithfully,

We pray to you, O God.

We pray for

  • Barack, our President;
  • Nathan, our Governor;
  • Nancy, our Mayor; and
  • all others who hold positions of authority and influence,

that justice may prevail,

We pray to you O God.

That we may, by grace, do your will each day,

We pray to you, O God.

That all who suffer may find succor,

We pray to you, O God.

We pray for (_____) and all who have died, that they may enjoy and glorify you forever,

We pray to you, O God.

We pray for our own needs and those of others.

Congregationally specific petitions follow.

The Celebrant adds a concluding Collect.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 2, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE PRESENTATION OF JESUS IN THE TEMPLE

Before a Bible Study   Leave a comment

Above:  An Old Family Bible

Image Source = David Ball

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God of glory,

as we prepare to study the Bible,

may we approach the texts with our minds open,

our intellects engaged,

and our spirits receptive to your leading,

so that we will understand them correctly

and derive from them the appropriate lessons.

Then may we act on those lessons.

For the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Amen.

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KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 7, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRY MELCHIOR MUHLENBERG, SHEPHERD OF LUTHERANISM IN THE AMERICAN COLONIES

THE FEAST OF FRED KAAN, HYMNWRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHN WOOLMAN, ABOLITIONIST

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A Prayer for Proper Priorities   Leave a comment

Above:  A Scene from the March for Troy Davis, September 16, 2011

Image Source = Bill Monk, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

(https://picasaweb.google.com/114749828757741527421/MarchForTroyDavis#5653438224111695570)

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God of justice,

may we have proper priorities.

Taking our cues from the prophets and Jesus,

may we eschew idolatry,

love you fully,

love our neighbors as we love ourselves,

care for widows and orphans,

plead their cases,

feed the hungry,

clothe the naked,

visit the sick and the imprisoned,

resist and condemn judicial corruption and other official injustice,

and value the most vulnerable members of society.

May we love the unloved,

comfort the comfortless,

give hope to the hopeless,

include the improperly excluded,

and recognize your image in each other.

May we succeed by grace and for your glory and our common good.

Amen.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 22, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT THOMAS OF VILLANOVA, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF VALENCIA

THE FEAST OF PHILANDER CHASE, PRESIDING BISHOP OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH

Posted September 22, 2011 by neatnik2009 in 2020, April 1, April 10, April 11, April 12, April 13, April 14, April 15, April 16, April 17, April 18, April 19, April 2, April 20, April 21, April 22, April 23, April 24, April 25, April 26, April 27, April 28, April 29, April 3, April 30, April 4, April 5, April 6, April 7, April 8, April 9, Ascension, Ash Wednesday, Easter Sunday, February 10, February 11, February 12, February 13, February 14, February 15, February 16, February 17, February 18, February 19, February 20, February 21, February 22, February 23, February 24, February 25, February 26, February 27, February 28, February 29, February 4, February 5, February 6, February 7, February 8, February 9, Friday in Easter Week, Good Friday, Holy Monday, Holy Saturday-Easter Vigil, Holy Tuesday, Holy Wednesday, June 1, June 10, June 11, June 12, June 13, June 2, June 3, June 4, June 5, June 6, June 7, June 8, June 9, March 1, March 10, March 11, March 12, March 13, March 14, March 15, March 16, March 17, March 18, March 19, March 2, March 20, March 21, March 22, March 23, March 24, March 25: Annunciation, March 26, March 27, March 28, March 29, March 3, March 30, March 31, March 4, March 5, March 6, March 7, March 8, March 9, Maundy Thursday, May 1, May 10, May 11, May 12, May 13, May 14, May 15, May 16, May 17, May 18, May 19, May 2, May 20, May 21, May 22, May 23, May 24, May 25, May 26, May 27, May 28, May 29, May 3, May 30, May 31: Visitation, May 4, May 5, May 6, May 7, May 8, May 9, Monday in Easter Week, Palm Sunday, Pentecost, Saturday in Easter Week, Thursday in Easter Week, Tuesday in Easter Week, Wednesday in Easter Week

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