Archive for the ‘Acts 15’ Tag

Devotion for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year D (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Icon of St. James the Just

Image in the Public Domain

Dealing Gently with Each Other

MAY 8, 2022


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


The Assigned Readings:

Acts 15:12-31

Psalm 33

2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5

John 21:15-25


For the word of the LORD is right;

His every deed is faithful.

He loves what is right and just;

the earth is full of the LORD’s faithful care.

–Psalm 33:4-5, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)


Jesus placed no barriers between himself and anyone.  He dealt gently with the Apostles (especially St. Simon Peter) in John 21.  Three times did St. Simon Peter deny Jesus.  Three times did the Apostle say that he loved Jesus.

I, as a Gentile, owe a great debt of gratitude to St. Paul the Apostle, St. Simon Peter, and St. James of Jerusalem.  They did much to open the nascent Church (still a Jewish sect) to Gentiles.  They tore down barriers and obstacles to joining the Church.  And they stood within Jewish tradition.

(One should refrain from assuming that Judaism was ever a monolithic faith.)

Yet to be fair to Judaizers, one must acknowledge that they understood themselves to be be, in Pauline language from 2 Thessalonians, standing firm in the traditions they had learned.  So was St. James of Jerusalem, who emphasized another Jewish tradition, the “circumcision of the heart.”

May we of the Christian faith deal gently with each other, especially during disputes.  May the ways we treat one another bring credit, not disrepute, upon us and glorify God.  May they never serve to dissuade people from joining the Church and to coming to or remaining in faith.











Devotion for the Third Sunday of Easter, Year D (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  The Miracle of the Catch of 153 Fish

Image in the Public Domain

Positive Identity

MAY 1, 2022


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


The Assigned Readings:

Acts 15:1-11

Psalm 19

2 Thessalonians 2:1-12

John 21:1-14


Psalm 19 tells us that divine teaching is perfect and that it renews life and makes the simple wise.  Objectively, circumcision is part of the Law of Moses (Leviticus 12:3).  Objectively, circumcision is a Biblical practice since Genesis 17:9-14.  One need not think of of Judaizers at the time of earliest Christianity as evil people.

Yet consider the argument of St. Paul the Apostle in Acts 15:7b-12, O reader.  Why ignore the absence of any mention of circumcision in Deuteronomy?  Why overlook the references to “circumcision of the heart” in Deuteronomy 10:16 and 30:6?  And why value circumcision of the flesh more than “circumcision of the heart” (Jeremiah 9:25-36)?  Why overlook the lesser emphasis on physical circumcision before the Babylonian Exile relative to during and after the Babylonian Exile?

Circumcision was also a matter of identity.  It marked a man as belonging to the covenant.

One person’s mark of identity can be another person’s barrier, though.  This is where the reading from Acts 15 hits home for you, O reader, and for me.  Each of us has something that is a matter of spiritual identity.  That something is also an obstacle to someone else.  How can we remain faithful to God without throwing out the proverbial bathwater?  How can we know what we must retain at all costs?  I offer no easy answers to challenging questions.

The reading from 2 Thessalonians 2 refers to apostasy–turning away from God.  Returning to fishing in John 21 may not have constituted apostasy, but it was a bad idea.  The question of what to do next was challenging.  The old and familiar pattern had an appeal.  Continuing to follow Jesus was a better idea.

May we find our identity in following Jesus.










Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment


Above:  Zacchaeus, by Niels Larsen Stevns

Image in the Public Domain

Seeking, Finding, and Following Divine Guidance

MAY 19-21, 2022


The Collect:

Beautiful God, you gather your people into your realm,

and you promise us food from your tree of life.

Nourish us with your word, that empowered by your Spirit

we may love one another and the world you have made,

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

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 34


The Assigned Readings:

Proverbs 2:1-5 (Thursday)

Proverbs 2:6-8 (Friday)

Proverbs 2:9-15 (Saturday)

Psalm 67 (All Days)

Acts 15:36-41 (Thursday)

Acts 16:1-8 (Friday)

Luke 19:1-10 (Saturday)


May God be merciful to us and bless us,

show us the light of his countenance and come to us.

Let your ways be known upon earth,

your saving health among all nations.

Let the people praise you, O God;

let all the peoples praise you.

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,

for you judge the peoples with equity

and guide all the nations upon earth.

Let the peoples praise you, O God;

let all the peoples praise you.

The earth has brought forth her increase;

may God, our own God, give us his blessing.

May God give us his blessing,

and may all the ends of the earth stand in aw of him.

–Psalm 67, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


Seeking divine guidance, which God provides, is a noble and frequent occurrence.  But how commonplace is discerning that guidance properly versus mistaking one’s inner voice or the opinions of others for divine guidance?  St. Paul the Apostle sought to spread the Gospel in certain regions yet God’s purpose was for him to so in Macedonia instead.  One can seek to do something to glorify God and still misunderstand God’s call on one’s life, this story has taught for almost 2000 years.

Sometimes texts can prove to be ambiguous.  Does Proverbs 2:1-15 indicate that knowing and acting on the will of God protects one from evildoers?  If so, the passage is falsely optimistic.  If, however, it is in the spirit of Matthew 10:28a (“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul….”), Proverbs 2:1-15 is true.

Luke 19:1-10 (verse 8, specifically) contains other subtleties.  The passage is the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus, a tax collector who has been defrauding his neighbors for years.  He was literally a tax thief for the Roman Empire.  According to Exodus 22:7, the rate of restitution in the case of the theft of money or goods from someone’s house was 200%.  In Luke 19:8b (Revised Standard Version–Second Edition, 1971, consistent with the Greek text), Zacchaeus said,

Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold.

–present tense.

That sentence can mean one of two things–that Zacchaeus did that already or planned to do that.  The translation of the Bible or a portion thereof is an act of interpretation.  Thus, in the New International Version (1978, 1984, and 2011 permutations) and in Today’s New International Version (2005) one reads:

Look, Lord!  Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.

The “here and now,” not present in the original Greek text, occurs also in The New English Bible (1970) and The Revised English Bible (1989).  Other translations opt for the future tense, as in the case of The New Revised Standard Version (1989).

The context of Luke 19:1-10 indicates that Zacchaeus repented–turned around, changed his mind–that Jesus approved, and that Zacchaeus found restoration to his community.  He had violated the Biblical injunction not to exploit others and paid the price for it.  Resolving to do the right thing then following through set him on the path to justice.  Zacchaeus did even more than the Law of Moses required him to do.  This course of action was costly in material terms yet much more rewarding spiritually and socially.

I do not pretend to be an expert on the practical, circumstantial details of the will of God, but I have paid attention to certain Biblical principles.  Among them is the fact that economic exploitation is sinful.  The Law of Moses, Hebrew prophets, Jesus, and Revelation 18 agree on this point.  Opposing economic exploitation might place one opposite certain corporate leaders and most of the hosts on the FOX News Channel, but so be it.  One can follow mammon or Jesus, but not both.










Devotion for Monday and Tuesday After the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

St. Barnabas

Above:  St. Barnabas

Image in the Public Domain


MAY 16 and 17, 2022


The Collect:

O Lord God, you teach us that without love, our actions gain nothing.

Pour into our hearts your most excellent gift of love, that,

made alive by your Spirit, we may know goodness and peace,

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 34


The Assigned Readings:

1 Samuel 20:1-23, 35-42 (Monday)

2 Samuel 1:4-27 (Tuesday)

Psalm 133 (Both Days)

Acts 11:19-26 (Monday)

Acts 11:27-30 (Tuesday)


Oh, how good and pleasant it is

when brethren live together in unity!

It is like fine oil upon the head

that runs down upon the beard,

Upon the beard of Aaron,

and runs down upon the collar of his robe.

It is like the dew of Hermon

that falls upon the hills of Zion.

For there the LORD has ordained the blessing,

life for evermore.

–Psalm 133, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


Friendship is a form of such unity.

Jonathan remained David’s friend, even to the detriment of his (Jonathan’s) relationship with his father, King Saul.  In 1 Samuel 20:30 the monarch cursed out his son, although few versions in English have rendered the verse accordingly.  Saul’s reminder that Jonathan was also endangering his own potential kingship were rational yet ultimately unnecessary, for father and son died at about the same time.

St. Barnabas was a major ally of St. Paul the Apostle.  He assisted the former Saul of Tarsus, violent foe of nascent Christianity, who had become a convert to the faith recently.  St. Barnabas escorted St. Paul to meet with the understandably frightened remaining Apostles (Acts 9:26-28).  St. Barnabas, working among the Christians of Antioch, left to retrieve St. Paul from Tarsus and took him to Antioch (Acts 11:19-26).  Sts. Barnabas and Paul carried alms to Jerusalem (11:27-30).  The two men traveled together on evangelistic journeys (Acts 13:2).  St. Barnabas addressed the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:12), and he and St. Paul delivered the decree thereof to churches (Acts 15:22-31).  The two men parted company because they disagreed strongly over taking John Mark (St. Mark the Evangelist) with them, so Sts. Barnabas and Mark traveled together afterward (Acts 15:36-39).  Although St. Paul respected St. Barnabas (1 Corinthians 9:6 and Galatians 2:1, 9), he criticized his former traveling companion for, like St. Simon Peter, refusing table fellowship with Gentiles (Galatians 2:13).  Nevertheless, St. Barnabas had helped to make the former Saul of Tarsus the figure who became St. Paul the Apostle, vouching for him at a crucial juncture.  What if St. Barnabas had been wrong about St. Paul?  He took that risk.

Friends are people who stand by us at the most difficult times.  Such people are natural agents of divine grace.  May each of us have such friends and be such a friend to others, for the glory of God and for the common good.








Thirty-Fourth Day of Easter   10 comments

President Lyndon Baines Johnson and the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1966

Sometimes Brotherly Love is Unpopular

May 12, 2023


Acts 15:22-31 (Revised English Bible):

Then, with the agreement of the whole church, the apostles and elders resolved to choose representatives and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas.  They chose two leading men in the community, Judas Barsabbas and Silas, and gave them this letter to deliver:

From the apostles and elders to our brothers of gentile origin in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia.  Greetings!

We have heard that some of our number, without any instructions from us, have disturbed you with their talk and unsettled your minds.  In consequence, we have resolved unanimously to send you our chosen representatives with our well-beloved Barnabas and Paul, who have given up their lives to the cause of our Lord Jesus Christ; so we are sending Judas and Silas, who will, by word of mouth, confirm what is written in this letter.  It is the decision of the Holy Spirit, and our decision, to lay no further burden upon you beyond these essentials:  you are to abstain from meat that has been sacrificed to idols, from blood, from anything that has been strangled, and fr0m fornication.  If you keep yourselves free from these things you will be doing well.  Farewell.

So they took their leave and travelled down to Antioch, where they called the congregation together and delivered the letter.  When it was read, all rejoiced at the encouragement it brought….

Psalm 57:6-11 (Revised English Bible):

Some have prepared a net to catch me as I walk,

but they themselves were brought low;

they have dug a pit in my path

but have themselves fallen into it.

My heart is steadfast, God,

my heart is steadfast.

I shall sing and raise a psalm.

Awake, my soul,

awake, harp and lyre;

I shall awake at dawn.

I shall praise you among the peoples, Lord,

among the nations I shall raise a psalm to you,

for your unfailing love is as high as the heavens;

your faithfulness reaches to the skies.

God, be exalted above the heavens;

let your glory be over all the earth.

John 15:12-17 (Anchor Bible):

[Jesus continued,]

This is my commandment: Love one another as I have loved you.  No man can have greater love than this: to lay down this life for those he loves.  And you are the ones I love when you do what I command you.  No longer do I call you servants for a servant does not understand what his master is doing.  Rather, I have called you my beloved, for I revealed to you everything I heard from the Father.  It was not you who chose me; it was I who chose you.  And I appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will remain–so that the Father will give you whatever you ask Him in my name.  This I command you:  Love one another.

The Collect:

Grant, Almighty God, that the commemoration of our Lord’s death and resurrection may continually transform our lives and be manifested in our deeds; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


As I continue in my writing of devotionals I experience a recurring sense of deja-vu.  Certain themes recur frequently.  So some devotionals sound like other devotionals because of repetition in the source material.

I am writing this devotional on April 4, 2010, which is both Easter Sunday and the forth-second anniversary of the political murder of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.  As I write this devotional I am listening to the Alternative Radio program on WUGA, Athens, Georgia.  The series consists of a series of voices seldom heard on mainstream media, much less reactionary talk radio.  This evening’s program is the audio of Dr. King’s April 1967 speech, “A Time to Break Silence,” the text of which I will copy and paste at the end of this post.  In this speech King condemned the Vietnam War and preached the gospel of Jesus Christ.  As I listen to the audio (available online) I conclude that if King were alive today and giving the identical speech about current events, the FOX News Channel would be all over him like a cheap suit.  Indeed, the reactionary and mainstream media were all over him like a cheap suit in 1967.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Love of one’s neighbors and labeled enemies is consistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ.  Love of the other is consistent with his ethics, also.  So, why are we so slow to obey this commandment and so quick to engage in the idolatry of wartime nationalism? May God deliver us from ourselves and each other.



“A Time to Break Silence”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Riverside Church, New York, New York

April 4, 1967

I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice. I join with you in this meeting because I am in deepest agreement with the aims and work of the organization which has brought us together: Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam. The recent statement of your executive committee are the sentiments of my own heart and I found myself in full accord when I read its opening lines: “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.

The truth of these words is beyond doubt but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover when the issues at hand seem as perplexed as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on.

Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation’s history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history. Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movement well and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.

Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: Why are you speaking about war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent? Peace and civil rights don’t mix, they say. Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people, they ask? And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live.

In the light of such tragic misunderstandings, I deem it of signal importance to try to state clearly, and I trust concisely, why I believe that the path from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church — the church in Montgomery, Alabama, where I began my pastorate — leads clearly to this sanctuary tonight.

I come to this platform tonight to make a passionate plea to my beloved nation. This speech is not addressed to Hanoi or to the National Liberation Front. It is not addressed to China or to Russia.

Nor is it an attempt to overlook the ambiguity of the total situation and the need for a collective solution to the tragedy of Vietnam. Neither is it an attempt to make North Vietnam or the National Liberation Front paragons of virtue, nor to overlook the role they can play in a successful resolution of the problem. While they both may have justifiable reason to be suspicious of the good faith of the United States, life and history give eloquent testimony to the fact that conflicts are never resolved without trustful give and take on both sides.

Tonight, however, I wish not to speak with Hanoi and the NLF, but rather to my fellow Americans, who, with me, bear the greatest responsibility in ending a conflict that has exacted a heavy price on both continents.

The Importance of Vietnam

Since I am a preacher by trade, I suppose it is not surprising that I have seven major reasons for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral vision. There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor — both black and white — through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.

Perhaps the more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would never live on the same block in Detroit. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.

My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettoes of the North over the last three years — especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked — and rightly so — what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.

For those who ask the question, “Aren’t you a civil rights leader?” and thereby mean to exclude me from the movement for peace, I have this further answer. In 1957 when a group of us formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, we chose as our motto: “To save the soul of America.” We were convinced that we could not limit our vision to certain rights for black people, but instead affirmed the conviction that America would never be free or saved from itself unless the descendants of its slaves were loosed completely from the shackles they still wear. In a way we were agreeing with Langston Hughes, that black bard of Harlem, who had written earlier:

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath–
America will be!

Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read Vietnam. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that America will be are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.

As if the weight of such a commitment to the life and health of America were not enough, another burden of responsibility was placed upon me in 1964; and I cannot forget that the Nobel Prize for Peace was also a commission — a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before for “the brotherhood of man.” This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances, but even if it were not present I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. To me the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I am speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the good news was meant for all men — for Communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the one who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them? What then can I say to the “Vietcong” or to Castro or to Mao as a faithful minister of this one? Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life?

Finally, as I try to delineate for you and for myself the road that leads from Montgomery to this place I would have offered all that was most valid if I simply said that I must be true to my conviction that I share with all men the calling to be a son of the living God. Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of sonship and brotherhood, and because I believe that the Father is deeply concerned especially for his suffering and helpless and outcast children, I come tonight to speak for them.

This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.

Strange Liberators

And as I ponder the madness of Vietnam and search within myself for ways to understand and respond to compassion my mind goes constantly to the people of that peninsula. I speak now not of the soldiers of each side, not of the junta in Saigon, but simply of the people who have been living under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades now. I think of them too because it is clear to me that there will be no meaningful solution there until some attempt is made to know them and hear their broken cries.

They must see Americans as strange liberators. The Vietnamese people proclaimed their own independence in 1945 after a combined French and Japanese occupation, and before the Communist revolution in China. They were led by Ho Chi Minh. Even though they quoted the American Declaration of Independence in their own document of freedom, we refused to recognize them. Instead, we decided to support France in its reconquest of her former colony.

Our government felt then that the Vietnamese people were not “ready” for independence, and we again fell victim to the deadly Western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere for so long. With that tragic decision we rejected a revolutionary government seeking self-determination, and a government that had been established not by China (for whom the Vietnamese have no great love) but by clearly indigenous forces that included some Communists. For the peasants this new government meant real land reform, one of the most important needs in their lives.

For nine years following 1945 we denied the people of Vietnam the right of independence. For nine years we vigorously supported the French in their abortive effort to recolonize Vietnam.

Before the end of the war we were meeting eighty percent of the French war costs. Even before the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu, they began to despair of the reckless action, but we did not. We encouraged them with our huge financial and military supplies to continue the war even after they had lost the will. Soon we would be paying almost the full costs of this tragic attempt at recolonization.

After the French were defeated it looked as if independence and land reform would come again through the Geneva agreements. But instead there came the United States, determined that Ho should not unify the temporarily divided nation, and the peasants watched again as we supported one of the most vicious modern dictators — our chosen man, Premier Diem. The peasants watched and cringed as Diem ruthlessly routed out all opposition, supported their extortionist landlords and refused even to discuss reunification with the north. The peasants watched as all this was presided over by U.S. influence and then by increasing numbers of U.S. troops who came to help quell the insurgency that Diem’s methods had aroused. When Diem was overthrown they may have been happy, but the long line of military dictatorships seemed to offer no real change — especially in terms of their need for land and peace.

The only change came from America as we increased our troop commitments in support of governments which were singularly corrupt, inept and without popular support. All the while the people read our leaflets and received regular promises of peace and democracy — and land reform. Now they languish under our bombs and consider us — not their fellow Vietnamese –the real enemy. They move sadly and apathetically as we herd them off the land of their fathers into concentration camps where minimal social needs are rarely met. They know they must move or be destroyed by our bombs. So they go — primarily women and children and the aged.

They watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy the precious trees. They wander into the hospitals, with at least twenty casualties from American firepower for one “Vietcong”-inflicted injury. So far we may have killed a million of them — mostly children. They wander into the towns and see thousands of the children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like animals. They see the children, degraded by our soldiers as they beg for food. They see the children selling their sisters to our soldiers, soliciting for their mothers.

What do the peasants think as we ally ourselves with the landlords and as we refuse to put any action into our many words concerning land reform? What do they think as we test our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe? Where are the roots of the independent Vietnam we claim to be building? Is it among these voiceless ones?

We have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and the village. We have destroyed their land and their crops. We have cooperated in the crushing of the nation’s only non-Communist revolutionary political force — the unified Buddhist church. We have supported the enemies of the peasants of Saigon. We have corrupted their women and children and killed their men. What liberators?

Now there is little left to build on — save bitterness. Soon the only solid physical foundations remaining will be found at our military bases and in the concrete of the concentration camps we call fortified hamlets. The peasants may well wonder if we plan to build our new Vietnam on such grounds as these? Could we blame them for such thoughts? We must speak for them and raise the questions they cannot raise. These too are our brothers.

Perhaps the more difficult but no less necessary task is to speak for those who have been designated as our enemies. What of the National Liberation Front — that strangely anonymous group we call VC or Communists? What must they think of us in America when they realize that we permitted the repression and cruelty of Diem which helped to bring them into being as a resistance group in the south? What do they think of our condoning the violence which led to their own taking up of arms? How can they believe in our integrity when now we speak of “aggression from the north” as if there were nothing more essential to the war? How can they trust us when now we charge them with violence after the murderous reign of Diem and charge them with violence while we pour every new weapon of death into their land? Surely we must understand their feelings even if we do not condone their actions. Surely we must see that the men we supported pressed them to their violence. Surely we must see that our own computerized plans of destruction simply dwarf their greatest acts.

How do they judge us when our officials know that their membership is less than twenty-five percent Communist and yet insist on giving them the blanket name? What must they be thinking when they know that we are aware of their control of major sections of Vietnam and yet we appear ready to allow national elections in which this highly organized political parallel government will have no part? They ask how we can speak of free elections when the Saigon press is censored and controlled by the military junta. And they are surely right to wonder what kind of new government we plan to help form without them — the only party in real touch with the peasants. They question our political goals and they deny the reality of a peace settlement from which they will be excluded. Their questions are frighteningly relevant. Is our nation planning to build on political myth again and then shore it up with the power of new violence?

Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.

So, too, with Hanoi. In the north, where our bombs now pummel the land, and our mines endanger the waterways, we are met by a deep but understandable mistrust. To speak for them is to explain this lack of confidence in Western words, and especially their distrust of American intentions now. In Hanoi are the men who led the nation to independence against the Japanese and the French, the men who sought membership in the French commonwealth and were betrayed by the weakness of Paris and the willfulness of the colonial armies. It was they who led a second struggle against French domination at tremendous costs, and then were persuaded to give up the land they controlled between the thirteenth and seventeenth parallel as a temporary measure at Geneva. After 1954 they watched us conspire with Diem to prevent elections which would have surely brought Ho Chi Minh to power over a united Vietnam, and they realized they had been betrayed again.

When we ask why they do not leap to negotiate, these things must be remembered. Also it must be clear that the leaders of Hanoi considered the presence of American troops in support of the Diem regime to have been the initial military breach of the Geneva agreements concerning foreign troops, and they remind us that they did not begin to send in any large number of supplies or men until American forces had moved into the tens of thousands.

Hanoi remembers how our leaders refused to tell us the truth about the earlier North Vietnamese overtures for peace, how the president claimed that none existed when they had clearly been made. Ho Chi Minh has watched as America has spoken of peace and built up its forces, and now he has surely heard of the increasing international rumors of American plans for an invasion of the north. He knows the bombing and shelling and mining we are doing are part of traditional pre-invasion strategy. Perhaps only his sense of humor and of irony can save him when he hears the most powerful nation of the world speaking of aggression as it drops thousands of bombs on a poor weak nation more than eight thousand miles away from its shores.

At this point I should make it clear that while I have tried in these last few minutes to give a voice to the voiceless on Vietnam and to understand the arguments of those who are called enemy, I am as deeply concerned about our troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy and the secure while we create hell for the poor.

This Madness Must Cease

Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours.

This is the message of the great Buddhist leaders of Vietnam. Recently one of them wrote these words:

“Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the heart of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism.”

If we continue, there will be no doubt in my mind and in the mind of the world that we have no honorable intentions in Vietnam. It will become clear that our minimal expectation is to occupy it as an American colony and men will not refrain from thinking that our maximum hope is to goad China into a war so that we may bomb her nuclear installations. If we do not stop our war against the people of Vietnam immediately the world will be left with no other alternative than to see this as some horribly clumsy and deadly game we have decided to play.

The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve. It demands that we admit that we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in Vietnam, that we have been detrimental to the life of the Vietnamese people. The situation is one in which we must be ready to turn sharply from our present ways.

In order to atone for our sins and errors in Vietnam, we should take the initiative in bringing a halt to this tragic war. I would like to suggest five concrete things that our government should do immediately to begin the long and difficult process of extricating ourselves from this nightmarish conflict:

  1. End all bombing in North and South Vietnam.
  2. Declare a unilateral cease-fire in the hope that such action will create the atmosphere for negotiation.
  3. Take immediate steps to prevent other battlegrounds in Southeast Asia by curtailing our military buildup in Thailand and our interference in Laos.
  4. Realistically accept the fact that the National Liberation Front has substantial support in South Vietnam and must thereby play a role in any meaningful negotiations and in any future Vietnam government.
  5. Set a date that we will remove all foreign troops from Vietnam in accordance with the 1954 Geneva agreement.

Part of our ongoing commitment might well express itself in an offer to grant asylum to any Vietnamese who fears for his life under a new regime which included the Liberation Front. Then we must make what reparations we can for the damage we have done. We most provide the medical aid that is badly needed, making it available in this country if necessary.

Protesting The War

Meanwhile we in the churches and synagogues have a continuing task while we urge our government to disengage itself from a disgraceful commitment. We must continue to raise our voices if our nation persists in its perverse ways in Vietnam. We must be prepared to match actions with words by seeking out every creative means of protest possible.

As we counsel young men concerning military service we must clarify for them our nation’s role in Vietnam and challenge them with the alternative of conscientious objection. I am pleased to say that this is the path now being chosen by more than seventy students at my own alma mater, Morehouse College, and I recommend it to all who find the American course in Vietnam a dishonorable and unjust one. Moreover I would encourage all ministers of draft age to give up their ministerial exemptions and seek status as conscientious objectors. These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.

There is something seductively tempting about stopping there and sending us all off on what in some circles has become a popular crusade against the war in Vietnam. I say we must enter the struggle, but I wish to go on now to say something even more disturbing. The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality we will find ourselves organizing clergy- and laymen-concerned committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy. Such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam, but not beyond our calling as sons of the living God.

In 1957 a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. During the past ten years we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression which now has justified the presence of U.S. military “advisors” in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counter-revolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Colombia and why American napalm and green beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru. It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken — the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investment.

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. n the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say: “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.

This kind of positive revolution of values is our best defense against communism. War is not the answer. Communism will never be defeated by the use of atomic bombs or nuclear weapons. Let us not join those who shout war and through their misguided passions urge the United States to relinquish its participation in the United Nations. These are days which demand wise restraint and calm reasonableness. We must not call everyone a Communist or an appeaser who advocates the seating of Red China in the United Nations and who recognizes that hate and hysteria are not the final answers to the problem of these turbulent days. We must not engage in a negative anti-communism, but rather in a positive thrust for democracy, realizing that our greatest defense against communism is to take offensive action in behalf of justice. We must with positive action seek to remove thosse conditions of poverty, insecurity and injustice which are the fertile soil in which the seed of communism grows and develops.

The People Are Important

These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression and out of the wombs of a frail world new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.” We in the West must support these revolutions. It is a sad fact that, because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has the revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgement against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores and thereby speed the day when “every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain.”

A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.

This call for a world-wide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all men. This oft misunderstood and misinterpreted concept — so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force — has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man. When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Moslem-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John:

Let us love one another; for love is God and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. If we love one another God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.

Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day. We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold Toynbee says : “Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word.”

We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The “tide in the affairs of men” does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: “Too late.” There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. “The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on…” We still have a choice today; nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.

We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world — a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter — but beautiful — struggle for a new world. This is the callling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message, of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.

As that noble bard of yesterday, James Russell Lowell, eloquently stated:

Once to every man and nation
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth and falsehood,
For the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God’s new Messiah,
Off’ring each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever
Twixt that darkness and that light.

Though the cause of evil prosper,
Yet ’tis truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold,
And upon the throne be wrong:
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow
Keeping watch above his own.

Published originally at SUNDRY THOUGHTS OF KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on April 6, 2010

Thirty-Third Day of Easter   8 comments

St. James of Jerusalem, a Pivotal Figure at the Council of Jerusalem

Divine Love, Commandments, and Gentiles, or: The Artificiality of Aspects of Organized Religion

May 11, 2023


Acts 15:6-21 (Revised English Bible):

The apostles and elders met to look into this matter, and, after a long debate, Peter rose to address them.

My friends,

he said,

in the early days, as you yourselves know, God made his choice among you: from my lips the Gentiles were to hear and believe the message of the gospel.  And God, who can read human hearts, showed his approval by giving the Holy Spirit to them as he did to us.  He made no difference between them and us; for he purified their hearts by faith.  Then why do you now try God’s patience by laying on the shoulders of these converts a yoke which neither we nor our forefathers were able to bear?  For our belief is that we are saved in the same way as they are: by the grace of the Lord Jesus.

At that the whole company fell silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul s they described all the signs and portents that God had worked among the Gentiles through them.

When they had finished speaking James summed up:

My friends,” he said, “listen to me.  Simon had described how it first happened that God, in his providence, chose from among the Gentiles a people to bear his name.  This agrees with the words of the prophets: as scripture has it,

Thereafter I will return and rebuild the fallen house of David;

I will rebuild its ruins and set it up again,

that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,

all the Gentiles whom I have claimed for my own.

Thus says the Lord, who is doing this as he made it known long ago.

In my judgment, therefore, we should impose no irksome restrictions on those of the Gentiles who are turning to God; instead we should instruct them by letter to abstain from things polluted by contact with idols, from fornications, from anything that has been straightened and from blood.  Moses, after all, has never lacked spokesmen in every town for generations past; he is read in the synagogues sabbath by sabbath.

Psalm 96 (Revised English Bible):

Sing a new song to the LORD.

Sing to the LORD, all the earth.

Sing to the LORD and bless his name;

day by day proclaim his victory.

Declare his glory among the nations,

his marvellous deeds to every people.

Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise;

he is more to be feared than all gods.

For the gods of the nations are idols every one;

but the LORD made the heavens.

Majesty and splendour attend him,

might and beauty are in his sanctuary.

Ascribe to the LORD, you families of nations,

ascribe to the LORD glory and might;

ascribe to the LORD the glory due to his name.

Being an offering and enter his courts;

in holy attire worship the LORD;

tremble before him, all the earth.

Declare among the nations,

The LORD is king;

the world is established immovably;

he will judge the peoples with equity.

Let the heavens rejoice and the earth be glad,

let the sea resound and everything in it,

let the fields exult and all that is in them;

let all the trees of the forest shout for joy

before the LORD when he comes,

when he comes to judge the earth.

He will judge the world with justice

and peoples by his faithfulness.

John 15:9-11 (Anchor Bible):

[Jesus continued,]

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.  Remain on in my love.  And you will remain in my love if you keep my commandments, just as I have kept  my Father’s commandments and remain in His love.  I have said this to you that my joy may be yours and your joy may be fulfilled.

The Collect:

O God, you continually increase your Church by the birth of new sons and daughters in Baptism: Grant that they may be obedient all the days of their life to the rule of faith which they received in that Sacrament; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.


We human beings seem to be inherently cliquish, with some notable exceptions.  Sometimes God speaks to us and commands us to do something; let us call it X for the sake of this devotional.  X is supposed originally to be a sign of obedience to and reverence for God.  Yet, over time, certain people transform X into a sign of exclusivity and seek to impose it on others, who seek God honestly yet find X burdensome.  Perhaps those who impose this burden as a condition of membership think they are doing God’s work.  Yet they are doing so such thing.

Circumcision was a daunting prospect for a Hellenistic male.  Many Gentiles, dissatisfied with varieties of polytheism, believed in the God of Judaism, yet remained on the periphery because they were Gentiles.  Many of them loved God yet did not look forward to circumcision.  And who can blame them?  Some Jews did.  Peter, a convert to the idea of proclaiming the good news of Jesus to the Gentiles as equals, defended the goyim when Judaizers confronted him.

As Peter said, God shows no partiality, and anyone who keeps God’s commandments is acceptable to God.  Circumcision is not an issue in this framework.  Yet loving God fully and one’s neighbor as oneself are issues.  This is the summary of the law of God.  And, as Jesus said, keep his commandments.  I have paraphrased his short version of divine law.

So, why do we lay such burdens on people and seek exclusive identities.  I propose an oft-repeated thought: often we define ourselves by what we are not.  (I am guilty of this, so I write to myself first and to others second.)  We need to define ourselves primarily by what we are.  We are bearers of the image of God, who is pure love.  If we really love one another, we will look upon others as bearers of the divine image and fellow brothers and sisters in the human family.  This understanding embraces our common humanity.  History tells me that when governments to war, frequently they launch propaganda campaigns to dehumanize the enemy, thereby making it easier to convince people that killing the “others” is moral.  (The U.S. government did this to the Germans during World War I, for example.  And the Nazis did it to the Jews and many non-Germans before and during World War II.)

Yet God loves everyone–Jews and Gentiles, Americans and Germans, Germans and non-Germans, et cetera.  Anyone who loves God actively is acceptable to God, and labels are irrelevant.  Dare we speak this truth?


Posted originally at SUNDRY THOUGHTS OF KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on April 6, 2010

Posted October 29, 2010 by neatnik2009 in 2023, Episcopal Church Lectionary, May 11

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Thirty-Second Day of Easter   6 comments

A Big Vine

Coming to God, Remaining There, and Falling Away

May 10, 2023


Acts 15:1-6 (Revised English Bible):

Some people who had come down from Judaea began to teach the brotherhood that those who were not circumcised in accordance with Mosaic practice could not be saved.  That brought them into fierce dissension and controversy with Paul and Barnabas, and it was arranged that these two and some others from Antioch should go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.

They were sent on their way by the church, and travelled through Phoenicia and Samaria, telling the full story of the conversion of the Gentiles, and causing great rejoicing among all the Christians.

When they reached Jerusalem they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, and they reported all that God had accomplished through them.  But some of the Pharisaic party who had become believers came forward and declared,

Those Gentiles must be circumcised and told to keep the law of Moses.

The apostles and elders met to look into this matter.

Psalm 122 (Revised English Bible):

I rejoiced when they said to me,

Let us go to the house of the LORD.

Now we are standing

within your gates, Jerusalem:

Jerusalem, a city built

compactly and solidly.

There the tribes went up, the tribes of the LORD,

to give thanks to the name of the LORD,

the duty laid on Israel.

For there the thrones of justice were set,

the thrones of the house of David.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:

May those who love you prosper;

peace be within your ramparts

and prosperity in your palaces.

For the sake of these my brothers and my friends,

I shall say,

Peace be within you.

For the sake of the house of the LORD our God

I shall pray for your wellbeing.

John 15:1-8 (Anchor Bible):

[Jesus said,]

I am the real vine and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off any of the branches that does not bear fruit, but any that bears fruit he trims clean to make it bear more fruit.  You are clean already, thanks to the word I have spoken to you.  Remain in me as I remain in you.  Just as a branch cannot bear fruit by itself without remaining on the vine, so neither can you bear fruit without remaining in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches.  He who remains in me and I in him is the one who bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.  If a man does not remain in me, he is like a branch, cast off and withered, which they collect and throw into the fire to be burned.

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you.  My Father has been glorified in this: in your bearing much fruit and becoming my disciples….

The Collect:

God of infinite mercy, you renew the faith of your people by the yearly celebration of these fifty days:  Stir up in us the gifts of your grace, that we may know more deeply that Baptism has cleansed us, the Spirit has quickened us, and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


The vineyard is a common analogy in the Bible.  The usual pattern is that God owns the vineyard, which is the people of God.  In this day’s reading from John Jesus is the vine, with his followers as the branches.  The analogy reinforces the great spiritual truth that human autonomy is an illusion.

From the Acts reading I pick the thread that becoming a branch of the vine does not depend on keeping ancient practices–in this case, circumcision.  What began as a sign of grace (God making Abraham the father of many nations) became a stumbling block because people wedded to tradition made it that.  Yet the safeguarding of ancient tradition did not bind grace.

Although raised United Methodist, and therefore Wesleyan-Arminian, I have come to believe in Single Predestination.  This theological proposition holds that God has predestined some people to Heaven but nobody to Hell, and that the witness of the Holy Spirit is available to the remainder to bring them to God.  Yet, as my Arminian upbringing reminds me, free will can help bring a person to God and allow him or her to find an exit–to commit apostasy.  Only those who have known God can fall away from God.  So I focus on the word “remain” from the Johannine reading.

Many people who leave Christianity do so because the Church has wounded them.  Often the Church shoots the wounded, so to speak.  So we Christians need to do a better job of following Jesus, not contenting ourselves with making flattering statements about him.


Published originally at SUNDRY THOUGHTS OF KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on April 6, 2010

Posted October 29, 2010 by neatnik2009 in 2023, Episcopal Church Lectionary, May 10

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