Archive for the ‘Civil Rights’ Tag

Devotion for the Second Sunday in Lent (Ackerman)   1 comment

Above:  St. Titus

Image in the Public Domain


MARCH 5, 2023


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:

Genesis 9:18-27

Psalm 39:4-8a

Titus 2:1-10

Matthew 12:38-42


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.










Devotion for the Nineteenth and Twentieth Days of Easter, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   3 comments

Finneran Source Card

Above:  A Germane Source Card from My Collection of Research Note Cards

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Liberating Grace

APRIL 27 AND 28, 2023


The Collect:

O God our shepherd, you know your sheep by name

and lead us to safety through the valleys of death.

Guide us by your voice, that we may walk in certainty and security

to the joyous feast prepared in your house,

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 33


The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 2:15b-25 (19th Day)

Exodus 3:16-22; 4:18-20 (20th Day)

Psalm 23 (Both Days)

1 Peter 2:9-12 (19th Day)

1 Peter 2:13-17 (20th Day)


You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me;

you have anointed my head with oil,

and my cup is running over.

–Psalm 23:5, Book of Common Worship (1993)


Names have power, or so many people believed in the time of Moses.  To know someone’s name was usually to have some power over that person, hence God provides more of a description than a name–and a vague one at that–in response to the query of Moses.  The transliterated Hebrew text reads:


which is how TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) renders it.  The germane footnote in the that translation says:

Meaning of Heb. uncertain; variously translated:  “I Am That I Am”; “I Am Who I Am”; “I Will Be What I Will Be”; etc.

The relevant note in The Jewish Study Bible (2004) begins:

God’s proper name, disclosed in the next verse, is YHVH (spelled “yod-heh-vav-heh” in Heb.; in ancient times the “vav” was pronounced “w”).  But here God first tells Moses its meaning:  Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh, probably best translated as “I Will Be What I Will Be,” meaning “My nature will become evident from My actions.”

–page 111

“Ehyeh,” or “I Will Be,” is not a name that says much.  It denies opportunities to attempt to have power over God and preserves mystery while indicating how to learn about God.

Volume I (1994) of The New Interpreter’s Bible informs me that the name YHVH/YHWH derives from the Hebrew verb meaning “to be,” so:

This God is named as the power to create, the one who causes to be.  This God is the one who will be present in faithful ways to make possible what is not otherwise possible.  This God is the very power of newness that will make available new life for Israel outside the deathliness of Egypt.

–page 714

The politics of Exodus 2 and 3 is that of liberation of the oppressed from their oppressors.  God, these texts tell us, will free the Hebrews from the tyranny of the Pharaoh.  Yet I read difficult politics–that of submission to authority, regardless of its moral nature–in 1 Peter 2:13-17.  The next pericope is more chilling, for it tells slaves to obey their masters.  There have been different forms of slavery over the course of time, of course, but I propose that this, for the point I am making today, is a distinction without a difference; no form of human slavery is morally acceptable.  1 Peter comes from a time when many Christians were attempting to prove that they did not constitute a threat to the Roman Empire, which had executed the founder of their religion via crucifixion.  And many Christians thought that Jesus might return soon, so social reform or revolution was not a priority for some.

The relationship of Christians to civil authority has long been a challenging one, especially in Lutheran theology.  And the arch-conservative (racist and reactionary, really) Presbyterian Journal, which helped to give birth to the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) denomination in December 1973, spent much of the 1940s through the 1960s lambasting civil rights efforts and activists and quoting the Bible to justify Jim Crow laws.  (I have examined original copies of the publication and possess the notes to prove the statement I just made.)  The Journal writers, who called Martin Luther King, Jr., a Communist even after he had died, did not approve of his opposition to the Vietnam War either.  They, in fact, criticized in very strong terms even conscientious objectors and all forms of civil disobedience, claiming them to be contrary to Christianity.  The beating of this drum continued into the 1970s.  In the 30 October 1974 issue, on pages 11 and 16, Editor G. Aiken Taylor commended and reprinted words by one Joan B. Finneran, whom he called

an elect lady of Simpsonville, MD.

Finneran wrote that the Bible commands us to obey earthly authority, for God establishes governments.  Therefore:

When a Herod or a Hitler comes into power, we must thereby assume this is the Lord’s plan; He will use even such as these to put His total plan into effect for the good of His people here on earth.

God is in control, Finneran wrote, even if we, in our ignorance, do not understand divine plans.  And we Americans ought to vote carefully and to pray for our elected officials–and obey them, of course.  Finneran’s message, cloaked in details of Reformed theology,was one of submission to authority–even genocidal tyrants.  That fact overrides any technically correct parts of her case in my mind.

I reject Finneran’s message, for, if one cannot disobey the Third Reich righteously, which regime can one oppose properly?  Even the very conservative Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America understood the limits of obedience to human authority well in 1896, when the Synod passed a resolution condemning the Ottoman Empire for its massacres of Armenians and declaring that the Sultan’s regime had lost its moral right to govern.

I must, in all fairness and accuracy, point out that the Presbyterian Church in America has (subsequent to 1974) approved of civil disobedience in some cases and (in 2004) approved a pastoral letter condemning racism.

The Old Testament reveals the character of God mostly by recounting what God has done.  God has, among other things, freed people.  The central theme of the Bible is liberation to follow God.  Our patterns of behavior reveal our character.  Do we even try to follow God?  Do we even attempt to aid those who suffer?  Do we even care about the oppressed?  Good intentions are positive, of course; they are preferable to bad ones.  Yet we need grace to succeed.  That, fortunately, is plentiful from God, who makes life itself and new life free from tyranny possible.









Devotion for the Fifth Sunday in Lent (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   5 comments

Above:  Christ Episcopal Church, Norcross, Georgia, March 11, 2012

Image Source = Bill Monk, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

Exodus and Mark, Part I:  Liberation Via Jesus

MARCH 26, 2023


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 everlasting 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:

Exodus 1:1-22

Psalm 84 (Morning)

Psalms 42 and 32 (Evening)

Mark 14:12-31


Some Related Posts:

A Prayer to See Others As God Sees Them:

A Prayer for Compassion:

A Prayer to Embrace Love, Empathy, and Compassion, and to Eschew Hatred, Invective, and Willful Ignorance:

A Prayer of Thanksgiving for the Holy Eucharist:


Prayer of Praise and Adoration:

Prayer of Confession:

Prayer of Dedication:


Sin permeates and corrupts our entire being and burdens us more and more with fear, hostility, guilt, and misery.  Sin operates not only within individuals but also within society as a deceptive and oppressive power, so that even men of good will are unconsciously and unwillingly involved in the sins of society.  Man cannot destroy the tyranny of sin in himself or in his world; his only hope is to be delivered from it by God.

–Total Depravity Paragraph, A Brief Statement of Belief (1962), Presbyterian Church in the United States


The midwives who spared Hebrew boys were heroines.  Too often readers of Exodus might read past the names of Shiphrah and Puah quickly.  Yet may we pause and repeat these names with much respect.  They put themselves at great risk for strangers.  It was the right thing to do.

Jesus, in the other main reading, was about to put himself at risk.  (Look ahead:  Gethsemane occurs in the next day’s Gospel lection.)  He put himself at risk for those he knew and many more he did not–in his generation and succeeding ones.  First, though, he instituted the Holy Eucharist, a sacrament in which we take him (literally) into our bodies.  If we are what we eat and drink, may the Holy Eucharist make us more like our Lord and Savior.

I have heard and pondered a convincing theological case that the Exodus is the central theme of the Christian Bible.  the miracle of the Exodus, according to the Book of Exodus, is not that the waters parted.  14:21 speaks of

a strong east wind

(TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures),

an attempt at a natural explanation.  (If one accepts nature as an expression of God, divine workings through nature are natural, not supernatural; no they are just a form of natural we might not understand in the way in which we grasp other natural events.)  No, the miracle of the Exodus is that God freed the Hebrews from slavery.

Is not the message of the living Jesus (from the Incarnation to the Resurrection) liberation?  Is it not the message of liberation from societal sin (including economically exploitative and/or religiously-backed systems), not just personal peccadilloes?  As a supporter of civil rights for all people, I know that this conviction has fueled movements to end Jim Crow in the United States and Apartheid in South Africa, to name just two examples.  “Sacrament” derives from the Latin word for or an oath or a solemn obligation.  (Thanks to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language for that information.)  The solemn obligation I make every time I partake of the Holy Eucharist is to follow my Lord, including in social liberation for my fellow human beings.

Recently I spent a rather intense two days working on a local history project for a fellow parishioner.  Athens, Georgia, is the home of the Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery, an abandoned resting place for the remains of African Americans in Clarke County.  I prepared a spreadsheet presenting information (derived from death certificates issued from 1919 to 1927) and available from the State of Georgia online) for 236 people.  How old were they when they died?  Why did they die?  What did they do for a living?  As I worked two-hour shifts I learned a great deal.  And I wondered what their lives were like.  Many were former slaves.  Others had been born after emancipation.  But all who died between 1919 and 1927 lived at the height of Jim Crow in Georgia.  And I know that many self-described God-fearing white Christians defended Jim Crow, as many had done for the same relative to slavery.  Some argued that God had ordained slavery and segregation–or just segregation.  (I have read some of these defenses.  I have note cards full of citations and can point to secondary studies on the subject.)  Those whites, I am convinced, did not love all of their neighbors as they loved themselves, for they would not have subjected themselves to such an oppressive system and second-class citizenship.

I wonder what my racial attitudes would have been had I been born in 1873, not 1973.  It is easy for me to be a racially liberal white person in 2012, but what would I have thought in Georgia in 1912, given the socialization then?  Damning racist forebears is like picking low-hanging fruit, not that there is anything wrong with that.  Yet I need to examine my own attitudes for the higher-hanging fruit.  Everyone needs to examine himself or herself for negative attitudes.  Which neighbors (especially as defined by groups) do we love less than others? And which, if any, do we dismiss, despise, or consider inferior?  Which, if any, do we think unworthy of fewer civil liberties and civil rights?  Do not all of us bear the image of God?  Yet we approve of these sinful hierarchies and place ourselves in privileged positions at the expense of others.

The liberation via Jesus is not just of others from ourselves and of each of us from our personal peccadilloes; it is also liberation from ourselves, our biases, our prejudices, and our blind spots.  It is liberation to love all our neighbors, people who bear the image of God.








Devotion for the Fourth Sunday in Lent (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   6 comments


Above:  Expulsion of the Money Changers from the Temple, by Giotto

Genesis and Mark, Part XX:  Reform or Revolution?

MARCH 19, 2023


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 everlasting 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:

Genesis 41:28-57

Psalm 84 (Morning)

Psalms 42 and 32 (Evening)

Mark 11:20-33


Some Related Posts:


Prayer of Praise and Adoration:

Prayer of Confession:

Prayer of Dedication:


 There is a time to work through the system.  And there is a time to confront it.

The Pharonic system was inherently exploitative, creating artificial scarcity.  It was also an absolute monarchy.  There was no constitution or a concept of civil liberties.  So nobody was preparing to found the Egyptian Civil Liberties Union (ECLU), with its infamous papyrus card-carrying members.  Tyranny was the political system.  Yet Joseph used it to feed many people (domestic and foreign) during a severe and prolonged famine.  (Later in Genesis he also enslaved Egyptians to the Pharoah in exchange for food, and the monarch moved people off what had once been their land.  There was no excuse for that, but I am getting ahead of myself.)  Joseph, at this point (Chapter 41) in Genesis, did something great, concrete, and positive.

The Temple system was also inherently exploitative, requiring poor people to pay money changers so that they (the poor) could buy sacrificial animals with currency not tainted with the Roman claim of imperial divinity, and therefore with idolatry.  And the currency changers turned a nice profit, as did the Temple itself.  So Jesus condemned religious profiteering.  Even worse, the Temple, next door to a Roman fortress which towered over it, was the center of collaboration with the occupying Romans.  The timing was also sensitive, for the Passover was the commemoration of God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  So the politics added up, including another attempt to entrap Jesus in his own words.  He, of course, was the superior debater.

There is a time to work through the system in place and therefore to accomplish more good than staging a revolution would permit.  I have not doubt that the New Deal would have faced more difficulties and been less effective had President Franklin Delano Roosevelt pushed for civil rights for African Americans more than he did.  Jim Crow politicians in the South would have erected more barriers than they did.  The lesson is simple:  The perfect must not become the enemy of the good.

Yet there is also a time to confront the system.  The British did have to leave the Indian Subcontinent, for example:  Mohandas Gandhi was correct.  And Apartheid did have to end in the Republic of South Africa, just as Jim Crow had to fall in the United States.  So it is wrong to just a little good when one can do a great deal instead.

May we always know what time it is–time to work through the system and reform it or time to confront it.







Devotion for the Seventeenth Day of Lent (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   3 comments

Above:  The Tomb of Leah

Genesis and Mark, Part XVI:  People Ought Not To Be Property or Commodities

MARCH 13, 2023


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 everlasting 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:

Genesis 29:1-20

Psalm 119:73-80 (Morning)

Psalms 121 and 6 (Evening)

Mark 9:14-32


Some Related Posts:



The LORD saw that Leah was unloved and he opened her womb; but Rachel was barren.  Leah conceived and bore a son, and named him Reuben, for she declared “The LORD has seen my affliction;” it also means: “Now my husband will love me.”

–Genesis 29:31-32, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures


At once the father of the boy cried out, “I have faith.  Help my lack of faith!”

–Mark 9:24b, The New Jerusalem Bible


The father of the epileptic boy (considered at the time to be demon-possessed) had faith that Jesus could help.  The man knew, however, that he ought to have more faith–trust, that is.  This is a realization which all of us who have lived long enough can apply to our own circumstances.

I trust you, my God, but not as much as I should.

Jacob lacked a proper amount of faith.  He would not have been a trickster if he had not lacked it.  Ironically, he became the victim of a trick his uncle Laban played on him.  But Jacob was not the only victim; Leah was the greater victim.  Always the other woman despite being the senior wife, she had to compete with her younger sister.  Leah’s lament that her husband did not love her broke my heart as I read it again while preparing this post.

May we never forget that people ought never to be property or commodities.  Women ought never to be pawns in brokered marriages, for example.  I write of attitudes ingrained in societies, which are of human origin.  People established these attitudes and other people have perpetuated them, so still other people can change them.  This might be a difficult and long process, but it is possible.  Indeed, it has happened.  We, like the faithless disciples in Mark 9, will not be able to exorcise by our own power that which we need to exorcise.  No, we will need prayer and trust in God to make it work.  This strategy has worked; witness the roles of certain churches  and religious leaders in the civil rights movement in the United States.  Witness also the parallel examples regarding the downfall of Apartheid in the Republic of South Africa.  Also, the need for such movements to expand civil rights in many places continues to exist.  May such movements flourish and succeed in expanding the circle of inclusion, growing it until it encompasses those whom the rest of us have marginalized for own convenience and out of our blindness to social injustice.







Devotion for the Seventh Day of Lent (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   9 comments

Above:  Noah’s Thank Offering, by Joseph Anton Koch

Genesis and Mark, Part VIII:  Societal Immorality

MARCH 1, 2023


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 everlasting 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:

Genesis 8:13-9:17

Psalm 5 (Morning)

Psalms 27 and 51 (Evening)

Mark 4:1-20


A Related Post:



The sower’s seed needed good soil in which to flourish.  And, as I return to the beginning of the composite Noah’s Ark story, I read that

The earth became corrupt before God;

the earth was filled with lawlessness.

–Genesis 6:11, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

Thus the Great Flood followed in the narratives.  And, as today’s Genesis reading begins, so does renewed life on the planet.  But keep reading; the corruption returned almost immediately.

Corruption–societal immorality–is endemic among we human beings.  As a student of history, I point to examples of this.  Slavery was part of the socio-economic and political fabric of the nation from the 1600s, before this was the United States.   The blood Civil War destroyed the damnable Peculiar Institution in the 1860s.  Yet the racism which supported slavery persisted without apology, and many self-professing Christians quoted the Bible to support both slavery and Jim Crow.  The civil rights movement erased much de jure discrimination against African Americans, changing the attitudes of many people yet leaving de facto discrimination in place.  Many of my fellow human beings seek to discriminate against somebody.  These days homophobia is masquerading shamelessly as societal righteousness, but it is still a form of bigotry.

We human beings have a vocation to act toward each other according to the Golden Rule.  We ought to seek the best for each other, not look for ways to oppress each other.  This proposition undergirds my sense of morality, my ethics.  Thus I conclude  that anything else is corruption and immorality.  Here I stand; I can and will do no other.








Devotion for the Second Day of Lent (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   3 comments

Above:  Fishing on the Sea of Galilee

Image Source = Library of Congress

Genesis and Mark, Part II:  The Image of God

FEBRUARY 23, 2023


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 everlasting 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:

Genesis 1:20-2:3

Psalm 38 (Morning)

Psalms 126 and 102 (Evening)

Mark 1:14-28


A Related Post:



Certainly Jesus knew James and John, the sons of Zebedee, for Zebedee was our Lord’s uncle.  James and John were therefore first cousins of Jesus.  There was nothing inherently wrong with fishing; it was honest and socially useful work.  Yet our Lord had a higher purpose in mind for his cousins.

The concept of the image of God unites the readings from Genesis and Mark.  But what is the image of God?  It is not physical, for God is spirit.  Perhaps the best way to identify the image of God in human beings is to notice some contrasts with the rest of the Animal Kingdom.  We are almost genetically identical to chimpanzees, but they do not compose sonnets.  Elephants are quite intelligent and mourn their dead.  Who knows (other than God and whales) what whale songs mean?  I, along with some great Christian saints, assume that our fellow creatures of certain intelligence possess souls, but they members of these species have not forged civilizations as we know them.  Likewise, I adore cats.  Their bodies are perfectly evolved for their purposes in nature.  And I have no doubt that cats I have known well have had souls.  But I, as a human, have a spark which cats lack.

We humans have potential which other mammals lack.  And we ought to live up to higher standards.  We are animals biologically; evolutionary forces have shaped us physically.  But we are more than skin, meat, blood, and bones; we are souls who bear the image of God.

Thus we ought to act accordingly.  We should pursue our highest and greatest potential. We ought to help others pursue and achieve theirs.  We ought to love each other and ourselves as bearers of the divine image.  If we do this, we will cease to hate and kill one another.  We will cease to exploit each other and condone or turn a blind eye to exploitation.  We will cease to discriminate against each other.  We will do all this because we recognize the divine spark in each other and know that we are not so different from each other as we thought once.

I propose a Lenten discipline to continue afterward:  Looking for and finding the image of God in others then treating them with the great respect due a bearer of the divine image.  That is an excellent habit, one which will banish a host of bad ones.








Thirty-First Day of Lent   16 comments

Nebuchadnezzar II

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Collect and lections from the Episcopal Lesser Feasts and Fasts Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints


Follow the assigned readings with me this Lent….

Kenneth Randolph Taylor


Daniel 3:14-20, 24-28 (Revised English Bible):

He [Nebuchannezzar] asked them,

Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the gold image which I have set up? Now if you are ready to prostrate yourselves as soon as you hear the sound of horn, pipe, zither, triangle, dulcimer, a full consort of music, and to worship the image that I have made, well and good.  But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown forthwith into the blazing furnace; and what god is there that can deliver you from my power?”  Their reply to the king was: “Your majesty, we have no need to answer you in this matter.  If there is a god who is able to save us from the blazing furnace, it is our God whom we serve; he will deliver us from your majesty’s power.  But if not, be it known to your majesty that we shall neither serve your gods nor worship the gold image you have set up.

At this Nebuchadnezzar was furious with them, and his face became distorted with anger.  He ordered that the furnace should be heated to seven times its usual heat, and commanded some of the strongest men in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego and throw them into the blazing furnace.

Then King Nebuchadnezzar, greatly agitated, sprang to his feet, saying to his courtiers,

Was it not three men whom we threw bound into the fire?

They answered,

Yes, certainly, your majesty.

He insisted,

Yet I can see four men walking about in the fire, free and unharmed; and the fourth looks like a god.

Nebuchadnezzar approached the furnace door and called,

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, servants of the Most High God, come out!

When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego emerged from the fire, the satraps, prefects, governors, and the king’s courtiers gathered round them and saw how the fire had no power to harm their bodies.  The hair of their heads had not been singed, their trousers were untouched, and no smell of fire lingered about them.

Nebuchadnezzar declared:

Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego!  He has sent his angel to save his servants who, trusting in him, disobeyed the royal command; they were willing to submit themselves to the fire rather than to serve or worship any god other than their own God.

Canticle 13 (from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, page 90)

(Mostly a rewording of the Song of the Three Young Men, verses 29-34)

Glory to you, Lord God of our fathers;

you are worthy of praise; glory to you.

Glory to you for the radiance of your holy Name;

we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.

Glory to you in the splendor of your temple;

on the throne of your majesty, gl0ry to you.

Glory to you, seated between the Cherubim;

we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.

Glory to you, beholding the depths;

in the high vault of heaven, glory to you.

Glory to you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit;

we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.

John 8:31-42 (Revised English Bible):

Turning to the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said,

If you stand by my teaching, you are truly my disciples; you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

They replied,

We are Abraham’s descendants; we have never been in slavery to anyone.  What do you mean by saying, ‘You will become free.’?

Jesus said,

In very truth I tell you that everyone who commits sin is a slave.  The slave has no permanent standing in the household, but he son belongs to it forever.  If then the Son sets you free, you will indeed be free.  I know that you are descended from Abraham, yet you are bent on killing me because my teaching makes no headway with you.  I tell what I have seen in my Father’s presence; you do what you have learned from my father.

They retorted,

Abraham is our father.

Jesus replied,

If you were Abraham’s children, you would do as Abraham did.  As it is, you are bent on killing me, because I have told you the truth, which I heard from God.  That is not how Abraham acted.  You are doing your own father’s work.

They said,

We are not illegitimate; God is our father, and God alone.

Jesus said to them,

If God were your father, you would love me, for God is the source of my being, and from him I come.  I have not come of my own accord; he sent me.

The Collect:

Almighty God our heavenly Father, renew in us the gifts of your mercy; increase our faith, strengthen our hope, enlighten our understanding, widen our charity, and make us ready to serve you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


Freedom is an interior state and a gift of God.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego lived in a foreign empire.  They faced the possibility of dying in a gruesome manner unless they abandoned their religion and worshipped false deities.  Yet they were free men because of their faith.  And God was with them.

In the twentieth century courageous men and women ranging from Mohandas Gandhi  to Nelson Mandela to Freedom Riders and other civil rights activists went to prisons unjustly and experienced great humiliations.  Yet they were free on the inside, and no jailer, warden, prison guard, unjust law, or racist could take that away from them.  Accounts from the U.S. South in the 1960s mention jailed civil rights activists singing with great joy in hellholes called cells.  Gandhi’s influence only increased with imprisonment, as did that of Mandela, who, as a prisoner, negotiated the terms of his own release on equal terms with the President of the Republic of South Africa.

The faith of certain Jews in the proximity of Jesus was fleeting in John 8:31-42.  It was based in a misunderstanding of our Lord and his teachings, so it did not hold up in the context of Jesus himself.  The truth sets us free.  And what is the truth?  The truth is that which is reliable, according to The Anchor Bible Dictionary.  (Philosophical point:  Reliability and accuracy are not the same.  A misleading statement can be factually correct.)  Jesus liberates us from the power of sin.  If we remain enslaved to sin, we are responsible for this fact.


Written on March 9, 2010

Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A   31 comments

Above: Samuel Anoints David, Syria, 3rd Century C.E.

Priorities, Misplaced and Otherwise

MARCH 19, 2023


1 Samuel 16:1-13 (New Revised Standard Version):

The Lord said to Samuel,

How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.

Samuel said,

How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.

And the Lord said,

Take a heifer with you, and say, “I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.” Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.

Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said,

Do you come peaceably?

He said,

Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.

And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought,

Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.

But the Lord said to Samuel,

Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.

Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said,

Neither has the Lord chosen this one.

Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said,

Neither has the Lord chosen this one.

Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse,

The Lord has not chosen any of these.

Samuel said to Jesse,

Are all your sons here?

And he said,

There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.

And Samuel said to Jesse,

Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.

He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said,

Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.

Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

Psalm 23 (New Revised Standard Version):

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures;

he leads me beside still waters;

he restores my soul.

He leads me in right paths

for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,

I fear no evil;

for you are with me;

your rod and my staff–

they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me

in the presence of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD

my whole life long.

Ephesians 5:8-14 (New Revised Standard Version):

For once you were in darkness, but now in the Lord you are light.  Live as children of light–for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.  Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.  Take no part in unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.  For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light.  Therefore it says,

Sleeper, awake!

Rise from the dead,

and Christ will shine on you.

John 9:1-41 (New Revised Standard Version):

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him,

Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?

Jesus answered,

Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.

When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him,

Go, wash in the pool of Siloam

(which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask,

Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?

Some were saying,

It is he.

Others were saying,

No, but it is someone like him.

He kept saying,

I am the man.

But they kept asking him,

Then how were your eyes opened?

He answered,

The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, “Go to Siloam and wash.’”Then I went and washed and received my sight.

They said to him,

Where is he?

He said,

I do not know.

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them,

He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.

Some of the Pharisees said,

This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.

But others said,

How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?

And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man,

What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.

He said,

He is a prophet.

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them,

Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?

His parents answered,

We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.

His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said,

He is of age; ask him.

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him,

Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.

He answered,

I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.

They said to him,

What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?

He answered them,

I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?

Then they reviled him, saying,

You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.

The man answered,

Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.

They answered him,

You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?

And they drove him out.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said,

Do you believe in the Son of Man?

He answered,

And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.

Jesus said to him,

You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.

He said,

Lord, I believe.

And he worshiped him. Jesus said,

I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.

Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him,

Surely we are not blind, are we?

Jesus said to them,

If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see,” your sin remains.

The Collect:

Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


I read little from evangelical writers, for almost nothing from that genre of nonfiction interests me.  (I have had some unfortunate encounters with self-described evangelicals over the years.  These are par for the course when one is an intellectual liberal with High Church (in my case, progressively Anglican-Lutheran-Catholic over time) leanings in the Bible Belt.  Yet Philip Yancey is one evangelical whose books I feel comfortable reading.  Two of these volumes are Soul Survivor and The Jesus I Never Knew.  In these books I have read that Yancey grew up in a Southern U.S. white culture in which Christian fundamentalism blended easily with overt racism.  His family’s church in Atlanta decided to open a Christian school very shortly after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling, for example.  And, in the 1960s, when Yancey was slightly older, he went off to a Bible college where civil rights for African Americans were not considered important, but the length of a man’s hair (short) and of a woman’s skirt (long) were major priorities.  Yancey wrote that college administrators would not have admitted Jesus based on his haircut (too long), as artists have depicted it.

Cultural blinders are difficult to recognize, and every acculturated person has them.  Often these cultural blinders lead us to spiritual blindness, so that, even when we believe we are acting righteously, we deceive ourselves.  In 1962 the Presbyterian Church in United States (1861-1983), the old “Southern Presbyterian Church,” approved a revised Brief Statement of Belief.  The paragraph on total depravity follows:

Sin permeates and corrupts our entire being and burdens us more and more with fear, hostility, guilt, and misery.  Sin operates not only within individuals but also within society as a deceptive and oppressive power, so that even men of good will are unconsciously and unwillingly involved in the sins of society.  Man cannot destroy the tyranny of sin in himself or in his world; his only hope is to be delivered from it by God.

As one reads the four canonical gospels, one notices that many (not all) Pharisees come across as the bete noires of those compositions.  This is true of John 9:1-41.  At the time and place there was a common belief that physical difficulties resulted from sins.  These things could never just happen, could they?  That was the attitude.  So we have the case of Jesus, a man born blind, his parents, and some Pharisees.  Jesus gave the man sight, an act which vexed the Pharisees.  They spoke to the man’s parents, who referred them to their adult son.  The formerly blind man, not understanding the Pharisees’ agenda, asked naively if they wanted to follow Jesus, too.  (If this were a cartoon steam would rise from the Pharisees ears at that point.)  The Pharisees drove the man out, and he encountered Jesus again.  The Pharisees were spiritually blind, but the formerly blind man had clear spiritual vision.  And the Pharisees did not recognize their blindness.

1 Samuel reminds us that God looks on the heart, but that we humans are frequently superficial in our judgments.  Attractive people seem to rise to the top, do they not?  When physical beauty and handsomeness are paired with qualifications, talents, and skills, this is not a problem.  But I cannot help but think about the example of U.S. President Franklin Pierce (in office 1853-1857), who competes with Warren G. Harding and James Buchanan for the “worst president” slot in historians’ ratings.  The nicest statement I have read about Pierce is that he was the most handsome president.

David, 1 Samuel tells us, was not handsome, at least compared to his elder brothers.  No, he was ruddy.  But he had leadership skills, which were more important than his appearance.

By grace may we can approach more closely a state in which we see as God sees, and therefore follow Jesus.  May we lay aside our fixations on trivial religious matters, embrace goodness, and love one another.


Written on June 19, 2010

Twentieth Day of Lent   11 comments

The Prophet Jeremiah, from the Sistine Chapel; Painting by Michelangelo Buonarroti

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Collect and lections from the Episcopal Lesser Feasts and Fasts Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints


Follow the assigned readings with me this Lent….

Kenneth Randolph Taylor


Jeremiah 7:23-28 (TANAKH: The Holy Scriptures):

[Thus said the LORD of Hosts, the God of Israel:]

But this is what I commanded them: Do my bidding, that I may be your God and you may be my people; walk only in the way that I enjoin upon you, that it may go well with you.  Yet they did not listen or give ear; they followed their own counsels, the willfulness of their evil hearts.  They have gone backward, not forward, from the day your fathers left the land of Egypt until today.  And though I kept sending all My servants, the prophets, to them daily and persistently, they would not listen to Me or give ear.  They stiffened their necks, they acted worse than their fathers.

You shall say all these things to them, but they will not listen to you; you shall call to them, but they will not respond to you.  Then say to them: This is the nation that would not obey the LORD their God, that would not accept rebuke.  Faithfulness has perished, vanished from their mouths.

Psalm 95:6-11 (TANAKH: The Holy Scriptures):

Come, let us bow down and kneel,

bend the knee before the LORD our maker,

for He is our God,

and we are the people He tends, the flock in His care.

O, if you would but head His charge this day:

Do not be stubborn as at Meribah,

as on the day of Massah, in the wilderness,

when your fathers put Me to the test,

tried Me, though they had seen My deeds.

Forty years I was provoked by that generation;

I thought,

They are a senseless people;

they would not know My ways.

Concerning them I swore in anger,

They shall never come to My resting-place.

Luke 11:14-23 (The New Testament in Modern English–Revised Edition):

Another time, Jesus was expelling an evil spirit which was preventing a man from speaking, and as soon as the evil spirit left him, the dumb man found his speech, to the amazement of the crowds.

But some of them said,

He expels these spirits because he is in league with Beelzebub, the chief of the evil spirits.

Others among them, to test him, tried to get a sign from Heaven out of him.  But he knew what they were thinking and told them,

Any kingdom divided itself is doomed and a disunited household will collapse.  And if Satan disagrees with Satan, how does his kingdom continue?–for I know you are saying that I expel evil spirits because I am in league with Beelzebub.  But if I expel devils because I am an ally of Beelzebub, who is your own sons’ ally when they do the same thing?  They can settle that question for you.  But if it is by the finger of God that I am expelling evil spirits, then the kingdom of God has swept over you here and now.

When a strong man armed to the teeth guards his own house, his property is secure.  But when a stronger man comes and conquers him, he removes all the arms on which he has pinned his faith and divides the spoil among his friends.

Anyone who is not with me is against me, and the man who does not gather with me is really scattering.

The Collect:

Keep watch over your Church, O Lord, with your unfailing love; and, since it is grounded in human weakness and cannot maintain itself without your aid, protect it from danger, and keep it in the way of salvation; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever.  Amen.


The law of God is perfect and revives the soul.  And the judgments of God and righteous, even when we mere mortals do not understand them.  The essence of this law is to love God, one’s neighbors, and oneself.  We need (if we have not done so yet) to get outside ourselves and think of others more often that we think of ourselves.  And we need to recognize and embrace basic goodness. Jeremiah, the Psalmist, and Jesus knew well many people around them fell short of this standard.  And they knew the consequences.

As I read church history I encounter a mixed record.  It tells of great acts of love and charity, of rebuilding and maintaining learning and society.  And the annals of church history mention inquisitions, the burning of alleged heretics, the conduct of religious wars and persecutions, the banning of books and silencing of alleged heretics, the use of the Old and New Testaments to defend chattel slavery and racial segregation.  My library contains a 1971 book called Sermons in American History.  This volume arranges sermons in a point-counterpoint format according to topics, dating back to the colonial era.  Among these sermons is a 1954 oration called “God the Original Segregationist,” by Dr. Carey Daniel, Pastor of First Baptist Church, West Dallas, Texas.  As of 1971 Daniel continued to sell copies of the sermon via mail.

One might think that the Golden Rule, being straight-forward, would be easy to understand.  Do to others that which you would have them do to you.  Do not do others what you would not have them do to you.  So, why defend segregation and slavery and burn convicted heretics at the stake?  Can we not distinguish between basic goodness and evil?

There is an old story, which might be apocryphal.  Yet its point is true.  Late in his life the Apostle John visited a Christian congregation.  The gathered people were excited, of course, anticipating the wisdom John would impart.  Some men carried the elderly and frail Apostle (in a chair) into the house where the church met and set him down in front of the group.  John said, “My children, love one another.”  Then he motioned for the men to pick up the chair and carry him out.  One disappointed church member ran after the Apostle, saying, in essence, “That’s it?”  John replied, “When you have done that, I will tell you more.”

Jesus has come.  His Church continues.  The Kingdom of God has swept over us.  Let us show this Kingdom to others by our love for God, our fellow human beings, and ourselves.


Written on February 28, 2010