Archive for the ‘Legalism’ Tag

Devotion for Ash Wednesday, Years A, B, C, and D (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Ash Wednesday Cross

Scanned by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

A Faithful Response, Part I

MARCH 2, 2022

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The Collect:

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

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

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

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

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

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

Psalm 51:1-17

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

Matthew 6:1-21 or 6:1-6, 16-21

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Ash Wednesday is an ancient holy day.  Its origins are as old as the early Church, which created methods of disciplining sinners, as well as restoring them to the communion of the Church.  The record of Church history tells us that the penitential season of Lent, which grew to forty days in the sixth century, used to begin on a Monday, but came to start of Wednesday in the 500s.  One can also read that the reconciliation of the penitents occurred at the end of Lent–on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday, depending on where one was, in the sixth century.

Interestingly, The Church of Ireland is unique in the Anglican Communion for having an Ash Wednesday ritual that does not require the imposition of ashes.

One function of the announcement of divine judgment is to prompt repentance–literally, turning one’s back to sin.  We cannot turn our backs to all our sins, given our nature, but (1) God knows that already, and (2) we can, by grace, improve.  Judgment and mercy exist in balance.  That God knows what that balance is, is sufficient.

That we do what we should matters; so does why we do it.  In Christianity and Judaism the issue is properly the faithful response to God; the issue is not the pursuit of legalism.  Stereotypes of Judaism (especially among many Christians) and Christianity aside, these are not legalistic religions when people observe them properly.  (There are, of course, legalistic Jews and Christians, hence the stereotypes.)  The standard of faithful response is love of God and, correspondingly, of one’s fellow human beings.  We have accounts of the unconditional and self-sacrificial love of God in the Bible.  The readings from 2 Corinthians and Matthew include commentary on that principle.  To paraphrase Rabbi Hillel, we should go and learn it.

May we do this while avoiding the trap of legalism, into which so many pious people fall easily.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 22, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK HERMANN KNUBEL, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED LUTHERAN CHURCH IN AMERICA

THE FEAST OF GEORG GOTTFRIED MULLER, GERMAN-AMERICAN MORAVIAN MINISTER AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JOHN FOREST AND THOMAS ABEL, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS, 1538 AND 1540

THE FEAST OF SAINT JULIA OF CORSICA, MARTYR AT CORSICA, 620

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2018/05/22/a-faithful-response-part-ii/

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Devotion for the Fourth Sunday in Lent (Year D)   1 comment

st-augustine

Above:  Saint Augustine, by Philippe de Champaigne

Image in the Public Domain

The Sin of Not Loving

MARCH 27, 2022

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The Collect:

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

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

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

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

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

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 54:1-17 or 37:14-38

Psalm 39

John 8:12-30

James 4:(1-3) 4-6 (7-8a) 8b-17 or Galatians 4:1-3 (4-7) 8-3, 5:1

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Love, and do what you will:  whether you hold your peace, through love hold your peace; whether you cry out, through love cry out; whether you correct, through love correct; whether you spare, through love do you spare; let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good.

–St. Augustine of Hippo

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The more familiar version of that excerpt from a sermon is:

Love God and do as you please:  for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.

One might identify a plethora of scriptural verses consistent with this nugget of wisdom from St. Augustine.  The reading from James comes to mind immediately.  In the background of St. Augustine’s counsel is the fidelity of God (evident in the readings from Isaiah).  Yes, we will not escape all the consequences of our sins, but, for the Hebrews in the Old Testament, divine mercy follows God’s judgment.  We are free in Christ to follow him.  Nevertheless, many choose the yoke of slavery to sin.  Maybe they prefer that which is familiar or seemingly easier.  After all, grace, although free, is never cheap; it costs us something.  Yet following Christ is the way of ultimate life, in this realm of existence as well as in the next one.

I like the advice from St. Augustine, for it cuts through legalism (as Jesus did, to the ire of certain religious people) and offers a concise path, one more different from legalism.  Legalism leans toward a checklist morality, which is shallow and typical, for example, of the alleged friends of Job.  Loving God (and, by extension, our fellow human beings) is about relationships.  The Holy Trinity itself is about, among other things, relationships.  We human beings are, by nature, relational.  We are, according to divine law, responsible to and for each other in a web of interdependence.

Taking up one’s cross and following Christ requires one to surrender much, including one’s selfish desires and illusions of independence.  It requires one to grow into a mindset that will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.  In so doing it liberates one to do as one pleases–as one ought to wish to do.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 9, 2016 COMMON ERA

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

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

THE FEAST OF SAINT LUIS BERTRAN, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY PRIEST

THE FEAST OF ROBERT GROSSETESTE, SCHOLAR

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

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/10/09/the-sin-of-not-loving/

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Devotion for Ash Wednesday (Year D)   1 comment

christ-healing-the-paralytic-at-bethesda

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

Image in the Public Domain

The Sin of Legalism

MARCH 2, 2022

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The Collect:

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

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

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

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

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

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 57:1-21

Psalm 102

John 5:1-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 8, 2016 COMMON ERA

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

THE FEAST OF ERIK ROUTLEY, HYMN WRTIER

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

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

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Devotion for Saturday Before the Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Christ Before Pilate

Above:  Christ Before Pilate, by Mihaly Munkracsy

Image in the Public Domain

Jesus, Threat

APRIL 2, 2022

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The Collect:

Creator God, you prepare a new way in the wilderness,

and your grace waters our desert.

Open our hearts to be transformed by the new thing you are doing,

that our lives may proclaim the extravagance of your love

given to all 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 29

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The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 12:21-27

Psalm 126

John 11:45-47

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When the LORD restored Zion

it was as though we were dreaming.

We could not speak for laughing,

we could only utter cries of joy.

Then the saying arose among the nations,

“The LORD has done something great with these people.”

The LORD has done something great with us;

we were delighted.

–Psalm 126:1-3, Harry Mowvley, The Psalms Introduced and Newly Translated for Today’s Readers (1989)

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The remembrance of what God has done (as in Psalm 126) and was about to do (as in Exodus 12) was supposed to inspire reverence for God, measurable in various ways, including how people treated others.  The plot to scapegoat Jesus (in John 11) contradicted that ethic.

Celebrating Passover, the annual commemoration of God liberating the Hebrew slaves from Egypt, in occupied Jerusalem was politically sensitive.  Furthermore, the Temple was the seat of collaboration with the Roman occupying forces.  Jesus was a threat to the Temple authorities and, by extension, to their Roman overlords and partners.  When he entered the city at the beginning of that fateful week leading up to his crucifixion, Jesus arrived in the manner of a triumphant king en route to peace talks after a battle.  Our Lord and Savior, the Gospel of John makes clear, rejected offers to seek to expel the Romans, but many people, including Pontius Pilate, thought that Jesus might lead an insurrection.  Even after Pilate realized that Jesus was not a political rebel, he understood our Lord and Savior to be a threat nevertheless.  Jesus was a threat, but not in the way Pilate thought.

Jesus was a threat to a form of piety which privileged wealth and depended on a certain amount of it in a society which consisted primarily of illiterate peasants.  Jesus was a threat to religious legalism.  Jesus was a threat to religious practices which draped economic injustice in the cloak of piety.

Man Nobody Knows

Above:  The Table of Contents from The Man Nobody Knows:  A Discovery of the Real Jesus (1925), by Bruce Barton

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Jesus remains a threat to such practices in our time.  We cannot kill him again.  Besides, he did not remain dead for long the last time.  We are capable, however, of attempting to domesticate Jesus.  People left, right, and center have been engaged in this practice for a very long time.  One might, for example, ignore the Beatitudes and Woes from Luke 6:17-26, downplay or ignore his apocalyptic teachings, or portray him as always nice and smiling.  The genuine article, however, was–and remains–a threat to a variety of misconceptions about Jesus.  I like to think that, even if I had not grown up in the Christian faith, I would have become a Christian because of the portrayal of Jesus in the four canonical Gospels.

The remembrance of what God has done and some awareness of what God is doing compel me to have reverence for God.  Among the examples to which I point is Jesus.  His life invites me to examine my life.  Much of what he reveals to me makes me uncomfortable, but identifying a problem is the first step in correcting them.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 4, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THOMAS COTTERILL, ENGLISH PRIEST, HYMN WRITER, AND LITURGIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN CALABRIA, FOUNDER OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE POOR SERVANTS AND THE POOR WOMEN SERVANTS OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH MOHR, AUSTRIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/12/04/jesus-threat/

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

Ozark Family

Above:  A Destitute Family in the Ozark Mountains, Arkansas, 1935

Photographer = Ben Shahn (1898-1969)

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USF33-006071-M2

God Cares, Part II

MARCH 28 and 29, 2022

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The Collect:

God of compassion, you welcome the wayward,

and you embrace us all with your mercy.

By our baptism clothe us with garments of your grace,

and feed us at the table of your love,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 28

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The Assigned Readings:

Leviticus 23:26-41 (Monday)

Leviticus 25:1-19 (Tuesday)

Psalm 53 (Both Days)

Revelation 19:1-8 (Monday)

Revelation 19:9-10 (Tuesday)

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The benighted man thinks,

“God does not care.”

–Psalm 53:2, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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The New Revised Standard Version (1989) offers a more traditional rendering of that verse:

Fools say in their hearts,

“There is no God.”

–Psalm 53:1a

Singular versus plural in the realm of nouns is not the issue that really concerns me.  I do not live in fear or distrust of masculine words, but I do guard the distinction between the singular and the plural in the realm of pronouns zealously.  My tenacity regarding language aside, I focus on my main point:  the translators of TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) rendered Psalm 53 and its basis, Psalm 14, correctly.  Every scholarly commentary I have consulted regarding Psalms 14 and 53 agrees that the issue is practical atheism, not the denial of the existence of God.  Atheism was rare in the ancient Middle East, but living as if God did not care was rampant among Hebrews.

God cares.  For God to exist God must care.  God cares for us and the rest of the created order.  God cares about justice.  The Sabbath laws and codes for the year of the jubilee in Leviticus reveal that God cares about people so much as to give them time off from work.  One needs to rest and play as well as to work in order to lead a balanced life.  Unfortunately, the annals of Christian history are full of instances of people labeling proper recreation as something sinful.  I note that targets for this mislabeling have included chess and other games, which medical experts know to be helpful for keeping one’s mind sharp and which educators consider useful in building mental acumen.  Even drinking tea, an excellent source of antioxidants, has been the target of condemnations for indulging one’s appetites.  Some people need to relax in their attitudes and lay legalism aside.

More to the point, time off is a mark of freedom, for a slave in Egypt had no day off from work.  Freedom from oppression, the context for Revelation 19, is not an invitation to impose new forms of oppression–legalism, needless guilt trips, et cetera.  God frees people to live in the liberty of mutual responsibility in community.  Each of us is accountable others, who are, in turn, responsible to each of us.  And everybody depends entirely upon and is accountable to God.  In this model there is no room for oppression or exploitation.  God frees us to lead lives of active compassion, empathy, and sympathy.  And God cares if we pursue that path.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 30, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANDREW THE APOSTLE, MARTYR

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/11/30/god-cares-part-ii/

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Devotion for Thursday and Friday Before the Second Sunday in Lent, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Abraham and Lot Separate

Above:  Abraham and Lot Separate

Image in the Public Domain

Legalism and Fidelity

MARCH 10 and 11, 2022

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The Collect:

God of the covenant, in the mystery of the cross

you promise everlasting life to the world.

Gather all peoples into your arms, and shelter us with your mercy,

that we may rejoice in the life we share in 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 27

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The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 13:1-7, 14-18 (Thursday)

Genesis 14:17-24 (Friday)

Psalm 27 (Both Days)

Philippians 3:2-12 (Thursday)

Philippians 3:17-20 (Friday)

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The LORD is my light and my salvation;

whom then shall I fear?

the LORD is the strength of my life;

of whom then shall I be afraid?

–Psalm 27:1, Book of Common Worship (1993)

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Sometimes the portrayal of Abram/Abraham in the Bible puzzles me.  In Hebrews 10:8-22 the patriarch is a pillar of fidelity to God.  Yet he hedges his bets and lies in Genesis 12, and the only people who suffer are the Pharaoh of Egypt and members of the royal household.  Abram exiles his firstborn son, Ishmael, in Genesis 21:8-21.  The patriarch intercedes on behalf of strangers in Genesis 19 yet not for his second son, Isaac, three chapters later.  Abram, who is wealthy, refuses even to appear to have enriched himself by means of the King of Sodom in Genesis 14.  In so doing the patriarch, who has just paid a tithe of war booty to Melchizedek, King of Salem (Jerusalem) and priest of El Elyon, a Canaanite sky deity, invokes YHWH, not El Elyon.  I do not know what to make of Abram/Abraham.

Circumcision is a major issue in Philippians 3.  St. Paul the Apostle refers to rival missionaries who favor the circumcision of Gentile male converts to Christianity.  He calls these Judaizers “dogs,” a strong insult many Jews reserved for Gentiles.  One can find the mandate for circumcision of males (including some Gentiles) in Genesis 17:9-14, where it is a sign of the Abrahamic Covenant.  It has been, for Jews, a physical sign of the covenant for millennia.  It has become an emotional issue for people who favor it as a religious obligation and a mark of identity as well as for those who consider it cruel.

In Philippians 3 circumcision is, for St. Paul the Apostle, a physical sign of righteousness based on law, not on active faith in God.  The line between legalism and righteousness can be difficult to locate sometimes.  One should obey certain commandments out of fidelity and love and respect for God.  One loves and honors God, so one keeps the commandments of God.

If you love me you will obey my commands…,

John 14:15 (The Revised English Bible, 1989) quotes Jesus as saying.  But when does keeping commandments turn into a fetish of legalism?  And when does the maintenance of one’s identity transform into exclusion of others?  Where is that metaphorical line many people cross?

One sure way of knowing if one has crossed that line is catching that person obsessing over minute details while overlooking pillars of morality such as compassion.  If one, for example, complains not because Jesus has healed someone but because he has done this on the Sabbath, one is a legalist.  If one becomes uptight about personal peccadilloes yet remains unconcerned about institutionalized injustice (such as that of the sexist, racial, and economic varieties), one is a legalist.  If one’s spiritual identity entails labeling most other people as unclean or damned, one is a legalist.  If one thinks that moral living is merely a matter of following a spiritual checklist, one is a legalist.  If one becomes fixated on culturally specific examples of timeless principles at the expense of those principles, one is a legalist.

May we who claim to follow and love God eschew legalism.  May we also care for our close friends and relatives at least as much as we do suffering strangers for which we harbor concern.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 14, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN AMOS COMENIUS, FATHER OF MODERN EDUCATION

THE FEAST OF THE CONSECRATION OF SAMUEL SEABURY, FIRST EPISCOPAL BISHOP

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM ROMANIS, ANGLICAN BISHOP AND HYMN WRITER

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/11/14/legalism-and-fidelity/

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Devotion for Wednesday After the Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Ezra

Above:  Ezra

Image in the Public Domain

Legalism and Judgmentalism

MAY 19, 2021

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The Collect:

Gracious and glorious God, you have chosen us as your own,

and by the powerful name of Christ you protect us from evil.

By your Spirit transform us and your beloved world,

that we may find joy in your Son, Jesus Christ,

our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with and

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 35

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The Assigned Readings:

Ezra 9:5-14

Psalm 115

John 16:16-24

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But we will bless the LORD

from this time forth for evermore.

Hallelujah!

–Psalm 115:18, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice and no one will take your joy from you.

–Jesus in John 16:22, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Having pain (as in grief) described in the scene from Ezra 9 and 10 well.  Ezra was leading returned exiles in a public prayer of confession of sins, during which many people wept bitterly.  Yet there was hope in the form of keeping the divine commandments faithfully from that day forward.  Unfortunately, that zeal turned into legalism in many people quickly.  Such legalism contributed to the crucifixion of Jesus, imminent in John 16.

We humans tend to swing from one extreme to another, thereby missing the sensible, more moderate zone.  If we have paid insufficient attention to God and holy living, we might become unpleasant, legalistic, and judgmental individuals in reaction to a conversion experience.  I know of one person in particular whom I liked better before she became a Christian.

May we, by grace, follow God in such a way as to draw others to God, not to drive them away and cause others to rue the day we became Christians.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 20, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTY-FIRST DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINT DOMINIC OF SILOS, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT PETER CANISIUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF KATHARINA VON BORA LUTHER, WIFE OF MARTIN LUTHER

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/12/20/legalism-and-judgmentalism/

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

Candle_flame_(1)

Above:  Candle Flame

Image in the Public Domain

A Light to the Nations, Part I

MAY 6-8, 2021

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The Collect:

O God, you have prepared for those who love you joys beyond understanding.

Pour into our hearts such love for you that,

loving you above all things,

we may obtain your promises,

which exceed all we can desire,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,

who lives and reigns with and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 34

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 49:5-6 (Thursday)

Isaiah 42:5-9 (Friday)

Deuteronomy 32:44-47 (Saturday)

Psalm 98 (All Days)

Acts 10:1-34 (Thursday)

Acts 10:34-43 (Friday)

Mark 10:42-45 (Saturday)

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Shout with joy to the LORD, all you lands;

lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing….

In righteousness shall he judge the world

and the peoples with equity.

–Psalm 98:5, 10, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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A sense of having a covenant with and a special revelation from God ought not to lead one into spiritual and theological elitism, the religious equivalent of ethnocentrism, which is just as false as cultural relativism.  Of course I condemn legalism and spiritual and theological elitism wherever they rear their ugly heads, but more importantly I advocate a healthy sense of ecumenism.  I emphasize what I favor–loving one’s fellow human beings in the name of God and behaving toward them accordingly.

For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.

–Mark 10:45, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

I, as a professing Christian, claim to follow Jesus.  Thus, if I am to be an intellectually and spiritually honest Christian, I must serve others in the name of Christ, regardless of the human categories into which they fit.  I retain definitions of true religions (Judaism and Christianity), merely false religions, and predatory cults, for I am not a Universalist.  Yet my theology is ecumenical, drawing from Judaism and various Christian traditions.  Those Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons (members of merely false religions) who come to my front door and whom I fail to avoid sometimes, do not understand this, for they think that they have the ultimate revelation of God.  Meanwhile, I live in a home with crucifixes, a menorah, hymnals and service books from a range of denominations, and Bibles from Jewish, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant backgrounds.  I remain an observant Episcopalian, but other denominations fascinate me–some more than others.  Lutherans and Moravians are especially interesting.

There is God; no such beings as gods exist.  Thus all of us are children of God, although many do not know that.  To be an effective light to the nations one must, among other things, lay aside contempt for the people one hopes to convert.  The failure to do so has been among the most grievous faults of many missionaries for centuries.  They people who have set out to do something righteous have destroyed cultures and functioned as agents of imperial powers instead, for the shackles of ethnocentrism have chained them.  Fortunately, modern schools of missions are among the places where one may learn how to avoid following in those footsteps.

To be a light to the nations–or one’s community–is a great responsibility, one to approach with much reverence and humility.  It is a goal one can accomplish only by grace and which requires the acknowledgment that one does not have a complete understanding of God.  Nobody has such a grasp of the divine, but some of us have learned more of the truth than others.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 20, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTY-FIRST DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINT DOMINIC OF SILOS, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT PETER CANISIUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF KATHARINA VON BORA LUTHER, WIFE OF MARTIN LUTHER

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/12/20/a-light-to-the-nations-part-i/

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Devotion for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday After the Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Zerubbabel

Above:  Zerubbabel

Image in the Public Domain

Sufficiency in God

MARCH 22-24, 2021

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The Collect:

O God, rich in mercy, by the humiliation of your Son

you lifted up this fallen world and rescued us from the hopelessness of death.

Lead us into your light, that all our deeds may reflect your love,

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

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 28

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 43:8-13 (Monday)

Isaiah 44:1-8 (Tuesday)

Haggai 2:1-9, 20-23 (Wednesday)

Psalm 119:9-16 (All Days)

2 Corinthians 3:4-11 (Monday)

Acts 2:14-24 (Tuesday)

John 12:34-50 (Wednesday)

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How shall a young man cleanse his way?

By keeping to your words.

With my whole heart I seek you

let me not stray from your commandments.

I treasure your promise in my heart;

that I may not sin against you.

Blessed are you, O LORD;

instruct me in your statutes.

With my lips will I recite

all the judgments of your mouth.

I have taken greater delight in the way of your decrees

than in all manner of riches.

I will meditate on your commandments

and give attention to your ways.

My delight is in your statutes;

I will not forget your word.

–Psalm 119:9-16, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Jesus, in the Gospel of Matthew, did not condemn Torah piety.  No, he had harsh words for legalism and its proponents.  Religious authorities, our Lord and Savior said, were teaching the Law of Moses wrongly; he was teaching it correctly.  Thus, when I read the translated words of St. Paul the Apostle in 2 Corinthians 3, I wondered to which Law he objected and why.  Commentaries told me more about the biases of their authors than those of St. Paul, who, according to scholars of the New Testament, did not use that term consistently in his writings.  That fact does not surprise me, for I know from other sources that the Apostle was uncertain in his Trinitarian theology (aren’t most of us?), for he used the Son and the Holy Spirit interchangeably sometimes.  If one seeks consistency where it is does not exist, one sets oneself up for disappointment.

N. T. Wright wrote in Paul in Fresh Perspective (2005) that the contrast was actually between those who heard the Law of Moses and those who trusted in Jesus.  Thus, Wright continued, in Pauline theology, divine holiness was fatal to people with darkened minds and hardened hearts.  Yet those who have the Holy Spirit do not find divine holiness fatal, Wright wrote on page 123.  One might question that perspective or parts thereof, for the Apostle did write negatively of the Law of Moses or at least of a version of it in his head in epistles.

Anyhow, St. Paul was correct in his point that our power/competence/adequacy/sufficiency (all words I found while comparing translations) comes from God alone.  And, if we accept Bishop Wright’s reading of the Apostle in 2 Corinthians 3, we find a match with John 12:34-50, in which many people who witnesses Jesus performing signs still rejected him.  They had hardened hearts and darkened minds.

You are my witnesses,

Yahweh said in Isaiah 43 and 44 to exiles about to return to their ancestral home.  We are God’s witnesses.  Are we paying attention?  And are we plugging into the divine source of power to glorify and enjoy God forever?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 15, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE SIXTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF THOMAS BENSON POLLOCK, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM PROXMIRE, UNITED STATES SENATOR

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/12/15/sufficiency-in-god/

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Devotion for the Twenty-Sixth, Twenty-Seventh, and Twenty-Eighth Days of Easter (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   2 comments

Above:  A Vegetable Garden Which Violates the Law of Moses

(But I am not legalistic, so I do not care.)

Leviticus and Luke, Part IV:  Legalism and Compassion

MAY 12-14, 2022

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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

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The Assigned Readings:

Leviticus 17:1-16 (26th Dayof Easter)

Leviticus 18:-7, 20-19:8 (27th Day of Easter)

Leviticus 19:9-18, 26-37 (28th Day of Easter)

Psalm 47 (Morning–26th Day of Easter)

Psalm 96 (Morning–27th Day of Easter)

Psalm 92 (Morning–28th Day of Easter)

Psalms 68 and 113 (Evening–26th Day of Easter)

Psalms 50 and 138 (Evening–27th Day of Easter)

Psalms 23 and 114 (Evening–28th Day of Easter)

Luke 10:23-42 (26th Day of Easter)

Luke 11:1-13 (27th Day of Easter)

Luke 11:14-36 (28th Day of Easter)

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The laws in Leviticus 18-19 are a mixed bag.  They concern, among other things, sexual relations, clothing, proper conduct toward the poor, and what to do when someone sheds animal blood improperly.  I look in amazement at the hypocrisy of self-professed biblical literalists who quote 18:22 (the ban on homosexual intercourse) yet commit fraud (in violation of 19:13) or do not think twice about wearing polyester garments (in violation of 19:19).

Context is crucial.  In regard to the question of homosexuality, the concept of homosexual orientation did not exist at the time, so such intercourse was considered unnatural.  Also, it could never lead to procreation.  But neither can sexual relations between a husband and his post-menopausal wife.  So, is that also wrong?

Priests could wear garments made of two or more types of cloth–and they did (Exodus 28:6 and 39:29).  So lay people were not supposed to do so, except at the fringes of garments, according to Numbers 15:37-40.  Nevertheless, an allegedly unnatural mixture of people or cloth or even cattle or seeds (Leviticus 19:19) was taboo, except when it was not.  How many of you, my readers, have a vegetable garden with more than one type of plant growing in it?  Are you thereby sinning?  Are your polyester garments–certainly unnatural mixtures–sinful?

I avoid such hypocrisy by not being a biblical literalist or claiming to be one.  So I quote science, consider historical contexts, and throw out some laws while retaining others for use in the twenty-first century Common Era.  Defrauding people is bad.  Forcing’s one’s daughter into prostitution is clearly wrong.  And one should respect one’s elders.  But are vegetable gardens and polyester suits sinful?

As I ponder the readings from the Gospel of Luke I notice the thread of the importance of caring for each other.  The stranger is my neighbor, and the person I might despise due to his group identity might be a hero or heroine.  We must forgive each other.  If this proves difficult, we must take that issue to God, who can empower us to forgive.  People matter more than rules about cloth combinations or animal blood.

Do I pick and choose what to affirm in the Bible?  Of course I do!  Does not the Letter to the Hebrews override much of the Law of Moses?  Did not Jesus countermand parts of the letter of that law code?  As a Christian, I have the New Testament and the Old one.  And, as a thinking human being, I have access to scientific, psychological, psychiatric, and sociological knowledge which did not exist in biblical times.  So read about Jesus exorcising demons and interpret it as him curing epilepsy or some other illness with organic causes.  While doing this I focus on principles more than on details.  One of these principles is that Jesus taught compassion, not legalism.  So, if I am to follow him, I must live accordingly.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 14, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BASIL THE GREAT, FATHER OF EASTERN MONASTICISM

THE FEAST OF SAINT METHODIUS I, PATRIARCH OF CONSTANTINOPLE

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/03/02/leviticus-and-luke-part-iv-legalism-and-compassion/

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