Archive for the ‘Presbyterian Church in the United States’ Tag

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

Above:  St. Titus

Image in the Public Domain

Difficulty

MARCH 8, 2020

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The Collect:

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

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

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

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

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

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 9:18-27

Psalm 39:4-8a

Titus 2:1-10

Matthew 12:38-42

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

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

David Ackerman summarizes these two readings as focusing

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

Beyond the Lectionary (2013), pages 37-38

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

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

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

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

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

May, via God, there also be an end to

unjust exclusion and oppression of others.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 6, 2018 COMMON ERA

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

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

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

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM KETHE, PRESBYTERIAN HYMN WRITER

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

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Devotion for the 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

THURSDAY, APRIL 30, 2020, and FRIDAY, MAY 1, 2020

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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

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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)

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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)

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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:

Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh,

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.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 16, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE SIXTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF GUSTAF AULEN, SWEDISH LUTHERAN THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT ADELAIDE, HOLY ROMAN EMPRESS

THE FEAST OF MARIANNE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/liberating-grace/

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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

SUNDAY, MARCH 29, 2020

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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:

Exodus 1:1-22

Psalm 84 (Morning)

Psalms 42 and 32 (Evening)

Mark 14:12-31

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Some Related Posts:

A Prayer to See Others As God Sees Them:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/07/19/a-prayer-to-see-others-as-god-sees-them/

A Prayer for Compassion:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/09/24/a-prayer-for-compassion/

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

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/08/03/a-prayer-to-embrace-love-empathy-and-compassion-and-to-eschew-hatred-invective-and-willful-ignorance/

A Prayer of Thanksgiving for the Holy Eucharist:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/07/31/a-prayer-of-thanksgiving-for-the-holy-eucharist/

Prayer:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/02/07/prayer-for-the-fifth-sunday-in-lent/

Prayer of Praise and Adoration:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/02/07/prayer-of-praise-and-adoration-for-the-fifth-sunday-in-lent/

Prayer of Confession:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/02/07/prayer-of-confession-for-the-fifth-sunday-in-lent/

Prayer of Dedication:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/02/07/prayer-of-dedication-for-the-fifth-sunday-in-lent/

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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

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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.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 29, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE FIRST U.S. PRESBYTERIAN BOOK OF CONFESSIONS, 1967

THE FEAST OF JIRI TRANOVSKY, HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS LUKE KIRBY, THOMAS COTTAM, WILLIAM FILBY, AND LAURENCE RICHARDSON, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/01/21/exodus-and-mark-part-i-liberation-via-jesus/

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Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A   31 comments

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

Priorities, Misplaced and Otherwise

MARCH 22, 2020

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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.

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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.

KRT

Written on June 19, 2010

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/02/10/priorities-misplaced-and-otherwise/