Devotion for Proper 5, Year A   Leave a comment

Above:  The Calling of St. Matthew (1621), by Hendrick ter Brugghen

Being Moral Consists of Far More Than Following a Checklist

The Sunday Closest to June 8

The Second Sunday After Pentecost

JUNE 11, 2023



Genesis 12:1-9 (New Revised Standard Version):

Now the LORD said to Abram,

Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him.  Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.  Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan.  When they had come to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh.  At that time the Canaanites were in the land.  Then the LORD appeared to Abram, and said,

To your offspring I will give this land.

So he build there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him.  From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the LORD and invoked the name of the LORD.  And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.

Psalm 33:1-12 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Rejoice in the LORD, you righteous;

it is good for the just to sing praises.

2 Praise the LORD with the harp;

play to him upon the psaltery and the lyre.

3 Sing for him a new song;

sound a fanfare with all your skill upon the trumpet.

For the word of the LORD is right,

and all his works are sure.

He loves righteousness and justice;

the loving-kindness of the LORD fills the whole earth.

By the word of the LORD were the heavens made,

by the breath of his mouth all the heavenly hosts.

7 He gathers up the waters of the ocean as in a water-skin

and stores up the depths of the sea.

8 Let all the earth fear the LORD;

let all who dwell in the world stand in awe of him.

9 For he spoke, and it came to pass;

he commanded, and it stood fast.

10 The LORD brings the will of the nations to naught;

he thwarts the designs of the peoples.

11 But the LORD’s will stands fast for ever,

and the designs of his heart from age to age.

12 Happy is the nation whose God is the LORD!

happy the people he has chosen to be his own!


Hosea 5:15-6:6 (New Revised Standard Version):

[Yahweh speaking]

I will return again to my place

until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face.

In their distress they will beg my favor.

Come, let us return to the LORD;

for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us;

he has struck down, and he will bind us up.

After two days he will revive us;

on the third day he will raise us up,

that we may live before him.

Let us know, let us press on to know the LORD;

his appearing is as sure as the dawn;

he will come to us like the showers,

like the spring rains that water the earth.

What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?

What shall I do with you, O Judah?

Your love is like a morning cloud,

like the dew that goes away early.

Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets,

I have killed them by the words of my mouth,

and my judgment goes forth as the light.

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,

the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

Psalm 50:7-15 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

7 Hear, O my people, and I will speak:

“O Israel, I will bear witness against you;

for I am God, your God.

I do not accuse you because of your sacrifices;

your offerings are always before me.

I will take no bull-calf from your stalls,

nor he-goats out of your pens;

10 For all the beasts of the forest are mine,

the herds in their thousands upon the hills.

11 I know every bird in the sky,

and the creatures of the fields are in my sight.

12 If I were hungry, I would not tell you,

for the whole world is mine and all that is in it.

13 Do you think that I eat the flesh of bulls,

or drink the blood of goats?

14 Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving

and make good your vows to the Most High.

15 Call upon me in the day of trouble;

I will deliver you, and you shall honor me.


Romans 4:13-25 (New Revised Standard Version):

For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.  If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.  For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.

For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)–in the presence of God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.  Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said.  He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old) or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.  No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.  Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.”  Now the words, “it was reckoned to him” were written not for his sake alone, but for ours alone, but for ours also.  It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.


Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26 (New Revised Standard Version):

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him,

Follow me.

And he got up and followed him.

And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples.  When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples,

Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?

But when he had heard this, he said,

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’  For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.

While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying,

My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.

And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples.  Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself,

If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.

Jesus turned, and seeing her he said,

Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.

And instantly the woman was made well.  When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, he said,

Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.

And they laughed at him.  But when the crowd had been put outside, he went up and took her by the hand, and the girl got up.  And the report of this spread throughout that district.

The Collect:

O God, from whom all good proceeds:  Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


The Second Reading reading for this Sunday ties into the Genesis option for the First Reading, and the Gospel Reading connects to the Hosea choice for the First Reading.  And everything links together into a wonderful and consistent package.  My summary of that package is this:  Being moral consists of far more than living according to a checklist of “You shall” and “You shall not” statements.  Rather, proper priorities form the seat of morality.  And what is more moral than showing mercy and trusting in God?

Let us begin with Jesus and work backward from there.  First, he ate with tax collectors and other notorious sinners.  This was a great scandal to those preoccupied with ritual purity.  Besides, a self-respecting person concerned about ritual purity took great care in choosing with whom he broke bread.  Tax collectors were not salaried people, so they collected the Roman imperial rate plus the money they used to support themselves.  They were tax thieves.  This was common knowledge, and they were despised, considered traitors to their own Jewish people.  And here was Jesus, eating with them!  In North America we have a cliche:  He who lies down with dogs rises with fleas.  There was probably a similar saying in Aramaic.  But Jesus did not seek respectability according the such standards.  The other notorious sinners violated many parts of the Jewish law code, probably without remorse.  But the law was so complicated that only a small elite proportion of the population could obey the law in its entirety, as they interpreted it.  Yet these men, who lived according to the letter of the law, that is, a checklist, frequently violated the spirit of said law.  So even they broke the religious law.

You see, O reader, nobody could keep the law in its entirety, spirit and letter.  This, I think, is part of why Paul emphasized the role of faith.  As a former legalist, he understood this lesson well.  And Paul, by mentioning Abraham, a paragon of faith, made a chronology-based point that the great patriarch’s righteousness could not and did not rely on the law, for Abraham lived and died before the days of Moses.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus quoted Hosea, channeling Yahweh:

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,

the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

(Note:  The difference in translation between Hosea and Matthew is easy to explain.  The author of the Gospel of Matthew quoted the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.)

Jesus showed mercy to his dinner guests, whose potential he recognized.  He knew what they were but focused on what they could become.  May we look upon others in the same way.

And Jesus showed mercy on his way to satisfy the request of a grieving father.  The woman with the hemorrhage was, by the Law of Moses, ritually impure.  She had been for years.  Imagine how desperate she must have been for healing and restoration to society, for she was marginalized and destitute.  Her plight was itself an indictment of the law.  Jesus had mercy on this woman who had nothing but faith and helped Jairus, who had only one alternative to faith.  That alternative was to bury his daughter.

As one reads the four canonical gospels closely, one notices that Jesus violated and countermanded aspects of the religious law, as the Pharisees practiced it.  He did not wash his hands ritually.  He gleaned food from fields on the Sabbath.  He did not maintain a morality checklist beyond loving God fully and one’s neighbor as oneself.  One rule, treating others as one wants others to treat one, covers much of morality in just a few words.

As a student of U.S. history and of religion, I know the well-plowed ground that is the sad tale of how many professing Christians in Antebellum America quoted the Bible to justify slavery.  (The best book to cover this material is H. Shelton Smith’s In His Image, But….)  The pro-slavery case rested mostly on a a literal reading of selected passages of scripture, along with creative explanations about how keeping someone enslaved is consistent with the Golden Rule.  The anti-slavery case rested almost entirely on the Golden Rule.  And really, what else should it have needed?  The pro-slavery interpretation of the Bible was a highly selective checklist attempting to maintain the letter of the law; it was masterpiece of prooftexting.  But the anti-slavery case was gloriously simple, focusing on the spirit of the law.

I challenge you, O reader, as much as I challenge myself, to focus on the letter of the law and to let the details fall into the place.  This letter of the law is really quite simple:

  • Love and trust the Lord your God with everything you have and are.
  • Love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Live mercifully.



Published at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS on November 20, 2010


A High Price Tag for Homophobia in Florida   Leave a comment

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is waging a culture war in the hope of advancing politically.  In the process, he does not think through the consequences to the taxpayers of Orange and Osceola Counties, apparently.

Due to Disney’s pushback against the “Don’t Say Gay” law, DeSantis and allies in the legislature have potentially saddled the taxpayers of Orange of Osceola Counties with more than one billion dollars in debt.  Dissolving the Reedy Creek Improvement District (created by state law in 1967) triggers a provision of that 1967 law obligating taxpayers in the affected counties to pay off the outstanding bond debt for the Reedy Creek Improvement District first.  That debt is nearly one billion dollars.  Not counting the one billion dollars, dissolving the Reedy Creek Improvement District imposes an additional tax burden of 163 million dollars on the taxpayers of those two counties.  This translates into a 25 percent hike in property taxes.  Adding one billion dollars really hikes property taxes, potentially.

The attorneys at the Walt Disney Corporation know the 1967 law well.  Ron DeSantis has learned about it after making a greater fool of himself.

In chess terms, this situation seems to conclude with Disney checkmating DeSantis.  I congratulate Disney.  May responsible, cool, heads in the legislature head off these tax shocks.  In the meantime, how high is the price taxpayers must pay for the bigotry and vindictiveness of Ron DeSantis?




Outlawing the Truth   Leave a comment

Georgia, my native state and my home, has joined the Hall of Shame yet again.  Governor Brian Kemp has signed into a law a bill that severely curtails the discussion of racism in public school classrooms.  The son of a bitch, who denies being racist, has emboldened racists and set back the cause of racial justice.

Pardon my “French,” O reader.  I harbor no objections to selective, well-placed, and strong language that calls proper attention to the reality of situations.  I do object, however, to profanity as verbal wallpaper.

For the record, I am White.  Most of my ancestry came from the British Isles and Western Europe.  The major exception is the Cherokee ancestry on my mother’s side.  But, for all intents and purposes, to steal a line from Gilbert and Sullivan,

I am an Englishman.

I add the following details to the list of relevant background information.  My main academic interests are race, racism, and religion, especially in the U.S. South.  I am, unavoidably, a product, to some extent, of my culture, for good and ill.  The racism in my thoughts comes from my sick, racist culture, not from my parents, who taught me better.  Their influence helps me to counteract and not to give voice to the racism that reveals its ugly self in private, inside my cranium.  My better angels fight these battles valiantly.

I reject the premise that people of color have a duty to avoid making White people uncomfortable.  I also reject the premise that the proper response to discussions of racism and its effects in society is to shut down those conversations, perhaps even to criminalize them.  Such discussions ought to make all people profoundly uncomfortable.  That discomfort is evidence of an active social and moral conscience.  That discomfort ought to lead to constructive efforts–both individually and collectively–to combat racism and to correct its corrosive social effects.

Doing that is challenging.  Shutting down and outlawing those conversations is easy.  The latter strategy is consistent with one conservative strategy regarding racism–to deny racism and to play at being color-blind.  Conservatism emphasizes personal responsibility and downplays collective responsibility.  An emphasis on personal responsibility has a legitimate place, but that legitimate place is never in the context of downplaying collective responsibility.  Both personal and collective responsibility should exist in balance.

Here I stand.  I will do no other.




Back to the Blogosphere   9 comments

Blogging is a hobby for me, so it takes a back seat to the rest of life.

I have emerged from a whirlwind two weeks or so.  During this time, I have learned that I had to move, I have packed, I have moved, I have unpacked, and I have settled into my new apartment. about three miles from my previous abode.  I have also hung pictures and blackout curtains.

The final part of the move will ensue in several weeks, when my mother and stepfather relocate within town.  I am due to inherit their washer, dryer, and cat.

Now I am free to turn my attention back to my seven weblogs–mainly LENTEN AND EASTER DEVOTIONS and BLOGA THEOLOGICA, at the moment. (I have ongoing series at those weblogs.)  I am also free to read others’ weblogs.

Moving is a pain, literally and metaphorically.  It is also all-consuming.  I hope not to have to move again soon.

I now reside about half a mile down the road from Georgia Southwestern State University, Americus, Georgia.  I have no relationship to that institution, but I hope that someone there will correct that situation by looking favorably upon one of my forthcoming applications to work there.  A university campus is my natural habitat.




Posted February 20, 2022 by neatnik2009 in Various Memories and Opinions

Remember January 6, 2021   3 comments

On January 6, 2021, I watched the news in horror as a mob Donald Trump sent to the United States Capitol attacked that structure and the brave police officers guarding it.  I wondered what had happened to my native country, which I love.

I still wonder what is happening to my country.

The dominant wing of the Republican Party is Trumpian.  It is, therefore, an existential threat to the continuation of representative government in the United States of America.  The dominant wing of the Republican Party in 2022 has authoritarian tendencies.  These tendencies are antithetical to a political party with a long track record of favoring smaller government.  The dominant wing of the Republican Party is a fascist death cult of personality.

This cult has outgrown Trump.  Elements have turned against him.

I like to be cautious.  When I become alarmed, I do so because people who know far more than I do have become alarmed.  When I read of people who witnessed the rise of the Third Reich become alarmed about the United States, I take those voices seriously.  When I read political scientists saying that the future of our democratic republic is at risk, I take those voices seriously.

I lay my proverbial cards on the table.  I am a Democrat.  I am, to be precise, a Democratic Socialist.  If I were a Canadian, I would vote for the New Democratic Party.  Fixing the Republican Party is not my job.  No, that is the responsibility of Republicans.  I recall hearing about George H. W. Bush, when he was a Republican Party leader in Texas in the 1960s, expelling members of the John Birth Society from the state party.  The Republican Party needs latter-day George H. W. Bushes, who will expel all who were complicit in and supportive of the treasonous activities of January 6, 2021.  The Republican Party needs to do this now, for the sake of the country.

Elections have not always made me nervous.  I have frequently disapproved of the results.  Yet, prior to 2016, I did not think that when, my preferred candidates lost, the future of the republic was at stake.  Prior to 2016, those candidates against whom I voted and who won were usually were freedom-loving patriots.  (A few scared the hell out of me, though.)  Overall, however, they were misguided, but they did not seek to bring down the republic, at least.

Now I fear for the future of my homeland.  The threat is internal, from the far right, which is becoming less marginal.  We have a republic, if we can keep it.  I pray that we can and will.

Another internal threat arising from the Big Lie is that, in some states, including Georgia (where I live), new election laws permit the state government to overturn the election results–all in the name of “election security.”  This does not soothe my fears for the future of representative government in the United States of America.

May God help us all.  May God save us from each other and ourselves.




The Moral Dimension of Vaccine Mandates   3 comments

When I was a wee lad, my parents had to prove my status regarding certain vaccines before they could enroll me in public schools.

When I was applying to colleges and universities for my undergraduate and graduate degree programs, I had to do the same before I could enroll.  If I needed a booster, I got one.  If I had not received a given vaccine, I got one.

When I was a freshman at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, Tifton, Georgia, I told the germane officials that I tested a false positive for tuberculosis.  I told the truth.  Said officials, not convinced, sent me to the Tift County Health Department for a chest x-ray.  They the college sent me to my county health department once a month for a few months.  A nurse drew a sample of my blood and gave me a bottle of pills.  I finally proved that I was not going to give anyone tuberculosis.

These were well-reasoned and proper policies.

I, as a Christian who takes the Bible seriously, cannot escape mutuality, a principle encoded into the Law of Moses, the messages of the Hebrew prophets, and the moral teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.  We are all, in the eyes of God, dependent upon, responsible for, and responsible to each other.  We belong to God and each other.  Whatever one does or does not do, affects others.

Without romanticizing the United States homefront during World War II, I note that sharing sacrifices and hardships was the consensus position.  That is not the consensus during this COVID-19 pandemic, sadly.  When I read stories about delusional and/or selfish people who refuse to get vaccinated, I read stories about public menaces.  When I read stories about unvaccinated COVID-19 patients in hospitals harassing doctors and nurses, I shake my head.  When I read stories about the families of such patients threatening the lives of medical professionals, I wonder what the hell is wrong with these people.  When I read stories of people with conditions other than COVID-19 who have died because they had to wait for room in overwhelmed hospitals, I wonder what will convince some people to get vaccinated.  The stubbornly unvaccinated and those who enable them have blood on their hands.

So, yes, I support vaccine mandates in the public and private sectors.  Yes, I favor making the unvaccinated pay higher insurance premiums.

The current economic problems are tied to the ongoing pandemic.  Do not blame any politicians, except those who enable the stubbornly unvaccinated.  Mainly, blame the stubbornly unvaccinated.

Strictly enforced vaccine mandates are morally defensible.  They are consistent with mutuality.  Nobody has the moral right to be a modern-day counterpart of Typhoid Mary.




The Thirtieth Anniversary of My Confirmation   Leave a comment

Above:  The Flag of The Episcopal Church

Photographer = Kenneth Randolph Taylor


Thirty years ago today–Sunday, December 22, 1991–the Right Reverend Harry Woolston Shipps, the Eighth Bishop of Georgia, confirmed me into The Episcopal Church at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church.  I have been a contented Episcopalian since.

I spent about fourteen years (1991-2005) in six congregations in the Diocese of Georgia.  About sixteen years in St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, in the Diocese of Atlanta, followed.  I have returned to the Diocese of Georgia and joined Calvary Episcopal Church, Americus.

The Episcopal Church suits me.  I am on this planet to be an Episcopalian, I am certain.   Therefore, December 22 is one of the anniversaries I observe annually.




Blogging Update–December 12, 2021   Leave a comment

Above:  My Writing Desk, December 12, 2021

Photographer = Kenneth Randolph Taylor


All appearances to the contrary, I have not dropped off the face of the blogging earth.  Yes, my pace of posting has slowed down considerably.  However, I have been drafting posts for a new series, “Reading Luke-Acts,” intended for BLOGA THEOLOGICA, perhaps my most cleverly-named weblog.

Yes, I do have Thomistic tendencies.  Yes, I was thinking of the Summa Theologica when I chose the name of BLOGA THEOLOGICA.


The Anglican rosary is new, as of this morning.

I have gotten through Luke 12 and started the second half of a composition book.  I am, by my reckoning, halfway through the Gospel of Luke and three-thirteenths through Luke-Acts.

I make no distinction between matters intellectual and matters spiritual.  For me, they are one and the same.  Serious Bible study, therefore, is intellectually and spiritually rewarding.  I do not shrink from the historical-critical method or any other critical method.  My historical training tells me that parts of Luke-Acts are not historical.  So be it.  I accept good theology and reject bad history.

I may begin to post segments of “Reading Luke-Acts” at BLOGA THEOLOGICA by the end of 2021 or shortly after the beginning of 2022.  I have yet to select a date to begin.

In the meantime, 2628 posts exist at BLOGA THEOLOGICA already.  And I will eventually return to my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days here at SUNDRY THOUGHTS.

I also refer you, O reader, to ADVENT, CHRISTMAS, AND EPIPHANY DEVOTIONS, the first of three weblogs with which I cover the church year.

Pax vobiscum!




Posted December 12, 2021 by neatnik2009 in Various Memories and Opinions

Reusable Bags   2 comments

I like to use reusable bags when shopping.  I keep them behind the driver’s seat in my truck.  I do, on rare occasions, forget to take reusable bags into a store (such as a grocery store), however.  Most of my reusable bags are big and blue.  They bear the name and logo of my former parish in Athens, Georgia.  A few others are from Dollar General.

Yesterday, I went to Dollar General in Americus, Georgia, where I live.  First, I put my mask on, due to the pandemic.  Then I carried two reusable Dollar General bags to the store, placed them in a shopping cart outdoors, and entered the store.  After I had selected the items I wanted to purchase, I went to check out.  I placed the reusable bags on the counter first.  The cashier was confused.  She asked if I wanted to purchase the bags.  I explained that I wanted to use the reusable bags.  Then she understood.

I live in a disposable society.  This is not a healthy way for a society to be.  Using reusable bags habitually constitutes a modest effort in living responsibly.  It also seems to be relatively rare in my culture, unfortunately.




My Third Dose   4 comments

Today I received my third dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination.

I thank God that this vaccine and other vaccines for COVID-19 exist and are available in many places.  I also know that parts of the world have no access to any such vaccine.

My civil libertarian ways have their limits.  Those limits stand somewhere before personal choice in whether to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in this pandemic.  Nobody has a moral right to choose to be a contemporary counterpart to Typhoid Mary.  Nobody should have the legal right to do so either.  When my choice endangers you, O reader–or your choice endangers me–the one making the unwise choice also makes an immoral choice.  I embrace mutuality, not individualism and personal choice taken to a dangerous extreme.   When I read about certain European governments fining unvaccinated adults severely for leaving their homes, I think that some governments have good sense during a pandemic.

I have no sympathy for those who refuse to behave responsibly, i.e, wear a mask properly, practice social distancing, and get vaccinated (if eligible and the vaccines are available) during this pandemic.  I have no sympathy for those who spread deadly disinformation that costs lives, prolongs this pandemic, and compound social and economic damage from it.  I support vaccine mandates–the stricter the enforcement, the better.  I also favor keeping those will insist on acting irresponsibly away from the rest of us, for the common good.  If certain people will not behave responsibly, this last step is reasonable and morally defensible.