Above: Paul Writing His Epistles, a Painting from the 1500s
The Sunday Closest to July 27
Eighth Sunday After Pentecost
JULY 27, 2014
JULY 30, 2017
FIRST READING AND PSALM: OPTION #1
Genesis 29:15-28 (New Revised Standard Version):
Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful. Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.” So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.
Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.” So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast. But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. (Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid.) When morning came, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?” Laban said, “This is not done in our country– giving the younger before the firstborn. Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years.” Jacob did so, and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife.
Psalm 105:1-11, 45b (1979 Book of Common Prayer):
1 Give thanks to the LORD and call upon his Name;
make known his deeds among the peoples.
2 Sing to him, sing praises to him,
and speak of all his marvelous works.
3 Glory in his holy Name;
let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.
4 Search for the LORD and his strength
continually seek his face.
5 Remember the marvels he has done,
his wonders and the judgments of his mouth,
6 O offspring of Abraham his servant,
O children of Jacob has chosen.
7 He is the LORD our God;
his judgments prevail in all the world.
8 He has always been mindful of his covenant,
the promise he made for a thousand generations.
9 The covenant he made with Abraham,
the oath that he swore to Isaac,
10 Which he established as a statute for Jacob,
an everlasting covenant for Israel,
11 Saying, “To you will I give the land of Canaan
to be your allotted inheritance.”
Psalm 128 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):
1 Happy are they all who fear the LORD,
and who follow in his ways!
2 You shall eat the fruit of your labor;
happiness and prosperity shall be yours.
3 Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine within your house,
your children like olive shoots round about your table.
4 The man who fears the LORD
shall thus indeed be blessed.
5 The LORD bless you from Zion,
and may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life.
6 May you live to see your children’s children;
may peace be upon Israel.
FIRST READING AND PSALM: OPTION #2
1 Kings 3:5-12 (New Revised Standard Version):
At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?”
It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.”
Psalm 119:129-136 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):
129 Your decrees are wonderful;
therefore I obey them with all my heart.
130 When your word goes forth it gives light;
it gives understanding to the simple.
131 I open my mouth and pant;
I long for your commandments.
132 Turn to me in mercy,
as you always do to those who love your Name.
133 Steady my footsteps in your word;
let no iniquity have dominion over me.
134 Rescue me from those who oppress me,
and I will keep your commandments.
135 Let your countenance shine upon your servant
and teach me your statutes.
136 My eyes shed streams of tears,
because people do not keep your law.
Romans 8:26-39 (New Revised Standard Version):
The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 (New Revised Standard Version):
Jesus put before the crowds another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
“Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
–Romans 8:28-30 (New Revised Standard Version)
I consider myself a serious student of the Bible–a student, not a teacher or scholar. There is always something more for me to learn, and what I do know about about the Bible outweighs my accumulated learning concerning it. So I have no problem admitting freely that there are certain passages and verses I have not really read for years. I have read the words, but I have moved along.
Romans 8:28-30 is one such passage. Yes, I knew 8:28, but focused on that, not 8:29-30. I began to focus on this passage in late 2008. My methodology was quite Episcopalian; I examined the scriptures carefully, read what Christian theologians have made of these verses, and employed my reason in pondering all this information. The preponderance of scripture, tradition, and reason has convinced me to be become and remain a Single Predestinarian: God has predestined some people to Heaven, but nobody to Hell. The witness of the Holy Spirit and the missions efforts of the Church are available to invite all others into the path leading to eternal life in this life and the next.
Being raised United Methodist, I imbibed deeply of free will and the rejection of any form of predestination. The Methodist concept of salvation available to all according to all, with only the free will choice to reject it standing in the way, is a democratic theology consistent with the American ethos. It is a powerful idea which has affected U.S. history and culture, helping to liberate women and slaves spiritually while negating social hierarchies. Despite these positive contributions, it is a flawed idea.
Calvinism, in any form, is a textured and subtle theological system, one which does not lend itself to bumper sticker statements. This confusion is mildly amusing when it becomes the fodder for jokes, but does not aid in spiritual contemplation.
The good news is that the wisdom that Solomon sought is available to all by grace, either in the form of predestination or the witness of the Holy Spirit; that the extremely valuable Kingdom of God is within the grasp of all, either in the form of predestination or the witness of the Holy Spirit. The mustard seed grows into a giant shrub that goes where it will. Yeast, traditionally associated with corruption in Judaism, becomes a symbol of extravagant grace. The pearls are extremely valuable; the pursuit of them indicates single-minded devotion. The parable of the fish in the net is akin to that of the mustard seed, for both contain the good and the bad, the pure and the impure; God will sort out everything at the end.
The mustard plant provides shelter for many varieties of animal life. Some of the neighbors do not get along, but there they are, together. And Jesus says this is a metaphor for the Kingdom of God. The net collects the good fish along with the rotten ones. Who is a good fish? Who is a rotten one? Do you not get along with your neighbor species in the mustard bush? Leaving decisions as to who is pure and who is impure, who is good and who is rotten, to God is the better part of wisdom. We might even be confused about our proper classification.
Fortunately, grace is present, in one form or another, and there is hope for us yet.
Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on January 11, 2011