Above: The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., 1964
Photograph by Dick DeMarsico, World Telegraph and Sun
Image Source = Library of Congress
Active, Abrahamic Faith
The Sunday Closest to August 10
Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost
AUGUST 7, 2016
The Assigned Readings:
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 and Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24
Genesis 15:1-6 and Psalm 33:12-22
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Some Related Posts:
Proper 14, Year A:
Proper 14, Year B:
Prayer of Praise and Adoration:
Prayer of Confession:
Prayer of Dedication:
We human beings use the same word in different ways, with a variety of meanings. Consider, O reader, the word “day,” for example. People say,
In my day…
Back in the day…,
as well as
There is a new day coming.
Or “day” might apply literally, as in when today separates yesterday from tomorrow.
The same principle applies to “faith” in the New Testament. The Apostle Paul, in Romans, used it to mean something inherently active, which leads to works. A Pauline formula is that as a person thinks, so he or she is. The Letter of James contains a different definition, that of intellectual assent to a proposition or set of propositions. So, according to that definition, faith without works is dead. Both epistles agree on the imperative of active faith, so one need not imagine a discrepancy between their conclusions.
And there is the definition of faith from Hebrews 11:1-3:
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is was made from things that are not visible.
–New Revised Standard Version
In other words, faith applies in circumstances in which one can neither prove nor disprove a proposition according to scientific methods or documentary evidence. That is an anachronistic definition, I know, but it works well. Science can tell us much; I respect it and reject all anti-scientific sentiments and statements. God gave us brains; may we use them as fully and critically as possible. And documents form the basis of the study of history as I practice it. Objective historical accuracy and the best scientific data available ought to override dogma, superstition, and bad theology. So, no matter what the Gospels say, demon possession does not cause epilepsy, for example. Yet there does exist truth which these twin standards of modernism (as opposed to postmodernism) cannot measure. Such truth is good theology, which one can grasp by faith.
We read in Hebrews of the faithful example of Abram/Abraham (and by implication, of Sarai/Sarah), which harkens back to Genesis. Theirs is a fantastical story, one which challenges understandings of biology. But that is not the point. The point is that God does unexpected things, and that the people of God should accept this reality. And whether a certain unexpected thing is good news or bad news depends upon one’s spiritual state, as in Luke 12.
The reading from Isaiah 1 caught and held my attention most of all. I, as an observant Episcopalian, am an unrepentant ritualist. The text does not condemn ritualism itself. No, the text damns insincere ritualism mixed with the neglect of vulnerable members of society:
Wash yourselves clean;
Put your evil things
Away from my sight.
Cease to do evil;
Learn to do good.
Devote yourselves to justice;
Aid the wronged.
Uphold the rights of the orphan;
Defend the cause of the widow.
–Isaiah 1:16-17, TANAKH: The Holy Scriptures
Do it 0r else, the text says. This is a call t0 society; Enlightenment notions of individualism do not apply here. The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1967, called for
…a true revolution of values
from a society focused on things to one which places the priority on people. In the same speech, the one in which he opposed the Vietnam War without equivocation, he said:
A nation that continues to spend year after year more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
–A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Edited by James M. Washington, 1986), page 241
The Prophet Isaiah would have agreed.
Eternal God, heavenly Father,
you have graciously accepted us as living members
of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ,
and you have fed us with spiritual food
in the sacrament of his Body and Blood.
Send us now into the world in peace,
and grant us strength and courage
to love and serve you
with gladness and singleness of heart;
through Christ our Lord. Amen.
–The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 365
Do we have the Abrahamic faith to do that? And how much better will our societies be for all their members if we do?
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
OCTOBER 16, 2012 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF ALL CHRISTIAN MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS
THE FEAST OF HUGH LATIMER, NICHOLAS RIDLEY, AND THOMAS CRANMER, ANGLICAN MARTYRS