Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Tintoretto painting of annunciation to Manoah's wife

“You are special.”

The text today continues the exploration of God’s call in the book of Judges, with the call of Samson – although the call is more properly, as we’ll see, the call of Samson’s mother. Scripture doesn’t tell us her name, but we know she must have had one, and according to Jewish tradition it was Zlelponith, so maybe it will be OK to call her that.

The story happens late in the period of the Judges; Samson is one of the last-named judges in the book – and conditions in Israel have deteriorated a lot since the early days. People in general don’t seem to know a lot about the God of Israel, don’t seem to be too familiar with what God asks from people. And that is part of what we have to reflect on this morning: what God asks from people.

Here is the question that has been on my mind this week: Does the Bible ever disappoint us? read the rest

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Shabbat shalom

Image -

“An ancient tradition declares: ‘The world to come is characterized by the kind of holiness possessed by the Sabbath in this world … The Sabbath possesses a holiness like that of the world to come.'”
Mekilta to Exodus, 31:17, quoted in Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005), 73.

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Thoughts on a definition of idolatry

bronze Shiva Nataraja

Shiva Nataraja – one way to represent the ongoing character of divine creative transformation

Something caught my attention in Guthrie’s definition of idolatry as “giving absolute loyalty to something that is only a creature rather than the Creator.”1

It occurred to me that the definition provides a good opening for arguing that the practices of Hindu puja, that are so involved with representations of the many, many, many gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon, are frankly not “idolatrous” by that definition, and are actually a lot less “idolatrous” than some of the misplaced loyalties of people ostensibly practicing one of the aniconic religions. read the rest

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Christian Doctrine (8)

Image - John Calvin

Not a world-denying ascetic spiritualist, thank goodness

Although the exam on theology is in the past now (passed it – yay!), I was thinking that now that hip replacement/rehab AND spring semester teaching are ALSO in the past I could turn back to the project of annotating my copy of Shirley C. Guthrie, Jr., Christian Doctrine Rev. ed., (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994) – if only for the sake of closure. Here are summary notes (and a couple of comments) on Chapter 8, “What Are We Doing Here? The Doctrine of Creation” (145-165).

Guthrie opens by contrasting the view of the world presented in the Bible (about 4,000 years old, flat land, bowl-shaped sky, three-story universe …) and by modern (ca. 1994!) science (about 4 billion years old, a light year about 6 trillion miles, stars hundreds of light years away, evolutions and extinctions, etc.), and painting them as an “apples to oranges” comparison. Science takes empirical observations and tries to answer the question of how we got here. The Biblical story of creation, and the revelation contained therein, aims to tell us “why” we’re here. Guthrie says “Christians can respect and be grateful for everything science can tell them about the mystery and greatness of God’s creation” (147) and would confidently refer factual questions about the physical/chemical/biological world to science. On the other hand, there are things we can only learn from revelation, including the three topics of his chapter proper: read the rest

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Exegetical Exercise (Judges 13:1-7, 24-25)

Tintoretto painting of annunciation to Manoah's wife

Tintoretto appears to be unique in having depicted Manoah’s wife alone with the angel of YHWH; other artists like to include Manoah, or the couple’s sacrifice.

The Uniform Series text for Sunday, June 25, is Judges 13:1-7, 24-25, which we might describe as the “call of Samson,” but which in a way is more precisely the “call of Samson’s mother/Manoah’s wife/Zlelponi (by tradition).”

The text (in the NRSV with slight modification) is:

13:1/ The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, and YHWH gave them into the hand of the Philistines forty years. 2/ There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. His wife was barren, having borne no children. 3/ And the angel of YHWH appeared to the woman and said to her, “Although you are barren, having borne no children, you shall conceive and bear a son. 4/ Now be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, or to eat anything unclean, 5/ for you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor is to come on his head, for the boy shall be a nazirite to God from birth. It is he who shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines.” 6/ Then the woman came and told her husband, “A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like that of an angel of God, most awe-inspiring; I did not ask him where he came from, and he did not tell me his name; 7/ but he said to me, ‘You shall conceive and bear a son. So then drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for the boy shall be a nazirite to God from birth to the day of his death.” …

24/ The woman bore a son, and named him Samson. The boy grew, and YHWH blessed him. 25/ The spirit of YHWH began to stir him in Mahaneh-Dan [alt.: the camp/encampment of Dan], between Zorah and Eshtaol.

Here are my notes on the text: read the rest

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Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jephthah's daughter Judges 11

That horrible moment when the full consequences of Jephthah’s vow become unavoidably obvious …

The text for this sermon (the Uniform Series text for June 18) is the beginning of the story of Jephthah, one of the Judges, whose story is told in chapters 11 and 12 of the book of Judges. We are continuing our study of “call stories” in the book of Judges with this text; this beginning of Jephthah’s story happens when Jephthah, who will deliver the Israelites from their enemies the Ammonites, is called to that task by the elders of Gilead.

As with all the stories in the book of Judges, this story actually begins a little earlier, with the Israelites having done what was evil in the sight of the God of Israel, mostly having worshipped other, foreign, gods, and for that reason being given over to their enemies; now, once again, the Israelites cry out to God, acknowledge their sin, “put away” the foreign gods and worship the God of Israel; in fact, they pitifully accept their punishment (“do what seems good to you” they say to God) and in Judges 10:16 we learn that it’s breaking God’s heart. read the rest

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Shabbat shalom

Image - a family celebrates shabbat

“That the Sabbath and eternity are one – or of the same essence – is an ancient idea. [‘The Seventh day is the sign of the resurrection and the world to come,’ and there shall therefore be no mourning on that day. Vita Adae et Evae, 41.1, The Apocrypha and Pseudopigrapha, ed. Charles, II, 151.]”
Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 73 and note 1.

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