bible blog 342

Gabrielle Giffords

Feast Day of Archbishop William Laud: Martyr


(We pray for her and all victims and their families)

This blog provides a meditation on the Revised Common Lectionary readings along with a headline from world news

Isaiah 40:12-23

12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure,
and weighed the mountains in scales
and the hills in a balance?
13 Who has directed the spirit of the Lord,
or as his counsellor has instructed him?
14 Whom did he consult for his enlightenment,
and who taught him the path of justice?
Who taught him knowledge,
and showed him the way of understanding?
15 Even the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
and are accounted as dust on the scales;
see, he takes up the isles like fine dust.
16 Lebanon would not provide fuel enough,
nor are its animals enough for a burnt-offering.
17 All the nations are as nothing before him;
they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.
18 To whom then will you liken God,
or what likeness compare with him?
19 An idol? —A workman casts it,
and a goldsmith overlays it with gold,
and casts for it silver chains.
20 As a gift one chooses mulberry wood

our idolatry

—wood that will not rot—
then seeks out a skilled artisan
to set up an image that will not topple.
21 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to live in;
23 who brings princes to naught,
and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.

Mark 1:1-13

1The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,

who will prepare your way;

3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

“Prepare the way of the Lord,

make his paths straight” ’,

4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. 9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Baptism of Christ-the ambiguity of history

Archbishop Laud was an Episcopalian churchman who used the law of the land to insist on his version of religion in England and Scotland. He was faced with equally recalcitrant puritans and Presbyterians who were prepared to use violence to defend their religion. Modern descendants of both sorts of Christianity claim martyrs in this conflict and deny the genuineness of their opponent’s candidates. The readiness of Christian people to become involved in the violent imposition of their own brand of faith is a disgrace then and now when even violent rhetoric must come under suspicion after the killings in Arizona. The Tea Party and its allies cannot be blamed for the actions of a deranged loner but they can be blamed for poisonous denunciations which question the worth and humanity of opponents. Religion that encourages people to believe that they and they alone possess absolute truth should not use the name of Jesus Christ who was sent to his death by the possessors of religious truth.

The passage from Isaiah is one of the most powerful of the prophet’s denunciations of idolatry. Compared with the true God, the Creator, whose being, wisdom and power are beyond understanding, idols are pathetic constructs of the human mind and hand. The immortal, invisible and only wise God can no more be imaged by sectarian arrogance than by the most austere rituals. Both of these, and indeed any form of faith, can become idolatrous when worshippers fail to distinguish between God and work of their hands. Good theology always points beyond its own statements into the mystery of divine wisdom, as in this splendid poem.

The Revealer of God, in Mark’s Gospel, emerges within the ambiguity of history. Shoulder to shoulder with sinful people he receives a “baptism of forgiveness and new beginning.” For him in his humility the veil of God’s concealment is torn apart (as the temple veil will be at his death), and he is given assurance that he is the beloved child with whom the invisible One is delighted, so delighted that He drives him off into the desert where he’ll be put to the test. The God who refuses to be imaged also refuses to be revealed in some kind of religious superman.

Guarding our faith against (our own) idolatry should be one of the chief concerns of believers.

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