Psalm 130:5-7 5 My soul waits for God, more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. O Israel, wait for God, for with God there is mercy; with God there is plenteous redemption, and God shall redeem Israel from all their sins.
A byproduct of our habitual consumption is a growing inability to stick with a community beyond what it can give to and do for me. With my focus on me and my happiness and comfort, I’m less obliged to stick with something when the rubber meets the road. Now, I’m not saying that someone should stick with a community that is violent in any way—be it socially, physically, emotionally, or spiritually violent. What I’m saying is that we have a consumer attitude toward our communities; as long as I’m getting what I paid for, or what I want, I’m in. If that changes, I’ll leave. I am irreplaceable, but this community? Replaceable.
The irony here is that if your community is easily replaceable—being able to easily switch one community out for another—you are, too. If you can slip in and out of groups easily, if you’re always on the hunt for something better, then you do not allow yourself any time to cultivate interest in the group or the group to develop interest in you. Remember from the Lent 2 sermon on identity, irreplaceability is hinged on someone or something taking an interest in you, loving you, desiring you, missing you when you’re gone, wanting you to return. As more of our communities fall to consumerism, the more we become lost in the sea of replaceability. In fact, our relationality is further compromised; how relational can we be when our communities are fleeting? And if our relationality is faltering, then so too is our identity because will anyone take an interest in me long enough to stick around? And if that, then we are destabilized because we’re left with only ourselves and our own skepticism where nothing is permanent therefore nothing is permanent.
We’re consuming our communities and nothing seems to satisfy.
Then God said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am God, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, God, have spoken and will act,” says God.
Our prophet is Ezekiel, a prophet and priest of Jerusalem. He lived through the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, he’s a prophet during the exile to Babylon. It’s from this context Ezekiel speaks; it’s to the exiled people, those having lost their land, their temple, their community, Ezekiel brings the living word of God. Ezekiel’s prophecies engage the imagination through the abstract and absurd. In this particular prophecy, Ezekiel speaks from a valley of dry (dead) bones, where God dropped him off. Ezekiel’s story invigorates attention being more than acquired knowledge and “quiet insight”; “It is a startling event: a thunder in the world and a lightning in the soul.” Those who have ears to hear begin listening: What about these dry bones surrounding our prophet who bears the weight of God’s divine hand?
Ezekiel is commanded to speak to the dead bones, to prophecy to them the word of God. An absurd request, but nonetheless Ezekiel does. Ezekiel speaks the promises of God over these dead bones: I will, says God, bring breath to you, add sinew and ligaments, I will put muscle and flesh on you, and I will bring you back to life. As Ezekiel speaks these words promising life, the bones begin to move, come together. As they come together, they are being covered with sinew and flesh just as God promised. What once looked dead and dried up, alienated and isolated, too far gone to be of any good, are now bodies lying before Ezekiel.
Then Ezekiel is commanded to prophesy to the breath, to summon the four winds to come into these new bodies. And he did, and as he did the bodies became animated and living, standing up before Ezekiel. Then God spoke one more time: God promises God’s people will be brought out of death, out of dried-upness, out of alienation and isolation and will be made to be God’s people on God’s land once again. God will raise the dead because God will restore the people of Israel and restore them to each other and to their own land. Life will triumph over death just as restoration triumphs over exile, because God’s word of promise doesn’t fall flat, it does what it intends to do. God holds Israel’s future, it’s not closed off; God isn’t distant but close, as close as breath in an animated body; Israel won’t spend eternity separated from each other, exiled from their community.
Our communities seem to be dissolving right before our eyes; people come and go so quickly. The ties that bind no longer hold; this is one of the reasons why the church is suffering so much right now. The consumerism embedded in the fabric of the church creates a competitive environment between churches as they fight over the same group of people and trying to be unique. Sadly, in so doing they cease to be unique communities because they must offer what everyone else is offering and in at least the same but most likely in more entertaining ways. Pastors compete against pastors, worship leaders against worship leaders, youth leaders against you leaders. In this environment, you can’t risk actually being unique, because you may risk your spot on the field, competing against the others. In this environment, community must be forsaken for the bigger goal: bodies and dollars. But doesn’t this mean sacrificing the beloved of God for numbers? Doesn’t this defeat the purpose of being a church when we become just one more spiritual strip mall?
So, if nothing seems to satisfy, how do we oppose this dissolution of community, this threat of consumerism? We must look beyond ourselves and our deeds. We must be awakened to our deep-seated need and hunger for community.
We want community. We want a place where everyone knows our name, sees us, knows us, remembers our birthdays, where we can risk being unique, where we can have our irreplaceability affirmed, where we are needed and where we are missed when we’re not here. I’m crazy enough to think that church was once and can be that place again. Churches came into existence to be small communal events, to share a story and to share a meal, where it was safe to believe and have faith in God incarnate raised again, Christ Jesus; where the Spirit called each person to dare to love like God, daring to love those declared unlovable by the society around them.
Church is where you’re brought alongside that guy you don’t really understand, that lady who never says a word, that person who seems really eager to leave, that kid who likes to hoot and holler during the sermon, that whacky priest in stilettos. In church you’re asked see your similarity with all these various people sitting next to you, people you may not commune with Monday through Friday, but on Sunday you do. Every Sunday each of you sets aside everything making you different and you come to these pews to share in hearing an ancient story, recite and respond with the same words, and confess and receive absolution together. Here we come together and join at the rail, each of us empty handed with each other and with God. Here we are spiritually awakened by the power of God’s spirit and come to terms with our hunger for God.
In our hunger for God, we long for community. In our desire for God we are brought together to feast at God’s table as one body. In this community, we’re brought out of the death of alienation and isolation, and we are brought together; we are summoned out of death and into life with each other. It is here, in the midst of the divine hope and love where I find community with you, because you are the beloved of God and God is where you are; God is where we are in the hunger.
 Sweeney, Ezekiel, JPS Study Bible. 1042. “The book of Ezekiel presents the words of Ezekiel son of Buzi, a prophet and priest, and one of the Jerusalemites exiled to Babylonia with King Jehoiachin in 597 BCE by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 24.8–17). Like his older contemporaries Jeremiah, 1, Ezekiel lived through the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 586 and the early years of the Babylon exile.”
 Heschel, Prophets, 444. “‘The hand of God,’ a synonym for the manifestation of His strength and power (Isa. 10:10; 28:2; Deut. 32:36), is the name the prophet uses to describe the urgency, pressure, and compulsion by which he is stunned and overwhelmed. ‘For the Lord spoke thus to me with His strong hand upon me’ (Isa. 8:11). ‘I sat alone, because Thy hand was upon me’ (Jer. 15:17). ‘The hand of the Lord was upon me’ (Ezek. 37:1; 3:14, 24). The prophet very rarely speaks of God’s face; he feels His hand.”
 Sweeney, Ezekiel, 1114. “In its plain-sense meaning, the image symbolizes the restoration of Israel to its own land.”
 Sweeney, Ezekiel, 1042. “He wrestles with the problems posed by the tragedies of Jerusalem’s destruction and the Babylonian exile: Why did God allow the Temple and Jerusalem to be destroyed? why did God allow the people of Israel to be carried away into exile? What future is there for Israel?”
Psalm 95:6-7 Come, let us bow down, and bend the knee, and kneel before God our Creator. For God is our God, and we are the people of God’s pasture and the sheep of God’s hand. Oh, that today you would hearken to God’s voice!
Have you gotten out of the habit of communing with other people? I think I have. Well, to be honest, being social is very low on my list of things I regularly think about. When we first lived in Grand Junction in 2014, it took about ten months before I realized that the looming feeling I had was something called “loneliness.” Have you heard of it? I don’t get lonely; I can go for a very long time without any social interaction. A. Very. Long. Time. So, when I had this weird sensation and finally realized that there’s a term for it and that it there’s no drug to take to eliminate it, I struck out to make a friend. Just one. And I did! Lyuda and I have been friends since late 2015.
But this story feels like a distant memory of eras long gone. I’m reminded it’s been awhile since I’ve done something like that: gone out and made a new friend. I think it’s something to do with what we’ve suffered over the past few years. Now, as I said, it takes me a long to get “lonely”, but three years in? It feels especially tangible right now, right on the surface. Do you feel lonely? If you do, you are not alone. We’re all lonely. We’re just now starting to pull together and peek heads out of our shells…three years later. For three years, we’ve been bombarded with the fear of a virus that is very contagious, making it impossible to share place and space with others. Not to mention the caustic socio-political environment, tearing friendships apart, families asunder, and drawing thick lines in the sand. So, we’ve became pros at shutting down and closing off because our lives depended on it; we’ve become experts at speaking vapidly to stave off emotional outbursts, or worse? So, the coming back is hard… at times, too hard; isn’t it just easier to stay in, stay closed, stay distant, stay safe? I’m fine on my own, …right?
I fear we’re losing our relationality and nothing seems to satisfy.
For if while being hostile to God we were reconciled to God by means of the death of God’s son, much more since being reconciled we will be saved by his life. But not only [that] but even boasting in God through our Lord Jesus Christ by whom we now received reconciliation. (Rom. 5:10-11)
At the core of what Paul is saying here in Romans, is that by virtue of the believer’s relationship with God through Christ, they are given space and time with God and with each other. Paul begins by explaining that in being justified we have peace with God and not only with God but with the world even in the midst of not having peace with other people. During Advent I mentioned, “Peace exists because God is and God is within us.” Herein is the foundation of that peace, according to Paul: God reconciles us to God through God’s son, Jesus. If this peace is done by works, we do not have a guarantee that peace with God exists. However, if it is by God’s doing, it’s secured and constant because it’s promised and God fulfills God’s promises. Every day we are justified and made right with God, every day we have union with God by faith because it’s by God’s mercy and not our own actions and even in spite of them.
By faith in Christ we have peace with God because by clinging to the promises of God we declare God to be truthful and true, rendering to God the things belonging to God: honor, delight, and trustworthiness (this is what it means that we “boast on the basis of hope of the glory of God”). In this way our relationship with God is aligned by our union with God; and if the relationship with God is aligned so, too, is our relationship with the world. In this new alignment with the world born from being children of God by faith, we have peace with the world, because reconciliation with God allows us to interact with the world and with other people in a liberated way unencumbered from the burden of using the world and other people as means to an end (i.e. to secure a good relationship with God).
Paul anchors suffering and endurance in this union with God that we have by faith in Christ. Because we stand (“we are established”) in the grace of God, we have hope because we receive the love of God having been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit having been given to us. According to Paul, our union with God is the means by which we endure tribulations, for where we are God is, so, too is God’s love for us and the world. Therefore, our hope does not disgrace or shame because God promises to be present in our afflictions and sufferings and God is trustworthy and honest, because by Christ we have seen God suffer on our behalf.
Paul reminds his audience that if they received all of this while they were hostile (ἐχθρὰ ὄντες) to God and still missing the mark (ἔτι ἁμαρτωλῶν ὄντων ἡμῶν), then how much more will they receive in their reconciliation and union with God. Now God establishes God’s love for us, yet while we still missing the mark, Christ died on behalf of us. It is our missing the mark that brings Christ to the cross, for our ability to determine good from evil runs askew, as promised back in Genesis 3. Yet, even though we put Christ to death, God resurrects him meeting our demand for death with God’s gift of life. This is love, this is grace: not giving someone what they deserve but giving them that which they do not deserve. Where we had the right to be judged and condemned for Christ’s death, we are given life, love and liberation.
Now, receiving this divine grace and love while we were still hostile to God, how much more do we receive as those reconciled? We receive God, we receive the whole world, we receive ourselves in right relation with God and the World, thus with others.
We are rightly timid to derive our relationality from our own strength, trying desperately to reduplicate past experiences. We are right to be nervous to venture outside and commune with others, putting ourselves in physically vulnerable situations beyond our control. We are far from being out of the woods of the pandemic, and there are new bugs around, putting precious lives at risk. It is right to be cautious with whom you share your dreams and wishes for the world; the caustic socio-political climate that started back in 2016 is still percolating—for many people things are continuing to go backwards, away from what they had, or thought they had. Relationality right now is intimidating: with neighbors, with friends, with family, maybe even with ourselves.
So, if nothing seems to satisfy, how do we reverse this trend of losing relationality, this threat of loneliness? We must look beyond ourselves and our deeds. We must be awakened to our deep-seated need and hunger for relationality.
As those who have been encountered by God in the event of faith in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are those who have been given life, love, and liberation. We are given union with God, we are given solid ground to endure the hardest tribulations with the most amount of hope. We are not given hope founded on false expectations for the future; rather, we are given hope that is present tense, that calls to mind what God has done, thus remembering what God said God will do. This type of hope is here, it is now, it is in spite of the world, transcends the world, and is for the world. In our union with God we do not need to run away from chaos of multiple relational fractures or cling to what is behind denying the disordered relationality at hand. Rather, we can stand here, where we are, in the chaos and tumult, in the trial and tribulation, and know we are not alone for God resides with those whom God loves, with those who suffer, with those who have the audacity to experience their awakened hunger for God.
In this way, beloved, we are not alone; through God’s love for us we are not alone for we are with God. And if we are with God then we are with each other. It’s here where we’re brought further out of ourselves and our desperate attempts to keep ourselves from the difficulties of this life, from the anxiety of what lies outside the security of our homes, and from fear of the other. It is here, in the midst of the divine hope and love where I find relationality with you, because you are the beloved of God and God is where you are; God is where we are in the hunger.
 Martin Luther Lectures on Romans: Glosses and Scholia (1515/1516) LW 25 Ed. Hilton C. Oswald. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia, 1972. 43. “Since we are justified through God’s imputation, therefore by faith, not by works, we have peace the world and with God, although not yet with men and the flesh ….”
 LW 25, 43-44. “Through whom , as our Mediator, we have obtained access, to God by loving and knowing and delighting in Him, by faith, because there will be no salvation through Christ without faith, to this grace, of peace, remission of sins, and justification, in which we stand, through the firm confession of faith, and we rejoice, not in a present thing before men but in our hope of sharing the glory, the exaltation, that is, the glorification in the future life of the sons of God, those who are of God.”
 LW 25, 44. “And endurance produces trial that we might be proved by God and found without deceit and guile and hypocrisy, andtrial hope, that is, of ‘the glory of God,’ as has been said (v. 2). 5. And hope does not disappoint us, because it neither deserts nor fails us. All these things, I say, happen because the love, etc.,’ because the love, which creates an insuperable attachment, of God, that is, from God, has been poured, freely poured out, not received by merit, into our hearts, because love performs its works voluntarily; for works done unwillingly and by force do not endure, by the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us, through Christ from God the Father”
 LW 25, 44-45. “For hardly, it is extraordinary, I say, to die for the ungodly, for what is righteous, that is, for the sake of righteousness and truth, will one die—though perhaps, it is customary to die, for what is good, for its usefulness and desired features, one will dare even to die. 8. But God, the Father, shows, He makes it more commendable and worthy of love than all these things, His love, with which He loves us, for us, that is, the love which has been given to us, because on His part, in that while we were yet sinners, which he earlier (v. 6) expressed with ‘while we were still weak,’ at the right time (an expression which is not in the Greek at this point but only above) Christ died for us, the ungodly, so that we might not die in all eternity.”
 LW 25, 45. “For if, while were enemies, because of our sins, we were reconciled, so that we were not deserving of perdition, to God, not by our own merits or those of anyone else, except by the death of His Son; much more, nowthat we are reconciled, shall we, as His own, be saved by His life, in his resurrection to eternal life. 11. And not only so, do we rejoice in tribulations, but we also rejoice in God, that is, because we have a God and He is our own God, because He has given Himself to us, through our Lord Jesus Christ, our Mediator, through whom we have now receivedour reconciliation, the remission of sins, so that we may receive God Himself, through One. I say. Christ.”
Psalm 121:1-3 I lift up my eyes to the hills; from where is my help to come? My help comes from God, the maker of heaven and earth. God will not let your foot be moved and God who watches over you will not fall asleep.
Do you know who you are? I know it sounds like a banal question, and maybe even moot. Of course, we all know who we are. I know that I am me, and I know that you are you. I know this because I am not you and you are not me. Thus, I’m sure that you know that you are you and not me because you are not me. If you were me and I were you, then we’d both be able to replace each other. And that means we would not be unique as individuals.
So, maybe I should rephrase the question: who are you as an individual apart from your relational roles and deeds? In terms of defining ourselves we default to our relationships, to our job, to our hobbies, to our interests and the activities therein to define ourselves not only to other people (to whom we feel a need always to be prepared to give justification for our existence) but also to ourselves. We cling to these things not only to define ourselves, but to validate ourselves and our existence. As we live in the wake of sola suspicio of our post-modern, post-enlightenment, even post-Theistic mindset, we are in a personal desperate way as we fight for something, anything to cling to affirm our uniqueness, validate our existence, and secure our identity. But all of it is drift wood in this sea of tumult, chaos, and instability. There’s nothing secure enough in the material realm to cling that will give us a sense of self, an identity, a uniqueness and validation that won’t eventually become dust. Not even our own bodies offer us a stable constant, do they not betray us with time?
My identity is slipping through my fingers and nothing seems to satisfy.
God said to Abram, “…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.”
We pick up again in the book of Genesis. Here, Moses, our faithful story-teller according to tradition, is telling us about the call of Abram. Chapter 12 in Genesis follows a colorful series of events: fierce cherubim and seraphim blocking off all access and reentrance to the Garden of Eden after the rather fateful “applegate” and subsequent curses (Gen 3), the first murder (Gen 4), various human civilizations being established (Gen 5), the appearance of the Nehphilim (the byproduct of the Sons of God knowing the Daughters of Humanity) (Gen 6:1-6), a massive and destructive flood (Gen 6:7-8:22), a rainbow of divine promise (Gen 9), and the Tower of Babel (Gen 11). It’s here, at this point in the story, where God (once again) begins anew, moving from a general approach to a specific approach: God will call one person, not for any other reason than God’s love for the whole world.
God’s promises and blessing to Abram suggests a reversal of the curses uttered just chapters earlier. These blessings and promises highlight that Abram has done nothing to receive them; they come as a “bolt from the blue.” The idea that God cannot be with God’s beloved as a result of the fall back in Genesis 3 is rendered myth in this moment. God calls Abram and blesses him; where Adam, Eve, and the serpent leave behind paradise, Abram is invited into it: paradise is union with God. Herein is the foundation for the claim that the curses are being reversed: by God’s love, Abram will be a great nation (many children, one of whom will be the Messiah, the promised child of Genesis 3) and this nation will be a blessing to the rest of the world.
In this moment of hearing the divine summons, Abram, in a moment, goes from a childless old man to the parent of many; here Abram becomes a new person, a new being by the Word of God summoning him to God’s self and thus into new life. And not a new self for his own sake, but in this hearing of the divine summons, Abram is ushered into a new life for others. This other-orientated characteristic of his new life will become part of his new identity in God and with God as he becomes a conduit for God to bless other nations. And in our context, the overflow of blessing and promise has already started: as Abram responds to God and finds his new life in God, Lot goes with him into this new thing.
We look in many places to anchor and secure our identity. We long for something permanent that’s always there to tell us who and what we are. Some of us spend our lives reaching for accolades to define ourselves, some of us invest all we have in our relationships striving to be good by our deeds, some of us spend all our time toiling away at some job, some of us are dead set that our “passions” or our “hobbies” are our identity. These things aren’t inherently bad; it’s good to have things to do and enjoy, it is wonderful to walk through life with other people, serving and sharing with them. But, when they’re forced to bear the burden of the weight of ourselves, our personhood, and our identity, they are found to be phantoms and illusions. They are merely a papier mache covering over fear and anxiety that, at the end of it all, we’re truly replaceable, unnecessary, forgettable.
We tell ourselves lies that we must be x or y or even z to be valued, forgetting all the while that we’re valuable because we are. full stop. These things that we reach for and demand they give us something on which to hang our identity will leave us still afraid and unstable because they can never give us what we so deeply desire: irreplaceability. These things are too fleeting and fickle to give us our uniqueness and irreplaceability—here one day and gone the next. We cannot attain our identity and irreplaceability by ourselves leaning on our deeds.
So, if nothing seems to satisfy, how do we navigate all this insecurity of identity, this threat of the loss of self? We must look beyond ourselves and our deeds. We must be awakened to our deep-seated need and hunger for irreplaceable identity.
The irreplaceable individual is the one in whom another takes interest. Would you believe me if I told you that I take an interest in you? that you are—to me—irreplaceable? But there is also something bigger, securing for us that long desired irreplaceability, anchoring the thing that makes us unique, and to whom our existence matters day in and day out. God. Specifically, God brought close to us in Christ. This is why we come here every Sunday, to hear the age-old story of God calling Abram, to hear our own names in the place of Abrams, to hear our own summons, our own promises, our own being seen, known, and loved. We come here week after week to encounter divine love for us in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. We come here together and individually, to hear once again that God takes an interest in humanity and thus in us because in Christ, God shrugged off royalty to be as us, to identify as us, even unto death.
Beloved, God so loves you therefore you are irreplaceable, you are unique, you are of interest. You are loved and remembered by God; in you God takes hope.  In our hunger for irreplaceable identity, we hunger for God; in our hunger for God our identities are held, anchored to dependable substance because this story of God’s love for you never changes, it holds from one moment to the next, from one era to the next, not always in the same form but always with the same substance: divine love for the beloved.
In hearing the summons of God’s voice in the proclamation of divine love in Christ, God taking an interest in you and remembering you, calling you unto God’s self by the Spirit, you are called to walk with others. For this summons of God’s voice of love will always overflow through us to our neighbors, with whom we share blessings and promises of God’s love, interest, and remembrance. It’s here where we’re brought further out of ourselves and our desperate attempts to secure our own identities by our deeds by ourselves. It is here, in the midst of the divine summons and love where I find identity with you, because you are the beloved of God and God is where you are; God is where we are in the hunger.
 Dorothee Sölle, Christ the Representative, 26. “In the course of the expanding process of secularization, the metaphysical irreplaceability of the human soul was itself transposed into secular achievements or expressions of life by which the individual made himself irreplaceable. Man discovered himself as essentially one who accomplishes things, and this prospect of self-realization, self-accomplishment, self-expression in work, blotted out the earlier metaphysical horizon. Now for the first time, in the context of the modern discovery of the individual, it was a man’s work-labour performed, his perfected achievement-which merited the dignity and status given to the relation between producer and player in the earlier conception. Man no longer acquired his identity simply from his relationship to God, which had once in itself provided an adequate explanation of the irreplaceability of the individual as a soul. He now achieves his own identity; he makes himself irreplaceable.”
 Levenson, “Genesis” The Jewish Study Bible: Featuring the Jewish Publication Society Tanakh Translation. Eds. Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler. Oxford: OUP, 2004. 30. “The universalism that marked Gen. chs 1-11 having now failed, the Lord begins anew, singling out one Mesopotamian—in no way distinguished from his peers as yet—and promising to make of him a great nation, not numbered in the seventy nations of ch. 10.”
 Levenson, “Genesis” The Jewish Study Bible, 30. “What the Lord promises Abram (his name is changed to ‘Abraham’ only in ch 17)—land, numerous offspring, and blessing—constitutes to an extent a reversal of some of the curses on Adam and Eve—exile, pain in childbirth, and uncooperative soil…”
 Levenson, “Genesis” The Jewish Study Bible, 30. “The twin themes of land and progeny inform the rest of the Torah. In Gen. ch 12, these extraordinary promises come like a bolt from the blue, an act of God’s grace alone; no indication has been given as to why or even whether Abram merits them.”
 LW 2 (Luther’s Works Vol 2 “Lectures on Genesis Chapters 6-14” Ed. Jaroslav Pelikan. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia, 1960.) 246. “…Moses reminds his people that they were chosen by the Lord, not because they had deserved this but because the Lord had loved them and was keeping the oath that had been given to their fathers? In this passage we see that the beginnings are in agreement with the end. For what is Abraham except a man who nears God when He calls him, that is, a merely passive person and merely the material on which divine mercy acts?”
 LW 2 247. “Thus, as I said above, Abraham is merely the material that the Divine Majesty seizes through the Word and forms into a new human being and into a patriarch, And so this rule is universally true, that of himself man is nothing, is capable of nothing, and has nothing except sin, death, and damnation; but through His mercy Almighty God brings it about that he is something and is freed from sin, death…”
 LW 2 258-259. “Here is presented the amazing promise that this people will not only be increased among itself and be blessed materially and spiritually, but that the blessing will also overflow to the neighboring nations and peoples. This happened to the Pharaoh in Egypt.”
 LW 2 275. “Behold God’s marvelous counsel! The promise pertained to Abraham only, not to Lot. Nevertheless, God attaches Lot, like a proselyte, to Abraham as his companion and moves his heart so that he wants to go into exile with his uncle rather than remain in his native country among the idolaters. This is because the promise given to Abraham be blessed with his descendants, it him others would become partakers of the blessing, even though the promise did not properly pertain to them.”
 Sölle, Representative, 46. “Whenever man’s horizon is bounded by his contribution, substitution also comes into play. A different basis must be found for man’s irreplaceability. I am irreplaceable only for those who love me. Only for them does a surplus remain, over and above whatever I perform at any given time: something not expressed in my action. This margin, this surplus of the person over and above all he performs, alone gives life to human relationships. To love means, in this sense, to count on this surplus, on what has not yet been expressed, not yet appeared. The invisible and unexpressed surplus is a reminder that I have not yet reached my full stature. Identity continues to be preserved in the experience of difference; in the consciousness of non-identity. But this consciousness knows that it cannot expunge itself. I do not become an irreplaceable person by my own effort, but only as I continue to be dependent on others.
Psalm 32:6-9 6 “I will confess my transgressions to God.” Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin. Therefore all the faithful will make their prayers to you in time of trouble; when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them. You are my hiding-place; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance.
The past few years and the last few months have felt like walking on water. Now, before you get the idea that I’m either comparing myself to Jesus the Christ, the son of God and humanity, or that I’ve felt so light and effervescent, I need to tell you that is not the case. By “walking on water” I mean: navigating the wind and the waves of life. Thrust upward only to be left falling downward as the surface drops, swept left and then swept all the way right, and smacked forward and backward by liquid turned solid by force and velocity.
There’s no way to extricate myself from this unending sea of waves and wind. It’s water as far as the eye can see. I fear something swimming just close enough but beyond my ability to see through murky water to prickle my skin with its sinister swish-swish-swishes right below my feet. The threat of doom leaves its own trauma. My other fear is becoming so water logged that I forget my real needs, that I confuse swallowing sea water for satisfying hunger, that I just become one with my environment, that I’ll give up or forget to keep fighting. When humans go about just surviving, they end up learning how to just survive and forget that life is so much more than just surviving.
Everything right now feels so unstable and nothing seems to satisfy.
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’“ But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:1-4)
Here, early in Genesis, we are offered a story. A story well known to us. Moses (the traditionally assumed author) tells us that after God created Adam, God brought Adam into the garden. Here, Adam was to work and care for creation. God gave Adam two commandments: eat from any tree but do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The consequence? “‘In that day you eat of it you will surely die.’” (v.17b) From our perspective this command seems astounding, and the consequence atrocious. Why would God implement such a command and consequence? Why would the acquisition of the knowledge of good and evil be punished severely? Why is God keeping this power from us?
One of the issues is our evaluation of good and evil. These are not just moral executive decisions. According to the JPS Study Bible, we have to reframe our understanding of “knowing” away from a post-enlightenment, scientific revolution outlook to one that offers a more wholistic picture of “knowing.” We know intellectually, but we also know experientially; therefore, there is not only knowing about good and evil, but knowing morally good and evil and (even more) knowing through experience things pleasant and painful. And in these experiences, in this knowing morally, and even in knowing about good and evil there is death. It’s not so much a punishment as it is a consequence of finding ourselves suffering in the midst of good and evil, pulled this way and that, torn through with doubt and inner conflict, suffering from (even unto death) the force of evil in the world.
Then, enter the serpent. In chapter 3, Moses tells us the serpent comes along and strikes up a conversation with Eve. The serpent asks a trick question, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?”; there’s no yes or no here, and Eve knows it. So, she answers the serpent, and this response opens up a means by which the serpent can attack further. Eve says, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’“ As she quotes the law differently than it was handed to Adam, the serpent can certainly show her that she can touch it without dying, and here in the chaos of conflict with what one knows and sees and the inner doubt over divine credibility surges. Then the serpent presses further adding in just the right amount of potential divine jealousy: seems God doesn’t want you to have the same power God has…” The deal is sealed when she takes and eats of the apple and hands it to Adam, who was with her the entire time. The one who taught her the law failed to teach it to her rightly, and was himself subject to contemplating another word apart from God’s word. Upheaval was already underway.
Here the couple is thrust into tumult; what was, is now no longer. They were comfortable, now they are uncomfortable. Here they are falling from “true wisdom,” to quote Martin Luther, and “…[plunged] into utter blindness.” They are now saddled with the weight of determining moral good and moral evil, held hostage by the onslaught of pleasure or pain, and chased by the threats of weal and woe. All of their relationships are now upended, their relationship with God, with each other, with themselves, and with creation; the ricochet of the sound of fracturing forever heard in the echo of lightening of the storm clouds threatening doom and in the rumble of their hunger pains.
How do we find stability in the midst of chaos and tumult? Do we really forego peace and comfort until our leaders figure it out? Do we run from each wave? Hide from the wind? I know there’s power finding stability in yourself, but it only lasts for so long. One strong gust or undulation and it topples. No material object can ever offer us the stability we so crave, all of it is of the dust and to dust it will return. There is no job, no amount of money, no home, no relationship secure enough to depend on no matter what. This is what we learned through skepticism: nothing is permanent; so, nothing is permanent. We are all one precarious moment from a free fall.
So, if nothing seems to satisfy, how do we navigate all this instability? We must look beyond ourselves and our consumption. We must be awakened to our deep-seated need and hunger for stability.
Dorothee Sölle writes this in her book, On Earth as in Heaven,
There is a spiritual that begins with the words, ‘Every time I feel the Spirit moving in my heart….’ When I hear this song, I ask myself when was the last time I felt the Spirit? And I would like to ask you: When was the last time you felt the Spirit move-on what occasion, where, why, when? The song ‘Every time I feel the Spirit moving in my heart’ awakens my spiritual hunger, the hunger without which we can, of course, vegetate but not live.
Stability will always be found through and in awakened spiritual hunger, spiritual hunger and need for God. Spiritual hunger will bring us back—time and time again—to the age-old story of unconditional love, resurrected life, and present tense liberation. It is here in this particular story where we are met and reminded of a covenant that runs steady, has no boundaries, and can safely carry us to solid ground over and over again.
Right now, I need God. Right now, God is my constant and my stability because God’s story never changes: God in Christ comes low to walk with those who are hungry, those who crave stability and whispers I will never leave you or forsake you, no matter how bad it gets no matter how scared you are, I am with you. It’s here where I’m brought further out of myself and my desperate attempts at false stability to find true stability…with you, because you are the beloved of God and God is where you are; God is where we are in the hunger.
 Levenson, “Genesis” The Jewish Study Bible, 16. “Knowledge of good and bad may be a merism, a figure of speech in which polar opposites denote a totality…But knowledge can have an experiential, not only an intellectual, sense in biblical Heb and ‘good and bad’ can mean either ‘weal and woe or ‘moral good and moral evil.’ The forbidden tree offers an experience that is both pleasant and painful; it awakens those who partake of it to the higher knowledge and to the pain that both come with moral choice.”
 Levenson, “Genesis”, The Jewish Study Bible, 16. “His question is tricky and does not admit of a yes-or-no answer. The woman, who has never heard the commandment directly (2.16-17), paraphrases it loosely. Why she adds the prohibition on touching the fruit is unclear…”
 Levenson, “Genesis” The Jewish Study Bible, 16-17. “Tragically, this praiseworthy act gave the snake his opening. ‘He touched the tree with his hands and his feet, and shook it until its fruits dropped to the ground,’ thus undermining the credibility of God’s entire commandment in the woman’s mind…”
 Levenson, “Genesis” The Jewish Study Bible, 17. “The serpent impugns God’s motives, attributing the command to jealousy. Whereas in the first creation account human beings are God-like creatures exercising dominion…here their ambition to be like God or like divine beings is the root of the expulsion from Eden.”
 LW 1 147. “For the chief temptation was to listen to another word and to depart from the one which God had previously spoken: that they would die if they ate from it.”
 LW 1 105. “This sermon was delivered on the sixth day; and if, as the text indicates, Adam alone heard it, he later on informed Eve of it.”
Psalm 103: 1-5 Bless God, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless God’s holy Name. Bless God, O my soul, and forget not all God’s benefits. God forgives all your sins and heals all your infirmities; God redeems your life from the grave and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness; God satisfies you with good things, and your youth is renewed like an eagle’s.
Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of God is coming, it is near– a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like [darkness] spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come.
Joel begins his prophecy speaking of doom. The ever-present feeling of a storm cloud hovering somewhere over and above, out of sight, unable to be touched, deep in uncertainty, it floats just beyond the periphery of awareness and intuition. It’s there…I think… Our world seems thrust into a void of ground-opened-up-beneath-our-feet; nothing is certain so nothing is certain. How did we get to the peripheral of doom? I might be able to point to a myriad of ideologies and concepts that have rent asunder our communion and community; but I’m not sure those are the only things to blame. There’s no monolithic like the ones promoted by pundits and political candidates. Going backwards won’t stave off that doom cloud; ignoring it is never the answer; rolling over and just acquiescing…this is the way it’s always been, *shrug… Is this what freedom and bravery look like?
I think part of that doom cloud is our own doing. We’ve spent too long in the realm of suspicion and skepticism; stripping back everything leaves us with nothing. Don’t get me wrong, the post-modern gift of suspicion and skepticism gave us liberation to question everything and the audacity to refuse blind trust. We’ve stripped back stories and myths, tradition and ritual, authority and expertise, normativity and expectation in the pursuit of authenticity, truth, love, and liberation. We’ve transcended prohibitions that controlled us; we’ve gone as far as to imagine existence without the threat and promises of God and God’s judgment relegating human beings to this or that afterlife. We’ve even attempted to live in the absurdity of life without the justification of divine purpose and predetermination.
Suspicion allowed us to strip back and question many things that needed and need to be questioned, but it hasn’t replaced what it took. Finding out everything is a lie is not the same as being given truth. Realizing the ground under your feet is an illusion, doesn’t mean you are now standing on firm ground. Humanity can’t live sola suspicio (on suspicion alone); it’s a great location for a vacation, but no one can live there forever. If we only have skepticism then we only have destruction, and if only destruction then we have despair and death. In desperation to sooth, we cling to whatever we can touch and feel, see and taste, convinced it’s the only thing we can grab on to in order to locate stability in a world seeming like a freefall into an endless void.
Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy.
Joel declares a summons. Sound the trumpet! Do something to alert the people to the doom cloud rollin’ in. Get the attention of the people! They’ve grown numb; they’ve grown desperate in their hunger, the aftermath of sola suspicio. I know it may sound odd to make this claim, but I think we’re hungry. Hunger takes many forms. I think on an existential level—a level that incorporates our entire being, spirit and body—we’re famished, desperately hungry.
As people, as Christians, as a society, as a nation, we’re so hungry that any sustenance will do, no matter how malnourishing it is. The rate at which we consume is mind blowing. And we consume in the technical definition of the word: until there’s nothing left. Our planet is falling apart under our feet and above our heads because we can’t control how much and how fast we consume. We consume people and relationships; only staying with them while they serve us and our obscure pursuit of happiness and comfort. We consume to numb the pain and discomfort of the doom cloud beginning to obscure our peripheral vision. Whether it’s full seasons on Netflix, substances altering our minds, purchasing clothes, phones, cars, houses—whatever—we’re trapped in a cycle of take and eat, never slowing down enough to see and know that what we have in our hands is precious, of the earth, of labor, of goodness. The modern dictum of Rene Descartes has run its course; no longer is it, “I think therefore I am”. Rather it’s, “‘I consume, therefore I am.’” 
But it’s not enough, I need more Nothing seems to satisfy I said I don’t want it, I just need it To breathe, to feel, to know I’m alive
There’s something kinda sad about The way that things have come to be Desensitized to everything What became of subtlety?
How can this mean anything to me If I really don’t feel anything at all? I’ll keep digging ‘Til I feel something
As a means to stave of the despair and dread of doom, we consume people and things. Everyone and everything have a function and purpose as a means to my end. Consumption is a new hallmark characteristic of our post-modern/post-enlightenment existence. The irony? It’s all been in the name of the liberation of the self from the tyranny of mythology, angry divinity, and religious captivity, but the self is now found imprisoned to new despots and tyrants: fear, anxiety, loss, sola suspicio. We’ve not gained ourselves; we’ve lost ourselves. The self can’t exist in the vacuum created by suspicion’s consummation with consumption. Nothing is the only end goal here. Needing more and more, digging deeper and deeper, there is less and less ground to stand on, fewer and fewer people and things with which to be in living and true relationship.Skeptical until there is nothing to lean back on; consuming until there is nothing left, we end up isolated and alienated from ourselves and from others. And we find ourselves inching closer and closer to destruction.
Let the priests who minister before God weep between the portico and the altar, saying, “Spare Your people, Abba God, and do not make Your heritage a reproach, an object of scorn among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”
Joel returns to summoning, this time calling on the priests of God. Pray for your people! Pray for God’s beloved! This one is inching precariously close to the precipice of death! Joel is aware that of their own power the people cannot disentangle themselves from the threatening doom cloud rollin’ in. They’re desperate, they do not feel the firm ground under their feet, they are not secure, they are not assured; tumult and chaos rule the day, anger and fear the emotions du jour. Skepticism and suspicion have brought them so far but have dropped them off on the side of the road, cold and wet, thirsty and hungry. Whither is God!? the prophets cry out. Is this all? Have we been abandoned to the pit and the void of skepticism and consumption? Where is God? Where is life? Where is love? Where is comfort? Where is hope? Where is liberation?
It is time to put a boundary around how far skepticism and suspicion take us. It is time to realize and feel our hunger. We must stop and take a moment and feel the discomfort of our hunger pangs, we must feel the loss, grieve the pain, suffer the injustices, and grow alert, becoming more and more aware…
…we are hungry for stability …we are hungry for identity …we are hungry for relationality …we are hungry for community …we are hungry for solidarity
We must become aware that we are hungry for unconditional love, resurrected life, and present liberation; we must become aware that we are hungering after God…
Yet even now, says God, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to God, your God, for God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. Who knows whether God will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind God, a grain offering and a drink offering for God, your God.
 “Hermeneutics of Suspicion” ala Marx, Freud, Nietzsche, Camus, Sartre, Heidegger etc.
 I’m in fluenced here by the work and life of Dorothee Sölle in her memoire Against the Wind, specifically the chapter “Suspended in Nothingness” p.13.
 “The motto of the postmodern world and life therein may well be, ‘I consume, therefore I am.’ The artificial of creation of needs is an essential component of economic life; the countermodel of ‘live simply so that others may simply live’ is denigrated as sheer romanticism. We are further removed than ever before from an economy that sustains subsistence and is not hounded by progress. To be ‘over-choiced’ with thirty different kinds of bread does indeed develop the shopper’s awareness of differentiation and sense of taste. However, from the ego that is becoming dependent on such a surplus of choice, it also takes away the time and energy for other life pursuits. The ego is diverted and, with the help of the world of consumer goods, ‘turned in on itself’ (homo incurvatus in se ipsum), as the tradition used to depict the sinner.” Dorothee Sölle, The Silent Cry, 212-213.
 Tool “Stinkfist” written by: Paul D’amour, Daniel Carey, Maynard Keenan, Adam Jones. Ænima. 1996.
 “He who makes use of another person as a means of achieving his own ends not only humiliates that person but also degrades himself. To treat another person as if she were a thing is to become a thing oneself, a servant to the functioning of the very ‘thing’ being manipulated. By demanding sacrifice, such a person destroys his own freedom. As the one in control he becomes the one controlled. In alienating others from that which they wish to be and can become, he alienates himself. Because he concentrates on domination, on employing others as means to his own ends, he loses all the other possibilities open to him. For example, he no attention to anything that does not fit his purpose. He loses the ability to enjoy living because he must constantly reinforce his life by accomplishments relationship between people is so interdependent that it is impossible for one person to prosper at the expense of another. In the long run such exploitation proves detrimental to both.” Dorothee Sölle, Beyond Mere Obedience, 34-35.
 “I need to ground heaven on earth. (Den Himmel erden!) The best ally in this crazy enterprise that we sometimes call “faith” I find in the Bible. The book tells me the story of God’s covenant with us under realistic conditions.” (p. x) and, “In order to dialogue with the Word of God, the praxis of the prophets and Jesus, we need the clearest understanding of our own praxis. When we delve deep enough into our own situation, we will reach a point where theological reflection becomes necessary. We then have to “theologize the given situation. We read the context (steps 1 and 2) until it cries out tor theology. The only way to reach this point at which we become aware of our need for prayer, for hope, for stories of people who have been liberated, is to go deeply enough into our own sociohistorical context. The theologian will discover the inner necessity of theology in a I C given situation and its potential for unfolding theological meaning. We have to reach this point of no return where we will know new that we do need God. This is the basis of doing theology, but the only way to come to this point is worldly analysis of our situation.” p. xi Dorothee Sölle, On Earth as in Heaven.
Psalm 99:2-4 God is great in Zion; God is high above all peoples. Let them confess God’s Name, which is great and awesome; God is the Holy One. “O mighty [and royal], lover of justice, you have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.”
Sometimes I wonder how often we include ourselves in the proclamation from the gospel of John: God so loved the world in this way, God sent God’s only son. We completely ignore that we are, have been, and will be invited in to the divine party we eagerly watch from outside, faces pressed against window panes, unable to hear the summons and invitation to the party because of the loud ruckus in our own heads. We can’t imagine hearing the summons and invitation. God loves the world, sure; but, does God love me?
I think we get trapped in our curiosity, wondering why God would love me? I mean, it makes sense that God would love you, you are just loveable. But me? Nah. I’m a huge bag of mess and not quite good enough to be truly and really loved by God. Even if I try to comprehend the idea that maybe God loves me, I will probably justify that potential love with some my productivity: maybe God loves me because I’m special in this way? maybe God loves me because of my talent? because I’m quite good at _______? Or, maybe God loves me because God has to…
Would I ever dare to think that God loves me just cuz? That God desires and wants me… just cuz? Love and desire untethered to a reason, a why, or wherefore. What the mystic Meister Eckhart (the mid 13th/early 14th century catholic theologian) calls the sunder warumbe: without a why or wherefore (as translated by Dorothee Sölle). We are hard wired to put justifications and reasons on why we do x and why we do z, because the world demands we justify our actions, our bodies, our being, our existence, and whom we love. But when it comes to love, to desire, to the lover being with the beloved these reasons and justifications fall flat. Love just loves. Love just is. Love loves the beloved (full stop).
Love wants to be with the beloved, close to the beloved, in all the profoundness and banality of the beloved, even when the beloved says silly things out of fear and reverence surrounded by bright light and dense cloud, accompanied by Moses and Elijah and two other disciples. Love goes with us, up the mountain and back down.
And behold! Moses appeared to them and Elijah was talking with him. And Peter took up the conversation and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will make here three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah…” Yet, while he was speaking, behold! a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold! a voice out from the cloud saying “This one is my son, the beloved, in whom I am well-pleased. You listen to him!”
The story of Jesus’s transfiguration is well known. It’s a powerful story, and Matthew does an excellent job demonstrating the intersection of divine glory and human frailty. The story of Jesus’s transfiguration as told by Matthew might be my favorite example of Peter being wonderfully Peter: totally human. In fact, the flow from chapter 16 to chapter 17 works well. These two chapters demonstrate the variability of Peter’s humanity, from profound insight that is a near mountain-top experience, to being chastised for rebuking Jesus’s prophetic utterances about the trajectory of his ministry that is like an experience of being dropped down the backside of the mountain. So it goes for the one on whom Jesus will build his church: full of both great and not so great moments. Not everything Peter does is infallible—at least not at this point in church history!
In Chapter 17, Peter is one of the three who go with Jesus up the high-mountain, to the heights of the intersection of heaven and earth; maybe Peter wondered if something divine would happen, wasn’t his religious history replete with stories of divine encounter on such mountaintops? The reader probably has more information than Peter does considering that Matthew makes frequent overlapping references between Moses and Jesus, leading the reader to draw the connection between Moses and Jesus’s authority to interpret the law.And even hints that Jesus might even be better than Moses.
But for Peter and his two friends, this is all unfolding before them. As they ascend the mountain, they witness Jesus transfigured by bright light and his clothes radiated the same bright light (Jesus doesn’t change forms, he remains the same Jesus). And as they are taking in Jesus’s divine glowing transfiguration, Moses and Elijah show up! And Elijah is talking with Moses and then… Peter. Peter literally inserts himself, he “took up the conversation” and asks Jesus if he should build some tents. Far from being ridiculous request, it made sense; the glory of God shines about him and two of God’s divine prophets show up and why not make tents? Isn’t that where the glory of God dwells? In tents and tabernacles? And then, just as he took hold of the conversation, God takes it back and declares that this one, Jesus, is God’s son and all should listen to him. Immediately, the event is over. God does not dwell high up on the mountain, but among God’s people; the disciples and Jesus will go back down to proceed with God’s mission of divine love for the beloved; Jesus and the disciples will minister in the valleys and not be secluded up high on the mountain tops.
Peter follows Jesus when he is called; Peter follows Jesus up the mountain; Peter will also follow Jesus down the mountain.  But this relationship is not one-sided. Jesus called Peter because Jesus loved Peter; Jesus lifted up Peter when he fell on his face in fear on the mountain top because he loved him; and, Jesus will accompany him down into the valley because he loved him. Be raised up, says Jesus, and be not afraid…because I am with you, now and always, up on the mountain and down low in the valley, and where you go I will go too, now and always.
This event that merely altered Jesus’s appearance ultimately changed Peter inside and out; Peter (and the other disciples with him) come to know that Love goes with them, up the mountain and back down.
Beloved, make note that Jesus did not stay up on the mountain, kicking it with Elijah and Moses. Peter was not able to build those tents, let alone finish his thought before God sent everyone back down. God is known among God’s people, not up high and separated from them. Jesus shows us the love of God by descending the mountain to be with us even if it means he goes to his demise. Yes, there is great glory and affirmation at the top of the mountain, but what would any of it mean if it stayed there? God comes low: in spirit hovering over the darkness, in creative words bursting forth in life and light, in fire and clouds, in the law, through the prophets, and in the love of Christ.
So, beloved, God so loved the world and you! that God came back down the mountain. God so loves you that you are beckoned to ascend the mountain so that you can come back down with Christ and share in the divine summons and mission of spreading love and life in the world to those who are deprived of such love and life. You are so called to be changed by this encounter with God in Christ that you can do nothing else but follow Jesus up the mountain and back down.
 Anna Case-Winters Matthew Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible Eds Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher. Louisville, KY: WJK, 2015. 212. “The vision (v. 9) we call the transfiguration takes place on the ‘high mountain’ which has traditionally been associated with revelation and profound religions experience. Symbolically, it is a place where heaven touches earth.”
 Case-Winters, Matthew, 212. Tons of overlap with Moses and Jesus in Matthew, “This association is made more prominent in chapter 17 where there are at least seven points of parallel between Jesus in the transfiguration and Moses at Sinai.”
 Case-Winters, Matthew, 213. “These multiple associations reinforce identity of Jesus with Moses and affirm Jesus’ role as the authoritative interpreter of the law.”
 France, Matthew, 647. “The visual ‘transformation’ is not so much a physical alteration an added dimension of glory; it is the same Jesus, but now with an awesome brightness ‘like the sun’ and ‘like light.’ Or, one might better say, with the of earthly conditions temporarily stripped away, so that the true nature of God’s ‘beloved Son’ (v. 5) can for once be seen.”
 Case-Winters, Matthew, 213. “’There is an association with the tents or tabernacles that housed the ark of the covenant in the wilderness wanderings. God’s presence in the Holy of Holies in the Temple was also identified is the shekinah.”
 Case-Winters, Matthew, 214. “Peters proposal, however, is wrong-footed on several counts, as what follows his offer will make clear. There will be no dwelling upon the mountain top in ‘spiritual retreat’ from the world. Jesus and the disciples are very soon thereafter called to come down from the high places and minister in the valley where great need awaits them.”
 Case-Winters, Matthew, 215. “In this story the ascent to the heights of the mountain and “peak” experiences of encounter with God is followed by descent into suffering and service in the valley of need where God’s calling beckons. Ascent and descent are inextricably bound for the followers of Jesus. Just as they were for him.”
 France, Matthew, 643. “If what happened there provided Jesus himself with reassurance for his coming mission, we are told nothing of this; it is the disciples’ Christological understanding which is being enhanced, and the discussion as they return down the mountain (vv. 10-13) similarly focuses entirely on their grasp of the eschatological timetable.”
Psalm 112: 1, 4-6 1 Hallelujah! Happy are they who fear God and have great delight in God’s commandments! Light shines in the darkness for the upright; the righteous are merciful and full of compassion. It is good for them to be generous in lending and to manage their affairs with justice. For they will never be shaken; the righteous will be kept in everlasting remembrance.
Light is important. Very. Especially regarding what you’re drinking. Let me explain:
I get up early, I have since I’ve attempted to overlap having kids and having degrees. That extra 60-90 minutes before littles get up gave me time to have some quiet and some study (and some coffee…LOTS). In order to get up early without being an inconvenience or a disturbance to anyone else, I learned how to do everything in the dark, from getting out of the bedroom and getting into workout clothes. I am one with the darkness.
One morning, when we lived in Louisiana, I woke up with my soft-music alarm, stretched, and sat up. It was four in the morning, and barely any light penetrated my cocoon of darkness. I swung my legs over the edge of the bed and stretched one more time. Then, I reached over to the large glass of water I prepared the night before, and, in the dark, started drinking like I did every morning. But then…there was a gentle bump against my lip. My sleepy state cruised straight into FULLY AWAKE and, as I lifted the glass to catch the minimal light through the blind from the street, all I could tell was that there was a mass in my water. The self-control I needed in that moment surfaced, and I did not scream. I took a deep breath, held it, let it out slowly and then gingerly and quietly rushed to the kitchen. Flipped on all the lights, and there it was: a very, very, very large cockroach floating atop my water. Dead, like Gregor Samsa at the end of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, but not due to starvation but to drowning.
Again, without making a noise, I dealt with the crime scene and quickly returned to schedule as usual.
Light is important. Very.
You, you are the light of the cosmos. A city being laid above a hill is not able to be hidden. No one lighting a lamp then places it under a basket but up on the lampstand, and it shines for all those in the house. In this way, let your light shine before people, in order that they may perceive your good works and may glorify your [Abba God] in the heavens. (vv. 14-16)
For Matthew, light is also very important, but for very different reasons than the one I experienced in the midst of the dark, tender moment between me and mi amada cucaracha. Matthew begins this narrative by telling us that Jesus continues his teaching to his disciples—still located among the hills as last week. This time Jesus is talking about salt and light and how both are necessary for the earth and the cosmos—this is how the disciples participate in the divine mission of God in the world. The disciples are to be the salt providing flavor to and preservation of the earth; salt that’s no longer salty is pointless, useless, and tossed out. This isn’t so much about people being rejected unto the furthest reaches of the universe and not so much about being condemned unto damnation. Rather, this is about assimilation to what is, the status-quo, nary making a wave or ruckus, never marching to a different beat, beige among beige. For instance, if the world is filled with injustice and the disciples go along with it, then they are as if they are no longer salty, they aren’t altering the flavor of the world, they aren’t adding dimension to it, they are refusing the full beauty and glory of the earth. If the world is unloving then the salt is the love of God brought by the peddlers of that love, the disciples, those grafted into the great line of prophets.
Then Jesus mentions they’re to be the light. The light is not best used under a basket, hidden from the sight of others. Rather, it is to light up the darkness, cut through the banality of life, illuminate dimness, awaken to alertness, and expose humanity and show us where the very, very, very large insects are. (Because they might just be floating in our water!) Not only does the light emanate outward into the cosmos, but the light also draws in from the cosmos. The city on the hill (playing with the imagery laying out in front of him with the disciples among the hill) will be the city letting their light so shine that others are drawn to it. This light is love and this love is of God. Thus, this is no closed group, sequestered away from humanity, refusing the familiarity of humanity, consumed with their own private righteousness; rather this group is open, having porous boundaries, welcoming those who’ve come from afar to admire the light, to feel the light warm their faces and exhausted bodies, to give them hope, to give them peace, to give them mercy, to give them the very love of Abba God.
In this way the disciples’ righteousness and execution of justice will exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees. Jesus tells the disciples that the law is not going anywhere; it’s here to stay. But it’s not about meeting each of the 613 mitzvot; it’s about God, God’s love, God’s justice in the world, the kingdom of heaven come close to humanity. In other words, Jesus promises fulfillment of the law not by doing it all but by comprehending the deeper meaning of the law, that it entails. This isn’t merely about our obedience to be clean and pure according to the law allowing the law to dethrone God and force humanity to be in service to the law. Rather, Jesus’s promised fulfillment of the law is about putting it in its rightful place in service to people thus bringing glory to God in that it directs the people of God to God, thus to the love of God, thus to the love of the neighbor. In other words, Jesus doesn’t abrogate the law but defines it for the disciples: this is not the law of ritual purity but the law of love.
Salt makes food better and it can even preserve it. Light gives assurance to the step and can even prevent us from consuming that which we shouldn’t. In this moment, we are called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. This is our calling, beloved. But this is not our calling because somehow we have to muster up our saltiness or our illuminative parts like fireflies in the middle of a summer night. Rather, our saltiness and our illumination come from our union with God in faith, it comes from our encounter with God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, it is the fruit of our new life. And this fruit is not for our consumption alone, but to share out in the world with everyone. And this relatedness of our being with others is the principal point of being salt and light…it is for others, for the love of others.
“Love needs the presence and involvement of another being; love cannot exist without the other. Self-sufficiency is a concept of the lonely and unrelated person. To conceive of creation in the framework of unrelatedness is to deprive creation of its most central element—love. Whatever meaning we find in the concept of creation, in a creator, and in our having been created hinges on love. The concept of creation is rendered empty and meaningless if it is not out of love that God created the world.”
You, beloved, are the salt and the light because you are the beloved, the ones who are so radically loved by the creator of the cosmos—the one who flung all the great lights into the night sky and nestled each grain of that savory mineral among water and rocks. And because you have been so loved by such a One, you get to partake in this sharing of salt and light on the earth and within the cosmos by sharing that divine love with others here, and outside these walls. And, maybe, especially with those outside of these walls. Let us so share our salt and light with the world, bringing to the world the love of Abba God, saying to those whom we meet, “O taste and see that [God] is good; happy are those who take refuge in [God]” (Ps 34:8).
 Anna Case-Winters Matthew Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible Eds Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher. Louisville, KY: WJK, 2015. 78-79. “It is prefaced with ‘salt and light’ sayings addressed to the disciples in a way that points them toward their mission in the world. Neither salt nor light exists tor its own sake. The salt needs to stay salty to fulfill its function and the light needs to be lifted up to give light. These metaphors imply a turning outward toward mission in the world.”
 France, Matthew, 173. “Sir 39:26 lists salt as one of the essentials for human life; cf. Sop. 15:8, ‘The world cannot endure without salt.’ Disciples are no less essential to the well-being of “the earth,” which here refers to human life in general.”
 Cardenal, Solentiname, 94. “JULIO: ‘By liberating it. Because a world filled with injustice is tasteless. Mainly for the poor, life like that has no taste.’” And “OLIVIA: ‘It seems to me that the salt has got lost when instead of preserving justice on earth, Christians have let injustice multiply more… We Christians wanted to prevent that, but we haven’t. Instead, Christians have sided with injustice, with capitalism. We have sided with selfishness. We have been a useless salt.’” And “FELIPE: ‘Christianity that stopped being Christian, that’s the salt that doesn’t salt any more.’”
 Cardenal, Solentiname, 95. “MARCELINO: ‘I think that ‘salt’ is the Gospel word given to us so that we’ll practicing love, so that everybody will have it. Because salt is a thing that you never deny to anybody. When somebody is very stingy they say that he wouldn’t give you salt for a sour prune. That’s why Jesus says have salt, which means to have love shared out among everybody, and so we’ll have everything shared out, we’ll all be equal and we’ll live united and in peace.’”
 France, Matthew, 175. “Here the light which Jesus brings is also provided by his disciples, who will soon be commissioned to share in his ministry of proclamation and deliverance. Cf. the mission of God’s servant to be ‘a light to the nations’ (Isa 42:6; 49:6). The world needs that light, and it is through the disciples that it must be made visible. The world (kosmos; not the “earth,” gē, as in v. 13) again refers to the world of people, as the application in v. 16 makes clear; cf. the call to Christians to shine in the kosmos (Phil 2:15).”
 Case-Winters, Matthew, 79. “In passing, the illustration of a city set on a hill is also employed. The community of disciples cannot be a closed community, an ‘introverted secret society shielding itself from the world.’ Its witness Is public.”
 France, Matthew, 176. “The metaphor thus suited a variety of applications, but here the context indicates that it is about the effect which the life of disciples must have on those around them. It thus takes for granted that the ‘job description’ of a disciple is not fulfilled by private personal holiness, but includes the witness of public exposure.”
 France, Matthew, 177. “It is only as is distinctive lifestyle is visible to others that it can have its desired effect. But that effect is also now spelled out not as the improvement and enlightenment of society as such, but rather as the glorifying of God by those outside the disciple community. The subject of this discourse, and the aim of the discipleship which it promotes, is not so much the betterment of life on earth as implementation of the reign of God. The goal of disciples’ witness is not that others emulate their way of life. or applaud their probity, but that they recognize the source of their distinctive lifestyle in ‘Your Father in heaven.’”
 France, Matthew, 189. “The paradox of Jesus’ demand here makes sense only if their basic premise as to what ‘righteousness’ consists of is put in question. Jesus is not talking about beating the scribes and Pharisees at their own game, but about a different level or concept of righteousness altogether.”
 Case-Winters, Matthew, 80. “There is a balance of Jesus’ obligation to the law and the prophets and his authority to interpret their weightier matters. The commandments of the Torah are not all of the same weight. Jesus argues later that love and compassion for the neighbor outweighs matters such as cultic observance (12:1-14; 22:40). He chides the scribes and Pharisees because they ‘tithe the mint, dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy and faith.’ Jesus’ own life is an exemplar of attending to the weightier matters.”
 France, Matthew, 182. “In the light of Matthew’s use of this verb elsewhere, and the evident importance it has for his understanding of the relation between the authoritative words of the OT and their contemporary outworking, the sense here is not likely to be concerned either with Jesus’ actions in relation to the law or even his teaching about it, but rather the way in which he ‘fulfills’ the pattern laid down in the law and the prophets.”
 France, Matthew, 183. “In the light of that concept, and of the general sense of ‘fulfill’ in Matthew, we might then paraphrase Jesus’ words here as follows: ‘Far from wanting to set aside the law and the prophets, it is my role to bring into being that to which they have pointed forward, to carry them into a new era of fulfillment.’ On this understanding the authority of the law and the prophets is not abol1shed. They remain the authoritative word of God. But their role will no longer be the same, now that what they pointed forward to has come, and it will be for Jesus’ followers to discern in the light of his teaching and practice what is now the right way to apply those texts in the new situation which his coming has created. From now on it will be the authoritative teaching of Jesus which must govern his disciples’ understanding and practical application of the law.”
 Dorothee Sölle To Work and To Love: A Theology of Creation with Shirley A. Cloyes. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1984. 16
Psalm 15:1-2 1 God, who may dwell in your tabernacle? who may abide upon your holy hill? Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right, who speaks the truth from [their] heart.
Did you know that the Sermon on the Mount was probably given in the hills? I mention this little detail because there are texts and stories, teachings and preachings that we’re very familiar with, so familiar that we are prone to pay them less attention. We take them for granted and lock them in some form in our memory. We are familiar with the tonality and the cadence of the textual rhythm. We can recite some of them from memory. We may be more familiar with some over others; we may even know the blessed statements show up altered in other gospels. Maybe it’s time we did what Jesus’s disciples did: follow Jesus and sit with this divine Rabbi,  listening (again) to these words meant for those who follow Jesus out of the river Jordan, even those of us who sit here these many years later. As we do, may we come into an encounter with the love and passion of God anew, for God’s Word seeks to awaken us from our slumber, provoke to animation calcified hearts, invigorate sluggish souls and exhausted minds, graft us into God’s mission on the earth, and to place us into the great prophetic tradition of God’s representatives bringing God’s love and life and liberation to the captives.
Before beginning our dive into the statements, I want to address a little, teensy-weensy textual thing: the word, markarioi is fairly hard to render into English. The complication comes in that “‘Macarisms’ are essentially commendations, congratulations, statements to the effect that a person is in a good situation, sometimes even expressions of envy.” This isn’t “blessed by God”, but “happy”. They are happy who… However, this is misleading in our context because it is not as if the person is happy but that they find themselves in a happy placedemanding envy from others. In short, these statements are not merely colloquialisms about happy go lucky, but describe and commend the good life, and not the good life or an ethic for back then but even now, for us. To be envied is to do and be like this…
To be envied are the beggars for the Spirit, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
The “poor in spirit” are not those who lack God or have weak character. Rather, these are the ones claimed by God but poor, those held captive by oppression, those refused the material liberation of God.  These people know their need for God, cry out to God, call on God, and take God as God. It is these who have the kingdom of God because they are with God and loved by God and in this love the kingdom is now and to come.
To be envied are the ones who mourn, because they, theywill be comforted.
Like those before who are “poor in spirit” and those who follow (the meek and those who hunger and thirst), those who mourn have comfort in that they are those who are with God because God is in our suffering. And in being with God, having God’s life and love there is the possibility that this heavy grief will not always be so, that there is more to this material existence than what can be seen and touched right now.
To be envied are the meek, because they, they will inherit the earth.
Meekness here harkens back to “poor in spirit”, these are the ones who love their neighbor as themselves, serving the neighbor in their freedom, feeling compassion and sympathy for the plight of their neighbor. The meek live among the sufferers in this life and make it their aim to alleviate that suffering, to bring God close. For these meek ones are servants of all, live by the law of love for their neighbor before God, and are the ones who inherit the earth at the expense of those claiming the earth for themselves now at the expense of their neighbor.
To be envied are the ones who hunger and thirst for righteousness, because they, they will be satisfied.
Those who are hungry are hungry for justice, those who are thirsty are thirsty for righteousness; and this hunger and thirst fuels the embers of the fires of God’s love and justice. These are the ones who desire earnestly (2x!) to live into the calling of God on their lives made known through their baptism and faith in God, and to participate in God’s mission of love, liberation, and life in the world. These are they who step into the responsibility of representing God in the world and eliminating alienation and isolation. By this activity they satisfy their hunger and thirst for justice and righteousness come.
To be envied are the merciful, because they, they will be shown mercy.
Just like those who judge will be judged and those who forgive will be forgiven, those who show mercy will be shown mercy. In other words, those who are merciful are those who offer grace to other fellow humans trying to get from point A to point B, those who share in the pain in the world and celebrate the joy, those who are willing to let go of societal standards of “an eye for an eye”.
To be envied are the pure in heart, because they, they will see God.”
This is less about being sinless and more about being declared pure apart from your material and social circumstances that would render you “unclean” for lack of “outward purity”. Godliness is about one’s trust and faith in and love of God made most manifest in love of one’s neighbor; it’s not about being ritualistically clean and upright thus removed from being able to love one’s neighbor no matter what.
To be envied are the peacemakers, because they, they will be called children of God.”
Those born of God are born of love, of life, of peace. Thus, the peacemakers are not those who merely present a peaceful demeanor in the world, benefitting only themselves. These are they who “make peace” by causing reconciliation where there is estrangement, reuniting others, and letting love do what love does: turn the enemy into the beloved.
To be envied are the ones who are persecuted on account of righteousness, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs. You are to be envied whenever people revile you both persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be fully of joy, because your reward is great in the heavens, for in this way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Of interest here are those who are blessed because they are persecuted and not only because they’re upright, but upright specifically related to following Jesus. It’s not a lifestyle that is good, but one that adheres to the authority and principles of Jesus; this is the reason for the persecution. In adhering to the radical demands of Christ by pursuing justice, peace, mercy, and love in the world, the disciples will end up challenging the self-conceptions of others who live according to the world and persecution will follow. Then Jesus does something at the end of the text, according to Matthew, he draws a correlation between those who do his will with the prophets. Those who follow Jesus and do as he did are grafted into the great line of prophets, those who declare God’s kingdom come, those who advocate for the sufferers and oppressed are those who share in the great prophetic tradition and participate in the prophetic voice.
Beloved, the “sermon among the hills” is the foundation of our ethical activity in the world. Loved by the radical God of Love made known to us in Christ, we love radically like God, risking our creaturely comforts and daring to stand out we bring and declare this love into the world. We’re called by and in faith to be born anew into a new life defined by God’s will and desire to seek and save the lost, to liberate the captives, to bring good news to the poor and destitute, those struggling to live and exist. We are created anew to be God’s representatives in the name of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit in the world. We are to feel our discontentment with the world because God is discontent with the way the world is for God’s beloved. We’re to press into God by pressing into the plight of our brothers and sisters, in this the light breaks through the darkness, hope defeats hopelessness, and love births life.
The following is taken from Ernesto Cardenal’s poem, “Coplas on the death of Merton”,
Love, love above all, an anticipation of death There was a taste of death in the kisses being is being in another being we exist only in love But in this life we love only briefly and feebly We love or exist only when we stop being when we die nakedness of the whole being in order to make love make love not war that go to empty into the love that is life
 RT France, in his commentary, makes the compelling case that the location where Jesus sits and teaches his disciples in this pericope are “hills” rather than a mountain (which is the technical translation of to oros). France uses the corresponding text in the gospel of Luke which describes Jesus as going down to this location…
 Anna Case-Winters Matthew Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible Eds Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher. Louisville, KY: WJK, 2015. 71-72. “The Sermon on the Mount, in its clarion call to a radically different way of life, does unmask the sinfulness of the life we now live—turned in on ourselves as we are. Indeed, it makes our need for God’s grace very clear, but the message also moves and motivates us toward the higher righteousness to which Jesus calls us. It does so not by giving a set of prescriptions to be followed in a legalistic manner but rather examples of life oriented by the love of God and neighbor.”
 Cardenal, Solentiname, 89-90. “WILLIAM: ‘And Jesus compares us with the prophets. The prophets in the Bible were not so much people who predicted the future as people who denounced the present. They were protesting against the celebrations in the palaces, the cheating on the weights and the coins, the things that they bought very cheap from the labor of the poor, the swindles of widows and orphans, the abuses committed by the mafias of priests, the murders, the royal policy that they called prostitution, the dependence on foreign imperialisms. And it’s true they also predicted something for the future-the liberation of the oppressed. Christ says that our fate has to be like the fate of those prophets.’”
 France, Matthew, 160-161. The Hebrew equivalent of Makarios is asre rather than the more theologically loaded baruk, ‘blessed (by God).’ The traditional English rendering ‘blessed’ thus also has too theological a connotation in modern usage; the Greek term for ‘blessed (by God)’ is eulogetos, not makarios.
 France, Matthew, 160-161. “The sense of congratulation and commendation is perhaps better convened by ‘happy,’ but this term generally has too psychological a connotation: makarios does not state that a person feels happy … but that they are in a ‘happy’ situation, one which other people ought also to wish to share.”
 France, Matthew, 160-161. “The Australian idiom ‘Good on yer’ is perhaps as close as any to the sense, but would not communicate in the rest of the English-speaking world!…Beatitudes are descriptions, and commendations, of the good life.”
 Case-Winters, Matthew, 71. “I would propose that the ethic of the Sermon on the Mount is a fitting ethic nor just for ‘the interim’ and not just tor an inner circle, but for followers of Jesus in all times and places. It has been pointed out that a new way of life is at the heart of the gospel call.”
Ernesto Cardenal The Gospel in Solentiname Trans. Donald D. Walsh. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2010. 82. “I said that in the Bible the poor are often called anawim, which in Hebrew means ‘the poor of Yahweh.’ They are so called because they are the poor of the liberation of Yahweh, those that God is going to liberate by means of the Messiah. It’s like what we now understand as the ‘oppressed,’ but in the Bible those poor people are also considered to be good people, honorable, kindly and holy, while their opposites are the oppressors, the rich, the proud, the impious.”
 France, Matthew, 165. “‘Poverty in spirit’ is not speaking of weakness of character (‘mean-spiritedness’) but rather of a person’s relationship with God. It is a positive spiritual orientation, the converse of the arrogant self-confidence which only rides roughshod over the interests of other people but more importantly causes a person to treat God as irrelevant. To say that it is to such people that kingdom of heaven belongs means (not, of course, that they themselves hold royal authority but) that they are the ones who gladly accept God’s rule and who therefore enjoy the benefits which come to his subjects.”
 Cardenal, Solentiname, 83. “And OSCAR’S MOTHER: ‘It seems to me that the kingdom is love. Love in this life. And heaven is for those who love here, because God is love’”
 Case-Winters, Matthew, 76-77. “The first four beatitudes declare blessing for those who were traditionally understood as being defended by God: the poor, those who mourn, the meek, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, justice.”
 France, Matthew, 166. “For those who, as God’s people, find their current situation intolerable and incomprehensible, there are better times ahead.”
 France, Matthew, 166. “‘Meek,’ like ‘poor in spirit,’ speaks not only of those who are in fact disadvantaged and powerless, but also of those whose attitude is not arrogant and oppressive. The term in itself may properly be understood of their relations with other people; they are those who do not throw their weight about.”
 Cardenal, Solentiname, 86. “MARCELINO: ‘He blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice. Hunger and injustice amount to the same thing. Anyone who hungers for food also hungers for justice. They are the ones who are going to make social change, not the satisfied ones. And then they’ll be filled with bread and social justice.’”
 France, Matthew, 167-168. Dikaiosyne “It is thus better understood here not of those who wish to see God’s will prevail in the world in general or on their own behalf in particular, but of those who are eager themselves to live as God requires, those who can say, as Jesus himself is recorded as saying in John 4:34, ‘My food is to do the will of the one who me.’”
 France, Matthew, 168. “‘Mercy’ is closely with forgiveness, but is broader here than just the forgiveness of specific offenses: it is a generous attitude which is willing to see things from the other’s point of view and is not quick to take offense or to gloat over others’ shortcomings (the prime characteristic of love according to 1 Cor 13:4-7). Mercy sets aside society’s assumption that it is honorable to demand revenge.”
 France, Matthew, 168. “In the context of first-century Judaism, with its strong emphasis on ritual ‘purity’, the phrase ‘pure in heart’ might also be understood to imply a contrast with the meticulous preservation of outward purity which will be condemned in 23:25-28 as having missed the point of godliness…”
 France, Matthew, 169. “This beatitude goes beyond a merely peaceful disposition to an active attempt to ‘make’ peace, perhaps by seeking reconciliation with one’s own enemies, but also more generally by bringing together those who estranged from one another.”
 France, Matthew, 172. “A significant new note in comparison with v. 10 is that the cause of persecution is not simply ‘righteousness,’ the distinctive lifestyle of the disciples, but more specifically ‘because of me,’ a phrase which makes it clear that this discourse is not just a call to conduct but is grounded in the unique authority and radical demands of Jesus himself.”
 Cardenal, Solentiname, 88. “ALEJANDRO: ‘And he says that they are going to be persecuted because they seek justice, and for that also he blesses them. Because it’s clear that people who look for this kingdom have to be persecuted.”
 France, Matthew, 169-170. “The pursuit of ‘righteousness’ (v. 6) can arouse opposition from those whose interests or self-respect may be threatened by it. Already in the commendation of the merciful and the peacemakers these beatitudes have marked out the true disciple not as a hermit engaged in the solitary pursuit of holiness but as one engaged in society, and such engagement has its cost. As the following verses will spell out more fully, to live as subjects of the kingdom of heaven is to be set over against the rest of society which does not its values, and the result may be – indeed, the uncompromising wording of this beatitude suggests that it will be—persecution.”
 France, Matthew, 173. “Those who have spoken out for God have always been liable to the violent reprisal of the ungodly. In the light of that heritage, to be persecuted for the sake of Jesus is a badge of honor. The phrase ‘the prophets who came before you’ perhaps suggests that Jesus’ disciples are now the prophetic voice on earth (cf. 10:41; 23:34).”
 France, Matthew, 159. “The sharply paradoxical character of most of its recommendations reverses the conventional values of society—it commends those whom the world in general would dismiss as losers and wimps; compare the presentation of disciples as ‘little ones’ in 10:42; 18:6, 10.14; 25:40 (cf. the ‘little children’ of 11:25). The Beatitudes thus call on those who would be God’s people to stand out as different from those around them, and promise them that those who do so will not ultimately be the losers.”
 Case-Winters, Matthew, 77. “In a way the beatitudes are ‘more description than instruction;’ they are a kind of report from the other side of radical commitment for those who have entered into life within God’s community of love and justice. For those who have ‘crossed over’ there is genuine blessedness. They are living-even now-in the reign of God.”
 Case-Winters, Matthew, 78. “If we would-even now-live under the reign of God, there are implications. The alternative reality will chaff against the present reality. To love as God loves is to be discontented with the present reality. ‘Until the eschatological reversal takes place, it is not possible to be content with the status quo.’ In our discontent, we may pray with William Sloane Coffin, ‘Because we love the world. . . . we pray now… for grace to quarrel with it, O Thou Whose lover’s quarrel with the world is the history of the world…’”
 Dorothee Soelle On Earth as in Heaven: A Liberation Spirituality of Sharing Trans. Marc Batko. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 1993. 50-51. “Christian hope in the tradition of the supernatural virtues, that is, of virtues poured into us by grace, is distinguished from the hope of the observer by sharing, cooperation, and participation. Chrisitan hope is hope in which I share in the production of another state. The hope of peace lives with the peacemakers and not beyond them. Participation in the struggle distinguishes this hope form the contemplative observation that is optimist once moment ad resigned the next.
 France, Matthew, 171-172. “Light is of no use under a bowl. It is the town conspicuously sited on hill which people notice. And the outcome of distinctive discipleship is intended to be that other people will notice and, though sometimes they may respond with cynicism and persecution, ultimately the light will have its effect and they will recognize and acknowledge the goodness of the God is its source, Disciples, therefore, must be both distinctive and involved. Neither the indistinguishably assimilated nor the inaccessible hermit will fulfill the mandate of these challenging verses.”
 Ernesto Cardenal Apocalypse and other poems Trans. Thomas Merton, Kenneth Rexroth, and Mireya Jaimes-Freyre. Eds. Robert Pring-Mill, Donald D. Walsh. New York, NY: New Directions Publishing, 1977. 47.
Psalm 27:8-10 Even now God lifts up my head above my enemies round about me. Therefore I will offer in God’s dwelling an oblation with sounds of great gladness; I will sing and make music to Abba God. Hearken to my voice, God, when I call; have mercy on me and answer me.
Recently I encountered a little reminder: “Your feelings let you know that you’re alive.” My knee jerk reaction was: “Maybe I could use less knowing??” I feel so much right now. Every day seems to compound the previous one, ushering in deeper hues of the feelings from before accompanied by new ones or ones long dormant. Huh, I’ve not felt that shade of gray in a while… A lot of it revolves around being dissatisfied with the way things are, dissatisfaction threaded through with worry that this is it, this is all, this will be the new normal from now on. I know I’m not alone; I think we all carry heavy emotional burdens right now. There’s a lot to feel; and feeling the feels carries great risk. What if it is too much for me to bear and it crushes me?
It might. That’s the risk. That’s why we numb.
The urge to numb our dissatisfied inner worlds is on the rise. There are times to numb, you’ll never hear me advocate for human life sans devices helping us catch a break from the turmoil of our external and inner worlds. However, it seems that for the past three years the need to numb is more prevalent. If I’m numb I can’t feel that subtle worry settling in the marrow of my bones. If I’m numb, I can ignore the deeper shades of gray. If I’m numb, who cares if things stay the same or get better… If I’m numb, I can’t feel that dreaded dissatisfaction. I can’t feel anything in fact.
One of the marks of the living is the ability to be dissatisfied; to be dissatisfied is to disagree with death. To feel our feelings—whatever they are, even if they are painful—opens up the door to the reality that somehow and somewhere life is coming more in line with the principles of death rather than the dictates of life. To dare to feel means taking straight-on the real feeling of being truly dissatisfied. What if it is too much for me to bear and it crushes me?
It might. That’s the risk. That’s why we resist.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness– on them light has shined.
Isaiah’s text emanates hope completed and yet to be realized. The light has shone and his audience will see it. In a deliberate play of verbal tenses, Isaiah’s hope is visceral and tangible. You can feel Isaiah’s excitement as he proclaims these words to a downtrodden people, those trapped under mills-stone sized oppression, those stripped of their liberty and reduced to the margins of society.
Isaiah is one of the great prophets of Israel who stands between God and God’s people, representing God’s love and desire for the people and representing the people’s angst and dissatisfaction to God; the prophet is the sympathetic one, the one who identifies with God and with the people. The divine pathos—the divine passion—of God for God’s people encourages Isaiah to declare to the people that their cries are heard, their tears counted, their pain felt (personally) by God. In the same breath, Isaiah is given the courage to stand and step against the death dealing characteristic of the kingdom of humanity; with divine passion, Isaiah articulates the divine no! to oppression and violence. Judgment has come for those who harm God’s beloved.
Isaiah’s language fluctuates between speaking on behalf of God and for the people; this fluctuation highlights the duality of Isaiah’s existence trapped in this articulation of mutual love. He carries the emotional, thundering content of divine speech into the world to ears longing for liberation like parched tongues eager for water, and then moves to articulate the depth of gratitude and praise from God’s people to God. Isaiah, and all prophets who came before and follow after, are aligned to the divine concern and the human concern—they’re sympathetic to what is going on both in heaven and on earth and they are eager not only to speak God’s loving and liberative reign but also to act cooperatively against human tyranny.
This human tyranny, for Isaiah, works against the livelihood of God’s people, restricts thriving to an elite few, submerges feeble and weak human bodies deep into the waters of misery, injustice, and alienation; and, for Isaiah, this isn’t acceptable. In sympathy with the people and with God, Isaiah is committed to pronouncing the judgment of God on those who oppress God’s people, and is empowered to proclaim a better way to live in the world and to communicate a strength to respond to the dissatisfaction of the way things are.
For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
Isaiah, in this brief section, articulates the longed-for liberation of the people. Their yoke (of oppression) that stretches across their shoulders is broken. This is not merely a spiritual thing that Isaiah articulates, it’s not as if God’s people are burdened by the violence and condemnation of structures wired against them but they aren’t really; it is this way and the response is to ask God to break the rod of the oppressor and to rid themselves of this yoke. But it’s not about Israel rolling over and waiting for God to show up; God is with them, the prophet represents this fact. Isaiah wakes the people out of slumbering numbness and asks them to look and see their plight. They are in darkness; they need light. They are yoked; they need liberation. “THIS IS NOT NORMAL!” Isaiah Thunders! He joins them up into God’s love for them, the beloved, and exhorts them to feel what has too long been buried and trapped, refused for fear.
Life demands feeling even the very worst of emotions, so Israel can live in a way that resists death. For death is not just of the body, it can happen before, as they walk around and go through their days. Israel must be summoned into their plight, to feel it, to remember they are alive…even if it might be too much for them to bear, even if it might crush them. Because…
It might. That’s the risk. That’s why they resist.
You [God] have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.
To wake up, to feel one’s dismay, to be dissatisfied with things as they are is the deep calling to deep, it’s the divine summons to take up the cross and follow, it’s the loss of self that’s the gaining of self, it’s being alive. Ultimately, it’s the beginning of our resistance to that which is dead set on stealing our life and refusing our liberation to be fully thriving human beings. To be dissatisfied with the way things are is the burning ember that becomes the divine fire of love that is resistance against death on behalf of life. To resist death, we must live; we must risk the vulnerability of being human and fleshy, thinking and feeling creatures and live…even now, even when things are gray and bleak, midwinter humdrum. We must respond to Isaiah’s summons and wake up and look around, and be on our guard against slipping back into hibernation. We must remember that the God whom we encounter in Christ by the power of the Holy spirit is, to quote Dorothee Sölle and her husband Fulbert Steffensky, the very God who
“…stands on the side of life and especially on the side of those to whom life in its wholeness is denied and who do not reach the point of real living. God is not on the side of the rulers, the powerful, the rich, the affluent, the victorious. God takes sides with those who need him. He sides with the victims.”
As those who are positioned to follow Jesus out of the Jordan, we are exhorted through Isaiah’s words to live and not just barely. We’re exhorted to live as those who have seen a great light, those who have reason to rejoice, to celebrate, to live tremendously, to live fully, to fiesta, to have joy, so that we can mock, resist, and refuse death and destruction its façade of power over us. We are exhorted to join in life’s great songs against death; we are called to identify and sing with those who suffer more than we do. In life’s desire to live we must advocate and raise our voices in celebration of life—for our neighbors and siblings, thus for ourselves—to remind death we’re still alive, dissatisfied as hell but still very much alive.
 Abraham K Heschel The Prophets New York, NY: JPS 1962. 308. “In contrast to the Stoic sage who is a homo apathetikos, the prophet may be characterized as a homo sympathetikos. For the phenomenology of religion the prophet represents a type sui generis.”
 Heschel, The Prophets, 308. “The pathos of God is upon him. It breaks out in him like a storm in the soul, overwhelming his inner life, his thoughts, feelings, wishes, and hopes. It takes possession of his heart and mind, giving him the courage to act against the world.”
 Heschel, The Prophets, 308-309. “The words of the prophet are often like thunder; they sound as if he were in a state of hysteria. But what appears to us as wild emotionalism must seem like restraint to him who has to convey the emotion of the Almighty in the feeble language of man. His sympathy is an overflow of powerful emotion which comes in response to what he sensed in divinity. For the only way to intuit a feeling is to feel it. One cannot have a merely intellectual awareness of a concrete suffering or pleasure, for intellect as such is merely the tracing of relations, and a feeling is no mere relational pattern.”
 Heschel, The Prophets, 309-310. “´It is such intense sympathy or emotional identification with the divine pathos that may explain the shifting from the third to the first person in the prophetic utterances. A prophecy that starts out speaking of God in the third person turns into God speaking in the first person. Conversely, a prophecy starting with God speaking in the first person turns into a declaration of the prophet speaking about God in the third person.”
 Heschel, The Prophets, 309. “The unique feature of religious sympathy is not self-conquest, but self-dedication; not the suppression of emotion, but its redirection; not silent subordination, but active co-operation with God; not love which aspires to the Being of God in Himself, but harmony of the soul with the concern of God. To be a prophet means to identify one’s concern with the concern.”
 Heschel, The Prophets, 171. “No one seems to question her invincibility except Isaiah, who foresees the doom of the oppressor, the collapse of the monster.”
 Heschel, The Prophets, 309. “Sympathy, however, is not an end in itself. Nothing is further from the prophetic mind than to inculcate or to live out a life of feeling, a religion of sentimentality. Not mere feeling but actin will mitigate the world’s misery, society’s injustice or the people’s alienation from God. Only action will relieve the tension between God and man. Both pathos and sympathy are, from the perspective of the total situation, demands rather than fulfullments. Prophetic sympathy is no delight; unlike ecstasy, it is not a goal, but a sense of challenge, a commitment, a state of tension, consternation, and dismay.”
 Dorothee Sölle and Fulbert Steffensky Not Just Yes & Amen: Christians with a Cause. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1985. p. 82
 Ada Maria Isazi-Diaz Mujerista Theology: A Theology for the Twenty-First Century. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1996. p. 131.
 I’m influenced here by the work of The Rev. Dr. James H. Cone in The Spiritual & The Blues. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1972. p. 130. “Whatever form black music takes it is always an expression of black life in America and what the people must do to survive with a measure of dignity in a society which seems bent on destroying their right to be human beings. The fact that black people keep making music means that we as a people refuse to be destroyed. We refuse to allow the people who oppress us to have the last word about our humanity. The last word belongs to us and music is our way of saying it. Contrary to popular opinion, therefore, the spirituals and the blues are not songs of despair or of a defeated people. On the contrary, they are songs which represent one of the great triumphs of the human spirit.”
The following is the text of my short offering during a service last night (1/14/23) in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. at American Lutheran Church, Grand Junction:
It was a beautiful Mother’s Day. We gathered the kids, an aunt and uncle, and headed out to celebrate the day. Our destination was Miracle Rock (aka Potato Rock). We reached the stunning geography, admired the rock, and decided to mill about, and let the toddler down from her hiking-backpack. For what 18-month-olds lack in fine motor skill they make up in large motor function; my daughter could run. And she did. She was! In moments, a blink of an eye, with no warning, she bolted out of reach before we knew what was happening. Her new-found freedom provoked her confidence and, to her, the entire world spread out and needed to be suddenly investigated. But what she couldn’t see, her parents did: the edge. We called her. She didn’t stop. We started to run after her but she was too far ahead of us; we wouldn’t make it in time. Plus, wouldn’t chasing her become a game? No way to catch her as the deadly horizon drew closer. Desperation kicked in; reality fell like a heavy blanket. Out of options! With what felt like seconds left to change her trajectory, to interrupt her path, I waved off my husband and did the only thing I could do in that moment. I gathered up every ounce of strength I had, and I hollered: “LIZA! STOP!” so loud every muscle flexed, and I sent myself backward. But she stopped. Mom-voice hopped up on the steroids of love and life, she stopped. Mid stride, feet from the edge, she collapsed into a ball on the ground and wept. My husband was closer than I was and able to retrieve our weeping mass of baby; she was safe.
Love sounds her maternal yawp against looming destruction, life fights back the tentacles of death.
There’s a confession embedded in the theme of today’s service; the exhortation to develop courage means we must reckon with the fact that if we had courage we lost it. Where did our courage go? Maybe its buried under lethargy; everything feels so exhausting right now. Maybe our courage is gagged by forgetfulness; we move on faster and faster from traumatic events (because terror is becoming normal). Maybe our courage is trapped under fear; there’s no assurance and security right now (sending three kids off to school 5 days a week, my one prayer is please bring them home to me tonight). Maybe our courage is confused; disoriented behind weaponized walls of cis-het whiteness, patriarchy, and Christian nationalism. Or maybe our courage has atrophied; malnourished by lacking creative and curious activity, starving for hope and mercy. Whatever the reason, we must confess we do not have more courage than we did nearly three years ago and whatever we had then is now gone. The world is not better, it is not safer, it is not more alive.
Love sounds her maternal yawp against looming destruction, life fights back the tentacles of death.
While we stand in a very vulnerable place, aware of our lack, there is good news. It’s here, in the fleshiness of our confession where we’re beckoned by love’s voice into the arms of life out of the threat of destruction and out of the grip of death. These two need be our despotic rulers no more; because here in this meeting in the vulnerability of confession, clutched by love and life we are reconciled with our courage to resist their tyranny. Courage is not mustered up from the isolation of ourselves by ourselves, it cannot come to the surface if we continue to turn more and more in on ourselves by ourselves. Rather, it is born (again) in our triune comingling with life and love; because, in our individual confessions we see and hear that we are not alone, we stand in and with a great crowd of other witnesses. Consumed by the divine spirit of life and love we are invited to start again not alone but together. We are exhorted to take hold of our courage again, together. Here, with each other, we begin again, we begin anew. Here, with each other, we are emboldened to stand up however we can, reanimated with verve and vigor. Here, together(!) we are resurrected out of lethargy, out of fear, out of forgetfulness, into love’s land of daring curiosity and life’s audacious creativity; repowered to dream dreams, to have visions of possible impossibilities, to imagine the creation of better worlds marked by liberation and justice for all. Here we find what was lost: ourselves, each other, and our voices. And if we find these, we find courage abundant because we are a force to be reckoned with together.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, in his Sermon “Paul’s Letter to American Christians,” said,
“The greatest of all virtues is love.…In a world depending on force, coercive tyranny, and bloody violence, [we] are challenged to follow the way of love. [We] will then discover that unarmed love is the most powerful force in all the world.”
Here, together, in the word of love and life we are given the potent and visceral force and strength (the courage!) to sound our maternal yawp against looming destruction, to actively join in life’s fight against the tentacles of death to retrieve the beloved (our siblings and ourselves) from the tentacles of death.
 The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Paul’s Letter to American Christians” Strength to Love Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2010. 153.