Our Stories This Story: The Worker

I recommend reading/listening to the sermon from Ash Wednesday, which functions as an introduction to this Lenten series. You can access it here. For the previous sermons in this series, (“The Youth”) click here and (“The Parents”) click here.

Sermon on Exodus 3:1-15

Psalm 63: 3-4 For [God’s] loving-kindness is better than life itself; my lips shall give [God] praise. So will I bless [God] as long as I live and lift up my hands in [God’s] Name.

Introduction

“Everyday I do the same thing but I don’t think I know what I’m doing. I wonder if they know what they’re doing… Sometimes I just can’t help but watch my colleagues shuffle about as if nothing is wrong as long as they get theirs, as if this is all normal and good. Talk about putting lipstick on a pig. I mean *chuckles* the things they say to me … *sigh* … I feel the drudgery of the demands of life—the demands of just trying to survive—weighing down on me, dragging me down, stealing something vital from me… my soul? My energy? My mind? I don’t know what …this demand to produce, to work, to earn, requires me to neglect my health and wellbeing… Is it irony that they give me some form of healthcare? …*chuckles* I’m gaining weight as I’m wasting away, selling myself to some ambiguous and invisible entity, some myth… I feel trapped. … I’ve realized I’m stuck, empty, and burnt out.”[1]

From the Ash Wednesday 2022 Sermon

We’ve become a people who passes on toil rather than story.

One of the things that Covid_19 exposed is the depths of our exhaustion when it comes to our work. And yet we are trapped. We’re caught between a rock and hard place. Damned if we do; damned if we don’t. We’re exhausted by the day-in and day-out of the incessant demands of work. Yet, just to survive—caring for ourselves and caring for those dependent on us—we must meet these demands. There’s no option for “No thank you”; just options for how much of yourself you’re willing to sacrifice to the system. 

The long-esteemed hand of competition has not made human existence better. Instead it has taken from us our humanity, our dreams, our desires, and our dignity. It’s stripped us of our story of something else, something bigger than the next buck, tech, car, house, and vacation. We’ve become deaf to the cries of our hearts and the hearts of others as we grow more and more busy with our toil.  We’ve been devoured by a dog-eat-dog-world where no one is allowed to stand still long enough to notice we are all falling apart and limping along. We’ve ceased praying for our daily bread because we are desperate to grab whatever crumb we can find while fighting against brothers and sisters.

Everywhere we step is profaned ground, a virtual minefield of potential disasters threatening to take from us the little we’ve managed to scrape together through blood, sweat, and tears. No wonder our anxiety is at an all time high: nothing is secured…nothing. For storyless human beings, this threat of looming nothingness thrusts us further into the hands of a merciless task master. Thus, the cycle continues as we pass on toil from one generation to another, adding to it greater and greater degrees of demoralization. One job is no longer enough to make ends meet for many people, rather there is a need for two, three, and even four just to live and eat.

Exodus 3: 1-15

When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” …

Exodus 3:4-6

I love the image in this story of this simple shepherding human—dirty as all heck!—and random bush—filled with the presence of God—in sudden encounter. As Moses is called to step closer to this divine presence of flame in branches and leaves, he is told to remove his shoes and tread carefully because where he is standing is holy ground. This ground is holy not because God is untouchable or unapproachable, too pure for dirty and sinful human beings. To assume this is to affirm the mythology that God is limited from being around God’s people by their activity or inactivity. Rather, this ground is holy and sacred because where Moses is standing is the source of life and light; everyone must tread carefully in that space or they will have to contend with God’s anger. Listen again to what God says to Moses:

Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey

Exodus 3: 7-8

God is bringing a story to Moses, one that Moses will participate in (a new name added to the great names of God’s story). Moses, like those before him, will be the means by which God demonstrates God’s power on behalf of those who are down-trodden, oppressed, enslaved, and held captive and complicit. Moses will bring this story to God’s people trapped under the violent rule of Pharaoh in order to release them from that bondage. It is through this story and Moses and the Israelites participating in their own liberation in the Passover event that God’s power to right-side up the world occurs—emotionally, spiritually, mentally, physically, economically, socially, and politically. 

He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’:
This is my name forever,

and this my title for all generations.”

Exodus 3:13-15

Moses brings God’s liberative story to the enslaved, demoralized, and dehumanized people of God stuck in toil upon toil. He doesn’t tell them to suck it up and toil more; he tells them to rest and tells Pharaoh to let God’s people go. He doesn’t tell them this is just the way it is; he tells them it can and should be different. He doesn’t tell them to live in increasingly austere conditions to get by; he tells them of a land flowing with abundance and thriving. He doesn’t tell them to limit their dreams for better and their hopes that God hears their cries; he is literally charged to tell them to dream bigger and that they’ve been heard by God. He doesn’t tell them to submit to authority and be good Egyptian citizens; he tells them to rise up and prepare for divine revolution leading to their liberation, release, and freedom. He gives them another (better) story[2] than the one they’ve been living; one that brings light and not darkness, life and not death, liberation, and not captivity. And this is the story they are to pass on…for all generations.

Conclusion

In sermon on Genesis 11, Helmut Gollwitzer preaches,

“This biblical narrator is…deeply convinced that we cannot by our own power break our fetters, cannot get rid of our intoxication, that we need another great help. The Creator, who made the good beginning, must make a new beginning. [God] must come with new gifts, in order that the old gifts of our abilities and our work do not continue to be a curse to us. A new sprit must set us free from the errors of our old spirit…[God] has opened [God’s] heart to us, and made possible a new way of good life, of fellowship, of avoidance of destruction. Into this new way [God] desires to lead us all by God’s Spirit.”[3]

Helmut Gollwitzer Way to Life

In Lent we reckon with our complicity and our captivity in destructive and violent systems specifically as it correlates to our life and labor. But Lent isn’t the end goal; we need not despair no matter how much we are tempted to do so, to throw our hands in the air, call it all a loss, accept what is, and just trudge along in death before we die. There is life to live. Hope exists for us because there’s another story surging toward us in the form of old death and new life; in the form of a humble man from Nazareth who is the son of God. And it’s this coming divine activity in history that is our new history and story. And this divine action will become the history of liberation for all the captives trapped one way or another in this death dealing, life stealing system, and it is this divine action that will put an end to our ceaseless self-sacrifices and the sacrificing of future generations on the table of toil trying desperately (and failing) to satisfy Moloch. May we dare to dream of and also to participate in creating a better world where we can live, love, and labor without fear, threat, anxiety, and despair; where we can feel the joy of God and our own pleasure in the work of our hands. Let us have the audacity to walk as those who are the beloved of God, as those we have been given both new spirits and new lives, as those given a new story to pass on for all generations.


[1] Taken from the Ash Wednesday 2022 Sermon

[2] Dorothee Sölle writes in To Work and to Love “The Exodus event left its indelible mark on the memory of the cult, which in turn embodied the event in its religious institutions…The cult did not have a purely ritualistic function; it created historical consciousness of Israel’s freedom.” God’s activity becomes Israel’s history and this history is a story of God’s activity for and with Israel.

[3] Helmut Gollwitzer The Way to Life: Sermons in a Time of World Crisis Trans David Cairns (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1981). 4.

One Moment

Experience tells of lessons learned and lived—
choices made, words spoken, actions done—
all done once and unable to be undone once.
Choices hem off certain options in the moment—
though new opportunities come again activating
choice’s functioning sword of swift severance.
Words leave no trace over lips as they leave
but they hit like sticks and stones where ever
they land; leaving welts and bruises, even scars.
Actions flow from bodies as if summoned by a
divine wizard; like embodied incantations they
altar space—for better or worse—in a single blow.
And it’s all once: one choice, one word, one action;
that’s all it takes to forever change anything in a
specific way that can and will never be undone.
One
Moment
One
Choice
One
Word
One
Action
Changes
Everything
So maybe we should slow down when we are
faced with seemingly innocuous choices,
tempted to say that seemingly little thing,
provoked into that seemingly small gesture;
take that second, take that pause, slow down
and breathe—think twice, see well, listen more.
These choices, words, and actions do not fall
idly to the ground and flip-flap about like fish
pulled from waters and left to wither in the sun.
They are always given to others to carry away;
we pass on our choices, words, and actions as
if we are mail-carriers delivering both wanted
and unwanted packages to suspecting and un-
suspecting individuals traversing our journeys.
One
Moment
One
Choice
One
Word
One
Action
Changes
Everything

Our Stories This Story: The Parents

I recommend reading/listening to the sermon from Ash Wednesday, which functions as an introduction to this Lenten series. You can access it here. For the previous sermon in this series, click here.

Sermon on Luke 13:31-35

Psalm 27:5-7 One thing have I asked of [God]; one thing I seek; that I may dwell in the house of [God] all the days of my life; To behold the fair beauty of [God] and to seek [God] in [God’s] temple. For in the day of trouble [God] shall keep me safe in [God’s] shelter; [God] shall hide me in the secrecy of [God’s] dwelling and set me high upon a rock. (73)

Introduction

“I like to think I know what I’m doing. I mean at least the kids…. Yes, honey, your shoes are over there by the front door…the kids need me to look like I know what I’m doing. Especially now. There are so many reasons…Hey! Put the cat down…she’s not a ball! There’s so much to consider and contemplate, and if I dare to really let it sink in *sips wine* about how bad our world is right now I may just never come … Well, if you take the 2 and then add it to the 6, what’s the answer then? …These kids, they’re young and need a future, a world, free from visible and invisible enemies and…Oh no, you did fall down! Here, let me get some ice…Sometimes I fear that I’ll crack under all this pressure *sips wine… I don’t feel that old but I’m bone deep exhausted; nearly burnt out.”[1]

From the Ash Wednesday 2022 Sermon

We’ve become a people who passes on isolation and alienation rather than story.

Our culture tells us we cannot be weak. It sings to us of the virtue of being strong and capable, rising to the top by virtue of our own inner drive and determination. We are “self-made”; we “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps”; we forge our own paths and strike out on our own; and we certainly don’t want any help we didn’t previously earn by our industrious autonomy.

While I wish I could say with confidence the church is a place where anyone can come to find solidarity in weakness, it’s not. Often, it’s the church’s malignant understanding of faith as a vibranium shield of protection perpetuating the lie: I’m too blessed to be stressed! Ironically, it’s among Christians—following Jesus who not only submitted to human weakness manifest in death and who elevated the weak and downtrodden to the status of blessed—where the weak are ostracized and shamed.

We’ve become trapped in the myth of self-sufficiency and strength leading to isolation and alienation.  We no longer value communal and mutual thriving and survival. It’s now: one for one. Neighbors are strangers—especially if everyone is a threat. Kids move away from parents; grandparents live in different states; and everyone is forced into their own bubble isolated and alienated. In this scheme, marriages buckle under the pressure to be all in all; partners bear the burden of being the one and only and forever for the other.

Parents, caregivers, and guardians—anyone connected to the life of a child—carry the stress of balancing the demands and the mythology of autonomy and self-sufficiency. And as stress increases, as fears grow because of global pandemic, ecological crises, social tumult, and war, tensions rise driving thick, thick wedges between us, forcing us more and more unable to ask for help, confess need, and express weakness; afraid that if we do, it’ll fall apart, crumble to the ground, and trapping those under our care and charge under the rubble. We put on brave faces, smile when we don’t want to, tell them everything is fine and teach them that weakness is bad, fear isn’t real, and opening up isn’t what adults do. And the myth goes on; so, too, does isolation and alienation.

Luke 13:31-35

At that same hour, some Pharisees approached [Jesus] saying to him, “Get out! and travel from here!; Herod desires to put you to death!” And he said to them, “You travel to that fox and tell him this: behold, I cast out demons and accomplish healings today and tomorrow and I am finished on the third [day] … “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and the one who stones the ones who have been sent to them, how often I desired to gather your children together in the same manner a hen [gathers together] her brood of young birds under [her] wings, and you did not desire it.” (Lk 13:31-32, 34)[2]

Luke 13:31-32, 34

In this rather cryptic[3] message from Jesus, he associates his presence with the work of God by correlating it to the great line of prophets and “the ones sent to them” who were once present with God’s people, too. So, it’s no surprise that he suffers the same plight as those before him (trying to be killed and stoned).[4] Those who are sent by God to proclaim God’s message of liberation to the captives (God’s judgment on the kingdoms of humanity) are met with hostility and disdain by those who rule over the people with authority and power intimately tied to subjection and oppression.[5] One doesn’t casually walk in and start dismantling human-made power structures, awaken people from myths of false strength, isolation, and alienation, and exhort them into their own story with God and think they’ll leave town unscathed. Herod has every reason to hate Jesus and seek his life.[6]

Jesus then calls out, in tones that I can only imagine mirror his very loving verbal embrace of Martha uttered previously in chapter 10: Jerusalem, Jerusalem…. The double use of the name indicates a deep sense of love. I know this tone; I’ve used this tone. The tone of deep love for this person who is straying or making choices in opposition to life and thriving; the same tone of yearning and hope and summoning and beckoning back. The tone used to get your child’s attention in the most kind and loving and compassionate way. Not the short and curt hollered version; the slow, lyrical, warm song-like version. The one that makes the tumult and chaos settle as this one just called turns and looks at the one calling their name. This is God grabbing the wayward chin of Jerusalem and gently pulling their gaze to God’s longing and eager and loving face. This is God in maternal love with God’s beloved.

And like a mother, Jesus is eager to gather up and protect the beloved from the threat of reckless and senseless destruction.[7] And if you know chickens—as Christie explained to me on Wednesday—then you know that a broody hen will aggress anything threatening to harm order to protect her brood of young birds. As Jesus compares himself to this broody hen, he shows his concern for their spiritual well-being and their physical well-being; he will deal with those who peddle a mythology of lordship over God’s people rendering them oppressed and enslaved to human-lordship and in themselves. God will contend with those who exploit and abuse God’s people, trapping them in lies of isolation and alienation.[8]

Conclusion

The sad part is that Jerusalem, according to Jesus, doesn’t want protection or deliverance.[9] They’re deep in their myth, they don’t need the help, they’ve got this taken care of, everything is fine. They are forehead deep in their own story, handed to them by those who are exploiting and oppressing them; they’ve forgotten another story[10]…the one God gave them declaring them to be God’s people loved by God, empowered by God’s glory and spirit, created for life and not death, for mutuality and not isolation and alienation.

I sit back and I watch it,
hands in my pockets
Waves come crashing over me
but I just watch ‘em
I just watch ‘em
I’m under water but I feel like I’m on top of it
I’m at the bottom and I don’t know what the problem is
I’m in a box
But I’m the one who locked me in
Suffocating and I’m running out of oxygen[11]

NF “Paralyzed”

The longer we believe the lie that we are fine on our own, the longer we will be stuck in a box we’ve locked ourselves in. The longer we tell ourselves this lie of “strongest is best,” the longer alienation and isolation will continue to be passed on like genetic traits from parent to child. Our children are really amazing humans; that we treat them as less is astounding. When we don’t speak up, put words to our fears and concerns with them, we tell them they aren’t trustworthy, and that they must be like this, too—dismiss their feelings and concerns. Your kids, the children in our community, the young ones in our society understand way more than we give them credit. When we put on our façade of strength, it’s no wonder they grow distrustful and wary of adults…we’re lying to them, and they know it.

When we have the audacity to buck the trend of alienation and isolation by intentionally including our young ones into our hearts and minds, we give them the freedom to confess their own fears, to validate what they are feeling, and, as a consequence they acquire their own liberation from fear. By bringing them into our narrative we not only eliminate our alienation and isolation but also theirs. In doing this, we teach them a better way, a better narrative of solidarity and love.[12] We step out of our box, clinging to the divine story of love and solidarity, and—breathing in deep—confess: I might be scared, but I’m the beloved child of God and not alone; I’m concerned, but anything is possible with God; I’m helpless to solve this, but God is with us in this suffering and I’m present with you in yours.

Beloved, we are not alone; we are with God thus with each other and with each other thus with God.


[1] Taken from the Ash Wednesday 2022 Sermon

[2] Translation mine unless otherwise noted

[3] Justo L. Gonzalez Luke Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible Eds Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher. Louisville, KY: WJK, 2010. 178. “The message is rather cryptic, for he will take much more than three days on his way to Jerusalem- For this reason. Some take it as a reference to the three days in the tomb. There is no doubt that he is connecting his response to his passion, as indicated by the reference at the end of verse 35.”

[4] Gonzalez Luke 178. “The lament over Jerusalem connects the fate of Jesus with that of those who have gone before him. Some take his claim that he has ‘often’ desired to care for the children of Jerusalem as an indication that he is speaking of his own participation in the ongoing work of God—as the Wisdom of God to which reference has already been made in a similar context in 11:49.”

[5] Joel B. Green The Gospel of Luke The New International Commentary on the New Testament Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997. 534. “Here, though, Jerusalem comes into the limelight not only as Jesus destination but also, more particularly, with reference to its significance for Jesus. As the divine agent of salvation, Jesus must take his message to the center of the Jewish world, Jerusalem. What can he expect by way of response in Jerusalem? The pattern for which Jerusalem is known is that of killing divine messengers….Although it is possible to find in Jesus’ prophetic words over Jerusalem a thread of hope, the motif of judgment is more prominent: As God’s agent, Jesus must carry the divine message to Jerusalem, but Jerusalem kills those whom God sends; on account of this, Jerusalem itself is doomed.”

[6] Green Luke 535. “Given his characterization within the Lukan narrative thus far, we have every reason to imagine that the threat presented by Herod is a real one. As tetrarch of Galilee, Herod first put an end to John’s prophetic ministry by having him imprisoned (3:19-20). Later, we learn, Herod is responsible for beheading John (9:9), and we hear nothing to mitigate Luke’s sweeping characterization of Herod as a doer of evil things (3:20). Nevertheless, the peril represented by Herod’s malevolence is not for Jesus a motivating factor. Instead, he refers to his intention to continue carrying out his ministry as before; although he will be on his way,’ just as the Pharisees had urged, his going is not for the purpose of escaping the hand of Herod. It is, rather, to bring to fruition the divine purpose for his mission.”

[7] A reference to one of the ways to explain the term “Fox” for herod; cf. Green Luke 535-536.

[8] Gonzalez Luke 178. “The image of himself caring for the children of Jerusalem as a mother hen takes care of her brood gives particular significance to his calling Herod a fox. A hen guards her chicks against foxes. Jesus wants to protect the children of Jerusalem not only from what we would consider spiritual or religious ills, but also from the exploitation of those who lord it over them.” And, “There is no doubt that in this passage Jesus bemoans the disobedience of Jerusalem. But Christians should draw the conclusion that Jesus bemoans also the disobedience of his church and its numbers. Us too Jesus wishes to protect like a mother hen—and to protect against all evil, spiritual as well as political.”

[9] Green Luke 539. “Jesus so identifies with God’s care for Jerusalem that he is able to affirm his longstanding yearning to gather together his people for shelter and in restoration. Alas, this desire is not shared by the Jerusalemites.”

[10] Green Luke 538

[11] “Paralyzed” by NF; written by Feuerstein Nate, Profitt Thomas James

[12] I am balancing the idea that it is one thing to unload on your kids everything that is better suited for a friend, mentor, or therapist and acknowledging with your kids that you too have these emotions and concerns.

What if Thy Will is Done

Every time I pray Thy will be done on Earth as in Heaven
I stop and pause and think…Really? Do I mean this?
Do I really want God’s will done on Earth?
The stories and mythologies
Forming the backbone of the tradition
Speak of radical events of upheaval and chaos
When God makes divine footfalls on our terra firma,
When God beckons humans to reconsider, to look elsewhere, to hear anew.
The vibration from Divine steps and voice renders pre-existing structures
Rubble and dust; removing ground under feet once sure and confident;
Plummeting sure and confident human beings into voids of doubt
Flirting with despair and terror and fear and panic;
Returning full grown adults to infancy: needy and desperate.
But the meaning of my pause is ironic: aren’t I already in tumult
And chaos and upheaval? Haven’t we done just fine with that
On our own?

We kill black and brown people in streets and on borders
We declare war on neighboring Nations and people groups
We’ve stolen land and then sold it back to the people we stole it from
We render humans without homes as blights on our quaint Main Streets
We perpetuate the starvation of the Hungry while feeding dumpsters
We make undrinkable water for the Thirsty but we have our enterprises
We make life a thing to be earned, baited with the carrot of healthcare
We throw people in cages while retirement accounts and mutual funds surge
We sell lies of security to people through the idolatry of Militarization
We put all of our hope in science and then turn our backs on it
when it threatens to restrain our liberty and freedom for others
We’ve grown isolated and alienated, packed in below the earth,
safe in our bunkers from the enemies outside;
but the irony is… we’re the enemies we fear most.

So, what if praying fervently: Thy will be done on Earth as in Heaven
Means comfort and solidarity rather than chaos and loneliness?
What if it means solid ground rather than groundlessness?
What if it means right side up rather than upside down?
What if it means breathing in deep rather than holding breath?
What if it means mutuality into community rather than competition unto isolation?
What if it means surety of divine presence in the other and with the other rather
than the surety of the doctrines and dogmas of human made systems and kingdoms?
What if it means I can collapse into the divine embrace of a loving Elder Ancestor
who whispers to me the stories of the perpetuity of divine love in the world and
for the world—the stories and myths that feed life and liberation to all those who hear—
rather than being stuck in the alienating and destructive mythology of man, held by none?
What if it means rest in loving warmth rather than tumult in chilled indifference?
What if it means light and life rather than darkness and death?

Entering Anew Into Divine Light

The following is the introductory comment prior to last week’s Ash Wednesday service. I’m sharing here because I want to and who knows…maybe someone would like to read them… *shrugs

***

The Ash Wednesday service bids us to come into the presence of God in a naked way. We enter this moment, this light to be exposed, to see ourselves clearly, to ask hard questions, and to reflect–seriously–on ourselves so that we may confess our captivity and complicity in oppressive systems–systems harming ourselves, each other, and other brothers and sisters throughout the world [and the world itself]. Everything about this service tonight is built with this desire for self-reflection in mind. So, tonight I pray you and I will listen and hear deep in our hearts the words and stories of this service, and come anew to the light of divine love for your health and sanctification.

Our Stories This Story: The Youth

I recommend reading/listening to the sermon from Ash Wednesday, which functions as an introduction to this Lenten series. you can access it here.

Psalm 91:9-11  Because you have made the Lord your refuge, and the Most High your habitation, There shall no evil happen to you, neither shall any plague come near your dwelling. For God shall give God’s angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.

Introduction

“They have no idea what they’re doing. None. I look around and see the violence, I watch these people run the world, and I’m convinced they’re blind. Can’t they see that these old systems just don’t work and that something must change or I’ll lose my future? Do they even care?! …I mean, I think my parents try but…I don’t know…I fear for them, too. How much more will they be able to bear to try to prevent the inevitable from happening? I mean, we’re doomed right? I might be young, but I can at least see that…I’m exhausted. I’m young and exhausted and I fear I’m practically burnt out.”

From the Ash Wednesday Sermon 3.2.22

We’ve become a people who passes on mess rather than story.

We are all born into the beauty and mess of the world of our parents and grandparents. We receive a world that is in process and are told that its progress is due to previous generations, and even if it’s not perfect, the new generation is to move it forward on that line of progress and clean up the mess of those who were here before participating in this process. But that idea is a myth. The problem being that we have a hard time discerning between systems bent against survival and those able to create realms of thriving. By picking up and carrying on while cleaning up—just as they did before—we participate not in the process of making things better but perpetuating systems that are inherently flawed. If this is so, then nothing is actually getting better and we are thrusting the entire kit and kaboodle further into death and despair.

When we just pick up just because it’s handed to us, we receive it as normal and as “always been”. Then, we, the adults, become so far in it’s hard to see what’s wrong. If you are in a building with a foundation that is giving way, it’s the person external to the building, the new person who enters the building, who notices the problem and not those who have grown accustomed to the slow and steady nearly invisible alterations of the building. Same thing goes for our world and society and the systems in place running everything: those who are newer to this world, to society, to our approach to life—the young—see things in a different light. This is why the youth come to dinner tables eager to dream and dare and put words to problems through questions and rough insight. It’s the energy and zeal of the young who surge into rooms and spaces and try to remind tired and burned out adults that there was once a story.

When it’s our perceived responsibility to pass on systems as they are rather than stories of what things could be, then the challenging “Why?” of the youth is met with condescension and rejection. We respond to their questions and inquiries, their challenges and dares by dismissing them as byproducts of overzealous youthful vim and vigor because we despise being waked into our storylessness and being reminded that we’ve long buried our stories in the ground because the world told us to, that such dreaming and hoping was pointless. In this way we cease passing on our stories because we’ve lost our stories to our pain. And, instead, we pass on our pain and wounds and demoralization…we pass on flawed and harmful systems. If I was beaten down, then you will be too, that’s just the way the world works.

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, you shall make this response before the Lord your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.”

Deuteronomy 26:3-9

In our passage from Deuteronomy, Moses, inspired by the spirit of God, proclaims prophetically to the people who are about to take up residence in the long-awaited promised land to recite the story of God’s dealing with God’s people. One of the most fundamental and recurring themes here is remembering what God has done. Israel, through Moses, is exhorted to remember and recall and recite the story of God’s great deliverance of the captives. Israel is to hold to this story; not in a dogmatic and dead fashion, but as a living and thriving narrative. This story is to remind them that God is for them, that God is their God and they are God’s people. This story is to be remembered and shared, passed on from one generation to another. And through the sharing of this story, hope and possibility and promise and life are passed on from one generation to another.

Throughout Deuteronomy, Moses exhorts the Israelites to contemplate the revelation of God made known in the giving of the law and the liberation of Israel from captivity in Egypt day and night all the days of their life, and to share these very laws and stories with their children. Discussions were supposed to happen; questions asked and answers given. In passing on this story, the children would then make this story theirs, and in this way this God of their parents would become their God, too—not a strange and unfamiliar God, but one whom they knew from the beginning and into whose story they could see themselves participating and not merely observing. In passing on the story—this story about a God who liberates the captives, unburdens the oppressed, and cares for the homeless, hungry, and naked—Israel passes on the hope and dreams of the story that resonate with the fuel and fire of the youth that this world can be better. In passing on the story, the old share with the young their wisdom and what they’ve learned. In passing on the story, the young add to it offering different perspectives and views on how this liberation, unburdening, and care manifest in their age now. It’s this process of sharing story that is to be passed on; not the death grip to human made systems long expired and past their time.

Conclusion

One of my favorite theologians, Helmut Gollwitzer,[1] argues that age needs youth and youth needs age. Or phrased differently: energy inspires wisdom and wisdom guides energy. In the preface to his book, The Rich Christian & Poor Lazarus, Gollwitzer expresses gratitude for the impact the youth, the students, have on his life and the world. I’ll quote a portion here:

“This book is dedicated to the students of Berlin. By this I mean those who, among many thousands who attend the universities of West Berlin, are responsible for the fact that Berlin has for some time now been censured or praised as a place of unrest. I mean especially those of their spokesmen with whom in recent years I have come in contact, and who go in and out of my house. In contrast with many of my contemporaries and colleagues, who regard them with deep antipathy or at least shake their heads over them in bewilderment, I have come love them for their sincerity, their courage, their feeling for freedom, their sense of responsibility for the future, and their dream of a more human society. I have received from them encouragement, instruction, and the stimulus for new thought, and they, I hope have benefited from some of the things that I and my friends have had to say in criticism and correction…”[2]

Helmut Gollwitzer

What beautiful words of mutual affirmation. Gollwitzer writes, “I have come to love them for their sincerity, their courage, their feeling for freedom, their sense of responsibility for the future, and their dream of a more human society.” I deeply, deeply believe that when we bring our young ones to the table and give them a vital and necessary place to talk and engage with us, we will stop passing on the mess of flawed and violent systems. I believe we will be called back to our stories of liberation and freedom and hope and life and we will be exhorted to dream with them that maybe, just maybe, things don’t have to be as bad as they are. Until then, we will continue to be complicit and held captive in these systems that are killing not only us but also the hope and dreams and future of the young.


[1] A great text on Gollwitzer is Dr. W. Travis McMaken’s text Our God Loves Justice: an introduction to Helmut Gollwitzer. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2017.

[2] Helmut Gollwitzer The Rich Christians & Poor Lazarus Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1970. x-xi

words like blood

words flow through me like the very blood that flows and moves through my veins and arteries in opposing directions through various delicate tubes weaving and wending throughout my body so everything I write comes from me not merely my mind or my heart but both and my body too and that flow and fluidity is a stream of my own being leaving me and entering the world but that old and over used analogy that this written thing is a begotten baby whose cord must now be cut so that the baby may live in the world falls flat because it is a lie nothing written has ever felt like it is not still connected to me in some form whether bad or good and should I point out that such an analogy is they way men view birth and child rearing because I am mom and there is no way that simply cutting the cord of the human I just birthed means that it is now detached from and not a part of me on its own and of its own through nourishing and encouraging and training and walking along side I grow more attached to the very child that I once held in my body and then strapped to my breast by cloth tied about my body and who now walks beside me and towers above me larger than I and so I cannot help but think that as maternally defensive as I am over my babies turned young adults due to profound and deep attachment that the same thing would occur with the other product that my body produces through herself because this thing that I have written bears in likeness to me and carries with it my genetic material even if merely collections of letters and shapes forming places to pause in various forms it is an animated thing not a cold product like a can or a shovel or a thing to be kicked about purchased sold used as a means to an end it is a line from me to the one who reads it an intimate momentary bond that holds for however many minutes it takes to walk together from the beginning to the end and I think the sooner we come to terms with the interconnectedness of art from the artist to the one who is engaged and encountered by the art the sooner we will be made aware that we are not stoic producers in a world demanding product and material but co-creators divinely inspired swirled up and spun about in the divine delight of begetting and creating living breathing things in the world that tie us to us in a beautiful silvery spiritual and mystical thread spun by the divine light of heaven dropped by spinning spools releasing their brilliant and delicate and thin string and material into eager hands of listening and watching creatures ready to participate in this thing called humanity and willing to step thread in hand curious enough to pick up the stray end of another and allow heart beats and blood flows and intimate connectivity to bond risking exposure and rejection and still feeling deep awareness of self and union because these words have flown through me like the very blood that flows and moves through my veins and arteries…

***

inspired by Dorothee Sölle’s discussion of “Co-Creator” in To work and to Love: A Theology of Creation

Our Stories This Story

Ash Wednesday Sermon

Psalm 103: 1-2, 6, 8 Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless [God’s] holy Name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all [God’s] benefits. The Lord executes righteousness and judgment for all who are oppressed. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness.

***

They have no idea what they’re doing. None. I look around and see the violence, I watch these people run the world, and I’m convinced they’re blind. Can’t they see that these old systems just don’t work and that something must change or I’ll lose my future? Do they even care?! They’re just consumed with themselves and their money and their luxury. It’s nice that they have it…will I? I mean…I fall asleep wondering: will the world burn from ecological devastation from their ignorance and utilitarian world view? Or will we burn up because pride and hubris apparently have no limit with these people who call themselves adults, theoneschargedtocarefortheworldandformeandhereIamjustangryandfrustratedANDI’MTIREDOFTHISSUBTERRENEANSURGINGFEARANDHOPELESSNESS…*inhales and exhales* I mean, I think my parents try but…I don’t know…I fear for them, too. How much more will they be able to bear to try to prevent the inevitable from happening? I mean, we’re doomed right? I might be young, but I can at least see that…I might be young, but I know what it feels like to carry a burden in silence…I might be young, but my rage is real…I might be young, and that doesn’t mean my energy tinged with optimism—that maybe just maybe if we pull our heads out of… the ground we could change the course of this dumpster fire!—that hope doesn’t mean I’m foolish….I’m exhausted. I’m young and exhausted and I fear I’m practically burnt out.

***

I like to think I know what I’m doing. I mean at least the kids…. Yes, honey, your shoes are over there by the front door…the kids need me to look like I know what I’m doing. Especially now. There are so many reasons…Hey! Put the cat down…she’s not a ball! There’s so much to consider and contemplate, and if I dare to really let it sink in *sips wine* about how bad our world is right now I may just never come … Well, if you take the 2 and then add it to the 6, what’s the answer then? *sips wine* I just don’t know what is going to come down the road…and I don’t know if I can hold whatever it is in my body long enough to protect them from it. *sips wine* why can’t they just wash their plates? And then what do I do with it; I feel like some sponge built for absorbing all this … Oh gosh, the dog needs to be let out…poor thing…These kids, they’re young and need a future, a world, free from visible and invisible enemies and…Oh no, you did fall down! Here, let me get some ice…Sometimes I fear that I’ll crack under all this pressure *sips wine*…not the pressure of feeling like I need to be perfect, I don’t think I believe that myth, *sips wine* but the pressure that somehow the world is really I guess you can have one cookie before dinner, but more than that and you’ll lose your appetite… *refills glass* I don’t feel that old but I’m bone deep exhausted; nearly burnt out.

***

Everyday I do the same thing but I don’t think I know what I’m doing. I wonder if they know what they’re doing… Sometimes I just can’t help but watch my colleagues shuffle about as if nothing is wrong as long as they get theirs, as if this is all normal and good. Talk about putting lipstick on a pig. I mean *chuckles* the things they say to me … *sigh* … I can barely talk about it without getting mad…Honestly, how is any of this good? I remember, when I was in high-school…man, I really loved the stage and acting. But where’s the money in that? I feel the drudgery of the demands of life—the demands of just trying to survive—weighing down on me, dragging me down, stealing something vital from me… my soul? My energy? My mind? I don’t know what, but so many years in, sitting here, doing this same thing for so many hours for so many days for what? for why? Just to live? Just to eat? Just to have a house? Just to have health? And I don’t even have that…this demand to produce, to work, to earn, requires me to neglect my health and wellbeing… Is it irony that they give me some form of healthcare? Do they know that I’ll need it as I lose my vitality to this process, to their demands? *chuckles* I’m gaining weight as I’m wasting away, selling my self to some ambiguous and invisible entity, some myth… I feel trapped. Hamsters in a wheel have it better than I do…at least they think they’re going somewhere; I’ve realized I’m stuck, empty, and burnt out.

***

I have enough years under my belt to feel the conflict of knowing what I’m doing and not knowing what I’m doing. Or maybe I should say: I’m old enough to know I once thought I knew what I was doing. Now, I’m not so sure I did. I wish I had done some things differently, maybe though a bit longer about certain things? I don’t know. Age has its benefits, hindsight is 20/20, and my body really hurts. Getting up and moving just isn’t the same now. It’s like my body is not only quitting on me but actually betraying me. Almost trapped sometimes. Learning to live in a slower fashion is hard; where’d my energy go and where did all these lines come from? I think I frowned too much…or that’s what my face tells me. Or maybe I’m frowning too much now *looks off for a moment* Yes, I’ve seen humanity get through war and violence; I’ve seen social unrest sooth; I think I’ve even seen progress be made through struggle and fight, but now I don’t know…did I imagine it? *winces* Gosh, my heart breaks for the younger generations; I feel their pain so deeply. I wish I could share hope but I don’t know if they’d listen, or if they even want to hear from me, or do I even have hope? Sometimes I feel like they just don’t have a use for me or for my stories or my experience and learned wisdom…I do care, deeply…honestly, sometimes I cry…I cry from regret, I cry from frustration, I cry wishing I could make things better…but I just feel pointless, shuffled off to the side, in the way, my fire and flame are gone, I’m burnt out.

***

I think they’re all pretending like they know what they are doing. But I sit here and watch them walk by…this one with their fancy boots and jacket and many bags…I see you. Do you see me? Across the street, those people dine in that restaurant, I watch them laugh; they look so confident, all warm and satiated. I watch them leave and I can sense their anxiety as they walk by me. I think it’s the side eye they give me. *chuckles* Like, if they don’t really look at me I don’t exist. I exist…no matter how much you look or don’t look. And I am hungry, and I am cold *shivers* and I am lonely. Never hearing your name does something to a person. Being someone’s shame also does something to a person. I’m a person. Sometimes I forget that I am because I get lost in being ignored; I get trapped in their blindness. When I lost everything material did I lose also my being, my personhood, my body and arms and legs and identity with humanity? They treat me like I have. I think I scare them; or maybe my present terrifies their future….*shrugs* But life is precarious. I mean, what if I did choose this or made some choices that landed me here or maybe I didn’t have any choice in it and this is just how it ended up…am I less human? I don’t have a job, or a house, or food, or … why do I feel bad and shameful because of that? Why do I feel pointless, superfluous, nothing better than kindling fuel for the fires that keep them warm, Maybe I’m better off burnt up…

***

Isaiah 58:3c-4, 6-9

Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
and oppress all your workers.

Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.

Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,

to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;

when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;

your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

From One Degree to Another

Psalm 99:2-3, The Lord is great in Zion; [God] is high above all peoples. Let them confess [The Lord’s] Name, which is great and awesome; [God] is the Holy One.

Introduction

When I consider the glory of God I always imagine it just outside of my reach: something external to me. Something forever out there and never in here—in my body, mind, heart.

I think part of the problem is that I’ve been too well schooled in the idea that God is other, some wholly other, existing strictly outside of me, something I gaze upon; someone I encounter from without. At times, this imagery takes on historically protestant tones as God becomes all knowing, all powerful, all pure, while I am the complete opposite: utterly ignorant, completely weak, and totally depraved. I think our holy text with its stories and myths and narratives also contribute: God speaks and the people listen, God causes the rains or the sun or the rainbow, God dwells in a tent or a tabernacle or the holy of holies of the temple.

Even though I know the Holy Spirit dwells in me and believe firmly in the work of the Spirit in the life of the believer, I’ve not thought of the Spirit’s presence in my mind, heart, and body to be particularly visible apart from manifesting certain actions (typically rendered as “good” or “holy”). In other words, my deeds and works—my active love in the world for my neighbor—bring glory to God—but I am still separate from that glory; glory is God’s and has nothing to do with me. What I haven’t considered until now is that by God’s grace and love I participate in God’s glory. I mean, as God’s Spirit dwells in me, as God’s love dwells in me, so, too, does God’s glory.

God’s presence in Spirit, love, and glory work together to bring me (more and more) into sanctification, otherwise known as “transformation”/“transfiguration”. I don’t have to self-apply God’s glory through my “good” actions. Rather, God’s glory—like God’s Spirit and love—is already working in me and bringing me in closer alignment to being like Christ in the world.

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

“Therefore, having hope such as this, we take advantage of great confidence…Now the Lord is Spirit. And where the spirit of the lord is [there is] freedom. Now, we, we all—with faces having been unveiled—looking at the glory of the lord as if in a mirror are being transformed/transfigured into the same likeness from one degree of glory to another just as from the Lord who is Spirit.” [1]

(2 Cor 3:12, 17-18)

It’s Paul’s confident and humble words to the Corinthians that caused me pause this week. The language of “such a hope”, “confidence”, “the Spirit of the Lord”, and “freedom” coupled with a vibrant discussion of the movement of God’s glory from one place to another and always all-encompassing and never forsaking made me realize how interconnected are God’s presence by Spirit, God’s love, and God’s glory.

This part of Paul’s letter encapsulates both the first testament story from Exodus—describing Moses’s encounter with God and the divine glory remaining (temporarily) on his face—and the story of Jesus’s transfiguration told in the Gospel passage. In this way—unintentionally or intentionally—Paul draws a line from one transfiguration to another and lastly to another: from Moses, to Jesus, to us. This line that Paul draws is not one meant to humiliate Moses or cause one story to be inferior to another; rather, it’s meant to highlight the activity and movement of God in God’s presence with God’s people: from concealment to openness.[2] God’s glory moves from God’s self and presence made temporarily visible on Moses’s face which is then veiled to the brilliant transfiguration of Christ on the mountain in the presence of a few disciples, and then to those who follow Jesus out of the Jordan (both literally and by faith).

I can’t help but consider the transition of God’s glory from a specific location (God’s self) that is shared in a limited[3] manner with the people (in this case: mediated to Israel through Moses behind a veil), to the divine glory culminating visually and physically in God’s self-revelation in God’s son: this man Jesus of Nazareth who is God’s Christ, and then settles upon God’s people directly through the presence of God’s Spirit in the minds and hearts of the believers.[4] This movement coincides with God’s presence which moves from one locale to another ultimately ending in the hearts of those who encounter God in the event of faith.

The stories of God’s presence with Israel have a boundaried feel: God is always present with God’s people, but in this tent, that tabernacle, this temple and holy of holies or that cloud/fire (even a burning bush!). God’s presence is limited according to what is written: the people could not be directly in God’s presence without potentially burning up (think of Uzzah dropping dead for touching the tabernacle[5]). Then, in Christ, God’s presence is still contained but in a free way: Jesus the Christ moves about as God’s son—God of very God—and communes, touches, and rests with the people directly. It’s recorded that death did not come to those who touched Jesus or whom were touched by Jesus. Then, after the resurrection and the ascension of Jesus, the Holy Spirit of God descends and takes up bountiful residence in the hearts and minds of believers unrestricted.

God’s presence and Spirit moved from concealed to opened, from limited to bountiful. Moses’s veil and the curtain of the holy of holies is abolished in Christ by the presence of the Spirit in us. God is not restricted to one location. Thus, where God’s presence and Spirit[6] go, so, too, does God’s glory. In this way we participate in God’s glory in Christ by faith not only by our works but by the presence of the Spirit of God in us and the freedom and liberty, [7] confidence and boldness, love and compassion that shines forth as a result.

Conclusion

When we consider the transfiguration of Jesus, we must see it as more than just about Jesus—though this is important. If we see it only as something unique and special to Jesus, it will remove Jesus from us further, and we are already very prone to treat Jesus as if he cannot be touched by us because he is elevated and we aren’t. But we must see that Jesus is and has been and will be always among the people. So, when we consider the transfiguration, let’s see the comprehensive movement of God’s love, and glory, and presence into and among the people. For after Jesus’s transfiguration he descends the mountain and continues his divine mission to seek and save the lost, to liberate the captives, to bring peace to the anxious, and proclaim comfort and freedom to the poor and oppressed.

Beloved, the glory of the Lord is among you and with you and in you. God has claimed you as God’s own in God’s never stopping, never giving up, bountiful love for you, the beloved. In this claim you are immersed and drenched in the grace and glory of God. In the presence of the Spirit with and in you, God’s glory is a part of your person as the result of your encounter with God in the event of faith; you cannot shake it because it lives in you because God lives in you. This is the foundation of your hope for the present: God’s presence and love and glory and grace and mercy are unconditionally and bountifully present for anyone and everyone.

Such a hope as this brings confidence and boldness—even if we are transfigured and sanctified from one degree of glory to another, day by day by nearly immeasurable increments.[8] This boldness and confidence is not only in relation to oneself and to God, but especially in relation to our solidarity with others through out the world. As we are more and more in Christ—more in more embedded in God’s glory and love and embedded in the presence of the Spirit—our inner lives are transfigured and transformed and our minds and our hearts are renewed. In this way our actions begin to align with the activity of divine love for the world in “Christ-like” behavior. [9]

If we are to be more Christ-like in our transfiguration and transformation by the presence of God’s Spirit, glory, and love, then this necessarily means that we participate in the divine mission of Love in and for the world. We, with Christ and by the power of God’s Spirit, proclaim good news to the poor, bring liberty to the captives, unburden the oppressed, and rescue the threatened from death. Even if our actions right now seem small and insignificant in light of the magnitude of current world events, it is the boldness of our hope and the confidence of faith founded in our liberative encounter with God in the event of faith that makes us more impactful than we realize. For we are bold to pray for, we are confident to stand with, and we can dare to act for those stuck and terrified by threat of war and violence, loss and death, starvation and thirst, nakedness and homelessness.

We are the glory of God spreading in the world; as we praise God let us participate in God, and spread God’s love and glory from one degree to another.


[1] Translation mine unless otherwise noted

[2] Murray J. Harris The Second Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text NIGTC Eds. I Howard Marshall and Donald A Hagner (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005. 296. “The contrast Paul draws between himself (and his associates) and Moses is not that of boldness (παρρησία) as opposed to timidity (Moses’ ‘meekness’ [Num. 12:3] should not be equated with fainthearted diffidence), nor straightforward honesty in contrast with devious deceit, but rather openness as opposed to concealment, with no necessary implication of duplicity in that concealment.”

[3] Harris 2 Corinthians 300. “On this view the purpose of Moses’ veil was to prevent preoccupation with outward δόξα (cf. 5:14) and to point to the temporary character of the whole Mosaic system of covenant and law…”

[4] Harris 2 Corinthians 313. “It was the privilege of Moses alone to glimpse Yahweh’s glory when he saw his ‘form’ (Num. 12:8) and his ‘back’ (Exod. 33:23), but now all Christians without distinction are privileged to witness that glory. Moreover, although Moses’ face was unveiled when he was conversing with God and was reporting God’s words to the congregation, it was thereafter veiled until he returned to the Lord’s presence (Exod. 34:33-35). Christians, however, see the divine glory with permanently uncovered faces.”

[5] Ref. 2 Sam 6:7

[6] Harris 2 Corinthians 312. “…Paul adds (dé, “and”) that the Spirit to whom people turn in the new dispensation brings them freedom. Wherever the Spirit of the Lord (God) is present and active, liberty is enjoyed and compulsion is absent.”

[7] Harris 2 Corinthians 312-313. “It is significant that ἐλευθερία is unqualified, which suggests that Paul would not wish to exclude any type of freedom that is implied in the context, such as the freedom to speak and act openly (= πασρρησία, V 12); freedom from the veil (vv. 14-16) whether the veil of spiritual ignorance concerning truths of the new covenant or the veil of hardheartedness (vv. 13, 14); freedom from the old covenant (v. 14) or from the law and its effects (v. 6); freedom to behold God’s glory uninterruptedly (v. 18) or to conform to Christ (v. 18); Or freedom of access into the divine presence without fear.”

[8] Harris 2 Corinthians 316-317. “In stark contrast with the radiance on Moses’ face that faded (3:7, 13), the glory of the Lord that is reflected in believers’ lives gradually increases. Justified at regeneration, believers are progressively sanctified until their final glorification at the consummation…”

[9] Harris 2 Corinthians 315-316. “Although it is now the whole person rather than the face alone that reflects God’s glory, Paul must be thinking principally of the transformation of ‘the inner person’ (4:16b), the whole person as a ’new creation’ (5:17) and as a participant in the life of the age to come, for he observes that the outer person,” the whole person as a mortal creature, is being worn down (4:16a), not transformed. When Jesus was transfigured, the change was outwardly visible (Matt. 17-2), but when Christians are transformed, the change is essentially the renewing of the mind (Rom. 12:2), and becomes visible only in their Christ-like behavior.”

Be Merciful as God is Merciful

Sermon on Luke 6:27-38

Psalm 37:41-42  But the deliverance of the righteous comes from [God]; [God] is their stronghold in time of trouble. [God] will help them and rescue them; [God] will rescue them from the wicked and deliver them, because they seek refuge in [God].

Introduction

Being told to “love your enemies” is easier said than done. The command is muddled by how we define “enemy” in a way that leans toward those *we* don’t like. It’s definitely hard to override disdain with feelings of love; when we don’t like someone, we just don’t like someone. Enemies also aren’t the people who we can’t forgive because they hurt us once in some way. That’s a real feeling and one I understand very well. Yet, it has its own category. Still, that person is not an enemy, no matter how angry you (still) are.

Who is the enemy?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer defines “enemy” in his text, The Cost of Discipleship, writing on Matthew 5:43-48:

“By our enemies Jesus means those who are quite intractable and utterly unresponsive to our love, who forgive us nothing when we forgive them all, who requite our love with hatred and our service with derision…”[1]

Cost of Discipleship

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writing in 1937, was already a target of Hitler’s personal aggression. Two days after Hitler took office on January 30, 1933, Bonhoeffer aired a public radio broadcast in which he offered criticism of the Führer (without naming him directly); this broadcast was cut off before it was finished.[2] The text quoted above came to Bonhoeffer in response to his contemplation of the Sermon on the Mount and how it impacted the believer in terms of Christian-life formation related to “what it means to follow Jesus Christ.”[3] As the church struggled to find it’s voice under the tyranny of Hitler, Bonhoeffer sought to articulate something into the void. For Bonhoeffer he himself in specific and Christians in general were at a “fork in the road.”[4] He and other pastors were under great pressure to capitulate to the oppressive demands and threats of the NSDAP[5] who was strangling and starving all resistance.

All that to say: Bonhoeffer, even with his privilege, wasn’t writing about enemy-love from a secluded and safe distance. He wasn’t instructing people who were fighting for their lives while he grew fat from luxury and comfort. He was in the thick of it, guiding others into it, and teaching those younger about this radical conception of love even for those who are threatening your life and survival.

“Love asks nothing in return, but seeks those who need it. And who needs our love more than those who are consumed with hatred and are utterly devoid of love? Who in other words deserves our love more than our enemy? Where is love more glorified than where she dwells in the midst of her enemies.”[6]

Cost of Discipleship

Who loves the one who bullies them? Who loves the ones who are bent on violence and destruction and death? Who loves those enlisted in this service of a fascist dictator in the Sturmabteilung (SA)[7] and the Schutzstaffel (SS)?[8] But yet—in the face of fear, terror, threat, and very real death—this is what Bonhoeffer was asking from all who would listen to the exhortation of Christ.

Luke 6:27-38

“But to you all I say to those who are listening: Love your enemies, in the same way act toward those who hate you, bless those who are cursing you, offer prayer concerning those who are reviling you. To the one who strikes you on the cheek, present also the other; and from the one who removes your cloak, do not hinder the tunic also. Give to all who are asking you, and from the one who removes things form you do not demand [them] back. And according to the manner you wish people do to you, you do to them likewise. [9]

Luke 6:27-31

When Jesus exhorts “those who are listening” to do what seems like the impossible, he is elevating the call to righteousness.[10] While you might have believed x, or thought y, I say….[11] (Something utterly new.) Whatever was assumed, is no longer. Jesus begins by calling attention to an alteration, specifically about “enemies.”

For Jesus, and especially for those who follow him, Love—divine love—is more than a feeling; it’s an action.[12] And not a passive action, but a proactive one; love empowers us to love in radical ways, even to love those who hate us.[13] Love, for Jesus, is done toward others (those least deserving and most in need) in such a way that it reflects what you would want done to your own body and person. In the love-economy of the reign of God: love loves, no matter the status of the other person. [14] In the love-economy of the reign of God not even enemies are the categorical other; for this new community of Christ—the ones who follow after Jesus in person (flesh and bone)[15] and then later by the power of the Holy Spirit—there are only porous boundaries. It is this very community who refuses to declare definitively that another or an other is an “enemy”, undeserving of love, kindness, mercy.[16] Jesus exhorts all those who are listening to love especially the “enemy.” [17]

The reason for the exhortation is embedded in the second half of the text, “And your wages  will be many, and you will be children of the highest, because God is gentle on behalf of the ungrateful and wicked people,” (6:35). In other words, love is about mercy, and God is merciful—abundantly merciful. So, as God is merciful and kind,[18] so too are those who follow Jesus, God of very God.[19] The basis of the ethical posture of this new community: do as God does because God’s nature made manifest in God’s Christ is the starting point for any and all discussions of “Christian” ethics.[20] And this Jesus will allow love to cover over and define every space and distance between him and the other so that he can declare that other as beloved even when we’d say otherwise.

Conclusion

In the encounter with God in the event of faith the believer is tossed about and placed in the world in a way that is right-side-up even if it feels completely up-side-down. It is in this new life in God, fueled by the receipt of divine love, and from the magnitude of mercy we proceed (like being (re)born) into the world bearing the image of God in our features and new genetic code marked by love.[21] Because we have been recreated through faith, through our encounter with God in the event of faith, this puts a pause (even if momentary) on our desire to judge others by their actions. We are asked to think of what we would want from someone when we were acting in such a way; thus, we cannot determine who is and who is not to receive our mercy and grace if God does not withhold either from us.[22] If we so desire grace and mercy; are we also able to grant such things to others?

Loving the enemy feels impossible if it means I must hug and kiss and “love-on” the one who is hurting me, wounding me, being violent toward me. It’s just another violent Christian doctrine if it means I must lose myself to become a vacuous vehicle for abuse—this actually isn’t love because love is not vacuous existence lacking self, but active participation in the activity of love.

But maybe I’m radical enough to think it’s possible: because with God all things are possible. If we walk in love because we’re born of Love, then where we are there that space is filled with love. If God is with us, so too is God’s love. It does not mean I now think this enemy is just great, but it may mean I see them with God’s eyes. Maybe, I see a human, stuck in a misconception of the world detrimental to others and to themselves. I might see one who was a mere baby, held tightly by loving arms of a mother; I might even cry for sadness of the pain that caused this one to be as they are right now.

I know by standing in love and stepping forward in love, love goes with me. I do know that—like tiles being flipped over from the side of “not-love” to the side of “love”—the space and distance between me and my enemy is overhauled from not-love to love. (I do not even need to be physically close to my enemy to alter the space between us.) I know that by dropping the term “enemy”, I’ve already lost one; I know that by declaring “beloved” this one is now not my enemy. There is power in words. So, what happens when we use our words to alter the space and distance between us and our enemies? Would we not want that for ourselves? Would we not want someone else to see us as “beloved” and not as “enemy”? When we allow love to redefine our space and distance and location, then anything is really possible because love will always crack open what is to make room for possibility to blossom.

Beloved, you’re loved by God; mercy is new every morning. This divine love and mercy, forever altering the space between God and humanity bent on their own determinations and judgments and gains, is the very love that is glorified among those very children of God at their worst and best. God’s love is most exalted when it does what it loves to do: bringing God’s life and light to the farthest corners of the cosmos, overhauling death to make room for life, declaring beloved those whom were once called “enemy.”


[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer The Cost of Discipleship New York, NY: Macmillan, 1959. 164. Emphasis, mine

[2] Christiane Tietz Theologian of Resistance: The Life and Thought of Dietrich Bonhoeffer Tran s Victoria J. Barnett. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2016. 36.

[3] Tietz, Resistance, 60.

[4] Tietz, Resistance, 63.

[5] Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei; The National Socialist German Worker’s Party.

[6] Bonhoeffer Discipleship 164. Emphasis, mine.

[7] Trans: Storm Division; the original para-military force of the Nazi’s.

[8] Trans: Armed Military/”Protection Squad”

[9] Translation mine unless otherwise noted.

[10] Justo L. Gonzalez Luke Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible Eds Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher. Louisville, KY: WJK, 2010. 94 “The Sermon on the Plain now turns to those who are ready to accept Jesus’ call to a greater righteousness, and is therefore introduced with the words, “But I say to you that listen.” This may also be read as a further explanation of the last beatitude and its parallel woe, which have to do with the hatred of others toward the disciples.” See also: Joel Green (bibliographic material below): “A new beginning in Jesus’ sermon is marked by his words, ‘But I say to you that listen. …’ This should not blind us to the intimate relationship of this section of the address to what has preceded…” 269.

[11] Green Luke 272. “…he is asking people to accept an inversion of the world order, to agree with him that the world order has been inverted, and to act accordingly.”

[12] Gonzalez Luke 94. “Significantly, when one compares this section in Luke to its parallel in Matthew, it is clear that Luke emphasizes the use of possessions, and that he wants to make clear that Christian love is not just a sentiment or a feeling, but also an attitude leading to concrete action: “do good to those who hate you.’”

[13] Green Luke 272. “Love is expressed in doing good – that is, not by passivity in the face of opposition but in proactivity: doing good blessing, praying, and offering the second cheek and the shirt along with the coat.”

[14] Green Luke 272. “The category of “enemies” may include others, however, and not only those who deliberately oppose Jesus’ followers. Because the beggar is habitually defined as outside the circles of companionship of all but other beggars, they would not be classed as “friends” but as “enemies,” outsiders. Love is due them as well, as though they were comrades and kin, and in their case love is expressed in giving.”

[15] Green Luke 271-272. “Jesus’ sermon, then, serves an interpretive function for the narrative as it has developed thus far, casting in positive and constructive terms the worldview and concomitant practices Jesus’ message portends. It is also challenging, summoning its audience(s) to adopt this alterative view of the world and so to measure its practices by its canons.”

[16] Joel B. Green The Gospel of Luke The New International Commentary on the New Testament Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997. 270. “One corollary of Jesus’ message, then, is the construction of a boundary, the delineation of behavior characteristic of those within the community. This is an important observation, since one of the distinguishing marks of his ethic is a worldview that advocates love of enemies. But as a practice, it would appear that love of enemies is designed to mitigate social tensions that, if habitual, would jeopardize the identity of any group. How can this community be distinguished by a practice that dissolves any such distinctions? …in essence, Jesus calls on his followers. To form а community the boundaries of which are porous and whose primary emblematic behavior is its refusal to treat others (even, or especially, those who hate, exclude, revile, and defame you) as though they were enemies.”

[17] Green Luke 272. “Jesus’ words, “Love your enemies,” lack any commonly held ethical base and can only be understood as an admonition to conduct inspired by God’s own graciousness (W 350-36). This is not love for all humanity in general, but more specifically for those who stand in opposition to Jesus’ followers – those whom Luke has already noted in narration (5:27-6:11) and about whom Jesus has already spoken (vv 22-23).”

[18] Green Luke 271. “…in redefining the world for his followers, potential and actual, Jesus posits as its foundation his image of God as merciful Father (6:36) – a base on which he can draft the character of his followers, character that will manifest itself in the demeanor and practices here described.”

[19] Gonzalez Luke 94. This is parallel to Matthew’s ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Matt. S:48). While Matthew’s words have often been taken out of context as the basis for a theological claim about God’s ontological perfection, Luke’s leave no room for such an interpretation. The divine perfection that the disciples are to imitate is the perfection of an all-embracing mercy

[20][20] Gonzalez Luke 94. “Furthermore, even though we often tend to think that the basis for the Christian ethics of love is the Golden Rule, in the final analysis the basis for Christian ethics is the very nature and action of God.”

[21] Green Luke 273. “…he incorporates into one utterance the character of this new people and the practices it engenders; theirs will be a countercultural existence indeed for their lives are based on an inverted understanding of their social world.”

[22] Green Luke 275. “Just as the merciful God does not predetermine who will or will not be the recipients of his kindness, so Jesus’ followers must refuse to “judge” – that is, to prejudge, to predetermine who might be the recipients of their graciousness. This is nothing but the command to love one’s enemies restated negatively. In an important sense, Jesus’ instructions are to refuse to act as those scribes and Pharisees had done in 5:27-32, as they calculated beforehand the status of those toll collectors and sinners and thereby excluded them from their circles of social interaction. …Jesus’ followers give freely, without dragging others and especially those in need into the quagmire of never-ending cycles of repayment and liability. And God will lavishly repay them.”