Baptized as Holy Troublemakers

Sermon on Luke 2:46-49, 52

Psalm 84:1-3: How dear to me is your dwelling, O Lord of hosts! My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God. The sparrow has found her a house and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young; by the side of your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God. Happy are they who dwell in your house! they will always be praising you.

Introduction

Have you thought about wisdom?–what it is as a concept and thing. Who oversees discerning if someone has it? I think we tend to confuse common sense for wisdom; those who choose the path of action or the line of thought most commensurate with what we would do are “wise”. But are they? Isn’t that like judging whether someone is a good driver on how you drive? Too fast, reckless jerks; too slow, ridiculous. Each of us has used “they say” when offering some random “wise” fact to a conversation; basing the inclusion of the sentiment on the hopes that the “they” who are doing the saying are wise. Who are “they”? I hope it would be a group of various voices, experiences, and bodies; however, I fear their selective and exclusive composition.

Wisdom is defined for us through the philosophy poured out over the ages. However, so much of it is written by the privileged and powerful group of people at the expense of the oppressed—in fact leaving out large groups of people when talking about things like labor and production and value. But even if they weren’t negating large swathes of human existence, what is the basis for determining what is moral and what is wise, what is good and what is beautiful? How does one group determine that for all the other groups?

Is wisdom of the silver generation who walk before us? There is wisdom in maturation, and I’m eager to learn. I’ve also seen those grown into the decades become calcified in archaic thoughts and actions refusing to change with the demand of context.

Maybe wisdom is something different than we’ve come to expect—especially from the perspective of one encountered by God in the event of faith. What if it looks more like a “little bit dangerous”[1] disturbing the status quo? What if Christian wisdom looks like Creative Disobedience?[2] What if Christian maturation based on The Christian Imagination[3] makes us look like fools to the world and stumbling blocks to politicians eager to count our votes?

Luke 2:46-49, 52

Now it happened after three days they found him in the temple having taken a seat in the midst of the teachers both listening to them and questioning them. And all of those who were listening to him were amazed on the basis of his understanding and replies. Now after seeing him they were shocked, and his mother said to him, ‘Child, why did you act like this to us? Behold, your father and me also were seeking for you tormented. And he said to them, “why were you looking for me? Did you not perceive that it is necessary for me to be in my father’s house? (Lk 2:46-49, translation mine)

Our gospel passage starts with a unique story: parents forgetting their kid. This parental gaff becomes a moment for divine revelation. Between chapters one and two, Luke emphasizes the link between Mary and Jesus and Hannah and Samuel in 1 Samuel 2.[4] Luke is a master storyteller, so I ask: why Samuel? The themes Luke is eager to connect Jesus to are twin: “kingdom of God” and “temple”. Jesus is ushering in the kingdom of God and is the new temple.[5] There is movement here from the Kingdom of David to the Kingdom of God and movement to the locus of God: tent to tabernacle to temple to the body of Christ. For Luke, there’s a shift rupturing structures and systems built by humanity based on human “wisdom” and “assumption” about what God can and cannot do and where God can and cannot go.[6]

Jesus’s reply to his mother isn’t expected. Jesus prioritizes his posture and place in the temple over and against obedience to his parents; his dedication to the coming kingdom of God is of a higher priority than honoring father and mother.[7] Even the shift in recorded dialogue highlights the shift of perspective from that of humanity to God; this story is about God’s movement in the world and not about our wisdom and common sense and our status-quo and biased systems.[8] A reordering is happening in the relationship between the law and the person: the law was made for the person and not the person for the law. [9]

Scholar Justo Gonzalez does well highlighting Luke’s reach to the Hebrew Scriptures to make the correlation between Samuel and Hannah and Jesus and Mary in order to redefine familiar themes of “kingdom of God” and “temple”. This story is also the start to setting the groundwork for Jesus’s ministry culminating in radically redefining both what the kingdom of God is all about and the conception of what the temple is. I want to reach forward to Mary and Martha and Jesus when he visits in Luke 10. There, Mary and Martha are busy about their duties at home, then Jesus arrives. Mary stops what she is doing and seats herself[10] at his feet listening to his words. Martha “distracted by many things” confronts Jesus asking him to get Mary to help her. The story ends with Jesus drawing Martha’s attention to him away from what is causing her distraction and anxiety.[11]

The themes of Luke 2 are present in Luke 10. Jesus, the one favored by God, is in the position of the teacher, he is causing a disruption in expectation and assumed “wise” behavior, and the corresponding response of anxiety by the person holding to what is expected by tradition. Martha, burdened by much work, goes to Jesus and asks him if he cares that she is burdened by anxiety and expects him to tell Mary (her sister) to help her. Mary, Jesus’s mother, approaches him after “seeking for him in torment” and expects his reply to align with what a son should say based on tradition. In both cases, Jesus responds in an unexpected way and overhauls the status-quo. While the questions are different—(Luke 2) why are you doing this? and (Luke 10) why aren’t you doing this?—the communication is similar: what are you doing? Why aren’t you upholding tradition and expectation? Jesus’s answer is consistent in both cases: I’m not of the old age but the new; God is forging a new path for humanity. What came before will be reduced to the dust of death and what comes is life and light.

Now Jesus was progressing[12] in wisdom both maturity and grace in the sight [favor] of God and humanity. (Lk 2:52, translation mine)

Conclusion

So, to our opening question: what is the wisdom of the kingdom of God? It’s in opposition to the things we think are wise.[13] In two comparable stories we see Jesus’s actions and language are perplexing and causes anxiety because his actions and language challenge the expectations held by the people and society around him. Noting that at the end of Luke 2, Luke mentions Jesus has grown in maturity and wisdom as it pertains to God, we must see that by Luke 10, those actions are the working out of that wisdom and maturity influenced by God’s will and mission on earth. Jesus’s actions perpetuate the demand for questions which is hallmark of the divine encounter with God in the event of faith. When we are encountered by God in the scriptures telling of God’s divine incarnation at Christmas, we are pushed off balance and forced to ask questions because the answer that’s been given by God challenges and confronts what we have deemed as wise and mature. Thus, our questions in response to God become the bedrock of the questions we turn and ask ourselves, others, and our institutions and ideologies.

We are washed in the holy water of the divine answer that is Jesus of Nazareth the Christ and swept up in its movement. By baptism we’re grafted into the mission of God in the world trapped in death and darkness. By our baptism we are washed of death and brought into life. By our baptism we are made into holy troublemakers, wildcards, willing to imagine and be creatively disobedient by questioning things of the age of darkness and death and the kingdom of humanity. As the beloved of God and agents of light, we can challenge errant notions of heteronormativity, racism, sexism, classism, ageism and ableism–petrified, calcified, archaic, death-dealing ideologies and institutions having no place in the kingdom of God.

By our baptism we become responsive and active participants in the kingdom of God and the age of life and light, calling and pulling forth that which was and is being done by God in the world through the incarnation of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. I pray that as we stand at the beginning of 2021 we have the audacity to grow in the wisdom and maturity of God as Jesus did and that we would dare to drag the advent of the new age—Christmas—into our simple days in simple ways. By the power of the Holy Spirit in you, where you are there God is too, and there is the light of life; where you are, Beloved, there is God and there is love.


For an excellent discussion of the connection between the event of Baptism and the mission of God see W. Travis McMaken’s work, The Sign of the Gospel. I hosted Dr. McMaken on my podcast to talk about this text and the ideas contained within it, an episode which aired in two parts: here.

[1] Idea taken from W. Travis McMaken’s Our God Loves Justice: Introduction to Helmut Golwitzer. “What overcomes this ecclesiastical banality is encounter with the church’s resurrected Lord, with ‘the Easter story [that] broken into our world, bringing with it a power, a world-overcoming revolution, which makes everything different in our life, which forces the church into a totally different direction.’ This encounter delegitimizes the church’s banality and demands that the church become an agent in proclaiming this world-overcoming revolution through word and deed. Instead of leaving the church to its comfortable domestication, ‘the one thing that matters for the church is that she should be both a danger and a help to the world.’ Gollwitzer’s ecclesiology calls for a dangerous church because a church that is not dangerous is not help at all.” 150-1.

[2] Playing with Dorothee Sölle’s book on Christian “obedience”, Creative Disobedience. Eugen OR: Wipf and Stock, 1995. “”In traditional usage one speaks rather descriptively of ‘fulfilling’ obedience. The picture is that of a container of form which must be filled. So too with obedience. A previously existing order is postulate that must be maintained, defended, or fulfilled. But Jesus did not conceive of the world according to a model of completed order, which person were merely required to maintain. The world he enters had not yet reached perfection. It was alterable, in fact, it awaited transformation. Schemes of order are in Jesus’ words utterly destroyed–great and small, scholar and child, riches and poverty, knowledge of the Law and ignorance. Jesus did everything in his power to relativize these orders and set free the person caught up in these schemes. This process of liberation is called ‘Gospel.’ Out obedience then still be thought of as the Christian’s greatest glory? I detect that we need new words to describe the revolutionary nature of all relationships begun in Christ. At the very least it is problematic whether we can even continue to consider that which Jesus wanted under the term obedience. Pp. 27-28

[3] Playing with Willie James Jennings book on race The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race. New Haven CT: YUP, 2010. From the introduction, “The work also joins the growing conversation regarding the possibilities of a truly cosmopolitan citizenship. Such a world citizenship imagines cultural transactions that signal the mergence of people who sense of agency and belonging breaks open not only geopolitical and nationalist confines but also the strictures of ethnic and racial identities. This is indeed a noble dream even if it is a moving target given the conceptual confusions and political struggles around multicultural discourse. Yet I hope to intervene helpfully in this conversation by returning precisely to the question of the constitution of such a people and such a citizenship.” Pp. 10-11

[4] Justo L. Gonzalez Luke Belief Series Louisville, KY: WJK, 2010. P. 43. “The story about the visit to the temple in Luke 2 has no parallel in the other canonical Gospels. Indeed, only Luke recounts an episode in the life of Jesus—this one—between his birth and the beginning of his ministry. In this particular case, Luke is again connection Jesus with Samuel—which he already did in Mary’s song, taken mostly from the song of Hannah—for the words in verse 52 are patterned after 1 Samuel 2:26…”

[5] Gonzalez Luke 43. “Here again there are typological connections: Samuel would bring in the kingdom of David, which pointed to the kingdom of God that Jesus would bring in. Furthermore, Samuel’s connection both with the temple and with Jesus hint at the typology that sees Jesus as the new and final temple of God.”

[6] Gonzalez Luke 44. “The temple and the tabernacle before it, were types of the incarnation that was to come. Elsewhere in the NT…Jesus refers to himself when he says that if the temple is destroyed, he will raise it up on three days. God can dwell with mortals on earth—even though the cross shows that mortals do when God does dwell with us.” And this was interesting, too: Gonzalez recounts a discussion about the idea of incarnation among some rabbis, here is the conclusion: “…the presence of God in the temple is perfectly compatible with the presence of God in a human being. There are many other important differences, he said, but to the questions, Can God indeed dwell with mortals on earth? Jews and Christians can both answer, Yes!”

[7] Joel B. Green The Gospel of Luke TNICNT Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997. P.155. “But Luke introduces a surprising countermeasure as well. Jesus is being raised in a pious environment, but his commitment to God’s purpose transcends that piety and that environment. In this case at least, acting on behalf of God’s aim places Jesus’ behavior against parental expectation.” And, “Jesus is in the temple, the locus of God’s presence, but he is there under divine compulsion engaged in teaching. The point is that he must align himself with God’s purpose, even if this appears to compromise his relationship with his parents.” P. 157

[8] Green Luke 156. “In addition the movement of the story is not simply to Jerusalem and back to Nazareth; rather, one recognizes in these geographical markers a subtle deixic shift. As the scene opens, Mary and Joseph are the subjects of the action, but as it unfolds Jesus takes on an active role—for the first time in the Gospel.”

[9] Green Luke 156. “Finally, the pericope contrasts two sorts of piety, not in order to negate the one but to underscore the preeminence of the other. It is a good thing to keep the Passover, but the sort of pious environment to which Jesus has become accustomed at home serves and must serve the more fundamental purpose of God. Not even familial claims take precedent over aligning oneself uncompromisingly on the side of God’s purpose.”

[10] While the word used describing Mary’s action is παρακαθεσθεισα (first principle part: παρακαθιζω (to seat oneself, to sit down) it shares the root word used of Jesus seating himself in the midst of the teachers καθεζομενον(first principle part: καθιζομαι the ppi1s of καθιζω, to sit down, to take one’s seat). I believe this creates a link between the story in Luke 10 with the story in Luke 2. As a deponent the action is as if it was active and the two words overlap significantly in meaning and intentional action.

[11] The words here are different than the words used to describe Mary’s (and also Joseph’s) panic, but the emotional content is similar. Again another link between the structure of Luke 2 and Luke 10. Jesus’s presence and action inaugurate something new and there is anxiety in response by those familiar with what should be according to tradition.

[12] This word προεκοπτεν (impai3s, first principle part προκοπτω) carries with it the idea of a pioneer cutting a way through brushwood.

[13] Green Luke 157. “He returns under different circumstances than before. Now he is an active agent in the story, set on working within the contours of God’s aim irrespective of the consequences.”

Stand and Fight

Sermon on Luke 1:38a

Psalm 89: 1-2: “Your love, O Lord, forever will I sing; from age to age my mouth will proclaim your faithfulness. For I am persuaded that your love is established for ever; you have set your faithfulness firmly in the heavens.” Amen.

Introduction

A gray winter evening ended in a depressed steel town in Pittsburgh, and the fall semester of my last year of seminary wrapped up. Then contractions started. A first-time mom, I had nothing previously in my life to prepare me for this moment. Yes, I took the necessary classes; yes, I read every book (I’m an enneagram 5, if we could, our babies wouldn’t be born until we’ve plumbed the depths of ACOG). Yet, as the contractions began that Monday night, my life was changing. Forever. The event that was barreling at me like a freight train was one I’d have to experience as it came in waves, in pain, in water and blood, in my body breaking. Daniel could not walk with me or protect me; I had to do it alone…I, on behalf of my unborn son, would wage a campaign against death, and my body would be the battleground and I’d never be the same again.

And the only solution was to stand and fight
And my body was bruised and I was set alight
But you came over me like some holy rite
And although I was burning, you’re the only light
Only if for a night[1]

Florence and the Machine

In the act of bringing forth life, a woman will grab death by its face and fiercely declare: my life for this one. When labor comes, when the urge to bear down swells, there’s nothing else to do but submit to the event, to enter what feels like chaos and the blindness of darkness. The warrior woman and the ferocity of motherhood will be summoned, and she will stand and fight to remind death once more: life wins. Even if I die here and now, life wins.

Luke 1:38a

“Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’” (Lk 1:38a).

Mary, a young virgin, will take on the burden of this battle in her own body. In our gospel passage, Luke tells us the story of the announcement that Jesus will be born. After receiving Gabriel’s announcement that she—a humble and poor woman of no status—will conceive when the spirit of God comes upon her, Mary submits herself to this divine request. She will bear in her body the stigma of being a young, unwed mother and the threat of the law therein.[2] The task she undertakes in her submission is one that will not only be internal (reckoning with herself as her time approaches) but also external as she must prepare herself to come under the judgment of law: criminal, worthy of death. The path laid bare will be marked by pain and humiliation. [3]

Mary becomes part of the fulfillment of the promise made to David by the prophet Nathan, “…the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever” (2 Sam 7:16). Her body is the house of the son of God—not made of mortar and stone, but of flesh and bone. She will bear in her body the child and son of God the Christ and the full weight of the law; the great rescue begins here. Her womb, her body becomes the battle ground between life and death. Her body hosts the form of the day of favor as salvation and rescue from the religious tyranny and authority of human systems and kingdoms deeply corrupt and oppressive in their favoring of the rich and powerful. Her body will become the site of the day of judgment coming into the world on those in authority abusing their power in using God’s word to marginalize and oppress those without power and authority. Mary is the site of the beginning of the world flipped right side up. [4] Woe to the rich, blessed are the poor…

Mary submits not to the oppressive command of a god taking advantage of a young and intimidated young girl, but to the mission of God in the battle of life against death. The Joan of Arc before there was a Joan of Arc, Mary enlists herself and her body in this divine war against death. Mary “…heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’”; and she said, “‘Here am I; send me!’” (Is 6:8). Mary’s statement of submission to the mission of God puts her in the household of God usurping her role in the family of Joseph for the things of God surpass the things of humanity.[5] Mary’s statement of submission to the mission of God and the presence of God’s spirit anointing and empowering and strengthening her[6] graft her into the great line of prophets who roamed this earth proclaiming the wonderful and awesome day of the Lord. She, too, becomes one of those prophetic voices who will proclaim and herald good tidings of salvation and rescue to Israel and unto the ends of the earth.

Listen to her:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name. He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation. He has shown the strength of his arm, he has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has come to the help of his servant Israel, for he has remembered his promise of mercy, The promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children for ever. (Cant. 15 The Song of Mary; Lk 1:46-55)

Mary, like the prophets before her, submits to the mission of God of love in the world: behold the day of the Lord comes! She, like the prophets before her, participates in bringing justice to those who suffer injustice, bringing comfort to those who need to be comforted, proclaiming and performing love in the world. She is like Isaiah, the herald of good tidings; she is like Jeremiah, the suffering servant; she is like Micah, watching in hope for the coming of the Lord; she is like Malachi, announcing the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays.

Conclusion

The impact of the descent of God into our timeline radically alters our lives—yesterday, tomorrow, and (especially) today. The proclamation streaming out of the historical event of God’s descent into the world in Jesus of Nazareth the Christ ricochets through the halls of time, never exhausting itself and never running out of steam. It moves about the cosmos forever and unto the ends of the earth for the beloved, to reconcile the beloved, to love the beloved, to save the beloved from death. Not even death itself will put a stop to the activity of God on the behalf of the beloved (Rom 8:38-39).

This is the great mystery Paul mentions at the end of Romans, the long held secret mystery of God being revealed into the world for the whole world in the fractal of broken bodies (Rom. 16:25-27). Mary, the one low of status in wealth, society, and gender will become the blessed of God because God is with those whose bodies are broken: who are low status, hurt, who have pain, who suffer injustice, oppression, and marginalization. Mary will face death so that her son can reckon with it. Mary will go through hell, so that the Christ will shut it down. Mary will lay low the divine child in the wood of a manger so that Jesus the Savior may raise up all who suffer by the wood of his cross. Her body will be broken so that her son’s can be; so that ours, too, can be broken as we participate in reminding death—in all its forms—life wins.

And right now as death has found a seat in our pews, taking one of our beloved, we need to be reminded that death is not the final word. As Tom’s timeline stopped and ours seems to surge beyond, hold on to this: there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God. And if that then also this: no one is separated from us—not even by death—because Love knows not that boundary and certainly isn’t restricted by it. Love descends into death bringing with it love’s life. So, today we have the audacity to stand in the encounter with God in the event of faith and fight and declare I believe, to sing, to look death in the face and, with confidence, proclaim: hope wins, love wins, life wins because the Christ, the child of Mary, Jesus of Nazareth is born.


[1] Florence and the Machine Only If For A Night

[2] Justo L. Gonzalez Luke Belief A Theological Commentary on the Bible. Louisville, KY: WJK, 2010. 21. “Mary will have to bear the stigma—and perhaps even the penalty—of that condition…”

[3]Gonzalez. 21 “This is the beginning of a story of pain and humiliation that will lead her son being condemned to death as a common criminal.”

[4] Joel B. Green The Gospel of Luke TNICNT Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997. 92 “In antiquity, the status of a slave was determined by the status of the householder. In his characterization of Mary as ‘slave of the Lord,’ Luke has begun to undercut the competitive maneuvering for positions of status prevalent in the first-century Mediterranean world. Mary, who seemed to measure low in any ranking—age, family heritage, gender, and so on—turns out to be the one favored by God, the one who finds her status and identity in her obedience to God and participation in his salvific will.”

[5] Green 92 “In describing herself as the Lord’s servant…she acknowledges her submission to God’s purpose, but also her role in assisting that purpose. Moreover, she claims a pace in God’s household, so to speak; indeed, in this socio-historical context, her words relativize and actually place in jeopardy her status in Joseph’s household. For her, partnership in the purpose of God transcends the claims of family.”

[6] Martin Luther LW 25. 149. “It should be noted that the word virtus here is understood as ‘strength’ or ‘power,’ as Moglichkeit in the colloquial sense, ‘possibility’.’ And power of God is understood not as the power by which according to His essence He is powerful but the power by virtue of which He makes powerful and strong. As one says ‘the gift of God,’ ‘the creature of God,’ or ‘the things of God,’ so one also says the power of God, that is, the power that comes from God, as we read in Acts 4:33…Luke 1:35: ‘The power of the Most High will overshadow you.’”

Learning to Play Cello

My 2020 Learning Journey Episode 005

Well, here’s another amazing installment of my Cello journey. 🙈🙉🙊

I’ve been working on bowing and pressure to make good tone. You may not hear the difference, but I do… 😊

Enjoy!