Common Sense Interrupted

Sermon on Luke 16:19-31

Psalm 91:1-2 1[They] who dwell in the shelter of the Most High, abide under the shadow of the Almighty. [They] shall say to God, “You are my refuge and my stronghold, my God in whom I put my trust.”

Introduction

Here’s a friendly reminder: common sense is common. Common sense is derived from experience in the world, the perception of natural law, and the narratives and stories handed down from one generation to another. Common sense is informed by geographic location, cultural expression, moral sensitivities, and subjective experience turned localized objective fact correlated to and within the life of a group (thus, common). Common sense isn’t universal; common sense doesn’t have to be correct. It’s just common, agreed upon.

What’s common sense on the Front Range isn’t common sense here in the Western Slope. What’s common sense in America isn’t common sense in England. What’s common sense for kids, isn’t common sense for adults. And whatever is common sense for teenagers will always only be common sense to them. *chuckles

For instance, if I said, it’s common sense that every preteen girl start cotillion, you might look at me: huh? But for anyone raised in Southern Connecticut that’s very common, and many of us little girls were forced into patent leather shoes and ill-fitting dresses stumbling through waltzes against our will because it was common sense to do so. In our western context, it’s common sense to go to college right out of high school; but in other contexts around the world it might not be. If you ever want to see the limit of “common sense” read ancient medical texts and what they say about bodies presenting as female. That’s a completely what-in-the-world experience. If you’d like a disturbing way “common sense” has been employed, look no further than our history and slavery and segregation; within the world, genocides are conducted using the same metric.

These days I find myself growing weary with feeble attempts to appeal to common sense in order to stop violence in our society. I find myself asking, what if violence *is* common sense? What if oppression *is* common sense? What if working ourselves to death *is* common sense? What if our growing isolation and alienation from each other *is* common sense?

And then I find myself asking another question: what if we need uncommon sense, something from outside of us, something other, some interruption to our “common sense”?

Luke 16:19-31

Now [the rich man] said, “Therefore, I am requesting you, father, to send [Lazarus] to the house of my father, for I have five brothers, so that he may declare solemnly to them in order that they, they might not also come into the same place of torment. But Abraham said, “They have Moses and the prophets; they must listen (completely) to them.” But [the rich man] said, “By no means, father Abraham, but if one from the dead were to go to them they will change their mind.” But [Abraham] said to him, “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither then will they be persuaded by one raised up out of the dead.”[1]

Luke 16:27-31

If you’re feeling targeted with Luke’s stories and Jesus’s parables articulating the demise of the rich and powerful, just remember he wrote this to the “most excellent Theophilus” (Luke 1:3). So, imagine being that guy receiving this text.

The lectionary skips over vv. 14-18 of chapter 16. Those verses bridge how a disciple of Christ uses mammon for the glory of the kingdom of God for others and our gospel passage. That bridge is: what’s prized by humans is an abomination in the sight of God (v. 15, NRSVUE). The Pharisees who’ve been listening to Jesus teachings are offended at Jesus’s parables. Why wouldn’t they be? Jesus’s parables interrupt their common sense; his words intercept their conceptions of the law, humanity, the world, blessedness, and God. Where the Pharisees saw themselves as superior, of a higher social ranking, more favored and blessed by God than the average lay person,[2] Jesus articulated a radically reversed social order in God and redefined favor and blessedness. Leaning hard into the Law and the Prophets, Jesus flips the hierarchy and declares: now! it’s right side up![3]

So, Jesus’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus, is a continuation of this theme started with the dishonest about-to-be-former house-manager. Jesus mentions two men: one rich defined by his daily habits of feasting and the wearing purple;[4] the other poor, covered in many sores (divine curse[5]), with street mongrel dogs coming to feast on him, worsening his degradation.[6] Interestingly, the rich man is deprived of a name while the poor man, covered in sores, has a name, Lazarus (“God’s Help”). In human society, the rich and powerful are known by name while the poor and powerless are deprived of names—the unclean are unknown, and unseen, even when they lie at one’s gate.[7] Here, however, Jesus inaugurates a great reversal: what is prized by humans is an abomination in the sight of God.[8]

When both men die and go to Hades (the realm of the dead for all)[9], the reversal is heightened. Lazarus, the poor man with sores is whisked away by the angels to the bosom of Abraham, while the nameless rich man—he is not evil, he is just rich[10]—is left to exist in torment (ὑπάρχων ἐν βασάνοις). As the rich man’s pain and suffering consumes him, he calls out to Abraham requesting Lazarus serve him some water and then go witness to his brothers so that they don’t end up where he is. Abraham denies both requests. The first one is denied because the distance is too great between the two men—a great space has been fixed firmly. The second request is denied because, well, it won’t make a difference if one out of the dead is raised up, they will not be persuaded.

Ugh. Neither signs nor wonders will convince these brothers—that doesn’t make sense!; they’re too consumed with and by the things of their world to change their mind (repent). Not even the dead raised again will alter their trajectory. They won’t believe because it goes against everything they hold to be true: the rich are the blessed of God; theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Both their experience and power run in opposition to the kingdom of God, clearly and boldly articulated in, to quote Abraham, Moses and the Prophets. However, if the rich man’s brothers can read the testament—the scrolls of Torah and Nevi’im—and walk away unchanged, there’s no proof on this side of earth that’ll cause them to change their mind.[11]

Because…

Get this…

Why would there be change? The rich man (himself) still doesn’t get it. In Hades, being tormented, among the dead, faced with the vision of Abraham and Lazarus resting on his bosom—literally experiencing the divine reversal—there’s no change of heart, no alteration of mind, no acknowledgement that he got it wrong (he’s still ordering Lazarus about[12] and arguing with Abraham from his assumed position of privilege[13]). If this man hasn’t experienced his wake-up call, his brothers will not do so either, no matter how big the sign and wonder.[14]

Because it’s not common sense.[15]

Conclusion

Our common sense needs to be checked. While it helps us navigate our world (to some extent), it also helps us to remain blind, deaf, and dumb to the problems of our society. Solely relying on it and never checking it, will lead us further into our captivity and complicity in social structures causing us to ignore those whom God loves, those whom God declares blessed. In fact, in coming here every Sunday our common sense is set on a definite collision course with God’s uncommon sense; here you are guaranteed to be confronted, common sense shook with the echoes of Mary’s declarations in Luke 1,[16]

“God has shown strength with his arm;
    God has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
52 God has brought down the powerful from their thrones
    and lifted up the lowly;
53 God has filled the hungry with good things
    and sent the rich away empty.
54 God has come to the aid of God’s child Israel,
    in remembrance of God’s mercy,
55 according to the promise God made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Luke 1:51-55, NRSVUE

Do we believe this? If so, we must let common sense go by the wayside and dare to embrace the uncommon sense of God so articulated by Mary—where the rich and powerful are cast down and made low. Are we listening? Really listening? No longer can we declare those who have in abundance are the blessed. If we’re hearing things rightly, we have to say: blessed are you who are poor, hungry, thirsty, broken down, exhausted, oppressed, barely breathing for God is with you and will lift you up. If our eyes are opened by the proclamation of Christ, we can no longer trust in our storehouses of goods or our positions of power; we must do away with the seductiveness of a prosperity gospel.[17] For these are our creations built on shifting sands of our common sense and are antagonistic to the will of God.

What is the will of God? Jesus has shown us: to walk humbly, liberate the captives, love mercy, justice, and peace. Today and every Sunday, Beloved, we are lovingly interrupted and intercepted by profound and ancient stories declaring God’s love, not only for us but for those our society declares unlovely. From Genesis to Revelation, let us hear the stories of God’s radical break with what was and God’s ushering in of something new, something wonderful, something completely uncommon.


[1] Translation mine unless otherwise noted.

[2] Justo L. Gonzalez Luke Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible Eds Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher. Louisville, KY: WJK, 2010. 193-194. “According to Luke, there is a connection between the Pharisees love of money and their ridiculing Jesus. This is a significant insight. Theological positions and religious opinions are not entirely disconnected from economic interests and agendas. The Pharisees consider themselves better than the ‘sinners and tax collectors’ in part because they think they belong to a ‘better’ social class. … The Pharisees seek to justify themselves ‘in the sight of others’ by claiming that what Jesus teaches is ridiculous. Jesus tells them that God sees things differently than do humans.”

[3] Gonzalez, Luke, 194. “Jesus’ general response to the ridicule of the Pharisees, both directly beginning in verse 15, and by means of a parable beginning in verse 19, is to insist that what he is teaching is in full agreement with the Law and the Prophets.”

[4] Gonzalez, Luke, 195. “Roman law codified who had the right to wear purple, at that time a very expensive dye. Thus the original hearers and readers of this parable would understand that the rich man was sufficiently respected to merit this particular honor, and also indirectly that he had achieved this with the approval of Roman authorities. He an important, respected person—which immediately reminds us of what Jesus has just said in verse 14, that ‘What is prized by human beings is an aberration in the sight of God.’ He is so rich that he has sumptuous feasts, not only on special occasions, but every day.”

[5] Joel B. Green The Gospel of Luke The New International Commentary on the New Testament Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997. 605 “In contrast with the wealthy man, the clothes Lazarus wore receive no mention. Instead, we are told, he is covered with sores condition that undoubtedly marked him as unclean. The term used in his description suggests that Lazarus would even have been regarded as suffering from divine punishment. In familiar to us from the common theology of Job’s friends, surely the wealthy man is blessed by God while Lazarus lives under the divine curse.”

[6] Green, Luke, 606 “Although we may be tempted to think of the dogs of Jesus’ story in sentimental terms, we should rather imagine pariahlike mongrels that roamed the outskirts of town in search of refuse. These curs have not come to ‘lick his wounds’ (as we would say), but to abuse him further and, in the story, to add one more reason for us to regard him as less than human, unclean, through-and-through an outcast.”

[7] Green, Luke, 605. “The rich man is depicted in excessive, even outrageous terms, while Lazarus is numbered among society’s ‘expendables,’ a man who had fallen prey to the ease with which, even in an advanced agrarian society, persons without secure landholdings might experience devastating downward mobility.”

[8] Gonzalez, Luke, 195. “But the parable does not give the man’s name. This is significant as one more of Luke’s many examples of the great reversal Normally, it is important people who have a name. They have recognition. They are somebody. But in the parable the rich and apparently important man has no name, and the poor and insignificant man does. From the very beginning of the parable, Jesus is illustrating what he has just said, that ‘what is prized ne sight of God.’ The very name ‘Lazarus’ means ‘God’s help’; and the parable will show that this is indeed the case.”

[9] Green, Luke, 607. “Both Lazarus and the wealthy man are apparently in Hades, though segregated (“far away from each other. Thus, while Lazarus is in a blissful state, numbered with Abraham, the wealthy ma experiences Hades as torment and agony. This portrait has many analogues in contemporary Jewish literature, where Hades is represented as the universal destiny of all humans, sometimes with the expected outcome of the final judgment already mapped through they separation of person into wicked or righteous categories.”

[10] Ernesto Cardenal The Gospel in Solentiname Trans. Donald D. Walsh. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2010. 422. “I: ‘Christians usually believe that the good rich man is saved and only the bad rich man is condemned. But that’s not what is said here. The rich man isn’t called evil, he’s just called rich.’”

[11] Gonzalez, Luke, 197-198. “Jesus is telling his hearers, who are lovers of money, that they do not need special signs or wonders to know what they are to do. They have the Law and the Prophets, which are firmer and more durable than both heaven or earth (17). He is also telling them that their love of money prevents them from truly listening to the Law and the Prophets. At the end of the parable, when the rich man wants Lazarus to be sent to warn his brothers, Abraham tells him that they already have ‘Moses and the prophets,’ and that this should be enough for them. When the man insists that they would repent and do right ‘if someone goes to them from the dead,’ Abraham replies that this is not so. If they are not willing to obey Moses and the prophets, they will still remain disobedient ‘even if someone rises from the dead.’ In other words, there is no miracle capable of leading to faith and obedience when one has vested interests and values that one places above obedience to God, such as “the love of money” of the Pharisees whom Jesus is addressing.”

[12] Gonzalez, Luke, 196. “Even after such a reversal of fortunes, the rich man considers himself more important than Lazarus, whom he wants sent, first to him, and then to his brothers.”

[13] Green, Luke, 609. “Abraham thus refuses to grant an apocalyptic revelation of the fate of the dead, insisting that the witness of Moses and the prophets should suffice. The wealthy man, accustomed to extra considerations, will not take No for answer. Continuing to speak from his supposed position of privilege, the wealthy man insists that for his family, more is needed, that a special envoy is required.”

[14] Gonzalez, Luke, 198. “The main obstacle to faith is not lack of proof is an excess of other interests and investments—of time, money, dreams, and so on.”

[15] Cardenal, Solentiname, 424. “I: ‘It seems to me that Jesus’ principal message is that the rich aren’t going to be convinced even with the Bible, not even with a dead man coming to life (and not even with Jesus’ resurrection).’”

[16] Gonzalez, Luke, 197. “Such an interpretation, while perhaps helpful, misses the point of the great reversal that is so central to the Gospel of Luke. The parable is not only about a rich man who ignored the poor, but also about the rich man ending up in poverty, and the poor man in abundance. The man who had daily feasts now goes not even have water to cool his tongue. The one whose sores had been licked by unclean dogs, and who therefore was not even worthy to be counted among the faithful children Abraham, is now in the bosom of Abraham. Once again we hear echoes of Mary’s song: ‘He has brought down the powerful from the thrones, and up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty’ (1:52-35).”

[17] Gonzalez, Luke, 198. “But the truth is exactly the opposite: the rich man is accursed, and Lazarus is blessed. So much for the ‘gospel of prosperity’ that many find so attractive today! It may be as weak a reed as the rich man’s trust in his riches.”

Whom Do You Serve?

Sermon on Luke 16:1-13

Psalm 79:8-9 Remember not our past sins; let your compassion be swift to meet us; for we have been brought very low. Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your Name; deliver us and forgive us our sins, for your Name’s sake.

Introduction

Have you ever tried to do two things at once…well? Data tells us we cannot multitask as well as we think we can. We can text; we can drive. But we cannot text and drive. The advent and surge of smart phones exposed our inability to be the expert multitaskers that we thought we were. We can’t do two different things at once and do them both well.

I can read; I can listen to music with lyrics. But everything goes haywire if I try to listen to music with lyrics while I’m reading. I can have a conversation; I can write. But woe to the reader who reads anything I’ve written while trying to manage a conversation. I can chop veggies really fast; I can look at someone while their talking to me. But pray for my fingers if I try to do both!

We are complex beings in our inner world and rather simple in our material existence. We cannot go in two directions. No matter how hard I try—and believe me, I’d love the ability to go in two directions at once—I cannot do it. I can go this way or that way, but I cannot go both ways at once. I must say yes to one and no to another.

As a priest called from the people for the people, I made a vow to serve the people in and with the Love of God; I can’t now also vow to serve myself. In other words, I can’t now vow to serve myself and my inanimate material things if my vow is to serve the people. I must switch the vow, move it from one to another but I cannot vow to both. I can either serve my robes and stoles, table and elements, or I can serve the people those things are for; I cannot serve both. I can serve my doctrines and dogmas, rules and rubrics, canons and councils or I can serve the people God has called me to; I cannot serve both. Every clergy person from deacon to presiding bishop must make this choice; there’s no way around it. One “master” will win out every time.

Regularly, I must ask myself: Whom do you serve?

Luke 16:1-13

Whoever [is] faithful in very little is [faithful] in much, and whoever [is] unjust in very little is [unjust] in much. Therefore, if you did not become faithful in the unjust mammon [riches/property/possessions], who will believe you for the genuine riches? And if you did not become faithful in the belongings of another, who will give to you your own? No servant is able to serve two lords. For either [the servant] will hate the one and love the other or [the servant] will cleave to one and disregard the other. You are not able to serve God and mammon [riches/property/ possessions]. [1]

Luke 16:10-13

After the parable of the “prodigal sons”, Luke tells his audience Jesus finds it necessary to tell his disciples a parable about a shrewd about-to-be-former house-manager. In fact, it might be better to call this house-manager a “scoundrel.”[2] Here’s why: the story opens on a rich man who received charges against this house-manager for “squandering” (τὰ ὑπάρχοντα) the things which were “ready at hand” (as in: things in his possession, the things he was managing for the rich man). Thus, the rich man calls the man to him and asks, What is this I hear about you? Return your word of house-manager, for you are not able to be a steward anymore.

Uh oh. The house-manager’s scoundrelly ways caught up with him; he treated as his that which was not his—he took advantage of his position thinking it couldn’t change.[3] But it did; a new order is commencing whether he likes it or not.[4] Thus, it dawns on him that once he’s removed from his position, he’ll lose his livelihood[5] with little recourse to other work—I am not strong to dig, I am ashamed to beg (v. 3c). So, with an anachronistic “Hail Mary” he uses his skillz to his advantage. The about-to-be-former house-manager devises a scheme securing for himself hospitality in the future.[6] He summons those who owe his boss money. Asking each one what they owe (large sums) he slashes them nearly in half (much smaller sums). This about-to-be-former house-manager is brilliant; he uses what he still has—he’s not quite fired yet—and fabricates a safety-net for himself.[7] Those debtors receiving reduced bills will certainly owe him something in the future, like maybe a roof and a couch.[8]

Clever guy! And he’s praised as such! Then Jesus exhorts: And I, I say to you make friends for yourself out of the unjust mammon [riches/possessions/property], so that whenever it comes to an end they might receive you into the eternal tent.[9]

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None of that makes sense. Jesus’s words are hard to swallow here, especially if you consider the rest of Luke’s gospel—a text oriented toward the liberation of the captives from injustice due to an imbalance in power and privilege, property and possessions. Yet, if we allow that lens to assist us with this portion of text, we might see how clever Jesus is. Jesus continues: Therefore, if you did not become faithful in the unjust mammon [riches/property/possessions], who will believe you for the genuine riches? (v.11)Essentially, it’s about being wise as serpents and gentle as doves: create community with things unjustly gained.[10] In other words: force that which was intended for evil to be used for good and as you do watch heaven unfold around you and those whom you serve as you gain the true riches of justice: love,[11] mercy, compassion, kindness.[12]

In other, other words: keep your eye on your priorities.[13] Jesus concludes with a statement that seems detached from everything else: No servant is able to serve two lords. For either [the servant] will hate the one and love the other or [the servant] will cleave to one and disregard the other. (v 13a-b). If you, the ones who follow the Christ—remember, he’s addressing his disciples—cannot be trusted to repurpose unjust mammon[14]—riches, property, possessions—for the justice and benefit of other people,[15] how can you be trusted with the genuine riches of the kingdom of God? You can’t have mammon for mammon’s sake if you are one of Jesus’s disciples.[16] Jesus concludes in clear terms, You are not able to serve God and mammon [riches/property/ possessions] (v13c). Mammon and God will never, ever, share the stage.[17]

So, I must pose the question to you, too, whom do you serve?

Conclusion

We live in an unjust world. There is no way we can make the most modicum income that isn’t impacted and infected by injustice. All I have to do is tell you to go home and check all the companies represented in any type of portfolio. No matter how hard we try, we cannot avoid being held captive in a system seemingly bent on devouring human life like a vampire taking blood from its victim. No matter how hard we try, we cannot avoid noticing the ways we are complicit in this system, contributing to pain of others further down the ladder. We are tar-babies; caught, stuck, covered.

It’s tempting to throw my hands up and just say 🚒it. I can’t have this much anxiety over a tomato. Everything I consume—in one way or another—is a few degrees of ecological, anthropological, economical, cosmical violence. So, do I quit? Do I give up and give in? How would that fit with my vows as a priest in God’s church for God’s people? How would that fit with being a mom, trying desperately to raise humans who care about our mother earth, our brothers and sisters, our flora and fauna friends? How would that fit with a deep and abiding love for you? Shouldn’t I at least try to make this world a bit better for you? for those coming after me? For those coming after them?

No. I can’t quit and give up. Because I made a vow; because I was and am encountered by God in the event of faith; because I serve God by following Christ in whom I’m anchored by the power of the Holy Spirit. If the option is to serve mammon or God, I choose God. For in God is life and love, in God is justice and peace, in God is heaven. And if I serve God, I cannot serve mammon. So, instead of quitting, I play smarter, I dodge and weave better, and every so often I use the very tools of this age to bring light and life where darkness and death have been ruthless despots for too long.

Dorothee Sölle closes the second to last chapter of her book, Choosing Life, with a story from Auschwitz (1943-44),

“…there was a family concentration camp in which children lived who had been taken there from Theresienstadt and who – in order to mislead world opinion – wrote postcards. In this camp—and now comes a resurrection story—education in various forms was carried on. Children who were already destined for the gas chambers learned French, mathematics and music. The teachers were completely clear about the hopelessness of the situation. Without a world themselves, they taught knowledge of the world. Exterminated themselves, they taught non-extermination and life. Humiliated themselves, they restored the dignity of human beings. Someone may say: ‘But it didn’t help them.’ But so say the Gentiles. Let us rather say, ‘It makes a difference.’ Let us say, in terms solely of this world: ‘God makes a difference.’”[18]

Dorothee Sölle, Choosing LIfe, 97.

Instead of giving up, Beloved, let us choose to serve God and life, because “choosing life [and God] is the very capacity for not putting up with the matter-of-course destruction of life surrounding us, and the matter-of-course cynicism that is our constant companion.”[19] Choosing to serve life means not choosing to serve death; serving God means not serving mammon.

You cannot serve two masters. So, whom do you serve?


[1] Translation mine unless otherwise noted.

[2] Justo L. Gonzalez Luke Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible Eds Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher. Louisville, KY: WJK, 2010. 190-191. “But this parable speaks of a man who is undoubtedly a scoundrel; and yet it praises him and his wisdom! It is not uncommon to see on our church windows portrayals of a father receiving a son who had strayed, or of a sower spreading seed, or of a Samaritan helping the man by the roadside. But I nave never seen a window depicting a man with a sly look, saying to another, ‘Falsify the bill, make it less than it really is.’ Yet it is precisely this sort of man that the parable turns into an example!”

[3] Gonzalez, Luke, 191. “The present order is not permanent, and our authority over life, goods, and all the rest is only temporary. We may well imagine that, until given notice, the manager felt quite secure in his position. So do we, until we are reminded that our management is provisional—that what we have is not really ours, and will be taken away from us.”

[4] Gonzalez, Luke, 191-192. “The manager in chapter 16 asks the same question [like the wise barn building fool: what will I do?], not because he has too much, but because he suddenly realizes that what he has will be taken away from him. Thus there is a contrast between the two men. The fool thinks that he really owns what he has, and that he even owns his life. The manager knows that he does not really own what he has. The fool takes for granted that the present order will continue indefinitely. The manager realizes that there is a new order about to be established.”

[5] Joel B. Green The Gospel of Luke The New International Commentary on the New Testament Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997. 590. “For him, loss of position as manager entails a forfeiture of social status, with the consequence that, initially, the only opt manual door and begging (v 3); these locate him prospectively among the ‘unclean and degraded’ or even ‘expendable’ of society…. What is more, his imminent departure as manager signifies his loss of household attachment, hence his  concomitant concern for a roof over his head (v 4).”

[6] Gonzalez, Luke, 191. “A steward has not actually been fired yet, but is certainly on notice. In this regard, he is in a situation similar to all human beings who for the present have a life, goods, talents, relations, and time to manage, but are also on notice of our firing.”

[7] Gonzalez, Luke, 192. “But the manager in the parable does not follow either of these two paths [enjoy it all or ignore it all]. What he does is use the authority he still has in the present order to feather his bed for the future order. When his firing becomes effective, he will be rewarded in the new order for the use he made of what he had in the old order.”

[8] Green, Luke, 593. “He has become their benefactor and, in return, can expect them to by extending to him the hospitality of their homes. The manager has thus taken advantage of his now-short-lived status, using the lag time during which he was to make an accounting of his mage 2ty D and his D and his position to arrange for his future.”

[9] Ernesto Cardenal The Gospel in Solentiname Trans. Donald D. Walsh. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2010. 395. “OSCAR: I see it this way: that man, what he was really doing was stealing. He got himself some friends with his master’s money and what the master said was that he was a very clever thief. … And what Jesus says is: be clever thieves, that is, be clever rich people, and the money you’ve got give it to the poor so you’ll be saved.’”

[10] Cardenal, Solentiname, 396. “OLIVIA: “It seems to me it’s a parable, a way of speaking, that we must understand in accordance with the rest of the Gospel. …And it seems to me that in this parable he’s saying you have to be intelligent, that you don’t give alms to get friends, or heaven (a selfish heaven), you give everything away so that everyone together can enjoy the kingdom of heaven.’”

[11] Cardenal, Solentiname, 397 “MARCELINO: “And it also says that it we’ve not been honest with unjust wealth, we won’t be given the true wealth. True wealth is love. If we have stolen wealth, false wealth, and we don’t distribute it, we won’t get the true wealth, love, because love is received only by people who give. If you’re rich in money you’re poor in love.’”

[12] Cardenal, Solentiname, 397 “I: ‘What the Gospel here calls what belongs to others’ is what the rich consider as their property. It says that we won’t receive our own (the kingdom of heaven) if we haven’t been honest with other people’s property. One is honest with wealth when one doesn’t appropriate it for oneself but distributes it among its legitimate owners.’”

[13] Green, Luke, 589. “In fact the theme of this narrative section concerns the appropriate use of wealth to overstep social boundaries between rich and poor in order to participate in a form of economic redistribution founded in kinship.”

[14] Green, Luke, 596. “Even though ‘dishonest wealth’ is a reality of the present age, one’s use of this wealth can either be ‘dishonest’ (i.e. determined by one’s commitment to the present world order) or ‘faithful’ (i.e. determined by the values of the new epoch).”

[15] Cardenal, Solentiname, 401 “I: ‘That’s why Christ came to earth, to establish that society of love, his kingdom. That’s why he talks a lot about social life and economy. In this passage he talks to us of wealth: that it must be shared. In the following verse he tells us that ‘one cannot serve God and money.’ It’s because God is you can’t have love and selfishness at the same.”

[16] Green, Luke, 593. “If they did understand the ways of the new aeon, how would this be manifest in their practices? Simply put, they would use ‘dishonest wealth’ to ‘make friends’ in order that they might be welcomed into eternal homes. ‘Wealth’ (or mammon) is characterized as ‘dishonest’ in the same way that the manager was. Both belong to this aeon; indeed, in speaking of its demise, Jesus insinuates that mammon has no place in the age to come …”

[17] Green, Luke, 597. “Because these two masters demand such diametrically opposed forms of service, since each grounds its demands in such antithetical worldviews, one cannot serve them both. Jesus underscores the impossibility of dual service through his use of contradictory terms of association (love, hate) and shame (devote, despise).”

[18] Dorothee Sölle Choosing Life Trans. Margaret Kohl. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1981. German Trans: Wählt das Leben Stuttgart: Kreuz Verlag, 1980. 97.

[19] Sölle, Choosing Life, 7.

A Gift is A Gift (Full Stop.)

Sermon on Luke 14: 1, 7-14

Psalm 81:1-3 Sing with joy to God our strength and raise a loud shout to the God of Jacob. Raise a song; sound the tambourine, the sweet lyre with the harp. Blow the trumpet at the new moon, at the full moon, on our festal day.

Introduction

A gift is a gift. (Full Stop.) One of the hardest “learning journeys” I’ve been on is: a gift is a gift. No “ands”, “ifs”, or “buts”. A gift—to be a gift—must have no strings attached. When a gift is given, it’s only a gift if it’s completely free of any return action. The gift-giver gives and the gift-receiver receives. This includes (and is not limited) the expectation of … thank you notes.

I know, I know I’m flaunting our social customs and etiquettes—and I promise you I do write thank you notes (as often as I remember!)—but the reality is: a gift is only a gift if it is free from the giver to the receiver. Now, is it nice to receive something in return? Yes! It’s great to hear a “Thank you!” or “That made my day!” or even to receive a gift in return at a later date. But what I’m addressing here is the expectation of exchange we place on our “gifts” to each other and (even) to ourselves. Who here hasn’t said the words, when faced with an item of luxury or a restful moment or a good book or a dinner out: I’ve earned it. We can’t even give ourselves gifts without having an exchange rate attached to it. But what if you just gave yourself a much needed darned gift? Just ‘cuz.

In our society, we have a social expectation that gifts given will be met with some return: a handwritten letter of gratitude, a reciprocal gift of equal value, a return invite (etc.). While I’m aware these deeds create civility and value human efforts, they become not-gifts if there’s an expectation that such mutuality of exchange will happen.

If I give you a gift and you freely write me a note of gratitude, that’s great! ß This is not what I’m talking about. In this equation both parties are offering something to each other voluntarily (ideally).

If I give you a gift and then wait for you to write me a thank you note, stewing as time goes on because well, it’s been 5 days and there’s no acknowledgment of this wonderful thing I’ve given and then the next time I see you I’m a bit passive aggressive about everything because, well, you never said thank you and how rude and inconsiderate to treat my gift in such a way… ß this is what I’m addressing. Do you see how my gift becomes a burden? As soon as that happens, it’s no longer a gift; it’s a burden. It’s a burden to both people.

A gift to someone should participate in their liberation and not add to their captivity. A gift is a gift. (Full Stop.)

Luke 14:1, 7-14

Now he was saying to the one who has invited him, “Whenever you make a midday meal or supper, do not summon your friends, and not your brothers and not your relatives and not a wealthy neighbor, lest at any time they also may invite you in turn and it might become for you recompense. But, whenever you make a banquet, call the poor, maimed, limping, and blind. And you will be blessed because they are not able to give back as an equivalent to you. For, it will be given back to you in the resurrection of the righteous.”[1]

Luke 14:12-14

Luke tells us Jesus is at the house of a prominent pharisee, breaking bread. Luke explains they were “observing him scrupulously” (παρατηρούμενοι[2]). But, jokes on them.[3] In v. 7, Jesus is paying heed (ἐπέχων[4]) to their behavior. (Tables turned.) What was he watching? Their vying for the best seat at the table with the most honor. These people weren’t being “selfish”, per se. They were just behaving according to custom and etiquette. Seats around a table carried significance in Jesus’s honor/shame culture. (We have our own; thus, we can relate.) Where one reclined indicated honor and status: closest to the host the most honor. As seats descended down the table from the host, honor and status declined. So, invitees to banquets vied for the first spot. They had to; their livelihood depended on it.[5]

According to Luke, Jesus tells a parable explaining that it’s better to take the lowest seat so that the host would come get you and bring you the honor you are seeking. For this would be better than the other way around, right guys? It seems as if Jesus is helping the status-quo here, but wait. Or, is Jesus saying something else? Considering Jesus is God incarnate, and considering it’s a parable, there’s a bigger lesson at hand. Jesus intends to draw attention to something bigger than his culture’s honor/shame components:[6] …all who exalt themselves will be made low, and the one who makes themselves low will be exalted. Humility[7] is honorable, and not self-aggrandizement. [8] Thus, the last shall be first and the first shall be last. [9] This is the way of the Kingdom of God; this is the way of God.

Claiming honor for oneself doesn’t mean one has honor. It’s basic intellectual math, but it’s an equation we keep swearing by over and over and over. Act this way, do this, get this thing, have this attribute, etc., and you will get honor. But Jesus is turning the tables. Assume you are lower than you are and let others bring you honor; do not claim it for yourself.[10] He emphasizes this by further flipping social expectations as it pertains to one’s invite list to supper. [11] It was accepted and understood that a banquet host invited his family, friends, those of equal social standing, and maybe even that neighbor who boosts your social standings.[12] Yet, Jesus—with an eye to dismantle social and religious custom and convention—says: invite the poor, maimed, limping, and blind. In other words, invite people who mar your reputation in the community and make you religiously unclean; the “worst” of the “worst”. [13]

And why does Jesus say this? Because a gift is a gift. (Full stop.) If you invite those who are of your or greater status, then you will receive the customary return invite. You’re inviting people so that they’ll return the gesture with an invitation (in kind). This exchange of equal or (slightly) greater value bolsters your own image in society. It’s exploitation;[14] this isn’t a gift because there are strings attached (big ones!).[15] So, Jesus calls it out and commands the people (imperatives!) to break with this tradition and do what God does: give (freely!) to and dwell with the socially and religious unlovely and unclean;[16] the very people of God because God is with them.[17] In this way, Jesus says, you will be blessed[18] and righteousness will be yours[19]because you’ll be with God, and those who are with God are the blessed and the righteous ones.

Conclusion

I don’t have words big enough to describe the way God loves us, but I do have Luke’s story of a banquet comprised of all those who are cast out (religiously and socially). There, at that party, God dwells. God gives God’s self in grand and glorious ways—not in empty and self-serving ways, but ways benefiting the one who receives this divine gift of divine presence. God’s gift of God’s self in Christ Jesus liberates the person who is encountered and anchored in the liberative love of God. And all of it just cuz, just because God loves you so very, very, very much. And the most amazing part? There’re no strings attached. God doesn’t give God’s self so that you will respond; God just gives God’s self. (Full Stop.) That’s why you respond. God gives God’s self to you freely because God desires to be in solidarity with you, to liberate you, to celebrate you.  

And if with us, thus us with others. Beloved, we give because we want to, because we want to be in solidarity with what is going on around us, to alleviate the pain of others, to bring freedom, to participate in God’s grace and love in the world. With one another, beloved, we share what we have…not what we have in excess (charity) but what we have even if it’s our last cup of flour and last tablespoon of oil, with each other we will break bread even if, no…especially when the other has nothing to bring to the table.

May our table, our seats, our sanctuary reflect the depth of divine solidarity with those who cannot repay, with those who may not even be able to say thank you. May we freely give as God has so freely given to us.


[1] Translation mine unless otherwise noted

[2] Present middle participle masculine nominative plural; first principal part παρατηρέω. With the imperfect tense of εἰμί (imperfect active indicative third person plural), the construction is a periphrastic and carries a finite imperfect equivalent: they were observing him scrupulously. In that moment, they invited him closed and (literally) were watching everything he did.

[3] Joel B. Green The Gospel of Luke The New International Commentary on the New Testament Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997, 551. “Luke’s opening depiction of Jesus is almost comical. The pharisees and scribes of this dinner party had been watching him closely v 1), but now they are the ones being monitored; what is more, whereas in being monitored; their attempts to unmask Jesus as one who transgresses the law they had been reduced to silence, he now exposes their impropriety.”

[4] present active participle masculine nominative singular. Jesus, here, is doing the action of “paying heed”. And being linked to the activity of the parable he’s about to drop, what he’s paying heed to will be the subject of the parable. Now he was saying a parable to the one who have been invited, paying heed to…

[5] Green, Luke, 550. “First, this was a world in which social status and social stratification were vital considerations in the structuring of life, with one’s status based on the social estimation of one’s relative honor – that is, on the perception of those around a person regarding his prestige. For example, where one sat (was assigned or allowed to sit) at a meal vis-à-vis the host was a public advertisement of one’s status; as a consequence, the matter of seating was carefully attended and, in this agonistic society. one might presume to claim a more honorable seat with the hope that it (and the honor that went with it) might be granted. What is more. because meals were used to publicize and reinforce social hierarchy, invitations to meals were themselves carefully considered so as to allow to one’s table only one’s own inner circle, or only those persons whose presence at one’s table would either enhance or at least preserve one’s social position.”

[6] Justo L. Gonzalez Luke Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible Eds Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher. Louisville, KY: WJK, 2010. 179-180. “The first of these is addressed primarily to his fellow guests, whom he has seen vying for the places of honor. At a superficial level, Jesus seems to be simply criticizing them and suggesting the wiser course of acting humbly and taking the places; lesser honor, so that the host will give them a better place… But at a deeper level one can see the eschatological reference of his words. Jesus speaks of a ‘wedding banquet’—a subtle reference to the final day of celebration, repeatedly depicted in the Bible as a wedding feast. Then he concludes his remarks by applying them to the larger, eschatological dimension reverses the present human order…”

[7] Cardenal, Solentiname, 351. “I: ’If everyone has a spirit of service to the others, there aren’t any firsts or lasts and you reach the equality that Felipe is talking about.’”

[8] Green, Luke, 552. “On the one hand, his teaching has called into question the elf-seeking agenda of the companions, insisting that honor must be given, not pursued or taken. More fundamentally, however, he now goes on to hint at a life-world in which honor is measured and granted along unforeseen lines. “The humble.” in the social world Luke addresses, usually denoted persons who are of low birth, base, and ignoble, yet in the topsy-turvy world Jesus envisages, ‘the humble’ are those most valued.”

[9] Ernesto Cardenal The Gospel in Solentiname Trans. Donald D. Walsh. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2010. 351. “LAUREANO: ‘It’s the same as that other thing that Jesus said, when they asked him who was the most important, and he said the one who served. The one in the first place isn’t most important.’”

[10] Green, Luke, 551. “First, he appeals to the realities of an honor-shame culture in order to advise against taking the ‘first seats.’ Then he demarcates a more prudent strategy when entering a banquet room. Because honor is socially determined, if one’s claim to honor fails to be reciprocated by one’s audience, one is publicly humiliated. Better, Jesus says, to have your honor bestowed on you by another than to make a bid for honor that might not be granted. Luke envisions the impartation of honor in the form of a new, more lofty, seat assignment, but also in the use of the term ‘friend,’ signifying a relationship (again, not claimed by the guest but conferred by the host) of equality and mutuality with the host.”

[11] Cardenal, Solentiname, 352. “I: ‘And that is the subversion of the kingdom of heaven. ‘Subvert’ comes from the Latin subvertere, which means to put down what IS up and up what is down.’”

[12] Gonzalez, Luke, 180. “What Jesus now says and proposes is a contrary to all rules of etiquette Then as today, it was quite common for people to invite to a dinner those who were of equal social standing with them—family, friends, colleagues. Since having a distinguished guest at dinner results in honor and prestige for the host, one seeks to invite such people—in Luke’s text, ‘rich neighbors.’ When one holds such a dinner, the guests are expected to return the invitation. To us, this would seem normal. But Jesus sees things differently: when a former guest invites you, you have already been repaid.”

[13] Gonzalez, Luke, 180. “After listing four main categories of people who are usually invited to such dinners—friends, brothers, relatives, rich neighbors—Jesus suggests four other categories-the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Surprising as this may seem to us, it would have been even more surprising for the host whom Jesus is addressing, for it was precisely such people whom a good Pharisee would consider not only unworthy but also religiously unclean. Thus Jesus is rejecting both social and religious convention. In today’s vocabulary, one could say that Jesus is telling his host to invite not the worthy, nor even the ‘worthy poor,’ but the unworthy, irreligious, sinful poor.”

[14] Green, Luke, 552-553. “Because invitations served as currency in the marketplace of prestige and power, there is nothing extraordinary or particularly objectionable to the inclusion of one’s social peers and family, persons from whom one could expect reciprocation. This is true, at least for those willing to work within the established world system Seen through Jesus’ eyes, however, orthodox conventions have as their consequence the exclusion of the poor; after all. for the social elite the poor are unhelpful in the business of parading and advancing one’s social position and, perhaps more importantly in the current co-text, the poor could not reciprocate. The Pharisees are thus portrayed as persons who exploit hospitality for self-serving agenda, and whose patterns of hospitality both secure their positions of dominance in their communities and insulate them from the needy.”

[15] Green, Luke, 550. “Second, central to the political stability of the Empire was the ethics of reciprocity, a gift-and-obligation system that tied every person, from the emperor in Rome to the child in the most distance province, into an intricate web of social relations. Apart from certain relations within the family unit and discussions of ideal friendship, gifts, by unwritten definition, were never ‘free,’ but were given and received with either explicit or implicit strings attached, Expectations of reciprocity were naturally extended to the table: To accept an invitation was to obligate oneself to extend a comparable one, a practice that circumscribed the list of those to whom one might extend an invitation.”

[16] Cardenal, Solentiname, 354. “I: ‘Jesus advises them to break with their families, with their circle of rich people, with their class. And the fact that they invite the poor to the party means that the poor stop being poor, and that in society everything is shared equally: health, clothing, culture. Because a party with crippled, sick, ignorant people isn’t a very good party.’”

[17] Green, Luke, 553. “Jesus’ message overturns such preoccupations, presenting ‘the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind’ – notable examples of those relegated to low status, marginalized according to normal canons of status honor in the Mediterranean world-as persons to be numbered among one’s table intimates and, by analogy, among the people of God.”

[18] Green, Luke, 553-554. “According to Jesus, the state of blessedness resides in the fact that one has given without expectation (or hope!) of return. It is true that, according to v 14b, blessedness will take the eschatological form of divine ‘repayment,’ but Jesus does not advise people to engage in guileless generosity in order that one might receive divine benefaction. Luke has already established that human generosity flows from an appreciation of the expansive mercy of God (6:36); to this he now adds that genuine, uncalculating generosity toward those of low status will not go unrewarded.”

[19] Cardenal, Solentiname, 356. “I: ‘…. Justice is social justice and liberation; the unjust one is the oppressor, and the just one is the liberator. God is absolute justice; and his main attribute is that of the Just One: The one who punishes injustice, and the one who comes to the oppressed and listens to the cries of the poor, and the one who liberates. And the just are the ones who have struggled for the establishment of justice on earth. They are going to be resurrected, according to Jesus, and they are the ones who have given the party they’re talking about here, the sharing of joy and abundance in the world …. In the Bible, God is love, understanding love to be social justice, and to be joined to this love is to be alive forever. Jesus has begun by saying: When they invite you to a wedding party.’ And it’s because this great party of humanity of which we’ve talked will celebrate a wedding party with Love.’” And, Gonzalez, Luke, 180. “The reason not to invite those who are worthy is that they will probably repay you, and in that case all you have achieved is some social interchange. The reason to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind is precisely that they cannot repay you, and you can expect payment only at the final day, “at the resurrection of the righteous.’”

Released to Release

Sermon on Luke 13:10-17

Psalm 71:1-3 In you, God, have I taken refuge; let me never be ashamed. In your righteousness, deliver me and set me free; incline your ear to me and save me. Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe; you are my crag and my stronghold.

Introduction

Lately I’ve confessed that things are hard. Heavy. The air feels woven through with oppressiveness. The atmosphere feels perpetually charged to ignite in a full-scale world-encompassing explosion. Relationships feel strained and stretched beyond their elasticity. Work—in all its forms—feels like pushing against immovable boulders; running in place only to have my feet slip out from under me. Sloth beckons to me; lethargy threatens. I feel like I’m fighting against the wretched whispers of inner demons and monsters eager to remind me of my faults and failures. Even catching a breath or blocking out time for rest is work.

I think the worst of it is the solitary confinement into which my burdens drive me. I contemplate what I carry and keep it to myself; the burden becomes heavier, and I curve in on myself more and more and more. I convince myself that my burden is the worst and the heaviest; I’m the only one who is this perpetual beast of burden. But it’s a lie; a lie designed to suffocate me, to steal my power from me, to collapse me.

The reality is that we’re all carrying so much. And the other reality is that we are all trapped by the lie that the burden is ours and ours alone to carry and shoulder. And so, we begin to collapse into ourselves, and quietly succumb to the burden, and trudge along, day to day, collapsing a bit more with every step. Our heads droop low, eyes to the ground, will in service to the burden, ears clogged up with our desperate breathing, we can’t even see each other and we are more and more alone.

This cycle can’t break on its own; you can’t just shrug this off because you can’t moveout from underneath it. No one breaks out of this solitary confinement; they are released. Intervention by an other is necessary, an encounter with one who is outside of us but with us, who not only calls us by name but lifts our burdens from our exhausted, tired, and breaking backs.

Luke 13:10-17

Now, he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And, behold!, a woman having a spirit of sickness for eighteen year and she was completely bending forward and did not have the power to look up. And Jesus, after seeing her, summoned her to him and said to her, “Woman, you have been released of your sickness!” And he placed upon her [his] hands and instantly she was restored and she was glorifying God.[1]

(Luke 13:10-13)

This is one of my favorite stories in the gospel of Luke. Luke tells us that Jesus is in the synagogue teaching. Then, in the next breath, he says, Behold! A woman bent over from sickness for 18 years! The story telling here is perfect. Even in 2022, you turn and look: where? where is she? Your neck cranes, you want to see into this moment. You want to see her, you want to see what Jesus sees. There’s an intentionality[2] about the suddenness articulated by the “behold!” (ἰδοὺ). Jesus is teaching and then stops because something caught his eye. Those around him turn and try to see what he’s seeing. And he’s looking at this poor, lowly[3] woman who is bent over. And then he hollers at her, come here to me! She went from skirting about the fringe of the crowd unnoticed to front and center; all eyes on her in the drama unfolding.[4]

Here Jesus suspends his intellectual endeavor and addresses real, tangible, material human need, and he does it in a way that brings it to the forefront of the crowd. He allows this woman’s suffering not only to enter the teaching but to eclipse it.[5] And then, faster than a blink of an eye, her burden is more important to Jesus than even the law. It’s the sabbath, and without missing a beat, Jesus lays hands on her and liberates her. While everyone else ignored her—in the name of tradition and law and religiosity and hyper-legislation[6]—he sees her and her burden,and he does something about it.[7] He lays his hands on her and releases her; this is the liberation of the captives so proclaimed by the Christ in his teaching and preaching.[8]

In this way, Jesus extinguishes the notion that liberation is only an intellectual or spiritual experience and anchors release in the material realm while also demonstrating the law is in service to the people and not the people in service to the law.[9] She, a daughter of Abraham, was more important than a donkey and thus the law is pushed aside for her, too.

And her response? It’s the one thing you should do on the sabbath: praise God. This woman—going about her business in her socially defined place on the fringe—becomes the central example of right worship (orthodoxy) of God: release unto praise. It’s not right instruction, not right rules, not right obedience that is the principal formation of our right worship of God it’s liberation unto praise. It’s when we liberate each other—in real time, in real material, in real life—that brings praise unto God. This is orthodoxy: where life and love, liberty and loosing are given to those deprived of such things. We are released to release others; in this way God’s kingdom comes[10] and God’s will is done and God’s name is hallowed.

Conclusion

Back to the introduction. It’s a dastardly thought to believe we carry our loads and burdens alone, by ourselves. One of the great myths of American culture is that we build ourselves by ourselves. In believing we build ourselves by ourselves, we also believe that we solve our problems alone, carry our burdens alone, trudge along alone. And, thus, in creeps more and more and more isolation and solitary confinement. Then, we build systems off of this conception of autonomy—both “secular” and “religious”.

Sadly, the Christian Church is implicated here. Too many people feel they must be strong, successful, neat, clean, tidy, conforming, fitting in, together, healthy to enter these doors. We don’t want to share our needs and burdens for fear of becoming a need and a burden to someone else. And in communicating this, we tell those who don’t fit this neat and tidy and conforming mold to stay out. So, we zip up, pack up, shut up, close up, and piously puff up; but it’s a sham, the whole act is nothing but a sham.[11]

In this story, we must exist in the paradox that we are both the bent over woman and the hypocrites. We carry our burdens and burden others by perpetuating ideologies and systems that further our isolation and separation, that demand nothing more than a saccharine and shallow presence with others, and that contaminate the possibility of life and thriving. We are both complicit and captive here. We should see ourselves in both characters of the story: those who are in desperate need of healing, and those who say “you can heal on those other six days!”

There’s good news, because, as Jesus does, Jesus liberates us from our spiritual sicknesses and releases us from the burdens of our ideologies and common-sense conceptions of the world. In Christ, in our encounter with God in the event of faith, we are undemonized, we hear again that we are children of God, and we are liberated from the oppression of what we think should be and ushered into God’s reality where love, liberty, release, and solidarity with each other (in the good and bad, the lite and heavy) are the hallmarks of life.[12]

Beloved, you—the people of God—do not need to carry these burdens alone; there is no reward there, you will only lose everything and gain nothing. Beloved, be released from that bondage. And then go! Go and release others from their bondage simply by stepping close alongside them, walking in solidary with them. You’ll never be to heavy, you’re my beloved.


[1] Translation mine unless otherwise specified.

[2] Joel B. Green The Gospel of Luke The New International Commentary on the New Testament Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997. 522. “In fact, the verb Luke uses to describe her symptom, ‘bent over,’ portrays her physical appearance and serves as a metaphor for her ignominious social position. From this point of view, the otherwise unremarkable words, ‘there appeared a woman … Jesus saw her’ (vv 11-12), become significant indeed, for they portend the materialization of a person otherwise socially invisible.”

[3] Green, Luke, 519-520. “…it is significant that Luke presents this bent-over woman without reference to any credentials she might possess, as though in some sense she deserved having Jesus single her out for redemptive intervention. Quite the contrary, this woman is painted in lowly dress indeed, rendering all the more significant Jesus’ recognition of her as ‘daughter of Abraham.’”

[4] Green, Luke, 522-523. “Luke positions Jesus at the center of attention, not only for Luke’s audience but also and more importantly, by naming Jesus as the teacher, for the people gathered in the synagogue. When Jesus sees her, he does not go to her but calls her to him, thus inviting her to join him in front of those gathered and so to join him at the local point of this scene. Locating this woman of such low status thus is not unrelated to the healing moment, but is directly relevant as a symbolization her restoration within her community.”

[5] Justo L. Gonzalez Luke Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible Eds Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher. Louisville, KY: WJK, 2010. 173-174.

[6] Gonzalez, Luke, 174. “The point is that the woman cannot stand up straight, and that is demonic…With that woman there comes into the synagogue what we religious folk often try to forget: the reality of the power of evil, the reality of human suffering.”

[7] Gonzalez, Luke, 174. “It was the sabbath, and there in the synagogue was also Jesus, Lord of creation and Lord of the Sabbath. What will he do? On the one hand, in that woman’s suffering Satan himself confronts him. On the other, in the entire atmosphere around him, in the very law of Israel, in the leader of the synagogue, the weight of tradition seems to say that there is nothing to be done. Jesus faces the bent-over woman, oppressed by the weight of Satan himself. To her oppression of eighteen years the religious leaders would add another of umpteen centuries: It is the Sabbath! It is a day for religious matters! Jesus saw the woman, and he called her, and he spoke to her, and he laid his hands on her, and immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.”

[8] Green, Luke, 520-521. “There, when teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath, Jesus proclaimed ‘good news to the poor,’ ‘the good news of the kingdom of God’ (see above on 4:18-19, 43-44). Recalling that well-established script, we may assume that Luke has chosen at this fresh point of departure in the narrative to remind us of the central concerns of Jesus’ ministry and, thus, to present Jesus engaged in the characteristic activity by means of which he fulfills his divine mission.”

[9] Green, Luke, 525. “Jesus’ view led him to regard today, this day, even a Sabbath day, as the right time for the redemptive purpose of God to be realized. In the end, then, the fundamental issue at work in this scene is the divine legitimation of the character of Jesus’ mission-liberation and restoration for such poor persons as this woman of lowly status, through which activity he renders present the dominion of God in the present.”

[10] Green, Luke, 519. “This way of construing the importance of this episode within its larger text is dependent on our recognizing in Luke’s scene a single, integrated account; whose focal point is not the controversy between the ruler of the synagogue and Jesus (i.e., vv 14-16) but Jesus’ encounter with this woman, his ensuing interpretation of her liberation as a necessary manifestation of the divine will, an outworking of the presence of the kingdom, on this day, the Sabbath. That is, the intrusion of the indignant synagogue ruler into Jesus’ encounter with the woman bent over (v 14) provides Jesus the opportunity to interpret that healing as a fulfillment of God’s purpose and, thus, of Jesus’ mission (vv 15-21).”

[11] Green, Luke, 524. “From this exegesis of the Deuteronomic law and contemporary practices based on it. Jesus is able to expose the ruler of the synagogue and those who think as he does as ‘hypocrites’– that is, as persons who do not understand God’s purpose, who therefore are unable to discern accurately the meaning of the Scriptures, and. therefore. Whose piety is a sham.”

[12] Green, Luke, 525-526. “In the present case, indeed, the contrast between how she is presented and what she receives could hardly be more stark. She is bent over in a shameful position, demonized; this is a daughter of Abraham? Hers was no position of honor, but through Jesus’ gracious ministry she is fully restored as a member of the community, She and other children of Abraham in the Lukan narrative evidence how God’s promise to Abraham is fulfilled through the activity of Jesus and how the recipients of liberation through Jesus’ ministry are thus confirmed as Abraham’s children.”

Divine Division, Divine Solidarity

Sermon on Luke 12:49-56

Psalm 80:1-2, 18 Hear, O Shepherd of Israel, leading Joseph like a flock; shine forth, you [who] are enthroned upon the cherubim. In the presence of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh, stir up your strength and come to help us. Restore us, God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

Introduction

When I became Christian I received a real and living peace. But it wasn’t a peace external to my person and body in the world; it was a peace within. When I encountered God in the event of faith, something clicked into place, aligned in such a way that all the grooves and notches lined up right, my inner river began flowing as water does when unimpeded by obstacles. But on the outside, things took on a level of friction that wasn’t there before.

Even though my internal life was aligned resting in peace, my external life suffered misalignment. What used to work for me, stopped working for me. What was fine before, wasn’t fine anymore. What I dismissed or ignored, I saw. What never bothered me, provoked my empathy like a knife to the heart.

I could get off the PATH train and walk the pedestrian tunnels leading to the streets and not think twice of the house-less human beings lined along the walls in the warmth of those tunnels on a winter morning. But after encountering God? I couldn’t not notice; I couldn’t not see the profundity of our shared humanity. I could make a lot of money, dine and shop with the best of them. But after encountering God, it all felt wasted and pointless, wasn’t there something more to life? There were questions I refused to ask, that I pushed down, that I muffled and ignored; but after? They boiled and bubbled to the surface taking their worded revenge on my mind and heart and soul. The law was just me being nice…occasionally. In God? The law became something heavy, tattooed on my heart, there was more I could do, more I could give, more I could study, more I could read.

You see, while my internal life aligned and I rested my head and sleep at night, my external existential existence grew more challenging as a result of encountering God in the event of faith. Jesus changed my life; Jesus is changing my life; Jesus will change my life. I can’t go back to being fine with things the way they were, the status quo; I have no choice but to turn and walk against the crowd and not for my own self-righteousness sake but for the beloved of God.

Luke 12:49-56

“I came in order to bring fire upon the earth, and I desire that it were already kindled! Now, I have a baptism to be baptized, and how I am afflicted (unto sickness) until it may be accomplished! Do you have the opinion that I came on the scene to offer peace on earth?  Not at all, I say to you; but rather a dissension. For there will be at this very time five in one household divided up into parts, three against two and two against three.” [1]

Luke 12:49-52

In this moment, Luke captures Jesus appearing contrary to common presentations of Jesus, even within Luke’s narrative. However, considering the thrust of chapter 12, there’s a strong uniting theme of crisis in divine encounter; not just a future forward event, but a here and now of the crisis caused by divine coming.[2] Jesus speaks of fire and baptism and the misguided assumption[3] that he was meant to bring peace on earth. All of this imagery speaks of a refining of those encountered by God in the event of faith.

Jesus corrects the assumption that if one decides to follow him, all will be well. Nuh uh, says Jesus. Think again. To follow Jesus adhering to his conception of what it means to be of God in the world will demand (nearly perpetual) confrontation and division with those whom you know who follow the status quo of the world and the kingdoms of humanity; even family.[4]

In a culture that not only supports but depends on a specific family structure (socially and religiously), Jesus informs the crowd that not even this institution is safe from divine strife and division and derision when it comes to solidarity with God.[5] In fact, it’s to be expected.

Division wrought by divine hand isn’t antithetical to the mission of mercy and justice in the world. It isn’t even antithetical to divine peace, even though, yes, Jesus says he’s come not to bring peace on earth. Jesus, God of very God, came to break up archaic, fractured, decaying, death dealing systems built and propped up by human hands. Thus, it’s not only the largess of the temple that is under fire, but also the fundamental building block of this socio-religious context: the family.[6] As people are set aright on the path of God, they are bound to…nay…they will participate[7] in the divine mission of mercy and grace and love and peace in the world for those who aren’t the privileged, powerful, elite, or those who are righteous according to the standard of the world. This means they will begin to reject the traditions and ideologies they were raised with, go against the grain[8] and, thusly, strife hits home.[9]

How is this division and dissension the means by which Jesus brings peace and justice and mercy and love and grace? It does this because it brings cool water to those little ones who are most thirsty. Because it brings revolutionary verve and life-giving liberation by pronouncing divine peace to those who are deprived of peace, love to those who are deprived of love grace to those who are deprived of grace, mercy to those who are deprived of mercy, life to those who are deprived of life…and so on. And once the captives are liberated, the captor is liberated, and therein is peace…true, divine, existential—in the fullest sense of the word—peace

Thus, Jesus exhorts the crowds to watch because they aren’t watching well enough. They see signs about hot winds and storms, but cannot see that the division following in Jesus’s wake is the judgment of God on the status quo[10] of human kingdoms bent on death and destruction, capitalizing on human bodies and lives.[11] This truly is a Lukan version of the divine Shema O Israel! Hear, O people of God look and see! God draws nigh!

Conclusion

To have peace with God is to have your inner life aligned to that which brings life and mercy and grace and love. The encounter with God in the event of faith in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit brings us out of our dead selves and rebirths us into our alive selves, those who see the world, feel its pain, carry its sorrow, celebrate its joy, and grieve its disasters and terrors. All the while never losing yourself into it. In this way is the peace of God surpassing all understanding, we become living and present participants of the divine mission of liberation to the captives in the world. Feelings all the feels and still getting up every morning because God’s mercies are new every morning. In our encounter with God in the event of faith in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit we are restored unto the light of God’s countenance, saved from the prison almighty king of autonomy and selfishism, and ushered into sharing that light.

But this doesn’t mean our journeys through the world will be easy, that our lives will burst forth with prosperity, that everything will come up roses and will go swimmingly for us. You can’t see and feel and sense the pain of others and not be impacted; you can’t see and feel and sense the pain of others and not say something, do something, change something and have it go completely unnoticed by the rest of your community who is doing things the old way, accepting what is as is, going along with culturally defined contextual reason. At least that has been my experience; and I wouldn’t change one iota of it. Divine solidarity with humanity and God wrought by divine division brought by love and mercy and grace means I’m on the side of God.

To follow Christ out of the Jordan to the cross means dying deaths all along the way: deaths of the self, deaths of toxic ideologies and worldviews, deaths of relationships. These deaths are not because you are so awesome or you follow God’s law perfectly or keep your self clean and pure from the rabble. You’ll suffer these deaths because you dare to love those whom the world deems unlovable, you will suffer these deaths because you dare to ally with those who are fighting for their right to live and breathe, who desire to exist as they are in their beloved beautiful bodies, who must resist power threatening life, survival, and thriving.

And in all of it, we go it not alone and of our own power, but we walk with Christ who stands in solidarity with us, who dies with us, and with whom and in whom we are resurrected. Therefore…Dare to love, Beloved, as you’ve been so loved by God.


[1] Translation mine unless otherwise noted

[2] Joel B. Green The Gospel of Luke The New International Commentary on the New Testament Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997. 508. “Assuming coherence, then, we should inquire into how this material advances the overarching theme of vigilance in the face of eschatological crisis. This is not a difficult task. The immediately preceding discourse section had drawn to a close with a primary focus on the basis of future judgment in present watchfulness and fidelity. From those images of future judgment, Jesus now tums to the reality of judgment already at work in his ministry.”

[3] Green, Luke, 510. “How can this be? Jesus’ question, ‘Do you think I have come to bring peace?’ underscores Jesus’ awareness that the presence of division and judgment will, for many, stand in stark contrast to what might have been expected of the divine intervention.”

[4] Green, Luke, 509. “As his present discourse, begun in 12:1, has already made clear, a decision to adopt his canons of faithfulness to God would require a deeply rooted and pervasive transformation of how one understands God and how one understands the transformation of the world purposed by this God. This would involve Jesus’ disciples in dispositions and forms of behavior that could only be regarded as deviant within their kin groups. Earlier Jesus had been concerned to prepare his disciples tor the persecution before the authorities that would result from identification with his mission (vv 1-12); now he maintains that his ministry has as one of its consequences the deconstruction of conventional family bonds.” So long Jesus of the “family values” variety

[5] Green, Luke, 509. “This message potentially serves an important apologetic function in community definition. Within a culture wherein kinship ties played so crucial a socio-religious role, a message such as this one might well be suspect. How could a ministry the effects of which include the dissolution of family ties be sanctioned by God? Jesus posits just such divisions not only as a legitimate consequence of his mission but as confirmation that he is caving out a divine charge.”

[6] Green, Luke, 510. “Again, the choice of the verb, ‘to complete,’ conveys the idea that Jesus is concerned in this co-text to stress the divine nature of his charge. Judgment, from this perspective. Is not a surprising consequence of his ministry and is not a contradiction of his mission; rather, it is integral to it. He had come as God’s representative to bring division, so the dissolution of family bonds (which, in the Lukan narrative, has as its consequence the formation of a new kinship group around Jesus) should be taken as confirmation that he is God’s agent and that he is bringing to fruition the purpose of God. Jesus’ phrase ‘from now on’ further locates the significance of the division Jesus describes within the interpretive framework of his mission; it is from this statement of his divine charge that division within families will take its meaning.”

[7] Justo L. Gonzalez Luke Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible Eds Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher. Louisville, KY: WJK, 2010. 168. “This passage is the first of three sections that are apparently disjointed (vv. 49-53, 54-56, and 57-59). What holds them together is the theme of eschatological expectation, and how it must impact the Life of believers in the present. Eschatological hope is not just a matter for the future. If we really expect the future we claim to await, this should have an impact on the way we live in the present.”

[8] Gonzalez, Luke, 168. “Those servants who know what their master wishes will act differently than the rest. This will cause stress and division. It is as if in a parade some begin marching to a different tune. The rest-those who march to the common tune-will accuse them of upsetting the parade, and will seek to suppress or oust them.”

[9] Green, Luke, 511. “Thus, for example, Jesus’ communication of peace to the sinful woman from the city is accompanied by disapproval from his table companions (7:36-50). As Luke has continually shown and as Jesus has endeavored to teach his followers, the realization of God’s purpose will engender opposition from those who serve a contrary aim.”

[10] Gonzalez, Luke, 168-169. “The eschatological emphasis of the entire section now leads to warnings. The servants know that the master is coming. We know that the future belongs to the reign of God. But, given the potential cost, it is not surprising that we are strongly tempted not to see the signs of the new time that is emerging. To forecast the weather, one looks at the clouds and the wind. The same should be possible by looking at the signs of ‘the present time.’ There is a new order coming! But people refuse to see it, and seek to continue life as if nothing were happening. Hypocritically, although we know what the master wants. we find all sorts of reasons to continue living as if the present order were permanent. We all stand accused and are on our way to trial. We can continue insisting on our innocence, and face the judge and the ensuing penalty, or settle matters with our accuser before the time of trial.”

[11] Green, Luke, 511-512. “Jesus plainly regards the crowds not as deceivers or phonies but as people who ‘do not know.’ His question, then, is not why they say one thing and do another, but why they have joined the Pharisees… in Living lives that are not determined by God. Misdirected in their fundamental understanding of God’s purpose, they are incapable of discerning the authentic meaning of the signs staring them in the face. What signs are these? Others have been noted previously (cf. 7:21-22; 11:20, 29-32); here, the sign requiring interpretation is the reality of family division-itself a manifestation of Jesus’ divine mission and a portent of coming judgment.”

One Who Caused Mercy

Sermon on Luke 10:25-37

Psalm 25:7-9 Gracious and upright is God; therefore God teaches sinners in God’s way. God guides the humble in doing right and teaches God’s way to the lowly. All the paths of God are love and faithfulness to those who keep God’s covenant and testimonies.

Introduction

Mercy seems lacking at many twists and turns of life. Mercy nearly feels out of place as a characteristic. It’s got that distant vibe of something that once was but isn’t anymore; it’s gone archaic, become a relic of ages past, no longer a functional aspect of our modern human society, something we’ve evolved out of. Mercy feels out of reach, like grasping oil with the hand; like something slippery, of divine substance locked in noncorporeal estates of spiritual realms.

When was the last time you experienced mercy? When was the last time you acted merciful?

The tragic thing about our distance from mercy is that it’s an exceptionally human characteristic and action. It doesn’t exist in our world if it’s not performed. Mercy, simply, is not getting what one deserves to get, most often in terms of punishment and consequences. Mercy is an action, a definite and precise action of refusing to condemn another’s actions. It’s the opposite of revenge. Mercy is born from compassion; when extended, mercy turns into forgiveness. All of this of the human realm.

Mercy doesn’t exist in nature. Nature is beautiful and majestic, it’s worthy of honor and respect, care and love. But merciful? Nope. Nature’s laws work themselves out as they will, irrespective of persons. For mercy to exist and be experienced, it must be brought into the world from one person to another; no one stumbles into a pool of mercy. We receive it; from my hand to yours or your hand to mine. Even in the presence of the law, mercy exists, because law serves love and love serves the neighbor and therein is mercy.

It’s an essential element of the fabric of thriving human community. Without mercy, the other will grow more and more into a threat. In an environment and atmosphere where everyone one must fight for their own, claw their way to survive, and be wary of all dangers, mercy cannot exist. It will be suffocated and strangled; for lack of air and light, it will cease to grow. Sadly, that community will cease to be justifiably described as human. Where mercy is lacking, love is lacking, and where there is no love there cannot be human life.

Luke 10:25-37

Now, wanting to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” … [Jesus asked the lawyer] “Which of these three it seems to you has become a neighbor of the one who fell in with the robbers?” And [the lawyer] said, “The one who caused mercy with him.” And Jesus said to him, “You go and you, you do likewise.” [1]

(Luke 10:29, 36-37)

Our gospel passage is quite familiar to us. One so familiar it warrants pause and reflection. I think we might be missing something crucial in the parable if we don’t slow down. Believe it or not, it’s these parables of Jesus that simultaneously define and substantiate the life and presence of the church; and continue to do so if we listen today.

So, Luke, the master story-teller, sets the scene: Jesus is approached by a lawyer-priest[2] who wishes to test Jesus. What must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus responds, In the law, what is written? How do you read it? I imagine Jesus smiled, loving him, knowing full well the intention of the lawyer-priest. All teachers of God’s word should be tested. I think we read into this moment our obsession with hierarchy and silent compliant obedience. There’s actually nothing wrong with this exchange; there’s nothing wrong with Jesus being tested. The only risk here is that the one testing may find themselves failing their own test.[3]

The lawyer-priest’s answer to Jesus summarized the law: love God with your entire self and your neighbor as yourself. So far so good. You answered rightly; do this and you will live, says Jesus. But then, the lawyer-priests shifts gears[4]—wishing to justify himself—and asks Jesus, annnnnnd who is my neighbor? Again, I imagine Jesus loved him and smiled in a way that spoke to an oncoming encounter with God.

Jesus proceeds to lead the lawyer-priest to the answer by telling a story about an unknown[5] man who fell in among robbers, was beaten, stripped of his clothing, and left for dead (ἀφέντες ἡμιθανῆ). Then, a priest walks by and seeing the man left half-dead on the road passes by on the other side (ἀντιπαρῆλθεν) of the road. Later, a Levite does the same thing. Then a Samaritan comes along, sees the man, and felt compassion (ἐσπλαγχνίσθη) and went toward (προσελθὼν) him with the intent to minister to his wounds and generously care for him. Jesus stops and asks the lawyer-priest, Which of these three it seems to you has become a neighbor of the one who fell in among the robbers? And everything changes.

The lawyer-priest is cornered and must answer: the one who caused mercy with him. In a beautiful and stunning way, the lawyer-priest is forced to confess that his conception of what defines a neighbor is painfully narrow: neighbor isn’t geographically defined, isn’t defined by agreement of interpretation of God,[6] but by love and mercy.[7] It’s compassion that makes the Samaritan stand out; had he just passed by his Samaritanness would’ve meant nothing.[8]

Again, I’m compelled to point out that it’s not that the lawyer-priest is confessing that the Samaritan correctly identified that the half-dead man was his neighbor (this is how we normally interpret this parable). It is not that we recognize others as neighbors, but that we act neighborly.[9] Thus, Jesus’s injunction at the end to go and do likewise isn’t a throw-away mandate, but rather this: the one who acts as a neighbor loves the neighbor by showing mercy and thus loves God. This is the point of the law, in other words.

This is the point of the parable: one cannot love God and cross by on the other side of the road while someone lies half dead in the gutter.[10] You might be able to recite the law and believe it, but if you can cross by and ignore someone who is suffering, well then…it begs the question. Love of God and love of neighbor knows no boundaries[11] when it’s you charged with the love of God to act neighborly.[12] Mercy creates neighbors and is the evidence of love for God.[13]

Conclusion

Whether or not this lawyer-priest rejected this premise or agreed to it is uncertain; but one thing is: he couldn’t leave that moment unchanged.[14] Neither are we left the same. The lure of the parable is to reconsider yourself: are you merciful? And, the harder question: do you love God? You can come here and worship all day long; you can sequester yourself in retreat upon retreat, covered deep in silence and prayer, but if you do nothing out of mercy, out of love, then you do not love God. You can know all the dogma and doctrine well, but if you have not love, you are just a clanging gong, says Paul. You can wear all the fancy robes, light every candle, and say the eucharist, but if you have not mercy for others who are suffering, you serve yourself and not God.

If you never step foot in a church, and you express mercy and compassion with those who suffer, you love God. [15] You can deny God’s very existence and yet that you love and have mercy on your neighbor makes you that much closer to God than those who claim to love God but hate their neighbor.[16] Why dare I say this? Because God is love. To love and have mercy for and with others is evidence of God and God’s spirit living in the world, even more so than any stone building or wood table.

God is the force and thrust of love and mercy in a world that is bent in on itself, a world dying for its own insatiable desire to feed its ego, a world killing itself because it believed the lie that it has no purpose. God is the force and thrust of love and mercy in cacophonous noise of humans clamoring for more isolation and exclusion, more me and mine, more death and destruction. That love and mercy might still yet exist means God is alive.

Please remember this, beloved, God is not dead; we are. But, also, hear this: our hope rests in the mercy and compassion of the One who raises the dead into new life. This hope, this claim is our religion,[17] our story, our myth; dare we believe it? Dare we follow this God, this Jesus the Christ of Nazareth who brings mercy and compassion so close to us, we’re not only bathed in it but it recreated by it? Dare we live like this God is real? I hope so; too many people are dying in the streets as we walk by on the other side.

God have mercy. May we have mercy, too.


[1] Translation mine unless otherwise noted.

[2] Joel B. Green The Gospel of Luke The New International Commentary on the New Testament Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997. 427. “When it is recalled that priests functioned as experts on the law when not performing their priestly duties at the temple, this adds to the drama of the unfolding encounter – not least since the ensuing parable will have as one of its primary characters a priest returning from duty at the temple (v 31). That is, within the socio-historical context imagined by the narrative, the identification of this lawyer and the temple staff of the parable may be more immediate than normally thought.”

[3] Ernesto Cardenal The Gospel in Solentiname Trans. Donald D. Walsh. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2010. 332. “LAUREANO: ‘In trying to catch Jesus in a trap, he was the one who fell into the trap. Jesus makes him say things he doesn’t do.’”

[4] Justo L. Gonzalez Luke Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible Eds Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher. Louisville, KY: WJK, 2010. 138. “He uses theological debate as a means to avoid obedience. Just as it is possible for a church body to postpone decision by referring matters to committees, so is it possible for a church and for individuals to postpone obedience by seeking further clarification. Quite often, what the Lord requires is clear; but the cost is also clear, and so we ask more and more questions.”

[5] Green, Luke, 429. “The choice of opening, ‘a certain man,’ constitutes a powerful rhetorical move on Jesus’ part. In light of the debate surrounding the reach of love, grounded in how one reads Leviticus 19, the impossibility of classifying this person as either friend or foe immediately subverts any interest in questions of this nature. Stripped of his clothes and left half-dead, the man’s anonymity throughout the story is insured; he is simply a human being, a neighbor, in need.”

[6] Gonzalez, Luke, 139. “The first is that the exclusion of the Samaritan is not only racial or ethnic. It is also religious. From the point of view of the Jewish doctor of the law, the Samaritan was a heretic, one who did not serve God properly. …Now it is the Samaritan heretic who is the obedient servant of God. Thus the parable has much to say about recognizing the action of God in those whose theology we may find faulty-in itself a very valuable lesson in these times of theological ad political polarization.”

[7] Cardenal, Solentiname, 332, 333. “OLIVIA: ‘Your neighbors are all of humanity, that’s what that fellow didn’t know, that his neighbors were everybody.’” And “OLIVIA: “He gave him as an example a person of another race and another religion so we can know that everybody is a neighbor. He gave as an example one who wasn’t a neighbor but just the opposite, an enemy.’”

[8] Green, Luke, 431. “As a result, what distinguishes this traveler from the other two is not fundamentally that they are Jews and he is a Samaritan, nor is it that they had high status as religious functionaries and he does not. What individualizes him is his compassion, leading to action, in the face of their inaction. Having established this point of distinction, his status in comparison with theirs becomes shockingly relevant, for it throws into sharp relief the virtue of his response. For the same reason, his actions condemn their failure to act. Unlike them, he has compassion. and this is the turning point not only of his encounter with the wounded man but, indeed, of this entire narrative unit (vv 25-37). The Samaritan, then, participates in the compassion and covenantal faithfulness of God, who sees and responds with salvific care. The parable of the compassionate Samaritan thus undermines the determination of status in the community of God’s people on the basis of ascription, substituting in its place its place a concern with performance, the granting of status on the basis of one’s actions.”

[9] Gonzalez, Luke, 139-140. “The second is that Jesus’ question at the end is not, as one might expect, who realized that the man by the roadside was a neighbor, but rather which of the three who went by was a neighbor to the man by the roadside. If that is the question, Jesus’ final injunction to the lawyer, ‘Go and do likewise,’ does not simply mean, go and act in love to your neighbor, but rather, go and become a neighbor to those in need, no matter how alien they may be. It : is not just a matter of loving and serving those who are near us (which is what ‘neighbor’ means) but also of drawing near to those who for whatever reason— racial, ethnic, theological, political-may seem to be alien to us.”

[10] Green Luke 425-426. “That the practice of God’s word is the unit is obvious from the repetition and placement of the verb ‘to do.’ The lawyer inquires, ‘What must I do?’; following their exchange, Jesus responds, ‘Do this’ (v 25, 28). In this way the first segment of this unit…is bound together with references to praxis. The question of the identity of one’s neighbor leads into a further exploration of appropriate behavior, however, with the conclusion drawn by the lawyer himself. The one who was a neighbor, he acknowledges, is ‘the one who did mercy’. Jesus responds, ‘Do likewise” (v 37). Jesus’ closing words, then, do not summarize the parable of the compassionate Samaritan (as though the purpose of the parable were to present a moral obligation to act in such-and-such a way). Rather, they return to the original question of the lawyer ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ The parable thus serves a hermeneutical function. It interprets the summation of the law provided by the legal expert.”

[11] Green, Luke, 426. “By the end of the story, Jesus has transformed the focus of the original question; in fact, Jesus’ apparent attempt to answer the lawyer’s question turns out to be a negation of that question’s premise. Neighbor love knows no boundaries.”

[12] Cardenal, Solentiname, 333. “FELIPE: “It seems that instead it’s the one who serves that’s the neighbor.’”

[13] Cardenal, Solentiname, 335. “ELVIS: ‘The fact is that in your neighbor there’s God. It’s not that love of God gets left out, it’s that those who love their neighbor are right there loving God.’”

[14] Green, Luke, 427. “In his Galilean ministry, Jesus had worked to exterminate those boundaries that predetermine human interaction; what was begun there will continue to characterize his message on the way to Jerusalem. His portrayal of a Samaritan as one who embodies the law, and whose comportment models the covenant faithfulness of God—and whose doing stands in sharp contradistinction to the practices of temple personnel on the road—serves this wider motif as it obliterates the construction of human existence sanctioned by the religious establishment in Jerusalem. Although Luke does not document the response of the lawyer, he nevertheless shows the degree to which his encounter with Jesus, if taken seriously, would destabilize the world of this lawyer and challenge him to embrace the new world propagated through Jesus’ ministry.”

[15] Cardenal, Solentiname, 334. “LAUREANO: ‘The people are the wounded man who’s bleeding to death on the highway. The religious people who are not impressed by the people’s problems are those two that were going to the temple to pray. The atheists who are revolutionaries are the good Samaritan of the parable, the good companion, the good comrade.’”

[16] Cardenal, Solentiname, 335-336. “That’s why Jesus somewhere else says that the second commandment is ‘like the first,’ and in this parable he shows that the two are fulfilled by fulfilling the second. And that’s why too, when the rich young man asks him what he should do to be saved, Jesus quotes to him the commandments about neighborly love, without mentioning the one about love of God.”

[17] Sölle, Bread Alone, 50. “Critics of religion (who at the same time must of necessity be critics of poesy, which portrays man’s search for the absolute) take their stand on their belief in progress. They believe that science will put an end to man’s countless and inexhaustible wishes because on the one hand it fulfills these wishes in a limited way, and on the other hand it also exposes them as illusions. The big question, however, is if it isn’t just the very fulfillment of some wishes and hopes that makes man’s thirst for a final fulfillment even greater. Indeed, research in the field of primitive religions and millennial movements teaches us that magical and real expectations continually evolve into wishes for emancipation from colonial rule and for a new identity, thirst for riches and justice, so that religious behavior cannot possibly be divided into spiritual and worldly components. A purely spiritual part is just as unthinkable as a purely materialistic part. Ultimately, the questions of religion which develop into complex religious systems in the so-called higher religions become increasingly more comprehensive, and the claim they make becomes increasingly absolute and incapable of earthly fulfillment.”

This Love and Life, Our Business

Sermon on Galatians 3:23-29

Psalm 43:5-6 Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul? and why are you so disquieted within me? Put your trust in God; for I will yet give thanks to God, who is the help of my countenance, and my Abba God. (44)

Introduction

In general, the essence and idea of law are neutral. Law should be just law. Laws of nature are true for everyone without exceptions and biases. Gravity works for me like it works for you; gravity isn’t spending a lot of time picking and choosing whom to hold to the earth and whom to let go. Same should be with the laws of society; law (in essence and idea) is neutral saying two things: you can do this and you cannot do that. You can drive this speed or you cannot, the risk is yours; a speed limit sign never issues a ticket and never says good job. Thus, there are implicit consequences of obeying or disobeying the law. In other words, drive this speed limit and you’ll go about your business with little interference from nature and its consequences; drive faster/slower than this speed limit and risk is yours to suffer. Do this and it goes well with you; don’t do this and it won’t go well for you.

Now: enter human arbiters of the law, and everything gets a bit more interesting. Our society needs law (in general) and laws (in specific) to function well because human beings are arbitrary creatures who might float away if left to their own devices. We need law and laws because we need to be reminded we don’t live here alone, there are others who share our space and deserve respect, honor, and dignity. So, in recognizing our need for law we’ve created systems upholding and enforcing the law and the laws of our society. As a result, the implicit consequences of the law are made explicit (reward and punishment). Sadly, the punishment is made explicit, while reward is kept implicit. Anyone here ever pulled over to be told: hey, good job driving 35 mph; you’re really living well today and plus you are saving sooooo much money on gas by driving sensibly, here’s a cookie!!

Law is important, yet, for humankind, we’ve grown misoriented toward the law. Because of law’s inherent goodness (creating order) and benign nature, the law has taken on a divine quality for us. Rather than seeing the law as a gift and tool for human beings to use to their advantage, for their livelihood, for their thriving together and individually, it’s become a thing that must be obeyed or suffer the harrowing consequences of infraction. In other words: we’ve forgotten the law was created for us, and are trapped by the myth we were created for the law. The law’s become God

So, we’re misoriented toward the law; we’ve put all our eggs in the law basket hoping it will save us from ourselves and from others. But it can’t; it can only say: do this/do not do that. We’ve put so much hope in law that we’re naïve to think that once we get a law down on the books, the work is now finished. We’ve invested so much in the law we’ve forgotten our own responsibility for ourselves and for others; we’ve handed our responsibility over to the law’s clergy and church: lawyers, judges, police, courtrooms and prisons. We’ve sold our bodies to the law; we’re now the law’s property. So, those who enforce the law can do whatever they need to do to ensure the law is upheld even take life. We’ve elevated the law above people; we set our sights on the law as the ultimate thing, rendering our neighbor as sacrifice to the law. We will even crucify God to uphold the law in the name or order.

Galatians 3:23-29

Now, before faith came, we were being kept (as by military guard)—being closed up—under the law with respect to the intending faith to be revealed. So then, the law was as our PEDAGOGUE until Christ has happened, in order that we might be declared righteous from faith. Now while faith came, we are no longer subordinated by the pedagogue. For you all are sharing in the same nature of God by means of faith in Christ Jesus. [1]

(Gal. 3:23-26)

According to Paul, the neutrality of the law is gone. The “do this” and “don’t do that” became condemnation to death rather than commendation to life.[2] Paul refers to the law as a “Pedagogue” (παιδαγωγός). This is no compliment. We see this word as “teacher”; but Paul’s usage is more like this: the person who needed to do whatever it took to make sure morals were cultivated in children.[3] Paul highlights that the law must do whatever it takes to ensure obedience; even if the law was given for life, it’s used for death because we can never keep it enough to avoid suffering consequences of disobedience. [4] Thus, the declaration of righteous as children of God is forever elusive; we’ll never obtain it through the law.[5]

For Paul, our relationship to the law is greatly disturbed; we’ve replaced our devotion to God with devotion to the law, demanding the law be something it isn’t…savior. Thus, our misalignment toward the law is only remedied by Christ Jesus, by whom the law is fulfilled[6] and in whom we have faith.[7] Through our relationship with Christ, our devotion to the law is broken because we’re realigned (rightly) to God through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

In this realignment to God through Christ by the Spirit (who is God’s spirit of love residing in us), our relationship to the law is restored to what it should be: a tool we use to make this world better and not worse for others and for ourselves (because we’re all one in Christ[8]). By the Spirit of love received through faith in Christ, we are rightly oriented to God, thus rightly oriented to our neighbor with love, and thus to the law.[9] The law serves love, and love serves the neighbor; this is our business. The law is no longer a threat but a tool; no longer about condemnation to death but commendation to life. [10] In with the Paraclete, out with the Pedagogue; in with the Spirit, out with the stones; in with life, out with death.

Conclusion

Russian author, Fyodor Dostoevsky, articulated the tragedy of our misalignment to the law perfectly in his brilliant novel, Crime and Punishment.[11] For our purposes, we are looking in on a fever dream the main character, Raskolnikov, has: A horse, yoked to a buggy, is commanded by her owner (Mikolka) to pull the buggy packed with many people. Mikolka demands the horse to move. The horse can’t, though it tried desperately. Mikolka grew angrier and the crowd more fevered.

Under the whipping, the horse struggled to obey; she couldn’t move the cart. Mikolka increased punishment to get obedience. The crowd (in and outside of the buggy) cheered Mikolka. The horse had very few advocates; one old man hollered at Mikolka, “‘What are you about, are you a Christian, you devil?’…” This question was met with further exhortation from the crowd for more severe beatings.

The horse tried to fight back by kicking, but her resistance was met with escalated punishment, “‘I’ll teach you to kick,’ Mikolka shouted ferociously. He threw down the whip, bent forward and picked up from the bottom of the cart a long, thick shaft, he took hold of one end with both hands and with an effort brandished it over the mare….‘It’s my property,’ shouted Mikolka and brought the shaft down with a swinging blow. There was a sound of heavy thud.”

Needless to say, the beating continued; no matter how severe the blow, the horse was unable to pull the buggy. She was exhausted; barely any fight left, no matter how hard she was hit she could not pull the buggy. Then,

“‘I’ll show you!…’ Mikolka screamed frantically; he threw down the shaft, stooped down in the cart and picked up an iron crowbar. ‘Look out,’ he shouted, and with all his might he dealt a stuffing blow at the poor mare. The blow fell; the mare staggered, sank back tried to pull, but the bar fell again with a swinging blow on her back and she fell on the ground like a log.”

Crime and Punishment

The poor horse had few advocates, just random voices hollering into the air; few tried to interfere. The mare was Mikolka’s property; he could do what he wanted. Yet in this story of a helpless beast, there was one little voice that not only hollered, a little body accompanied that little voice.

[a] boy, beside himself, made his way, screaming, through the crowd to the sorrel nag, put his arms around her bleeding dead head and kissed it, kissed the eyes and kissed the lips…Then he jumped up and flew in a frenzy with his little fists out at Mikolka. At that instant his father, who had been running after him, snatched him up and carried him out of the crowd.
‘Come along, come! Let us go home,’ he said to him.
‘Father! Why did they…kill…the poor horse?’ he sobbed, but his voice broke and the words came in shrieks from his panting chest.
‘They are drunk…they are brutal…it’s not our business!’ said the father.

Crime and Punishment

What the father forgot, the young boy remembered: serving love and protecting life is very much our business and not serving the law and allowing death. The law serves love, and love serves the neighbor; this is our business. Life—human life, animal life, all life—is always way more important than enforcing the law at the expense of life; we must make life our business and then the law, not the reverse.

Beloved, remember that the law was created for you, you weren’t created for the law. Remember whose you are: you are the children of God, if children of God then heirs of love and life, and if heirs then those who like their Abba God bring and proclaim love and life to others.


[1] Translation mine unless otherwise noted

[2] Martin Luther Lectures on Galatians (1535) Chapter 1-4 LW 26 Ed. Jaroslav Pelikan Assoc. Ed. Walter A. Hansen. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia, 1963. 335. “For the Law is a Word that shows life and drive us toward it. Therefore it was not given only for the sake of death. But this is its chief use and end: to reveal death, in order that the nature and enormity of sin might thus become apparent. it does not reveal death in a way that takes delight in it or that seeks to do nothing but kills us. No, it reveals death in order that men may be terrified and humbled and thus fear God.”

[3] Luther LW 26 336. “…before the time of the Gospel and of grace came, it was the function of the Law to keep us confined under it as though we were in prison.”

[4] Luther LW 26 335. “Therefore the function of the Law is only to kill, yet in such a way that God may be able to make alive. Thus the Law was not given merely for the sake of death; but because man is proud and supposes that he is wise, righteous, and holy, therefore it is necessary that he be humbled by the Law, in order that this beast, the presumption of righteousness, may be killed, since man cannot live unless it is killed.”

[5] Luther LW 26 336. “Such is the power of the Law and such is righteousness on the basis of the Law that it forces us to be outwardly good so long as it threatens transgressors with penalties and punishment. Then we comply with the Law out of fear of punishment, but we do so unwillingly and with great indignation. What kind of righteousness is that, if you refrain from evil because you are compelled by the threat of punishment.”

[6] Luther LW 26 347. “The Law is a custodian, not until some other lawgiver comes who demands good works, but until Christ comes, the Justifier and Savior, so that we may be justified through faith in Him, not through works.”

[7] Luther LW 26 343. “By faith in the Word of grace, therefore, the Christian should conquer fear, turn his eyes away form the time of Law, and gaze at Christ Himself and at the faith to come.”

[8] Luther LW 26 356. “In Christ…where there is no Law, there is no distinction among persons at all. there is neither Jew nor Greek, but all are one; for there is one body, one Spirit, one hope of the calling of all, one and the same Gospel, one faith, one Baptism, on God and Father of all, one Christ, and the Lord of all…”

[9] Luther LW 26 349. “Coming at a predetermined time, He truly abolished the entire Law. But now that the Law has been abolished, we are no longer held in custody under its tyranny; but we live securely and happily with Christ, who now reigns sweetly in us by His Spirit. But where the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Cor. 3:17).”

[10] Luther LW 26 352. “But to put on Christ according to the Gospel is a matter, not of imitation but of a new birth and a new creation, namely, that I put on Christ Himself, that is, His innocence, righteousness, wisdom, power, salvation, life, and Spirit…”

[11] The story is found on pages 48-53. All quotations are taken from this section.

The Peace of Justice

Sermon on Romans 5:1-5

Psalm 8:1-2 O God our Governor, how exalted is your Name in all the world! Out of the mouths of infants and children your majesty is praised above the heavens.

Introduction

I bet we confuse control for peace. I think we’re dead set on thinking security and protection will grant peace. I believe we’re gullible believing that calm and tranquil are synonymous with peace.

When I can control my environment, others, things, objects, I feel like things around me are calm. This feels like peace. But it’s not. Calm doesn’t mean peace. Control doesn’t mean peace. Things are just calm; I have control. But, again, that’s not peace. The kids aren’t fighting anymore because I exerted my authority and silenced them and now there’s calm. Yet, if you asked the rabble, I bet they’d narrate a different story. I can eliminate people from my life who cause me strife, I can go out into the woods, I can seclude myself from society and its ills, but that’s only control thus calm and not peace. Even if we say: ahhhh, how peaceful…. Doesn’t mean it’s the substance of peace; it only means we’ve forgotten what peace is.

Correlated to seeking peace by control, is our unhealthy desire for “security” and “protection.” Security and protection make us feel safe from external intrusions and threats. Safety produced this way brings the illusion of peace. This is true at the individual, state, and national levels. If I, the state, or the nation can ensure safety from the external threats by stock piling and threatening to use _________ (money, guns and other weapons, walls, fences, oppressive legal restraint, force, etc.), then it might feel “secure” and “protected” and “safe.” But, again, this sense is confused. If a person, a house, or a state uses mechanisms of fear and intimidation through power and authority, it might get some calm and even have control, but peace? Nope.

In fact, heavy-handed authority always foments anger and resentment; fear and intimidation always create oppression and isolation; anger and resentment blended with oppression and isolation is a deadly recipe for chaos and violence. The very thing security and protection aim for is missed. Always. You may have control, and you may have (momentary) calm, but peace? Nope.

The problem with confusing calm, control, security, and protection for peace is that calm, control, security, and protection are things created externally, thus always. If peace is never having any bad feelings or conflict, then you must always cut people and situations off as soon as they manifest unhappy feelings. If peace comes because you feel secure from outside threats, then you must always be alert, your security systems need to be updated frequently to handle increasing amounts of threats. If your peace comes from protection, then your guard can never be down. If your peace comes from being in control, then you must always be in control. If your peace comes from being threatening and intimidating, then you always have to threaten and intimidate. It becomes an endless cycle of more and more; the last I checked the relentless pursuit of more and more is not the definition of what it means to have peace.

“Peace” that’s patched together and fabricated from artificial means of control isn’t peace; it’s an illusion, it’s false, it’s a sham. Peace isn’t about controlling externals (through force or elimination), it isn’t about trying to bring bodies, houses, states, and nations into obedience by forcing them to conform to your will and control. Peace must reside first in the heart and mind and then radiates outward into the environment, carrying with it peace for others.

Romans 5:1-5

Therefore, being justified by means of faith we have peace in company with God by means of our Lord Jesus Christ and through whom we have obtained approach for faith in the grace into which we have stood and still stand and we boast on the basis of the hope of the glory of God…But, hope does not shame, because the love of God has been bestowed liberally in our hearts by means of the Holy Spirit being given to us.[1]

(Rom 5:1-2, 5)

It’s not surprising to see this short but profound statement about peace from Romans 5 on Trinity Sunday. For Paul, there is no peace, no shalom, that side-steps around God. Knowing the Hebrew scriptures like the back of his hand and knowing the divine commands, Paul is well acquainted with the peace of God which surpasses all worldly and human understanding.[2] To be sure, this isn’t peace that’s caused because God’s wrath has been appeased, or because you are now safe from hellfire and brimstone; that’s calm, not peace. When Paul declares that we have peace with God through our justification by faith in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit apart from works, it means that we’ve been made right with God, and this means we stand in and with God without disturbance.[3]

If your inner world is chaotic and disturbed,[4] it’ll never matter how secure your doors are and perimeter is, how tall and firm your walls and how barbed your fence, how big the figures in your checking and savings account, or how many weapons you have: there’s no peace because there will never be enough to be sure.

But if you’re sure on the inside, that’s a different story.

Peace is getting to be you, loved as you are, and exhorted to love as you’ve been loved. When God is encountered and this reality in Christ is believed, then your inner world aligns by the presence of the Spirit: no longer do you need to run to make yourself invincible, no longer do you need to deny to remain innocent, no longer do you need to be afraid of being wrong for fear of being bad, no longer do you need to withhold mercy and forgiveness so as not to lose yourself. You don’t need to do these things because you know who you are: a beloved child of God.

We are loved by God who is love, this is made known to us in the proclamation of Christ Jesus who causes us come face to face with the reality of God’s love incarnate and also shows us how to love like God, and then the Spirit takes over our hearts and minds yoking us forever to God’s love, causing us to love that which and those whom God loves. [5] This is the triune mystery that is our reality. [6] This Triune affair is why no one and no thing can ever sever you from God and God’s love; this triune affair is why we get to participate in the perpetual illumination of the world with God’s divine revolution of love and peace.

Conclusion

Prof. Ada Maria Isazi-Diaz says that the embodiment of God’s message of no greater love “…is not a matter of dying for someone else but a matter of not allowing someone else to die…For [the Madres Cristianas] ‘no greater love’ is nothing but the justice-demand that is a constitutive element of the gospel message.” [7] God’s love is oriented toward justice; thus, so is God’s peace. It is only through justice for all, we’ll have real peace, shalom.

Peace always starts with us, with our hearts and minds, with our bodies and presence. Peace is not that which I fabricate by excessive control of other people or my space. Rather, peace, like love, is that which I bring with me (to others) being at peace with God and with myself. If I’m consumed with fear, I cannot bring peace to others. If I’m consumed with threats, I cannot bring peace to others. If I’m desperate to protect myself and feel secure, to be calm and comfortable then I cannot bring peace to others; I will always see others as a threat to my safety, security, protection, calm, and comfort.

Our world is in a desperate state; discourse reveals an intense desire to protect and secure ourselves and those whom we love from the very present threats of death, from the storms of violence and chaos, from the sinkhole of despair. I promise you that more “protection” and “security”, more “control” of others and spaces isn’t the answer. If it is our answer, we’ll head into more chaos and violence, more death and despair. We can’t put our hope in various forms of metal, wood, and stone.

I can tell you that I truly believe the peace, shalom, of God’s love embodied by Jesus and given by the Holy Spirit with and within us is the better answer, the better way to life. God’s love and peace bring justice, because God’s love and peace are merciful, forgiving, steadfast and patient, slow to anger and quick to love, eager to liberate, bring equality, bestow life, and create fertile ground encouraging people to grow and thrive. God’s love and peace never bring deprivation and intimidation, exclusion and isolation, fear and threats; rather God’s love and peace turn swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (Jn 14:27, NRSVUE). Beloved, never forget God’s Spirit of love and peace lives in you, is with you, and goes before you; you’re never alone, never forsaken, never without hope. And be at peace with God, with yourselves, and with each other, and spread peace and love wherever you go and to all whom you meet.


[1] Translation mine unless otherwise noted.

[2] Martin Luther Lectures on Romans: Glosses and Scholia (1515/1516) LW 25 Ed. Hilton C. Oswald. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia, 1972. “THIS is the spiritual peace of which all the prophets sing. And because this is the case, he adds the words with God.”

[3] Luther Romans LW 25, 285. “And this is the real peace of conscience and trust in God. Just as on the contrary a spiritual disturbance is the lack of a quiet conscience and a mistrust of God.”

[4] Luther Romans LW 25, 285-286. “But note how the apostle places this spiritual peace only after righteousness has preceded it. For first he says, ‘since we are justified (iustificati) by faith,’ and then, ‘we have peace…’ And here the perversity of men seeks peace before righteousness, for this reason they do not find peace. Thus the apostle creates a very fine antithesis in these words…”

[5] Luther Romans LW 25, 294. “It is called ‘God’s love’ because by it we love god alone, where nothing is visible, nothing experiential, either inwardly or outwardly, in which we can trust or which is to be loved or feared; but it is carried away beyond all things into the invisible God, who cannot be experienced, who cannot be comprehended, that is, in to the midst of the shadows, not knowing what it loves, only knowing what it does not love; turning away from everything which it has known and experienced, and desiring only that which it has not yet known…”

[6] Luther Romans LW 25, 296. love through the HS “For it is not enough to have the gift unless the giver also be present…”

[7] Ada Maria Isazi-Diaz Mujerista Theology: A Theology for the Twenty-First Century. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1996. 106.

Who You Ask

The gospel isn’t political; it’s a missive
carrying divine words transmissive —
addressing the sinful state of humanity
deserving refusal of heaven’s eternity.

“If I could recollect before my hood days
I sit and reminisce, thinkin’ of bliss and the good days
I stop and stare at the younger
My heart goes to ’em, they tested with stress that they under”
*

We don’t want to be like the activists now, do we?
We would fall to the ego’s restless insatiable vanity.
We must protect Christ from assimilation between
politics and action; forsooth, people would misween.

“And nowadays things change
Everyone’s ashamed of the youth ’cause the truth look strange
And for me it’s reversed
We left ’em a world that’s cursed, and it hurts”

The gospel saves souls from hell;
we must stay the course and tell
this message of surreal security
from flames eager for impurity.

“’Cause any day they’ll push the button,
and all good men Like Malcolm X or Bobby Hutton died for nothin’
Don’t it make you get teary? The world looks dreary
When you wipe your eyes, see it clearly”

Proclamation of the gospel of God: love for all;
but only those who hear—in heart—God’s call:
those who ascend to this dominant culture’s law
keep the message, don’t stray, lock tight the jaw.

“There’s no need for you to fear me,
if you take your time and hear me maybe you can learn to cheer me
It ain’t about black or white, ’cause we human
I hope we see the light before it’s ruined”

Expectation to be comforted by that ancient declaration
of God’s cosmic divine love, sweet gospel proclamation;
don’t alter the protocol, give me dear, mellifluous Jesus
salvation by words harmonious and never ever versus.

“Tell me, do you see that old lady? Ain’t it sad?
Livin’ out of bag but she’s glad for the little things she has.
And over there, there’s a lady, crack got her crazy;
guess who’s givin’ birth to a baby?”

Leaning heavy on the liberating baptismal covenant—
the spiritual waters washing me into the Remnant —
exhorted to combat evil (demythologized into oblivion),
charged to spread the Gospel (only in word, not action).

“I don’t trip or let it fade me
From out of the fryin’ pan we jump into another form of slavery
Even now I get discouraged
Wonder if they take it all back, will I still keep the courage?”

Don’t risk the active pace, preach only the “Gospel”,
never straying from that saccharine comfort (fiscal).
God forbid disrupting that flow of donated wealth
and lose privileges in the gentrified commonwealth.

“I refuse to be a role model
I set goals, take control, drink out my own bottles
I make mistakes but learn from everyone
And when it’s said and done, I bet this Brother be a better one.”

Atop this kingdom of table and pew, hewn stone and wood,
Ruling by myth and cloth, condemning those who withstood.
With clenched fists and jaw, eyes shut so tight: adoro deum;
disturb the self-righteous seat: beware narcissistic tantrum.

If I upset you don’t stress, never forget
That God isn’t finished with me yet
I feel his hand on my brain
When I write rhymes I go blind and let the Lord do his thang.”

Confer with the others—self-appointed judges—and we agree:
the gospel remains purely spiritual; dialectically, materially free.
Lest—shudders—the people wake and reform to revolutionary,
we must remythologize those divine words of Love incendiary.

“But am I less holy
‘cause I chose to puff a blunt and drink a beer with my homies?
Before we find world peace,
we gotta find peace and end the war on the streets;
my ghetto gospel.”

*This and all other right hand side citations are from Tupac Shakur’s “Ghetto Gopsel”

“Tabitha, rise!”

Sermon on Acts 9:36-43

Psalm 23:1-3 God is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. God makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters. God revives my soul and guides me along right pathways for God’s Name’s sake.

Introduction

In my last call I had the privilege of being a high school teacher at a private Episcopal high school in deep south Louisiana. I taught theology and religion, and I also participated in some of the pastoral care of the students. I had many conversations with students, but some of my favorite ones were with seniors fretting over what college to go to. Them, frantic: Rev. Larkin…Rev. Larkin I don’t know what to do! They had sweet and endearing intentions but they were stuck. They weren’t merely stuck because they were waiting for that frontal lobe to fully kick in, but because they worried about doing God’s will for fear that anything else would cause God to become displeased in them. What college should I go to, Rev. Larkin, what’s God’s will for me?

If there’s any question in the world that I both value and understand and disvalue and dismiss it’s that question. If you ever want to see this enneagram 5 go full tilt wut. just ask: What’s God’s will for me right now? Me:

Robot Monkey GIF by Giphy QA - Find & Share on GIPHY

Now, while my internal monologue looked something like that, my external pastoral side always kicked in. I loved these kids and hated how tied up they were in fear of not knowing God’s will. In these moments, I loved leaning back on Luther. His conception of seeking God’s will as a form of magic and divination (he’s no fan of either, by the way) and the freedom we have in Christ, gave me the power and authority to declare to my fretting and worried beloveds: my dear one, God loves you through and through and through; a college choice isn’t going to ever ever ever take that from you no matter how bad it all turns out. You can just transfer. Also, and this is going to sound a bit blunt and maybe even mean and I intend this with the biggest amount of love for you: God isn’t worried about where you go to college. Literally. God’s will for all of us is written in our hearts by the Holy Spirit and in the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. Pick a school and live in God’s already existent good pleasure and love for you…and care for the poor and vulnerable.

When it comes to our own questions about what does God want for us, what does God want us to do, it’s clearly laid out for us in scripture through the examples of many of the main characters. Even if we rationalize away the example of Jesus of Nazareth the Christ, leaning heavy on Christological formulas: Well, Jesus is the Son of God, fully human and fully God thing…there are still many more examples. In the book of Acts of the Holy Spirit, we’re given plenty examples of people who are both fully human and called by God and live out the will of God in the material world by the power of the Holy Spirit. Saul-Paul is one. I know he’s a bit intense, and he seems to have a penchant for getting into heaps of trouble with the religious and state authorities, but he’s fully human and a converted follower of the way (like many of us).

But maybe Saul-Paul isn’t your cup of tea, too much drama that he clearly could’ve avoided if he was just a bit more reserved and taken with common sense…There’s always another contender: Peter. He seems a bit more practical.

Acts 9:36-43

Now, it happened in that day [Tabitha] became weak and died. And having bathed [her], they laid her in an upper room. Now, Lydda being near Joppa the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda and they sent two men to summon him, “Do not hesitate to pass through us.” And Peter rose and went with them. After arriving, they lead him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and displaying the tunics and many cloaks [Tabitha] was making being with them. Now, Peter sent them all out and [getting on his] knees, he prayed and turned toward the body he said, “Tabitha, rise.” And she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up.[1]

Acts 9:37-40

Last week, looking at chapter 9 of the book of Acts we encountered Saul who was encountered by God in the midst of his self-determined obstinance to reclaim Israelites for the glory of God. Saul was disrupted, and his life changed in a short moment. This week we are being asked to consider Peter who returns to the story as the one who has followed Jesus and continues to do so. Where Saul represents being suddenly disrupted; Peter represents continual and persistent disruption. Peter knew Jesus and continues to get to know him in deeper and more profound ways.[2] Specifically, the blessed mingling of human and divine of the incarnate Christ raised and now ascended beckons to Peter by the power of the Holy Spirit asking him to see how much more that divine and human mingling goes beyond Jesus the Christ. Peter is caught up in the divine pursuit of disruption and disturbing the status quo by shaking up the divine and human distinction through drawing the regular time and regular people into the holiness of God.[3] And he’s about to be thrusted into the middle of such a moment of disruption and disturbance.

In our story here in Acts, Peter dares to do what Jesus did. In other words, to quote Willie James Jennings, “Peter repeats Jesus.”[4] Like his friend, sibling, and savior did, so, too, will Peter do: bring light where there is darkness, liberty where there is captivity, life where there is death. In other words, Peter, like Jesus continues to spread God’s never-stopping, never-giving up material and tangible love for the entire cosmos (from the biggest to the least).[5] Most notably Peter steps into and brings[6] this proclamation to weeping widows in the presence of the death of Tabitha—one who lived well and loved these widows deeply.[7] Here we see how willingly divine power and love will sink and seep into the most narrow crevices of society: the grief of the widows and the death of Tabitha matters to God—these women matter to God, so much so that death is refused the final word.[8]

The final word is God’s power through Peter, “Tabitha, rise.” The echo of Jesus’s “Lazarus, come here! outside!” “Peter repeats Jesus.” Resurrection happens, life triumphs over death. The widows’ grief and sorrow (also fear and anxiety) is heard, and their Tabitha is brought back to life.[9] Our scriptures record this incredible and astounding story: the first disciple to experience resurrection after Jesus’s is a woman. God gives a big heck about bodies, all bodies.[10] And this message doesn’t cease with Tabitha; soon Peter will find himself with a body considered unclean, Simon the Tanner. Peter’s on a divine journey, discovering the depth of God’s love for all people, diving deeper into being disrupted and disturbed by the heart, love, grace, and will of God. [11]

Conclusion

This story from the book of Acts about Peter and the widows and Tabitha reminds us that all bodies matter to God, and not merely the bodies of the wealthy, the powerful, the capable, but, the bodies of least of these, the bodies of the oppressed and poor. Women’s bodies matter. Black bodies matter. Trans bodies matter. Differently abled bodies matter. Imprisoned bodies matter. Your body matters.

So, back to the beginning: What’s God’s will for us? What does God want us to do? I guess God wants us to raise the dead. Or, rather, bring life where there is death. The ultimate interpretation of what it means to liberate the captives is: resurrection. “Tabitha, rise.” And we, like Peter and Saul get to be encountered by this radical and profound divine pathos, divine love for the world and then we get to spread it where ever we go. We, like Saul and Peter, get to say: “Tabitha, rise.” Yes, you! You, too! You, too, rise! Death has no claim here anymore only life, no longer darkness, only light. You are the beloved of God, dearly loved and deeply cherished. From head to toe, without shame, without hiddenness, without secrecy, with all boldness and bigness. “Tabitha, rise.”

You, the Beloved, rise!


[1] Translation mine unless otherwise noted.

[2] Willie James Jennings Acts Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible Eds Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher. Louisville, KY: WJK, 2017. 99. “Peter returns to center stage and engages in a bit of wayfaring life, echoing again his history of following Jesus and doing as his savior had done. He is on the road and comes to Lydda to be among the living saints.”

[3] Jennings Acts 99. “Jesus is God drawing the everyday into holiness, into God’s own life. Everyday people are made holy in Christ. Everyday people are made holy by Christ, and this is a holiness that will last, not be episodic, and constitute a new space for living life and knowing ourselves. ‘Saints’ are those marked by the new gestures of belief in Jesus. They worship a crucified Lord in the Spirit, and in the Spirit they live the everyday, knowing that each moment has been made sacred by God’s faithful presence.”

[4] Jennings Acts 99.

[5] Jennings Acts 99-100. “He is with Jesus, following where his savior wants to go. Once again a marvelous act, a touchable miracle, will turn people to the Lord (v. 35). This is repetition that illumines the inexhaustible riches of God’s love for the fragile creature and God’s desire to constantly touch us, hold us, and announce the victory over death.”

[6] Jennings Acts 100. See also Cassidy p.30. “Here glory joins strong grief because to lose someone who cares for the weak and vulnerable, whose life is turned toward making a difference in the world and who is making a difference, is a bitter loss. The widows have lost Tabitha and a disciple is gone. This is what Peter steps into in Joppa.”

[7][7] Jennings Acts 100. “We come to the story of Tabitha with Peter at the very end. There is glory and grief at the end. The glory is a life lived well, lived in service to others. Tabitha’s life, even in the fragments we gain in this story, hangs together beautifully as someone devoted to helping people, especially widows.”

[8] Jennings Acts 100. “Peter’s presence declares an unmistakable truth: women matter. This woman matters, and the work she does for widow’s matters to God. It matters so much that God will not allow death the last word.”

[9] Jennings Acts 100-101. “’Tabitha, get up.’ Peter repeats Jesus. Tabitha is an activist who lives again in resurrection power. Her body has been quickened by the Spirit, and her eyes are opened again to see a new day. She has work to do and joy to give to the widows: you have not been abandoned, dear widows, God has heard your weeping and returned her to you.”

[10] Jennings Acts 101. “We know that death imagines a special claim to the bodies of women. Their deaths are normalized and naturalized in social orders that value men’s body far above all others. It will not be so among the disciples. They will find Peter standing next to Tabitha, a gift of God who has been given again the gift of life. It is no accident that the first disciple to have this little taste of the resurrection is a woman…”

[11] Jennings Acts 101. “Tanners worked with death flesh—the skin of animals and tanners were, theologically speaking, unclean Few if any pious Jews would normally or easily stay with a tanner, but here was Peter with Simon the tanner. Peter is indeed moving from saints to saints, and soon he will find out just how far the generosity and mercy of a holy God reaches. Soon he will see just how far God will extend holy place and holy people. Peter is with a man who touches the unclean, and soon he will see God do the same.”