Holy Spirit and Pentecostal Fire

Psalm 104:34-35, 37 I will sing to God as long as I live; I will praise my God while I have my being. May these words of mine please God; I will rejoice in God. Bless God, O my soul. Hallelujah!

Introduction

God does not leave God’s beloved. God, from the very beginning, sent out God’s Spirit to be with and among the beloved, from the beginning of light to the unendedness of dark, from the tiniest of mites to the largest of beasts, form the highest of mountains to the deepest of ocean floors, God is with God’s beloved. This is what our ancient creation myths of Genesis 1 and 2 tell us. Genesis 3 tells a tale of fracture and disruption of harmony and communion among God, humanity, creation, and one existing within each person. Yet, even in the ricochets of the fractures, God never left the beloved. Even when the beloved left the garden, God went with them. God’s Spirit suspended before and with God’s people: calling Abraham and Sarah, sustaining Isaac and Ishmael, leading Jacob, sending Moses, manifesting as fire in bushes, pillars of flame at night, in clouds during the day, in the pulling apart the waters of the Red Sea like the pulling apart the light from the dark at the beginning of creation, in tabernacles, tents, and temples. Not to mention Israel’s prophetic line speaking as God’s representatives; being filled with divine passion, they summoned and heralded to Israel the good news of God and God’s presence, exhorting them to see God not only in their own midst in their strength and power, but more importantly in the weakest of them: in the widow and orphan, in the hungry and thirsty, in the houseless and unclothed.

God does not leave the beloved because love needs the beloved. The lover who loves needs an other to love, the beloved; the beloved needs the lover to be the beloved. And the very spirit of God—the one that hovered over the face of the deep so long ago and the same one that inspired the prophets to proclaim God’s passion for God’s people—is the substance of love. As much as we are all made of start-dust, we are in equal part made of love. Love has set this whole crazy cosmic experiment in motion, and love sustains it. God is so serious about love that we declare that God’s love took on flesh. Jesus the Christ was formed in the womb of Mary and born into her love, not only to experience the power of love in his own flesh, but to love others as God. Jesus demonstrated in word and deed to the beloved that God really does love them, is really for them, really does see and know their pain and suffering (Ex. 2), really does get angry over injustice and weeps over death, and really does walk in solidarity with humanity even in death. And as you know, death cannot sever the bonds and ties of love because love remembers, love recalls. And even more than that, love resurrects, calls forth the beloved from the tomb, and sends the beloved onward and forward in love.

John 20:19-23

Therefore when it was evening on that day—the first [day] of the week—and when the door having been shut where the disciples were because of the fear of the children of Israel, Jesus came and stood in their midst and he said to them, “Peace to you.”… Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you; just as the father/elder/ancestor has sent me, so also I send you.” And after saying this, he breathed [on them] and he said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit… “[1]

John 20:19, 21-22

The disciples are locked away for agitation and fear. And what does God do? Shows up. None of these men had their act together, were stalwart emissaries of unflagging faith, or superheroes braving the persecutions. They were terrified and confused human beings, desperate for something, for anything. And, as God has done since the conception of the inception of creation, God shows up behind that locked door and brings peace to them. Why? Because God knows their fear and panic, their terror and anxiety, their desperate desire to live and when God knows these things, God feels these things, and God acts to ameliorate these things. The ascended Christ does not leave the disciples alone to figure it out or muster up their own strength; Jesus shows up and brings it to them where they are because that’s what God does.[2]

Prior to this moment, Jesus has already promised giving peace, his peace that surpasses any peace that the world can offer. It’s not that the world is bad or should be shunned, rather the world is the playground of divine love and liberation seeking and desiring the beloved. However, the systems made by humans can only provide a certain and temporary form of peace; no material possession can secure your peace—none. However, in chapter 14 of John’s gospel, Jesus’s gave these same men peace: peace I let go to you, my peace I give to you; I give to you not as the world gives. Let your heart be neither agitated nor fearful (v. 27). It doesn’t mean that this gift of peace failed. Rather, at the time they were not able to receive it because Jesus was with them, but now that he is ascended and gone from them and they are agitated and fearful, he appears to them and calls them to awareness that they have his peace.[3]

But he doesn’t merely reiterate that they have his peace, he gives them the Holy Spirit to be with them from this day on, the same Spirit existing before the cosmos and the one that called Jesus forth from the tomb. This Spirit is the Spirit of God and fulfills the promise from old that God’s Spirit would dwell in the hearts of God’s people, the beloved (ref. Ez. 36:26). The peace of God is no longer a wish or a prayer but is with the disciples of Christ…literally, because they have the Spirit of God. Easter finds its fullest expression in Pentecost, for now true life is accessible to the disciples; they are (once again) being summoned from their tomb and exhorted to walk forward into the light of day, proclaiming and heralding God’s love to all.[4] Not only do the disciples have the peace of Christ with them, they have the authority of the Spirit of God to be the witnesses of Christ, they are sent not by any other person than God of very God. They are sent into the world as Christ to carry forward the mission of God: seeking and desiring the beloved, bringing life, love and liberation to the captives.

Conclusion

Pentecost secures—forever—God’s liberation and liberating of the captives. It is as powerful as Christmas and Easter; it ranks with the major feasts of the Christian tradition. It is the power of God transcending all the boundaries we create, breaking down the barriers we build, rewriting the narratives we write about ourselves, each other, creation, and God. It is the descent of the Spirit that is echoed in creation coming into recreation. It is the sound of doors being unlocked, cells sliding open, and those previously curved inward standing upright for the first time in a long time. It is the sound of bodies dancing, voices singing, and communities experiencing the liberation of God.

My dear friend and colleague, The Rev. Dr. Kate Hanch, recently published a book, Storied Witness: The Theology of Black Women Preachers in the 19th-Century America. In this text she tells the stories of three black women preachers: Zilpha Elaw, Julia Foote, and Sojourner Truth. In sharing about the religious and theological influences of Truth, she mentions that Truth’s mother, Mau Mau Bett (Elizabeth), was her first spiritual teacher, combining “her African heritage with the Dutch culture of her enslavers.”[5] It was this that opened the door, writes Kate, to Truth’s broad and deep view of God’s presence with her.[6] In addition to this, Sojourner Truth’s theology was influenced by the Dutch holiday of Pinkster…otherwise known as Pentecost.[7] The celebration of Pinkster created a space in time where liberation from oppression made its truth known in the material realm, where baptismal regeneration and the essence of the sacramental meal of thanksgiving were cultivated into a bodied celebration of the descent of the Spirit that knows no boundaries of skin color, wealth, sex, gender, age, etc.[8] Here Love descended and imparted itself to everyone; here the enslaved walked and danced free in the fullness of the glory of God, “These erotic dances enabled her to love her own body and also reminded her of the Holy Spirit who dwells with and in all bodies, Black and white, enslaved and freed.”[9]

Let us follow Truth’s lead and witness and live like God is truly present with us, rejoice like the disciples seeing Christ, and exist liberated and loved like the Spirit of God within us. And may the life-giving breath of the church, the Holy Spirit burning with Pentecostal fire, ignite the divine revolution of love, life, and liberation as we go forth into the world.


[1] Translation mine unless otherwise noted

[2] Rudolf Bultmann The Gospel of John: A Commentary Trans. GR Beasley-Murray, Gen Ed; RWN Hoare and JK Riches. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1971. German: Das Evangelium des Johannes (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1964, 1966). 691. “Suddenly he appears in their midst, and he greets them with the customary prayer for blessing. That Jesus in the meantime had ascended to the Father, as he had said to Mary that he would (v. 17), and has now again returned to earth would be a false reflection—not only in the meaning of the source, but also in that of the Evangelist. Rather the sense is that he has ascended, and even as such he appears to the disciples; as such he is able to bestow the Spirit (v. 22)…”

[3] Bultmann, John, 691-692. “In harmony with this the εἰρήνη—and the Solemn repetition of the greeting hints that we have to understand εἰρήνη in the full sense of 14:27—which Jesus offers the disciples has in truth already been given to them in the hour of the departure (14.27). Easter is precisely the hour when their eyes are opened for that which they already possess; and vv. 19-23 are no more than the depiction of this event.”

[4] Bultmann, John, 692-693. “The fact that the narrative depicts the fulfilment of the promise in the farewell discourses is shown finally in that the Risen Jesus bestows the Spirit on the disciples through his breath (v. 22); Easter and Pentecost therefore fall together. If in 16.8-11 the task of the Spirit was described as an ἐλέγχειν, so here correspondingly the bestowal of the Spirit is accompanied by the giving of authority to the disciples (v. 23). Thus the judgment that took place in the coming of Jesus (3.19; 5.27; 9.39) is further achieved in the activity of the disciples. It is self-evident that it is not a special apostolic authority that is imparted here, but that the community as such is equipped with this authority; for as in chs. 13-16 the μαθηταί represent the community.”

[5] Kate Hanch, Storied Witness: The Theology of Black Women Preachers in the 19th-Century America (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2022). Pp. 112-113.

[6] Hanch, Storied Witness, 113.

[7] Hanch, Storied Witness, 113.

[8] Hanch, Storied Witness, 114-115.

[9] Hanch, Storied Witness, 115.

Why Do You Stand Looking Up?

Psalm 68:3, 5-6a: But let the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; let them also be merry and joyful. Parent of orphans, defender of the widowed, God is in God’s holy habitation! God gives the solitary a home and brings forth prisoners into freedom…

Introduction

I had hamsters as a little girl; two: Peanut Butter and Jelly. Having hamsters as a kid taught me two very valuable lessons. The first was practical: hamsters and cats don’t mix; no matter how high up you store that hamster habitat, the cat—like a stealthy ninja thief—will break into it. The second was existential: humans and hamsters hold the tendency of running and running in circles in common. To be honest, as tragic as the first lesson was to learn as a young girl, the second lesson was even more tragic. While it’s not great to come home from school to catpocalypse having descended upon our humble home, it’s worse to find out for yourself you can be moving and moving and not going anywhere.

Sometimes we spend a lot of energy running in place, going back (again) to the same thing—behavior, thought, framework, tendency—to find help and yet those things leave us wanting again and again. We can feel a lack and purchase something only to be left (again) with feeling the lack. We can return to old habits to find that the same consequences still manifest. We can keep thinking we can beat the system by playing the system, only to find out that once again the system is way better at this game than we are. If you’ve ever thought, uttered, mumbled the words, “This is just how the world is…”, listen closely for the squeak, squeak, squeak of that hamster wheel. All in all, the comfort of our hamster wheel and the feeling of moving perpetuate the false notion that we are getting somewhere. We are running and running and all we are doing is standing still.

So, what if we stopped running? Maybe we need someone to throw a stick in the gear to force us out of our little round, squeaky comfort zones. But it’s always good to remember that we aren’t—in fact—hamsters; we can get off our wheels. We can leave our tube-errific habitats and fight back catpocalypse with our own armadoggon, walking as liberated beings with in the world bringing life and love to other captives so stuck in place.

Acts 1:6-14

“…but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses: in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and until the end of the earth.” And after saying these things while they were watching [Jesus] was lifted up and a cloud received him from their eyes. And as they were gazing into the heaven while he was going, behold! two men stood by them in bright robes, and they said, “Men of Galilee, why have you stood looking into the heaven?…”

Acts 1:8-11a (Translation Mine)

Luke tells us that those who were gathered around Jesus came and asked him if he was going to restore the kingdom to Israel. Jesus, according to Luke, uses this question to navigate towards a discussion of something else than kingdom restoration: the reign of God extending beyond humanmade boundaries defining this or that kingdom; this is the advent of the new order, not a return to the old one.[1] The disciples are still stuck in thinking in terms of people groups and kingdoms; but God, in Christ, is thinking about the cosmos, the people of God, the entire world. In fact, this is the point of the book of Acts. We think it’s about the disciples and what they did, but it’s more of a testament to the power and action of the divine Spirit and what the Spirit will do by moving the disciples to spread the message of Christ—the message of divine love, life, and liberation—to the ends of the earth.

God isn’t interested in Israel standing still because God doesn’t stand still.[2] See, as a people who partake in the divine image, as God self-discloses so too do believers participate in that self-disclosure. God moves and is on the move: creation speaks to this, the history of Israel speaks to this, the incarnation speaks to this, the resurrection speaks to this, the ascension will speak to this, and so to the coming fulfillment of the promised descent of the Holy Spirit. So, as God moves so, too, do those who have new life in God by faith. While humans like to think God stands still causing us to have to go “back” to find God, the reality is something else: God is always a couple steps ahead of us, and in being ahead of us is able to be with us guiding us toward something new of God.[3] Thus, believers do not stand still, rather they are to be witnesses, moving, proclaiming witnesses of God’s power over death.

This is the point of Jesus’s promise that the Holy (Divine) Spirit will descend and come upon the disciples; herein the likeness to God takes on more distinctive features. Like Jesus’s life was a message of divine love, life, and liberation to people held captive and pressed and pushed to the margins, so, too, will the disciples become these very story books or divine love letters to more and more people.[4] They—by their bodies in word and deed—will announce not the establishment of human empires but the divine revolution of God’s love in the world seeking and searching for the beloved.[5] Here the ends of the earth are brought together at one point: as the disciples move by the power of the divine spirit, God’s love eclipses the notion of the villainy of otherness and the tyranny of us v. them. For where there is life-giving and love-sharing there is liberation from the captivity of death and hate (here, otherness is refused and the battle between us and them rent asunder). This isn’t about going out and making converts to a singular way of thinking—believer or die! Rather, it’s about spreading divine gifts of love, life, and liberation to all people, incorporating all people into the family of God’s life and love.

Then we get to my favorite moment in this story. As Jesus ascends—not to abandon the disciples but to be with them in a more personal and intimate way[6]—two men appear dressed in bright-like-light clothing. These two men find the disciples staring up into the sky, still, stuck, and motionless. Then they ask the most perfect question, My Dudes, why in the world are you just standing there staring up into the sky? Granted, and to be fair, the disciples have a lot going on at that moment, but the point is made: it’s time to move, move forward. It isn’t about looking up or looking back, but looking ahead; it’s about interrupting what’s grown old even if comfortable and embarking on something new. As Willie James Jennings says,

“We must never discount the next step that must be taken at the sight of Jesus’ leaving. Such a step is understandably a labored step, unsure and unclear. Nevertheless it must be taken because faith always leans forward to Jerusalem, toward the place where God waits to meet us. We are always drawn on by God to our future.”[7]

Conclusion

“People of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into the heaven?” Or, People of God, why do you keep running on that hamster wheel? Our life of faith is dynamic and active. It’s not about sitting and reverencing and standing far off. It’s about standing up, and acting, and coming up close and personal—to God and to others. Our life of faith is not about just accepting things as they are, shrugging, and just rolling over; it’s about saying something new, doing something different, taking a risk, and living liberated and responsible in the world to the benefit of God’s beloved who is your neighbor.

Jesus’s ascent into heaven does not limit the spreading of the proclamation of God’s love for the entire cosmos, but, in fact, ensures that it can (and will) spread. As Christ was and is embodied, Christ can only do so much with a body—as we know. But with the promised divine Spirit that will come to the disciples to anchor and yoke them to God, this message of Christ—the incarnated proclamation of God’s love for all people—can now very much and very literally travel to the furthest reaches of the earth. It is a message that is now unrestricted by culture and context, unbound by dogma and doctrine, and unleashed from time and tense.

As the beloved of God you, by faith, are liberated by love and given new life. This is part of our Easter story. But it doesn’t end with Easter; it doesn’t end with Ascension…it is just beginning. So, again, let me ask, People of God, why do you stand looking up into the heaven? As those who have been encountered by God in the event of faith in the proclamation of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit: Go. Go forth into the world carrying and sharing the grace and mercy of God by the power of the Holy Spirit, bringing God’s love to all…


[1] Willie James Jennings Acts Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible Eds Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher. Louisville, KY: WJK, 2017. 16. “He will seal this new order, this revolution over death and the power of violence through the Holy Spirit. The Sprit is the promise of the Father to the Son and those joined to him. Indeed Acts narrates the journey of the Spirit even more deeply into the way of Jesus and the journey of Jesus more deeply into the way of the Spirit. The Spirit, companion with Jesus and his disciples, will soon spread the body of Jesus over space and time opening his life as a new home for the faith of Israel.”

[2] Jennings, Acts, 16. “Geography matters. Place matters to God. From a specific place the disciples will move forward into the world. To go from place to place is to go from people to people and to go from an old identity to a new one. Jesus prepares them for the journey of their lives by holding them in a place where the Spirit will be given to them in that place, and from that place they will be changed.”

[3] Jennings, Acts, 19. “Jesus ascends not only to establish presence through absence, but he also draws his body into the real journeys of his disciples into the world. He goes to heaven for us, ahead of us. He goes with and ahead of his disciples into the real places of this world. He is Lord of time (past, present, and future) yet walking in our time, and he is Lord of space (here and there) yet taking our spaces and places with utmost seriousness.”

[4] Jennings, Acts, 18. “They will be an irrefutable presence. They will also be witnesses of divine presence. They will give room to the witness, making their lives a stage on which the resurrected Jesus will appear and claim each creature as his own, as a site of love and desire.”

[5] Jennings, Acts, 18. “The disciples will be formed by the Spirit as witnesses. They will be turned out to the world not as representatives of empires but those who will announce a revolution, the revolution of the intimate, God calling to the world. They will enter new places to become new people by joining themselves to those in Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. As Jesus announces this divine desire, he ascends.”

[6] Jennings, Acts, 19. “Jesus’ ascension is in fact God claiming our space as the sites for visitation, announcing God’s desire to come to us. Gods desire will be seen in the pouring out of the Spirit in a specific place in order to enter specific places and specific lives. He ascends for our sake, not to turn away from us but to more intensely focus in on us.”

[7] Jennings, Acts, 19-20.

church daring to be Church

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

On Good Friday I asked, “Who’s in your corner? Who’s on your side? Who’s your ‘ride or die’? Who’s the Louise to your Thelma?”[1] This question is still relevant to me; I can’t help but sense that deep solidarity with other human beings has grown thin over the course of time. Through the myriad of moments pitting one group against another, avoiding wary sneezes and threatening sniffles, and love suffering over distance, it’s easy to feel isolated—caught between having friends and having no one to rely on…like really rely on, like show up on a Saturday at noon in the middle of August to help you move large furniture type of rely on…

While time and energy are factors, there’s a bigger one. There’s a lot of othering in our society whether socio-politically, religiously, or relationally. We’re bombarded with media images promoting material competition with others; we live in a world carrying a variety of threats to the welfare of our bodies in the world. This is the perfect environment to breed fear: fear of the other, fear of difference, fear of conflict, fear of confrontation. (And fear is always the undercurrent of anger.) And, so, we are kind of walking about half-cocked, ready to protect ourselves from a threat. In psychology this is called hyper-vigilance and hyper-vigilance has a bestie: hyper-arousal—always on the lookout for a threat, when one is perceived BOOM! Explosion!

It’s hard to gain ground with an other if there’s this type of air swirling about fragile and delicate human bodies wrapped in a rather porous and vulnerable epidermal layer. When fear and anger—hyper-vigilance and hyper-arousal—are in the mix, threatening to rear their head and shove love and grace out of the window, it makes it really hard to cultivate rich relationships extending beyond social acquaintances into, “Of course I’ll come move that mahogany armoire with you this August on a Saturday at noon!”

But I’m not hopeless; I’m not hopeless because church (the invisible and visible) exists. Now, when church is bad it can be very bad; but when it’s good, it’s so, so, so good because in this event of church-churching-well love draws human beings together into solidarity in their need and abundance, their sickness and health, and their anxiety and comfort.

Acts 2:42-47

Now, they were attending constantly to the teaching of the apostles and in fellowship; to the breaking of the bread and in prayers. …And all those who believed were up to the same [things] and they were having all things in common—they were selling both possessions and properties, and they were distributing things to all in accordance to who was having need/necessity.[2]

Acts 2:42, 44-45

There’s something spectacular about the life of the early church right after Jesus was raised. Luke describes how the “followers of the way” existed alongside the other children of the house of Israel. At this point, animosity is not the theme of the day. Luke tells us that they were attending constantly to the teachings of the apostles and in the prayers, spending their time together (καθ’ ἡμέραν τε προσκαρτεροῦντες ὁμοθυμαδὸν) in the temple (ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ) (v.46), were breaking apart the house bread, sharing in food in exhilaration and sincerity of heart, praising God, and having grace toward the entire people (τὸν λαόν). All those who believed πάντες…οἱ πιστεύοντες (v.44) lived with each other; not in name only as if neighbors who casually exchanged hellos or that two-finger wave; they were with each other by being for each other; and for no other reason than love and faith, mercy and grace, the draw of the Spirit of God into the fullness of life with the neighbor for the neighbor in the world. The reign of God born through the cracks and crevices breaking through the kingdom of humanity

Willie James Jennings writes this about our passage from Acts, “Life with Jesus must give shape to life in the Spirit.”[3] Love knows no other way than to break down barriers and hurdles hindering our ability to see each other’s humanity; everything about these early followers of the way was pulled into the community founded and built by God’s love for the world.[4] Under the draw of divine love, it becomes impossible to cling to those things that they clung to prior to encounter with God; those material markers of identity fell away like linen garments left behind in a tomb in the event of resurrection.[5] By faith, those who followed the way found their identity in God by faith in Christ, and if this then they found mutual identity with others; and not only those who also believed like they did, but among and with those who followed different paths. This is God’s heart for the world and in the world: to love others as you have been loved by God, to see the humanity in others, to give as you have received, to be wrapped up in the divine passion for the beloved, to see not an other but one just like you.[6]

Luke’s story-telling point here is not to propose fiscal or political platforms. Rather, his goal is to ask his reader to reconsider their way of faith in following the Christ by the power of the Spirit. Luke wants to demonstrate what solidarity looks like founded on divine love born of divine life and liberation.[7] This is not about refusing individuality at the expense of the community, but rather about showing how each person is intimately linked to the other in love and life: that one person’s well-being is connected to another’s well-being. It’s not about everyone thinking the same, being the same, or believing the same; it’s about valuing the humanity in another person, seeing their need, their sickness, their fear as one’s own, it’s about identifying with another’s plight as Christ, God of very God, identified with humanity’s plight not to condemn humanity, but to bring humanity into the very life of God the source of love, life, and liberation in the world as it is in heaven.[8]

Conclusion

We do not need to go this world alone. While our world is quite different from the world of the first followers of the way, it does not mean that we can’t still have solidarity with one another. What we find in Luke’s description in Acts is not a formula for church but the formation of church. The thematic structure of the story tells us that our neighbor is more important than things, that community is better than isolation, that going the distance is what love does, that being here for each other in the good and the bad, when things are going well and when they’re going poorly, when it’s a great mood or a yikes! mood. It’s about profound connection where the foundation is just shared humanity clothed in the heavenly fabric of divine love…love that knows no limits.

When church dares to put on Church, when its witness shares in the witness of Christ,[9] it can be a beautiful place of affirmation, confirmation, and solidarity in the world for the beloved. When church dares to Church, it radiates divine life into the world, beckoning those who have lost their way in the world, or those who have become alienated and isolated, or those who suffer under the weight of oppression and marginalization unto the warmth and comfort of the eternal and heavenly substance that is love that just loves.


[1] https://laurenrelarkin.com/2023/04/07/nothing-seems-to-satisfy-craving-solidarity/

[2] Translation mine unless otherwise noted

[3] Willie James Jennings Acts Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible Eds Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher. Louisville, KY: WJK, 2017. 38.

[4] Jennings, Acts, 39. “The space of this common was where life stories, life projects, plans, and purposes were being intercepted by a new orientation. This ekklēsia? Time, talent, and treasures, the trinity of possessions we know so well, would feel the pull of this holy vortex.”

[5] Jennings, Acts, 39. “The real questions are not whether this holy communalism, this sacred sociality, could or would be operative, be practical in this ancient world or any world, but what must it have been like to feel the powerful pull of the life of our savior, and what energy did it take to resist the Holy Spirit, to slow down this pull enough to withhold themselves and their possessions from divine desire.”

[6] Jennings, Acts, 39. “A different order of sacrifice is being performed here, one that reaches back to the very beginning of Israel. Their God does not need possessions and has never been impressed by their donation. The divine One wants people and draws us into that wanting. This is intensified giving, feverish giving that feels not only the urgent need but the divine wanting. A new kind of giving is exposed at this moment, one that binds bodies together as the first reciprocal donation where the followers will give themselves to one another.”

[7] Jennings, Acts, 39-40. “Thus anything they had that might be used to bring people into sight and sound of the incarnate life, anything they had that might be used to draw people to life together and life itself and away from death and the reign of poverty, hunger, and despair—such things were being given up to God. The giving is for the sole purpose of announcing the reign of the Father’s love through the Son in the bonds of communion together with the Spirit.”

[8] Jennings, Acts, 40. “Luke gives us sight of a holy wind blowing through structured and settled ways of living and possessing and pulling things apart People caught up in the love of God not only began to give thanks for their daily bread, but daily offered to God whatever they had that might speak that gracious love to others. What is far more dangerous than any plan of shared wealth or fair distribution of goods and services is a God who dares impose on us divine love.”

[9] See W. Travis McMaken’s “Definitive, Defective or Deft? Reassessing Barth’s Doctrine of Baptism in Church Dogmatics IV/4”  IJST Vol17/Num1 (Jan 2015) pp. 89-114.

“What Might We Do?”

Psalm 116:2-3, 10: 2 The cords of death entangled me; the grip of the grave took hold of me; I came to grief and sorrow. Then I called upon the Name of God: “God, I pray you, save my life.” How shall I repay God for all the good things God has done for me?

Introduction

There’s something about love that’s overwhelming. I think it’s overwhelming because love just loves without why or wherefor (sunder warumbe[1])—like being in the midst of spring springing and the flowers bursting forth, they give no reason for their showy, brilliant colors, they just bloom, they just are, they just exist. Love is similar: it just loves.

The inability of locating a why or wherefore to anchor another’s love for us makes love that other-worldly substance. We are rational, sense-making, riddle-solving, concrete, fleshy, material creatures. And, to be honest, we’re quite basic. To be told, “I love you” and for no other reason than “just because” solicits furrowed brows of “why…”, skeptical vocal lilts of “…me? …Really?”, even down right toddler-like resistance, “No!” Love that loves just because is not for us; we need the whys and the wherefores, the reasons and the data.

Somewhere along the way we’ve been taught love must be verified by a reason: you love me because I’m…. We all have the thing that fills in that blank, answering the “because.” I’m:  funny, smart, pretty, rich, capable, athletic, a good provider; you have to, you’re my____ (another fill in the blank)….etc. Whatever it is, it sits there like a beacon of existential validity answering the “why” we’re worthy of love, while ignoring the reality love just loves.

Sunder warumbe.

The worst of this is we’re all quite able to imagine why we shouldn’t or couldn’t or wouldn’t be loved. We know ourselves better than the one who gave us life, right? We know how “bad” we are, how ill-tempered, frustrating, irritating, debased, faulty, and failing… We don’t need another person to give us reasons why we’re unlovable. Sadly, our world amplifies this being unlovable unless… Our beloved status hangs in a dastardly imbalance, and we’re losing.

Acts 2:14a, 36-41

Now after hearing [Peter] they were pierced in the heart, and they said to Peter and to the rest of the apostles, “What might we do, Brothers?” And Peter [said] to them, “You repent[2] (!) and be baptized each on the basis of the name of Jesus Christ for the complete forgiveness of your sins,[3] and you will lay hold of the gift of the Holy Spirit: for it is the promise to you and to your children and to all who are distant, as many as God our Lord called to God’s self.[4]

Acts 2:37-39

Luke, the author of one of the gospels and Acts, tells us that Peter raised his voice and declared to his fellow Israelites (v.14) that God made Jesus—whom you [and others[5]] crucified[6]—lord and Christ (v.36). I will never stop loving Peter. As much as I love Paul I also love Peter. These two represent to us the totality of what it means to be creatures in relation with the Creator, humans before and with God among other human beings. Peter raised his voice and declared to his religious siblings that Jesus is the Christ, God is (still) for them; they are (still) God’s beloved.[7] Peter who used his voice to deny Christ, now uses it to proclaim Christ crucified and raised as a measure of divine love for all[8]of God’s people, even those, like the disciples, who were far off or hid for shame, those who carried no pedigree or status, those who had no power and found themselves immersed in the shadow of isolation and alienation.[9]

Peter’s message emphasizes that this Jesus who was crucified and died and raised is now the divinely appointed Christ (Greek for “Messiah”) of God’s people. This man whom the house of Israel knew and crucified (they did not intervene), according to Peter, is now the Christ, the one who bears both the divine and human image (he carries Mary’s face in the world) and ushers in God’s reality.[10] And God’s reality comes into conflict and confrontation with the reality of the kingdom of humanity. What used to be right-side up to us, after our encounter with God in the raised Jesus is now upside down; Jesus once flipped tables, now he’s flipping worlds, and the disciples—even those 2023 years later—are invited to see the upside-down world made right-side up.[11]

Thus, when the hearts of those who heard were pierced, they asked, What might we do? (v. 37). This is the question of change; this is the question of divine encounter.[12] It is not that God poses to us a question in this moment, but we pose a question to God: if this is the right way to see the world, from the perspective of the one whom we crucified, what do we do now? because everything else seems wrong…[13]Not knowing what to do now because of one’s encounter with God is not a lack of faith, but evidence of it; it is also prayer, in humility there’s both a confession and a prayer for help in What might we do?

The best part of Luke’s story is Peter’s response: by means of changing their minds (repenting) and being baptized, the gifts of forgiveness of sins (missing the mark) and the receipt of the Holy Spirit are for them. And not only for them—as if it was a one-time event relegated to one generation—but also for their children and all those who are far off; for whomever God calls to God’s self. Thus anyone can be baptized, summoned unto God by God’s love made known in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.[14] Peter presents what it looks like to follow Christ out of the tomb, to be ushered through death into new life; this is not a formula it is formation.[15] There are no prerequisites here, there is no demand to look this way or that, no need to be clean or made right prior to the encounter with God in the event of faith; God loves the beloved (full stop) and this love changes the beloved, sanctifies her, causes her to live and thrive, calling the beloved over and over again unto God’s self—unto life, love, and liberation.[16] In being summoned unto God, in following Christ, it makes sense to live and live fully.[17] Sunder warumbe.

Conclusion

With the resurrection of Christ, the world is turned upside down. Death is not the final word; life is. Captivity is not the final word; liberation is. Unlovable is not the final word; beloved is. Whether you know it or not, YOU ARE LOVED. Whether you want to hear it or not, YOU ARE LOVED. And the greatest part? It has nothing to do with what you do or look like or have done or will do, you are just fully loved by God right now, as is inside and out. God is love and love just loves, no ands, ifs, or buts about.

Luke exhorts us through the words of Peter to harken to this story of God’s radical and revolutionary love in the world for the benefit and wellbeing of the beloved (not only us but especially our neighbors). We need to see ourselves grafted into this story and not mere spectators watching on from a seat in the balcony. We are the object of God’s desire and yearning, we are the goal of the divine mission of love in the world, we are needed by God because God is love and love needs the beloved. You are cherished. You are prized. You are the apple of God’s eye. You are irreplaceable.[18]

So, too, those who exist beyond the four walls of this church. The resurrection story is not a story just for us who get our ducks in a row, it’s not just for us who believe x, y, and z in just the right way and right fashion, and it’s not just for those who produce in this or that way in the world. The story of the resurrection of Christ—life out of death—is for all, for our children and those who are far off (this is what the text tells us). We are confronted today with the story of divine love and life in the world, turning the world right-side-up, liberating the captives … all the captives in the spiritual and temporal world, liberating not only souls (the inner nature) but bodies (the outer nature), too. God’s love sets us free to do something new, to live new, to love new, to be in the world as new creations, participating in God’s turning the world right-side-up for God’s beloved. Sunder warumbe.


[1] From Dorothee Soelle The Silent Cry a reference to Meister Eckhart.

[2] “Repent” can also be “change the mind” and “change the inner nature”

[3] “Missing the mark”

[4] Translation mine unless otherwise noted

[5] Steve Walton, “The State They Were In: Luke’s View of the Roman Empire” Reading Acts in the Discourses of Masculinity and Politics. Eds. Eric D. Barreto, Matthew L. Skinner, and Steve Walton. Library of New Testament Studies. London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2017. 92. “A key passage for understanding Luke’s view is Acts 4:27-30, which asserts that opposition to Jesus is the factor which unites Pilate, Herod, the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel. To assert, as some do, that the Jewish people alone are held responsible for the death of Jesus is to overstate the case. Luke’s presentation is more nuanced, for he locates responsibility on the Jewish side with the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. This is clear, not least, since it is only in Jerusalem itself that the apostles speak of ‘you’ as responsible for killing Jesus (Acts 2.36; 3.13, 14, 17; 4.10; 5.30; 7.52; cf. 5.28).”

[6] Richard J. Cassidy Society and Politics in the Acts of the Apostles Eugen, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1987. 33. “Nevertheless, the speech clearly does indict his audience and Luke subsequently reports that, when those assemble asked Peter and the apostles what they should do, Peter replied that every one of them should repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins (2:38).”

[7] Willie James Jennings Acts Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible Eds Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher. Louisville, KY: WJK, 2017. 33. “This is Israel speaking to Israel, calling to their own with the good news of the intensification of their election and of the personification of the free grace that shaped their existence from its beginning.”

[8] Jennings, Acts, 33. “This is precisely where the scandal that was Jesus of Nazareth, Mary’s baby with all the tensions he created and all the theological, social, and political contradictions that religious and civic leaders associated with his ministry, began to spread over many bodies.”

[9] Jennings, Acts, 33-34. “This is a strange image, an unappealing icon-twelve men, none with exceptional credentials, no fabulous educational pedigrees, none with reservoirs of immense cultural capital to draw from, all standing in front of Israelites with nothing more than a message. We live in times when images create and carry so much power. For us, image and word, body and text, are inseparable, merging together, mutually constituting. Yet in this primordial moment the image standing before these gathered does not carry gravitas. It can never match its message. Nor will it ever. This is the eternal imbalance that that will mark preaching, a message far more powerful than its messengers. Indeed, image emerges here fully encased in witness.”

[10] Jennings, Acts, 35. “The Jesus you knew—crucified, dead and buried, and now alive—is both Lord and Messiah, the bearer of the divine image and reality. This is the great contradiction.”

[11] Jennings, Acts, 35. “It is the contradiction inside of which all the disciples of Jesus will live forever. Life inside this contradiction means, as Samuel Proctor said, that we may now see the world for what it is: upside down. The world, seen from the site of the crucified One, moving quickly from life toward death, is the real contradiction. Only from within the declaration of a God who was crucified will any words about God in this world, the real world, make sense.”

[12] Jennings, Acts, 36. “A change is taking place among the people of God. Faith in Israel is taking a new direction. And it all begins with a simple but terrifying question: ‘What should we do?’”

[13] Jennings, Acts, 36. “The question itself is at the door of offense. Although the irenic is concealed within the question, nonetheless, it suggests a necessary change for those already of committed faith. We must hear in this question the astounding work of the living God who will not be relegated to Israel’s past but will reveal divine faithfulness to ancient promise in the present moment. And in so doing, we see the precise way Israel’s Lord alters theological frames of reference by demanding more of those who believe.”

[14] Jennings, Acts, 37. “His response reveals language internal to the culture and theology of Israel. Repentance, forgiveness, and gift are all themes that flow through the streams of Israel’s historical consciousness. Yet now a new point of entry and departure has emerged through a new stream that flows in a new direction. All must be baptized in the new stream, baptized into Jesus.”

[15] Jennings, Acts, 37. “The trajectory of the text is not toward formula but formation. From this moment forward, life with God will be through Jesus, and this moment of baptism will yield life in a body turned toward the renewal of creation. The story of Israel has opened up, and Gods body has been joined to Israel’s body and will be joined to all who will come to the water, Luke signifies a redeemer who would bring all of Israel from death to life through these them more deeply into divine desire.”

[16] Jennings, Acts, 37-38. “Now divine hunger will be revealed. God is calling to Israel and its children and other children and their children. This calling will be contra mundi, against the world’s calling, the world’s desire for the children. It will be against this corrupt generation (v. 40). This will be the difference bound to a decision, God’s calling or the world’s calling, and at this moment the new word reveals the old tension for God’s people between listening and thus obeying the voice of the world or hearing the dabarim of Adonai, the word of the Lord.”

[17] From Dorothee Sölle’s Thinking about God.

[18] Ref. Dorothee Sölle Christ the Representative.

“Nothing Seems to Satisfy”: Craving Solidarity

Luke 18:13d: “‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’”

Introduction

Something has to change
Undeniable dilemma
Boredom’s not a burden anyone should bear
Constant over stimulation numbs me
But I would not want you any other way
Just not enough, I need more
Nothing seems to satisfy
I said, I don’t want it, I just need it
To breathe, to feel, to know I’m alive[1]

Who’s in your corner? Who’s on your side? Who’s your “ride or die”? Who’s the Louise to your Thelma?

If you’re having difficulty answering any of those questions, I don’t blame you. Names do not come readily to me, either. Over the course of the past five weeks, it’s become clear we’re in a dire spot, moment, event, era, time, whatever this is right now. The reality is that we sit in the turned-over ground of our obsession with suspicion. We are overrun by sola suspicio running amok. If there is no truth, if it’s all about my productivity, if no one is trustworthy, and if our communities lack substance to nurture where do we find anyone or anything to be for us? If our communities cannot foster relationality and can only dismiss identity and destabilize stability, who is left to be on my side, in my corner, my “ride or die”, my Louise?

I can help you change
Tired moments into pleasure
Say the word and we’ll be
Well upon our way, blend and balance
Pain and comfort, deep within you
Till you will not want me any other way
But it’s not enough, I need more
Nothing seems to satisfy
I said, I don’t want it, I just need it
To breathe, to feel, to know I’m alive[2]

Sola suspicio has its place; but it cannot be where we live, it cannot be our best friend because with sola suspicio we must question and doubt everything and everyone; in this scenario the only people we can trust is ourselves. So, let us arm ourselves with weapons, horde material goods, work until our fingers bleed and our hearts stop, and keep looking over our shoulder for the threat of our replacement. There is no room for love here, there is no room for peace, there is no room for hope, there is no room for faith. There’s just nothing. And so we attempt to numb away the gnawing sensation that there could be more than this.

Something kinda sad about
The way that things have come to be
Desensitized to everything
What became of subtlety?
How can this mean anything to me
If I really don’t feel anything at all? Yeah
I’ll keep digging
Till I feel something[3]

With sola suspicio there is only one emotion left, and it’s a beast: fear. Sola suspicio demands fear. Tromping about waving its banners colored with the status quo and the unimaginative, hollering at the top of its lungs, Sola Suspicio reminds us at every turn: be afraid, nothing is true; be terrified, you are replaceable; be wary, your neighbor is not to be trusted; be alert, are you getting yours? It lures us to consume everything we can get our hands on and then soothes us into a deep post feast sleep coma. But we wake up again and are sent on more wild chases looking for something, anything, to give us sustenance.

We are craving solidarity, but nothing ever satisfies.

Isaiah 53:4-9

Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way,
and God has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people.
They made his grave with the wicked
and his tomb with the rich,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Isaiah’s prophetic prayer highlights that whether we know it or not, whether we want to admit it or not, something is desperately wrong, and we are weary and faint; starvation does that to the body. This is our plight; this is not the product of divine chastisement; it’s the product of our own hands.[4] We’re caught up in the muck and mire of the tension between being held captive and being complicit in our starvation and the starvation of others. Isaiah says, all have gone astray, we have all turned to our own way.

Today we’re forced to recall the one person who identified deeply with the human predicament fell victim to the clutches of suspicion. Today we remember it was our inability to trust, to hope, to have faith in, and to love God more than ourselves that sent Jesus to suffer death. Today we remember that the son of God and the son of humanity hung on the cross, held by meager nails, a victim of our inability to accurately judge between good and evil. Today we’re reminded that we try soothing our existential hunger with the mythology of the kingdom of humanity: the myths of power, greed, status, and privilege. Today Christ dies because we are afraid, terrified of anything new, loyal to the lies of the status-quo. Today we stand guilty of being willing to pervert justice to our desires, bend it to our whims content with absolutely nothing rather than something.

Conclusion

In our hunger for God, we called out to God and pleaded for God to show up. And God did. God showed up in deep, deep solidarity with us; identifying with us in our weakness and vulnerability by being born and living as one of us. But it was too much for us; Christ exposed our captivity and complicity with destructive structures oriented toward death. And so we told God we wanted something else not-God.

Today God is dead; there’s no solidarity. Today, the church is gone; there’s no community. Today, relationality failed; we’re alone. Today, we sold our identity for 30 shekels; we’re replaceable. Today stability crumbled, and we’re abandoned to the hunger.

(for part 1 click here, part 2 click here, part 3 click here, part 4 click here, part 5 click here)


[1] Tool, “Stink Fist”, Aenima, Verse 1 and Chorus

[2] Tool, “Stink Fist”, Aenima, Verse 2 and Chorus

[3] Tool, “Stink Fist”, Aenima, Verse 3

[4] Abraham Heschel The Prophets New York, NY: JPS, 1962. 151

“Nothing Seems to Satisfy”: Craving Identity

(for part 1 click here, for part 2 click here)

Psalm 121:1-3 I lift up my eyes to the hills; from where is my help to come? My help comes from God, the maker of heaven and earth. God will not let your foot be moved and God who watches over you will not fall asleep.

Introduction

Do you know who you are? I know it sounds like a banal question, and maybe even moot. Of course, we all know who we are. I know that I am me, and I know that you are you. I know this because I am not you and you are not me. Thus, I’m sure that you know that you are you and not me because you are not me. If you were me and I were you, then we’d both be able to replace each other. And that means we would not be unique as individuals.

So, maybe I should rephrase the question: who are you as an individual apart from your relational roles and deeds? In terms of defining ourselves we default to our relationships, to our job, to our hobbies, to our interests and the activities therein to define ourselves not only to other people (to whom we feel a need always to be prepared to give justification for our existence) but also to ourselves. We cling to these things not only to define ourselves, but to validate ourselves and our existence. As we live in the wake of sola suspicio of our post-modern, post-enlightenment, even post-Theistic mindset, we are in a personal desperate way as we fight for something, anything to cling to affirm our uniqueness, validate our existence, and secure our identity.[1] But all of it is drift wood in this sea of tumult, chaos, and instability. There’s nothing secure enough in the material realm to cling that will give us a sense of self, an identity, a uniqueness and validation that won’t eventually become dust. Not even our own bodies offer us a stable constant, do they not betray us with time?

My identity is slipping through my fingers and nothing seems to satisfy.

Genesis 12:1-4a

God said to Abram, “…I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

We pick up again in the book of Genesis. Here, Moses, our faithful story-teller according to tradition, is telling us about the call of Abram. Chapter 12 in Genesis follows a colorful series of events: fierce cherubim and seraphim blocking off all access and reentrance to the Garden of Eden after the rather fateful “applegate” and subsequent curses (Gen 3), the first murder (Gen 4), various human civilizations being established (Gen 5), the appearance of the Nehphilim (the byproduct of the Sons of God knowing the Daughters of Humanity) (Gen 6:1-6), a massive and destructive flood (Gen 6:7-8:22), a rainbow of divine promise (Gen 9), and the Tower of Babel (Gen 11). It’s here, at this point in the story, where God (once again) begins anew, moving from a general approach to a specific approach: God will call one person, not for any other reason than God’s love for the whole world.[2]

God’s promises and blessing to Abram suggests a reversal of the curses uttered just chapters earlier.[3] These blessings and promises highlight that Abram has done nothing to receive them; they come as a “bolt from the blue.”[4] The idea that God cannot be with God’s beloved as a result of the fall back in Genesis 3 is rendered myth in this moment. God calls Abram and blesses him; where Adam, Eve, and the serpent leave behind paradise, Abram is invited into it: paradise is union with God. Herein is the foundation for the claim that the curses are being reversed: by God’s love, Abram will be a great nation (many children, one of whom will be the Messiah, the promised child of Genesis 3) and this nation will be a blessing to the rest of the world.[5]

In this moment of hearing the divine summons, Abram, in a moment, goes from a childless old man to the parent of many; here Abram becomes a new person, a new being by the Word of God summoning him to God’s self and thus into new life.[6] And not a new self for his own sake, but in this hearing of the divine summons, Abram is ushered into a new life for others. This other-orientated characteristic of his new life will become part of his new identity in God and with God as he becomes a conduit for God to bless other nations.[7] And in our context, the overflow of blessing and promise has already started: as Abram responds to God and finds his new life in God, Lot goes with him into this new thing.[8]

Conclusion

We look in many places to anchor and secure our identity. We long for something permanent that’s always there to tell us who and what we are. Some of us spend our lives reaching for accolades to define ourselves, some of us invest all we have in our relationships striving to be good by our deeds, some of us spend all our time toiling away at some job, some of us are dead set that our “passions” or our “hobbies” are our identity. These things aren’t inherently bad; it’s good to have things to do and enjoy, it is wonderful to walk through life with other people, serving and sharing with them. But, when they’re forced to bear the burden of the weight of ourselves, our personhood, and our identity, they are found to be phantoms and illusions. They are merely a papier mache covering over fear and anxiety that, at the end of it all, we’re truly replaceable, unnecessary, forgettable.

We tell ourselves lies that we must be x or y or even z to be valued, forgetting all the while that we’re valuable because we are. full stop. These things that we reach for and demand they give us something on which to hang our identity will leave us still afraid and unstable because they can never give us what we so deeply desire: irreplaceability. These things are too fleeting and fickle to give us our uniqueness and irreplaceability—here one day and gone the next. We cannot attain our identity and irreplaceability by ourselves leaning on our deeds.

So, if nothing seems to satisfy, how do we navigate all this insecurity of identity, this threat of the loss of self? We must look beyond ourselves and our deeds. We must be awakened to our deep-seated need and hunger for irreplaceable identity.

The irreplaceable individual is the one in whom another takes interest. Would you believe me if I told you that I take an interest in you? that you are—to me—irreplaceable? But there is also something bigger, securing for us that long desired irreplaceability, anchoring the thing that makes us unique, and to whom our existence matters day in and day out. God. Specifically, God brought close to us in Christ. This is why we come here every Sunday, to hear the age-old story of God calling Abram, to hear our own names in the place of Abrams, to hear our own summons, our own promises, our own being seen, known, and loved. We come here week after week to encounter divine love for us in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. We come here together and individually, to hear once again that God takes an interest in humanity and thus in us because in Christ, God shrugged off royalty to be as us, to identify as us, even unto death.

Beloved, God so loves you therefore you are irreplaceable, you are unique, you are of interest. You are loved and remembered by God; in you God takes hope. [9] In our hunger for irreplaceable identity, we hunger for God; in our hunger for God our identities are held, anchored to dependable substance because this story of God’s love for you never changes, it holds from one moment to the next, from one era to the next, not always in the same form but always with the same substance: divine love for the beloved.

In hearing the summons of God’s voice in the proclamation of divine love in Christ, God taking an interest in you and remembering you, calling you unto God’s self by the Spirit, you are called to walk with others. For this summons of God’s voice of love will always overflow through us to our neighbors, with whom we share blessings and promises of God’s love, interest, and remembrance. It’s here where we’re brought further out of ourselves and our desperate attempts to secure our own identities by our deeds by ourselves. It is here, in the midst of the divine summons and love where I find identity with you, because you are the beloved of God and God is where you are; God is where we are in the hunger.


[1] Dorothee Sölle, Christ the Representative, 26. “In the course of the expanding process of secularization, the metaphysical irreplaceability of the human soul was itself transposed into secular achievements or expressions of life by which the individual made himself irreplaceable. Man discovered himself as essentially one who accomplishes things, and this prospect of self-realization, self-accomplishment, self-expression in work, blotted out the earlier metaphysical horizon. Now for the first time, in the context of the modern discovery of the individual, it was a man’s work-labour performed, his perfected achievement-which merited the dignity and status given to the relation between producer and player in the earlier conception. Man no longer acquired his identity simply from his relationship to God, which had once in itself provided an adequate explanation of the irreplaceability of the individual as a soul. He now achieves his own identity; he makes himself irreplaceable.”

[2] Levenson, “Genesis” The Jewish Study Bible: Featuring the Jewish Publication Society Tanakh Translation. Eds. Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler. Oxford: OUP, 2004. 30.    “The universalism that marked Gen. chs 1-11 having now failed, the Lord begins anew, singling out one Mesopotamian—in no way distinguished from his peers as yet—and promising to make of him a great nation, not numbered in the seventy nations of ch. 10.”

[3] Levenson, “Genesis” The Jewish Study Bible, 30. “What the Lord promises Abram (his name is changed to ‘Abraham’ only in ch 17)—land, numerous offspring, and blessing—constitutes to an extent a reversal of some of the curses on Adam and Eve—exile, pain in childbirth, and uncooperative soil…”

[4] Levenson, “Genesis” The Jewish Study Bible, 30. “The twin themes of land and progeny inform the rest of the Torah. In Gen. ch 12, these extraordinary promises come like a bolt from the blue, an act of God’s grace alone; no indication has been given as to why or even whether Abram merits them.”

[5] LW 2 (Luther’s Works Vol 2 “Lectures on Genesis Chapters 6-14” Ed. Jaroslav Pelikan. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia, 1960.) 246. “…Moses reminds his people that they were chosen by the Lord, not because they had deserved this but because the Lord had loved them and was keeping the oath that had been given to their fathers? In this passage we see that the beginnings are in agreement with the end. For what is Abraham except a man who nears God when He calls him, that is, a merely passive person and merely the material on which divine mercy acts?”

[6] LW 2 247. “Thus, as I said above, Abraham is merely the material that the Divine Majesty seizes through the Word and forms into a new human being and into a patriarch, And so this rule is universally true, that of himself man is nothing, is capable of nothing, and has nothing except sin, death, and damnation; but through His mercy Almighty God brings it about that he is something and is freed from sin, death…”

[7] LW 2 258-259. “Here is presented the amazing promise that this people will not only be increased among itself and be blessed materially and spiritually, but that the blessing will also overflow to the neighboring nations and peoples. This happened to the Pharaoh in Egypt.”

[8] LW 2 275. “Behold God’s marvelous counsel! The promise pertained to Abraham only, not to Lot. Nevertheless, God attaches Lot, like a proselyte, to Abraham as his companion and moves his heart so that he wants to go into exile with his uncle rather than remain in his native country among the idolaters. This is because the promise given to Abraham be blessed with his descendants, it him others would become partakers of the blessing, even though the promise did not properly pertain to them.”

[9] Sölle, Representative, 46. “Whenever man’s horizon is bounded by his contribution, substitution also comes into play. A different basis must be found for man’s irreplaceability. I am irreplaceable only for those who love me. Only for them does a surplus remain, over and above whatever I perform at any given time: something not expressed in my action. This margin, this surplus of the person over and above all he performs, alone gives life to human relationships. To love means, in this sense, to count on this surplus, on what has not yet been expressed, not yet appeared. The invisible and unexpressed surplus is a reminder that I have not yet reached my full stature. Identity continues to be preserved in the experience of difference; in the consciousness of non-identity. But this consciousness knows that it cannot expunge itself. I do not become an irreplaceable person by my own effort, but only as I continue to be dependent on others.

“Nothing Seems to Satisfy”: Craving Stability

(for part 1 click here)

Psalm 32:6-9 6 “I will confess my transgressions to God.” Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin. Therefore all the faithful will make their prayers to you in time of trouble; when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them. You are my hiding-place; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance.

Introduction

The past few years and the last few months have felt like walking on water. Now, before you get the idea that I’m either comparing myself to Jesus the Christ, the son of God and humanity, or that I’ve felt so light and effervescent, I need to tell you that is not the case. By “walking on water” I mean: navigating the wind and the waves of life. Thrust upward only to be left falling downward as the surface drops, swept left and then swept all the way right, and smacked forward and backward by liquid turned solid by force and velocity.

There’s no way to extricate myself from this unending sea of waves and wind. It’s water as far as the eye can see. I fear something swimming just close enough but beyond my ability to see through murky water to prickle my skin with its sinister swish-swish-swishes right below my feet. The threat of doom leaves its own trauma. My other fear is becoming so water logged that I forget my real needs, that I confuse swallowing sea water for satisfying hunger, that I just become one with my environment, that I’ll give up or forget to keep fighting. When humans go about just surviving, they end up learning how to just survive and forget that life is so much more than just surviving.

Everything right now feels so unstable and nothing seems to satisfy.

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’“ But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:1-4)

Here, early in Genesis, we are offered a story. A story well known to us. Moses (the traditionally assumed author) tells us that after God created Adam, God brought Adam into the garden. Here, Adam was to work and care for creation. God gave Adam two commandments: eat from any tree but do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The consequence? “‘In that day you eat of it you will surely die.’” (v.17b) From our perspective this command seems astounding, and the consequence atrocious. Why would God implement such a command and consequence? Why would the acquisition of the knowledge of good and evil be punished severely? Why is God keeping this power from us?

One of the issues is our evaluation of good and evil. These are not just moral executive decisions. According to the JPS Study Bible, we have to reframe our understanding of “knowing” away from a post-enlightenment, scientific revolution outlook to one that offers a more wholistic picture of “knowing.” We know intellectually, but we also know experientially; therefore, there is not only knowing about good and evil, but knowing morally good and evil and (even more) knowing through experience things pleasant and painful.[1] And in these experiences, in this knowing morally, and even in knowing about good and evil there is death. It’s not so much a punishment as it is a consequence of finding ourselves suffering in the midst of good and evil, pulled this way and that, torn through with doubt and inner conflict, suffering from (even unto death) the force of evil in the world.

Then, enter the serpent. In chapter 3, Moses tells us the serpent comes along and strikes up a conversation with Eve. The serpent asks a trick question, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?”; there’s no yes or no here, and Eve knows it.[2] So, she answers the serpent, and this response opens up a means by which the serpent can attack further. Eve says, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’“ As she quotes the law differently than it was handed to Adam, the serpent can certainly show her that she can touch it without dying, and here in the chaos of conflict with what one knows and sees and the inner doubt over divine credibility surges.[3] Then the serpent presses further adding in just the right amount of potential divine jealousy: seems God doesn’t want you to have the same power God has…[4] The deal is sealed when she takes and eats of the apple and hands it to Adam, who was with her the entire time. The one who taught her the law failed to teach it to her rightly, and was himself subject to contemplating another word apart from God’s word.[5] Upheaval was already underway.[6]

Here the couple is thrust into tumult; what was, is now no longer. They were comfortable, now they are uncomfortable. Here they are falling from “true wisdom,” to quote Martin Luther, and “…[plunged] into utter blindness.”[7] They are now saddled with the weight of determining moral good and moral evil, held hostage by the onslaught of pleasure or pain, and chased by the threats of weal and woe. All of their relationships are now upended, their relationship with God, with each other, with themselves, and with creation; the ricochet of the sound of fracturing forever heard in the echo of lightening of the storm clouds threatening doom and in the rumble of their hunger pains.

Conclusion

How do we find stability in the midst of chaos and tumult? Do we really forego peace and comfort until our leaders figure it out? Do we run from each wave? Hide from the wind? I know there’s power finding stability in yourself, but it only lasts for so long. One strong gust or undulation and it topples. No material object can ever offer us the stability we so crave, all of it is of the dust and to dust it will return. There is no job, no amount of money, no home, no relationship secure enough to depend on no matter what. This is what we learned through skepticism: nothing is permanent; so, nothing is permanent. We are all one precarious moment from a free fall.

So, if nothing seems to satisfy, how do we navigate all this instability? We must look beyond ourselves and our consumption. We must be awakened to our deep-seated need and hunger for stability.

Dorothee Sölle writes this in her book, On Earth as in Heaven,

There is a spiritual that begins with the words, ‘Every time I feel the Spirit moving in my heart….’ When I hear this song, I ask myself when was the last time I felt the Spirit? And I would like to ask you: When was the last time you felt the Spirit move-on what occasion, where, why, when? The song ‘Every time I feel the Spirit moving in my heart’ awakens my spiritual hunger, the hunger without which we can, of course, vegetate but not live.[8]

Stability will always be found through and in awakened spiritual hunger, spiritual hunger and need for God. Spiritual hunger will bring us back—time and time again—to the age-old story of unconditional love, resurrected life, and present tense liberation.[9] It is here in this particular story where we are met and reminded of a covenant that runs steady, has no boundaries, and can safely carry us to solid ground over and over again.

Right now, I need God. Right now, God is my constant and my stability because God’s story never changes: God in Christ comes low to walk with those who are hungry, those who crave stability and whispers I will never leave you or forsake you, no matter how bad it gets no matter how scared you are, I am with you. It’s here where I’m brought further out of myself and my desperate attempts at false stability to find true stability…with you, because you are the beloved of God and God is where you are; God is where we are in the hunger.


[1] Levenson, “Genesis” The Jewish Study Bible, 16. “Knowledge of good and bad may be a merism, a figure of speech in which polar opposites denote a totality…But knowledge can have an experiential, not only an intellectual, sense in biblical Heb and ‘good and bad’ can mean either ‘weal and woe or ‘moral good and moral evil.’ The forbidden tree offers an experience that is both pleasant and painful; it awakens those who partake of it to the higher knowledge and to the pain that both come with moral choice.”

[2] Levenson, “Genesis”, The Jewish Study Bible, 16. “His question is tricky and does not admit of a yes-or-no answer. The woman, who has never heard the commandment directly (2.16-17), paraphrases it loosely. Why she adds the prohibition on touching the fruit is unclear…”

[3] Levenson, “Genesis” The Jewish Study Bible, 16-17. “Tragically, this praiseworthy act gave the snake his opening. ‘He touched the tree with his hands and his feet, and shook it until its fruits dropped to the ground,’ thus undermining the credibility of God’s entire commandment in the woman’s mind…”

[4] Levenson, “Genesis” The Jewish Study Bible, 17. “The serpent impugns God’s motives, attributing the command to jealousy. Whereas in the first creation account human beings are God-like creatures exercising dominion…here their ambition to be like God or like divine beings is the root of the expulsion from Eden.”

[5] LW 1 147. “For the chief temptation was to listen to another word and to depart from the one which God had previously spoken: that they would die if they ate from it.”

[6] LW 1 105. “This sermon was delivered on the sixth day; and if, as the text indicates, Adam alone heard it, he later on informed Eve of it.”

[7] LW 1 161.

[8] Sölle On Earth 93

[9] Sölle On Earth ix-x.

Up the Mountain and Down Again

Psalm 99:2-4 God is great in Zion; God is high above all peoples. Let them confess God’s Name, which is great and awesome; God is the Holy One. “O mighty [and royal], lover of justice, you have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.”

Introduction

Sometimes I wonder how often we include ourselves in the proclamation from the gospel of John: God so loved the world in this way, God sent God’s only son. We completely ignore that we are, have been, and will be invited in to the divine party we eagerly watch from outside, faces pressed against window panes, unable to hear the summons and invitation to the party because of the loud ruckus in our own heads. We can’t imagine hearing the summons and invitation. God loves the world, sure; but, does God love me?

I think we get trapped in our curiosity, wondering why God would love me? I mean, it makes sense that God would love you, you are just loveable. But me? Nah. I’m a huge bag of mess and not quite good enough to be truly and really loved by God. Even if I try to comprehend the idea that maybe God loves me, I will probably justify that potential love with some my productivity: maybe God loves me because I’m special in this way? maybe God loves me because of my talent? because I’m quite good at _______? Or, maybe God loves me because God has to…

Would I ever dare to think that God loves me just cuz? That God desires and wants me… just cuz? Love and desire untethered to a reason, a why, or wherefore. What the mystic Meister Eckhart (the mid 13th/early 14th century catholic theologian) calls the sunder warumbe: without a why or wherefore (as translated by Dorothee Sölle). We are hard wired to put justifications and reasons on why we do x and why we do z, because the world demands we justify our actions, our bodies, our being, our existence, and whom we love. But when it comes to love, to desire, to the lover being with the beloved these reasons and justifications fall flat. Love just loves. Love just is. Love loves the beloved (full stop).

Love wants to be with the beloved, close to the beloved, in all the profoundness and banality of the beloved, even when the beloved says silly things out of fear and reverence surrounded by bright light and dense cloud, accompanied by Moses and Elijah and two other disciples. Love goes with us, up the mountain and back down.

Matthew 17:1-9

And behold! Moses appeared to them and Elijah was talking with him. And Peter took up the conversation and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will make here three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah…” Yet, while he was speaking, behold! a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold! a voice out from the cloud saying “This one is my son, the beloved, in whom I am well-pleased. You listen to him!”[1]

The story of Jesus’s transfiguration is well known. It’s a powerful story, and Matthew does an excellent job demonstrating the intersection of divine glory and human frailty. The story of Jesus’s transfiguration as told by Matthew might be my favorite example of Peter being wonderfully Peter: totally human. In fact, the flow from chapter 16 to chapter 17 works well. These two chapters demonstrate the variability of Peter’s humanity, from profound insight that is a near mountain-top experience, to being chastised for rebuking Jesus’s prophetic utterances about the trajectory of his ministry that is like an experience of being dropped down the backside of the mountain. So it goes for the one on whom Jesus will build his church: full of both great and not so great moments. Not everything Peter does is infallible—at least not at this point in church history!

In Chapter 17, Peter is one of the three who go with Jesus up the high-mountain, to the heights of the intersection of heaven and earth; maybe Peter wondered if something divine would happen, wasn’t his religious history replete with stories of divine encounter on such mountaintops?[2] The reader probably has more information than Peter does considering that Matthew makes frequent overlapping references between Moses and Jesus,[3] leading the reader to draw the connection between Moses and Jesus’s authority to interpret the law.[4]And even hints that Jesus might even be better than Moses.[5]

But for Peter and his two friends, this is all unfolding before them. As they ascend the mountain, they witness Jesus transfigured by bright light and his clothes radiated the same bright light (Jesus doesn’t change forms, he remains the same Jesus).[6] And as they are taking in Jesus’s divine glowing transfiguration, Moses and Elijah show up! And Elijah is talking with Moses and then… Peter. Peter literally inserts himself, he “took up the conversation” and asks Jesus if he should build some tents. Far from being ridiculous request, it made sense; the glory of God shines about him and two of God’s divine prophets show up and why not make tents? Isn’t that where the glory of God dwells?[7] In tents and tabernacles? And then, just as he took hold of the conversation, God takes it back and declares that this one, Jesus, is God’s son and all should listen to him. Immediately, the event is over. God does not dwell high up on the mountain, but among God’s people; the disciples and Jesus will go back down to proceed with God’s mission of divine love for the beloved; Jesus and the disciples will minister in the valleys and not be secluded up high on the mountain tops.[8]

Peter follows Jesus when he is called; Peter follows Jesus up the mountain; Peter will also follow Jesus down the mountain. [9] But this relationship is not one-sided. Jesus called Peter because Jesus loved Peter; Jesus lifted up Peter when he fell on his face in fear on the mountain top because he loved him; and, Jesus will accompany him down into the valley because he loved him. Be raised up, says Jesus, and be not afraidbecause I am with you, now and always, up on the mountain and down low in the valley, and where you go I will go too, now and always.

This event that merely altered Jesus’s appearance ultimately changed Peter inside and out;[10] Peter (and the other disciples with him) come to know that Love goes with them, up the mountain and back down.

Conclusion

Beloved, make note that Jesus did not stay up on the mountain, kicking it with Elijah and Moses. Peter was not able to build those tents, let alone finish his thought before God sent everyone back down. God is known among God’s people, not up high and separated from them. Jesus shows us the love of God by descending the mountain to be with us even if it means he goes to his demise. Yes, there is great glory and affirmation at the top of the mountain, but what would any of it mean if it stayed there? God comes low: in spirit hovering over the darkness, in creative words bursting forth in life and light, in fire and clouds, in the law, through the prophets, and in the love of Christ.

So, beloved, God so loved the world and you! that God came back down the mountain. God so loves you that you are beckoned to ascend the mountain so that you can come back down with Christ and share in the divine summons and mission of spreading love and life in the world to those who are deprived of such love and life. You are so called to be changed by this encounter with God in Christ that you can do nothing else but follow Jesus up the mountain and back down.


[1] Translation mine unless otherwise noted.

[2] Anna Case-Winters Matthew Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible Eds Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher. Louisville, KY: WJK, 2015. 212. “The vision (v. 9) we call the transfiguration takes place on the ‘high mountain’ which has traditionally been associated with revelation and profound religions experience. Symbolically, it is a place where heaven touches earth.”

[3] Case-Winters, Matthew, 212. Tons of overlap with Moses and Jesus in Matthew, “This association is made more prominent in chapter 17 where there are at least seven points of parallel between Jesus in the transfiguration and Moses at Sinai.”

[4] Case-Winters, Matthew, 213. “These multiple associations reinforce identity of Jesus with Moses and affirm Jesus’ role as the authoritative interpreter of the law.”

[5] R. T. France The Gospel of Matthew The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Gen. Ed Joel B. Green. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007. 645. “But this pericope reinforces the perception of the careful reader of ch. 2 that Jesus comes, as Moses did long ago, to fulfill God’s purpose of deliverance for his people. At the same time, he is also clearly marked out as a greater than Moses, both by the heavenly voice which speaks of him alone in terms never used of Moses, and by the fact that Moses and Elijah soon disappear, leaving Jesus alone to carry Out the final act of deliverance.”

[6] France, Matthew, 647. “The visual ‘transformation’ is not so much a physical alteration an added dimension of glory; it is the same Jesus, but now with an awesome brightness ‘like the sun’ and ‘like light.’ Or, one might better say, with the of earthly conditions temporarily stripped away, so that the true nature of God’s ‘beloved Son’ (v. 5) can for once be seen.”

[7] Case-Winters, Matthew, 213. “’There is an association with the tents or tabernacles that housed the ark of the covenant in the wilderness wanderings. God’s presence in the Holy of Holies in the Temple was also identified is the shekinah.”

[8] Case-Winters, Matthew, 214. “Peters proposal, however, is wrong-footed on several counts, as what follows his offer will make clear. There will be no dwelling upon the mountain top in ‘spiritual retreat’ from the world. Jesus and the disciples are very soon thereafter called to come down from the high places and minister in the valley where great need awaits them.”

[9] Case-Winters, Matthew, 215. “In this story the ascent to the heights of the mountain and “peak” experiences of encounter with God is followed by descent into suffering and service in the valley of need where God’s calling beckons. Ascent and descent are inextricably bound for the followers of Jesus. Just as they were for him.”

[10] France, Matthew, 643. “If what happened there provided Jesus himself with reassurance for his coming mission, we are told nothing of this; it is the disciples’ Christological understanding which is being enhanced, and the discussion as they return down the mountain (vv. 10-13) similarly focuses entirely on their grasp of the eschatological timetable.”

Just like the Prophets

Psalm 15:1-2 1 God, who may dwell in your tabernacle? who may abide upon your holy hill? Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right, who speaks the truth from [their] heart.

Introduction

Did you know that the Sermon on the Mount was probably given in the hills?[1] I mention this little detail because there are texts and stories, teachings and preachings that we’re very familiar with, so familiar that we are prone to pay them less attention. We take them for granted and lock them in some form in our memory. We are familiar with the tonality and the cadence of the textual rhythm. We can recite some of them from memory. We may be more familiar with some over others; we may even know the blessed statements show up altered in other gospels. Maybe it’s time we did what Jesus’s disciples did: follow Jesus and sit with this divine Rabbi, [2] listening (again) to these words meant for those who follow Jesus out of the river Jordan, even those of us who sit here these many years later. As we do, may we come into an encounter with the love and passion of God anew, for God’s Word seeks to awaken us from our slumber, provoke to animation calcified hearts, invigorate sluggish souls and exhausted minds, graft us into God’s mission on the earth,[3] and to place us into the great prophetic tradition of God’s representatives bringing God’s love and life and liberation to the captives.[4]

Matthew 5:1-12

Before beginning our dive into the statements, I want to address a little, teensy-weensy textual thing: the word, markarioi is fairly hard to render into English. The complication comes in that “‘Macarisms’ are essentially commendations, congratulations, statements to the effect that a person is in a good situation, sometimes even expressions of envy.”[5] This isn’t “blessed by God”,[6] but “happy”. They are happy who… However, this is misleading in our context because it is not as if the person is happy but that they find themselves in a happy place demanding envy from others.[7] In short, these statements are not merely colloquialisms about happy go lucky, but describe and commend the good life,[8] and not the good life or an ethic for back then but even now, for us.[9] To be envied is to do and be like this…

To be envied are the beggars for the Spirit, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.[10]

The “poor in spirit” are not those who lack God or have weak character. Rather, these are the ones claimed by God but poor, those held captive by oppression, those refused the material liberation of God. [11] These people know their need for God, cry out to God, call on God, and take God as God. It is these who have the kingdom of God because they are with God[12] and loved by God and in this love the kingdom is now and to come.[13]

To be envied are the ones who mourn, because they, they will be comforted.

Like those before who are “poor in spirit” and those who follow (the meek and those who hunger and thirst), those who mourn have comfort in that they are those who are with God because God is in our suffering.[14] And in being with God, having God’s life and love there is the possibility that this heavy grief will not always be so, that there is more to this material existence than what can be seen and touched right now.[15]

To be envied are the meek, because they, they will inherit the earth.

Meekness here harkens back to “poor in spirit”, these are the ones who love their neighbor as themselves, serving the neighbor in their freedom, feeling compassion and sympathy for the plight of their neighbor. The meek live among the sufferers in this life and make it their aim to alleviate that suffering, to bring God close.[16] For these meek ones are servants of all, live by the law of love for their neighbor before God, and are the ones who inherit the earth at the expense of those claiming the earth for themselves now at the expense of their neighbor.

To be envied are the ones who hunger and thirst for righteousness, because they, they will be satisfied.

Those who are hungry are hungry for justice, those who are thirsty are thirsty for righteousness; and this hunger and thirst fuels the embers of the fires of God’s love and justice.[17] These are the ones who desire earnestly (2x!) to live into the calling of God on their lives made known through their baptism and faith in God, and to participate in God’s mission of love, liberation, and life in the world. These are they who step into the responsibility of representing God in the world and eliminating alienation and isolation.[18] By this activity they satisfy their hunger and thirst for justice and righteousness come.

To be envied are the merciful, because they, they will be shown mercy.

Just like those who judge will be judged and those who forgive will be forgiven, those who show mercy will be shown mercy. In other words, those who are merciful are those who offer grace to other fellow humans trying to get from point A to point B, those who share in the pain in the world and celebrate the joy, those who are willing to let go of societal standards of “an eye for an eye”.[19]

To be envied are the pure in heart, because they, they will see God.”

This is less about being sinless and more about being declared pure apart from your material and social circumstances that would render you “unclean” for lack of “outward purity”.[20] Godliness is about one’s trust and faith in and love of God made most manifest in love of one’s neighbor; it’s not about being ritualistically clean and upright thus removed from being able to love one’s neighbor no matter what.

To be envied are the peacemakers, because they, they will be called children of God.”

Those born of God are born of love, of life, of peace. Thus, the peacemakers are not those who merely present a peaceful demeanor in the world, benefitting only themselves. These are they who “make peace” by causing reconciliation where there is estrangement, reuniting others, and letting love do what love does: turn the enemy into the beloved.[21]

To be envied are the ones who are persecuted on account of righteousness, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs. You are to be envied whenever people revile you both persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be fully of joy, because your reward is great in the heavens, for in this way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Of interest here are those who are blessed because they are persecuted and not only because they’re upright, but upright specifically related to following Jesus.[22] It’s not a lifestyle that is good, but one that adheres to the authority and principles of Jesus; this is the reason for the persecution. In adhering to the radical demands of Christ by pursuing justice, peace, mercy, and love in the world,[23] the disciples will end up challenging the self-conceptions of others who live according to the world[24] and persecution will follow. Then Jesus does something at the end of the text, according to Matthew, he draws a correlation between those who do his will with the prophets. Those who follow Jesus and do as he did are grafted into the great line of prophets, those who declare God’s kingdom come, those who advocate for the sufferers and oppressed are those who share in the great prophetic tradition and participate in the prophetic voice.[25]

Conclusion

Beloved, the “sermon among the hills” is the foundation of our ethical activity in the world. Loved by the radical God of Love made known to us in Christ, we love radically like God, risking our creaturely comforts and daring to stand out[26] we bring and declare this love into the world.[27] We’re called by and in faith to be born anew into a new life defined by God’s will and desire to seek and save the lost, to liberate the captives, to bring good news to the poor and destitute, those struggling to live and exist. We are created anew to be God’s representatives in the name of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit in the world. We are to feel our discontentment with the world because God is discontent with the way the world is for God’s beloved.[28] We’re to press into God by pressing into the plight of our brothers and sisters, in this the light breaks through the darkness, hope defeats hopelessness,[29] and love births life.[30]

The following is taken from Ernesto Cardenal’s poem, “Coplas on the death of Merton”,[31]

Love, love above all, an anticipation
of death
            There was a taste of death in the kisses
                        being
                                    is being
                                                in another being
            we exist only in love
But in this life we love only briefly
and feebly
            We love or exist only when we stop being
when we die
            nakedness of the whole being in order to make love
                                    make love not war
                        that go to empty into the love
                        that is life


[1] RT France, in his commentary, makes the compelling case that the location where Jesus sits and teaches his disciples in this pericope are “hills” rather than a mountain (which is the technical translation of to oros). France uses the corresponding text in the gospel of Luke which describes Jesus as going down to this location…

[2] R. T. France The Gospel of Matthew The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Gen. Ed Joel B. Green. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007. 157-158.

[3] Anna Case-Winters Matthew Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible Eds Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher. Louisville, KY: WJK, 2015. 71-72. “The Sermon on the Mount, in its clarion call to a radically different way of life, does unmask the sinfulness of the life we now live—turned in on ourselves as we are. Indeed, it makes our need for God’s grace very clear, but the message also moves and motivates us toward the higher righteousness to which Jesus calls us. It does so not by giving a set of prescriptions to be followed in a legalistic manner but rather examples of life oriented by the love of God and neighbor.”

[4] Cardenal, Solentiname, 89-90. “WILLIAM: ‘And Jesus compares us with the prophets. The prophets in the Bible were not so much people who predicted the future as people who denounced the present. They were protesting against the celebrations in the palaces, the cheating on the weights and the coins, the things that they bought very cheap from the labor of the poor, the swindles of widows and orphans, the abuses committed by the mafias of priests, the murders, the royal policy that they called prostitution, the dependence on foreign imperialisms. And it’s true they also predicted something for the future-the liberation of the oppressed. Christ says that our fate has to be like the fate of those prophets.’”

[5] France, Matthew, 160-161.

[6] France, Matthew, 160-161. The Hebrew equivalent of Makarios is asre rather than the more theologically loaded baruk, ‘blessed (by God).’ The traditional English rendering ‘blessed’ thus also has too theological a connotation in modern usage; the Greek term for ‘blessed (by God)’ is eulogetos, not makarios.

[7] France, Matthew, 160-161. “The sense of congratulation and commendation is perhaps better convened by ‘happy,’ but this term generally has too psychological a connotation: makarios does not state that a person feels happy … but that they are in a ‘happy’ situation, one which other people ought also to wish to share.”

[8] France, Matthew, 160-161. “The Australian idiom ‘Good on yer’ is perhaps as close as any to the sense, but would not communicate in the rest of the English-speaking world!…Beatitudes are descriptions, and commendations, of the good life.”

[9] Case-Winters, Matthew, 71. “I would propose that the ethic of the Sermon on the Mount is a fitting ethic nor just for ‘the interim’ and not just tor an inner circle, but for followers of Jesus in all times and places. It has been pointed out that a new way of life is at the heart of the gospel call.”

[10] Translation mine unless otherwise noted

[11] Ernesto Cardenal The Gospel in Solentiname Trans. Donald D. Walsh. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2010. 82. “I said that in the Bible the poor are often called anawim, which in Hebrew means ‘the poor of Yahweh.’ They are so called because they are the poor of the liberation of Yahweh, those that God is going to liberate by means of the Messiah. It’s like what we now understand as the ‘oppressed,’ but in the Bible those poor people are also considered to be good people, honorable, kindly and holy, while their opposites are the oppressors, the rich, the proud, the impious.”

[12] France, Matthew, 165. “‘Poverty in spirit’ is not speaking of weakness of character (‘mean-spiritedness’) but rather of a person’s relationship with God. It is a positive spiritual orientation, the converse of the arrogant self-confidence which only rides roughshod over the interests of other people but more importantly causes a person to treat God as irrelevant. To say that it is to such people that kingdom of heaven belongs means (not, of course, that they themselves hold royal authority but) that they are the ones who gladly accept God’s rule and who therefore enjoy the benefits which come to his subjects.”

[13] Cardenal, Solentiname, 83. “And OSCAR’S MOTHER: ‘It seems to me that the kingdom is love. Love in this life. And heaven is for those who love here, because God is love’”

[14] Case-Winters, Matthew, 76-77. “The first four beatitudes declare blessing for those who were traditionally understood as being defended by God: the poor, those who mourn, the meek, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, justice.”

[15] France, Matthew, 166. “For those who, as God’s people, find their current situation intolerable and incomprehensible, there are better times ahead.”

[16] France, Matthew, 166. “‘Meek,’ like ‘poor in spirit,’ speaks not only of those who are in fact disadvantaged and powerless, but also of those whose attitude is not arrogant and oppressive. The term in itself may properly be understood of their relations with other people; they are those who do not throw their weight about.”

[17] Cardenal, Solentiname, 86. “MARCELINO: ‘He blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice. Hunger and injustice amount to the same thing. Anyone who hungers for food also hungers for justice. They are the ones who are going to make social change, not the satisfied ones. And then they’ll be filled with bread and social justice.’”

[18] France, Matthew, 167-168. Dikaiosyne “It is thus better understood here not of those who wish to see God’s will prevail in the world in general or on their own behalf in particular, but of those who are eager themselves to live as God requires, those who can say, as Jesus himself is recorded as saying in John 4:34, ‘My food is to do the will of the one who me.’”

[19] France, Matthew, 168. “‘Mercy’ is closely with forgiveness, but is broader here than just the forgiveness of specific offenses: it is a generous attitude which is willing to see things from the other’s point of view and is not quick to take offense or to gloat over others’ shortcomings (the prime characteristic of love according to 1 Cor 13:4-7). Mercy sets aside society’s assumption that it is honorable to demand revenge.”

[20] France, Matthew, 168. “In the context of first-century Judaism, with its strong emphasis on ritual ‘purity’, the phrase ‘pure in heart’ might also be understood to imply a contrast with the meticulous preservation of outward purity which will be condemned in 23:25-28 as having missed the point of godliness…”

[21] France, Matthew, 169. “This beatitude goes beyond a merely peaceful disposition to an active attempt to ‘make’ peace, perhaps by seeking reconciliation with one’s own enemies, but also more generally by bringing together those who estranged from one another.”

[22] France, Matthew, 172. “A significant new note in comparison with v. 10 is that the cause of persecution is not simply ‘righteousness,’ the distinctive lifestyle of the disciples, but more specifically ‘because of me,’ a phrase which makes it clear that this discourse is not just a call to conduct but is grounded in the unique authority and radical demands of Jesus himself.”

[23] Cardenal, Solentiname, 88. “ALEJANDRO: ‘And he says that they are going to be persecuted because they seek justice, and for that also he blesses them. Because it’s clear that people who look for this kingdom have to be persecuted.”

[24] France, Matthew, 169-170. “The pursuit of ‘righteousness’ (v. 6) can arouse opposition from those whose interests or self-respect may be threatened by it. Already in the commendation of the merciful and the peacemakers these beatitudes have marked out the true disciple not as a hermit engaged in the solitary pursuit of holiness but as one engaged in society, and such engagement has its cost. As the following verses will spell out more fully, to live as subjects of the kingdom of heaven is to be set over against the rest of society which does not its values, and the result may be – indeed, the uncompromising wording of this beatitude suggests that it will be—persecution.”

[25] France, Matthew, 173. “Those who have spoken out for God have always been liable to the violent reprisal of the ungodly. In the light of that heritage, to be persecuted for the sake of Jesus is a badge of honor. The phrase ‘the prophets who came before you’ perhaps suggests that Jesus’ disciples are now the prophetic voice on earth (cf. 10:41; 23:34).”

[26] France, Matthew, 159. “The sharply paradoxical character of most of its recommendations reverses the conventional values of society—it commends those whom the world in general would dismiss as losers and wimps; compare the presentation of disciples as ‘little ones’ in 10:42; 18:6, 10.14; 25:40 (cf. the ‘little children’ of 11:25). The Beatitudes thus call on those who would be God’s people to stand out as different from those around them, and promise them that those who do so will not ultimately be the losers.”

[27] Case-Winters, Matthew, 77. “In a way the beatitudes are ‘more description than instruction;’ they are a kind of report from the other side of radical commitment for those who have entered into life within God’s community of love and justice. For those who have ‘crossed over’ there is genuine blessedness. They are living-even now-in the reign of God.”

[28] Case-Winters, Matthew, 78. “If we would-even now-live under the reign of God, there are implications. The alternative reality will chaff against the present reality. To love as God loves is to be discontented with the present reality. ‘Until the eschatological reversal takes place, it is not possible to be content with the status quo.’ In our discontent, we may pray with William Sloane Coffin, ‘Because we love the world. . . . we pray now… for grace to quarrel with it, O Thou Whose lover’s quarrel with the world is the history of the world…’”

[29] Dorothee Soelle On Earth as in Heaven: A Liberation Spirituality of Sharing Trans. Marc Batko. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 1993. 50-51. “Christian hope in the tradition of the supernatural virtues, that is, of virtues poured into us by grace, is distinguished from the hope of the observer by sharing, cooperation, and participation. Chrisitan hope is hope in which I share in the production of another state. The hope of peace lives with the peacemakers and not beyond them. Participation in the struggle distinguishes this hope form the contemplative observation that is optimist once moment ad resigned the next.

[30] France, Matthew, 171-172. “Light is of no use under a bowl. It is the town conspicuously sited on hill which people notice. And the outcome of distinctive discipleship is intended to be that other people will notice and, though sometimes they may respond with cynicism and persecution, ultimately the light will have its effect and they will recognize and acknowledge the goodness of the God is its source, Disciples, therefore, must be both distinctive and involved. Neither the indistinguishably assimilated nor the inaccessible hermit will fulfill the mandate of these challenging verses.”

[31] Ernesto Cardenal Apocalypse and other poems Trans. Thomas Merton, Kenneth Rexroth, and Mireya Jaimes-Freyre. Eds. Robert Pring-Mill, Donald D. Walsh. New York, NY: New Directions Publishing, 1977. 47.

The Untamed God of Life

Sermon on Luke 21:5-19

Canticle 9 Surely, it is God who saves me; I will trust in God and not be afraid. For God is my stronghold and my sure defense, and God will be my Savior. Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing from the springs of salvation.

Introduction

In CS Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, Mr. Beaver says this about Aslan,

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

CS Lewis does a great job telling a fantastic story pointing to something beyond us. Aslan, the lion—Lewis’s representation of God in Christ, the one whom Mr. Beaver is talking about, is an untamed lion, the one no one controls and whom no one can determine and disclose. Aslan is big, striking, protective and inviting, warm and fierce, and full of life—death can’t hold this lion.

What’s striking to me is how trapped we are in thinking God is rather tame, small, quaint, proper, more concerned about etiquette than existence. We prefer the pocket-sized God, neatly tucked into back-pockets and handbags. This tiny-origami God is a very small God who could never reverse the laws of nature surrounding the scientifically demonstrated irreversibility of life and death, would never dare do anything disrupting the status quo, and is completely practical and predictable. We don’t much like Mr. Beaver’s unsafe, disruptive Aslan.

Funny thing is, I can’t find our tame and safe God among the splendor and magnificence of the cosmos from the smallest star in our night sky to the brilliant light of the noon sun, or in the technicolor coat of the flora covering the earth, nourishing the equally diverse and rich clusters of fauna calling earth home. Tell me where this safe and tame God is within the First and Second testaments. From the first page to the very last, the entire Bible speaks of a God who is big and quite untamed: a God willing to contend with Israel’s oppressors, destroy temples, tear open the earth, divide waters to the right and left, flip tables, whisper instead of yell, be born vulnerable and die as such, and call forth the living from the dead.

All that to say: God is not small. God is not tame or safe. An encounter with God will sweep you up into God through death and into new life. Even if we prefer to shrink God, make God safe, tame, and predictable, God refuses our insistences and remains big, forever outside of our grasp, and beyond the limits of our imaginations. So, to quote Mr. Beaver with slight alteration, “‘Tame? … Who said anything about tame? ‘Course [God] isn’t tame…’”

Luke 21:5-19

“Now, before all of these things they will place their hands upon you, and they will persecute, delivering [you] to the synagogues and prisons, being lead to kings and governors on account of my name. It will become to you a witness. Therefore, fix in your heart not to premeditate in order to give an account of yourself. For I, I will give you speech and wisdom which all who oppose you will not be able to resist or contradict. And you will be delivered also by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, and you will be hated by all because of my name. And not a hair from your head will be destroyed. In your enduring you will acquire your soul.”[1]

Lk 21:12-19

Luke begins by telling his audience about what the coming demise[2] of the temple.[3]In reply to some casual admiration of the structural magnificence of the temple, Jesus says: these things which you gaze, a day will come in which not one stone upon another stone will be left alone.[4]I imagine the look of the disciples communicated something between: Way to cut to not-so-casual warnings pertaining to the end times, and

It’s this awkward entrance through warnings of the temple’s total destruction that Jesus ushers in a(nother) discussion about how to exist after he’s gone: be on your guard because God’s great reversal will bring a bunch of discomfort![5]Jesus follows up by promising that it wont go well for those who proclaim good news in Jesus’s name. He alerts them to keep their eyes open, Watch(!)[6] [so that] you might not be led astray! Jesus declares that many men will come in my name saying, I, I am and the time has come near!” Then, as they are still perceiving, he tells them to keep their ears open so that whenever you may hear of wars and upheavals, be not struck with panic!And then he adds as a rejoinder, these will not be the end but the first things. He goes on, nation will rise up against nation and kingdom against kingdom, there will be great earth quakes and in many places famines and pestilences, there will be scares and great signs of heaven. Jesus then makes it personal, oh, and in case you thought you would escape it, they’ll come for you, too…and by “they” I mean your own darn family. Those who follow the Christ and proclaim his message will end up experiencing the same rejection and fate he did.[7]

Starting with the spiritual realm (represented by the Temple) through the temporal realm (represented by the advent of false Christs and national, tectonic, and viral chaos), to the deeply personal realm, Jesus indicates in all-encompassing fashion that God’s great reversal will consume their whole entire lives. There will be nowhere to run where you don’t suffer some exposure to death on a personal level as God rights wrongs, brings justice where there has been injustice, liberates the captives, unburdens the oppressed, brings in the ostracized, heals the sick, and resurrects the dead. [8] Be prepared; it will be very hard!

This is the good news? What happened to my safe and comforting God? Where did my tame God go?

According to Jesus, the tame God is a myth of status-quo proportions.[9] There is no way to live in both ages—this one and that one—at the exact same time and without disruption to one or the other.[10] Consider this passage a blown-up version—cosmically big—of Jesus’s previous discussion about mammon: you cannot serve both God and mammon. Thus, you cannot follow the Christ, live into the message and activity of Christ, represent Christ when he’s gone, and think that the world is going to be fine with it. They won’t be, not even the one who bore you. This all feels like so much. Where is the hope in the midst of the advent of the new age, where is the good news in the wake of this untamed God?

It’s here in what Jesus says by way of closing. He doesn’t leave them without a word of comfort. Rather, he presses into the promises of God, But, BUT in all of it I’ll be with you, and you’ll not be destroyed (not even a hair on your head will be lost) for in this active endurance you’ll gain your soul because you’ll be found in God and God lives![11]In other words, I might be gone, but I am with you[12] as you are with each other in solidarity;[13] wherever two or three are gathered together, I am in their midst. Whether you live or die, I am with you and you’ll not be lost or destroyed. Jesus’s God is a big, untamed God bringing a great reversal ushering in the new age teeming with life and destroying the old age burdened by death. This great reversal isn’t easy for anyone. But, take heart Beloved; this untamed God is the author of love and life, and where love and life are death and destruction cannot be also… So, Beloved, hold tight, stand firm together, take heart the fight for life is worth it for you are on God’s side. Beloved, rejoice and behold …

Conclusion

Isaiah 65:17-25

For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;

the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.

But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;

for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.

I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;

no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.

No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;

for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.

They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;

for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.

They shall not labor in vain,
or bear children for calamity;

for they shall be offspring blessed by the [God]–
and their descendants as well.

Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.

The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent– its food shall be dust!

They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain, says [God].


[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. 238. “The siege and destruction of Jerusalem are described in terms, and even with words, that are parallel to the account of Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. Verses 12-19 are almost an outline of what Luke will later tell in Acts about the subsequent history of the Christian community, although obviously the phrase ‘not a hair of your head will perish’ must be taken as either a hyperbole or even better as a sign that even death is not defeat, for at the time of this writing Luke already knew of the deaths of at least Stephen and James. Even before the tall of Jerusalem and its awesome events of death and destruction, the disciples of Jesus will be persecuted.”

[3] Joel B. Green The Gospel of Luke The New International Commentary on the New Testament Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997. 733. “The Jerusalem temple admired by those with Jesus was the project of Herod the Great, who in 20/19 B.C.E. began a reconstruction of the temple that essentially doubled its size and otherwise reflected his own aggrandizing character. Pilgrims pouring into the city from the rustic environs of Palestine and the wider diaspora could not help but be impressed, even overwhelmed, by its sheer size and magnificence, by the brilliance of the gold plates that covered its façade, and by (he while marble that adorned its upper reaches, 12 What is more, its splendor as an architectural feat would have been for the faithful more than matched by the awe it inspired as the abode of God and socio-religio-political center of the Jewish universe. Jesus’ emphatic prediction of total annihilation (leaving no “stone upon stone”), echoing his earlier words in 19:44 as well as prophetic oracles of judgment in the OT, must have been stunning on both accounts.”

[4] Gonzales, Luke, 236-237. “The rest of chapter 21 is devoted to a series of announcements and warnings about the time to come, or rather, to what is constructed as a single discourse about future events and the disciples’ lives as they await such events. The setting is the temple, where Jesus has been teaching, and the occasion is the admiration of ‘some’ not necessarily the disciples. In response to such admiration, Jesus comments that the time will come when even the temple will be utterly destroyed, a destruction so thorough that “not one stone will be left upon another.”

[5] Gonzales, Luke,237. “For these reasons, it seems best to interpret the text as bearing the same general thrust as many of the parables of stewardship: telling the disciples how to behave while awaiting the end. On this score, Jesus’ main warning is not to believe any who claim to know when the end will come…”

[6] Green, Luke, 735. “They are not to follow after those making such claims, but neither are they to respond in terror. They are, instead, ‘to watch,’ to exercise their faith in such a way that they have insight into what God is doing.”

[7] Green, Luke, 736. “‘Persecution’ is the heading under which this material can be gathered – persecution resulting from the identification of Jesus’ followers first with his message and then, consequently, with his fate.”

[8] Gonzales, Luke,239-240. “But we prefer a ‘gospel’ without eschatology—a ‘good news’ without hope—because for many of us such ‘good news’ is not so good. We prefer a gospel without eschatology, because the good of the great reversal that Luke has been proclaiming all along does not seem so good to us. If the promised great reversal is for the benefit of sinners rather than properly religious folk, for the exploited, for the poor, for those who have no other hope, where does that leave us? How can such a reversal be a promise of hope for us who are now, so to speak, on top of the heap? This is why, while for most Christians eschatology is a matter of hope, for many others it has become a matter of fear. When the latter is the case, change ceases being a promise and becomes a threat.”

[9] Green, Luke, 736. “The coming resistance is, according to Jesus, not limited to that exacted by official bodies within Judaism and the realm of Rome, but would extend as well to one’s own kin. The inventory of those who would betray the faithful is reminiscent of the list in 14:12, including those with whom, under normal je wo… share relationships of mutual trust and reciprocity. The coming of the kingdom, however, renders normal conventions obsolete, with the result that the faithful have repeatedly been called upon to redraw kinship lines, to find their familial attachments with those ‘who hear the word of God and do it’ (esp. 8:21; cf. 18:29). Of course, it is precisely this disregard for normal conventions, this embracing of the purpose of God as it unfolds in and overtakes the present world order, that leads to the despising of Jesus’ disciples among those who fail to recognize or serve God’s redemptive project. Marked as deviants by their behavior, they will find themselves detested, by those who uphold the accepted protocols of their social world.”

[10] Gonzales, Luke,240. “There is only one way, and it is to this that Jesus refers in verses 12-19. It is the way of living now as those who know that a different future awaits. It is a difficult way, for those who live out of a different order than the existing one will necessarily clash with the present order. The good news does not at first sound so good: ‘they will arrest you and persecute you… You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death.’ This sounds so alien to us! Persecuted for being a Christian? Rejected by family and friends for our faith? That may have been true in the first century, but not in these enlightened times…

[11] Green, Luke, 737. v. 18 “Its proximity to v 17 suggests, further, the Jesus promises that persecution, even death, does not spell the end of life for the faithful.”

[12] Green, Luke, 737. “Moreover, Jesus thus portends his continual presence with the disciples even as they face the tribunal, following his death; only with the onset of Acts do we understand fully that he will be present to the community of his followers by means of the Holy Spirit poured out among them. That this witness cannot withstood or contradicted finds ready fulfillment in Acts 4:14; 6:10, as well. This, however, does not guarantee that the testimony of Jesus’ witnesses will win the day, only that the resistance they attract and even the executions they undergo are not to be perceived as testimony against the truth or vitality of their witness or the authenticity of their understanding of God’s purpose. This is a pivotal message for Jesus’ disciples, who thus far have been unable to correlate humiliation and suffering with the divine purpose (e.g., 9:44-50; 18:31-34).”

[13] Gonzales, Luke,240-241. “What then about those of us who are not poor or disinherited, whose religion makes us socially respectable, whose mainline churches are the moral and social mainstay of our communities? If all that Luke says about the great reversal is true, there is only one way open to us: solidarity. The doctor of the law cannot suddenly become a Samaritan. He is who he is. The only alternative left to him is to act like the good Samaritan. The Pharisee cannot leave behind his faith, his piety, and his obedience to the law. The only alternative left to him is to join ‘sinners’ in their pain and their trust in God. Zacchaeus cannot undo the evil he may have done while becoming rich on the basis of exploitation and collaboration with an oppressive regime. The only alternative left to him is to use the wealth and the power he has acquired to undo as much as he can of the evil he has produced. Those of us whom society considers ‘mainline’ Christians must understand that the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the promise and hope of the great reversal, make the very phrase ‘mainline Christian’ a contradiction in terms-that the very name of ‘Christian’ requires being at the sidelines, at the margins where people suffer and are exploited or ignored. This is the proper consequence of genuine Christian hope—and it is precisely for that reason that we would much rather leave eschatology aside.”