Whole People; Whole World

Sancta Colloquia Episode 403 ft. Lisa Colόn Delay

In this episode I had the honor of speaking with Lisa Colόn DeLay (@LisaDelay) about her book, The Wild Land Within, which was published this past spring. While our conversation is based on the contents of her book, Lisa’s wealth of knowledge and grasp of both theology and the pastoral brings us to weave and wend throughout many of life’s struggles and blessings. Lisa brings so much love and grace to this conversation, it was a joy to talk with this new friend. Lisa is also very passionate about human beings. This passion is not only communicated in this conversation with me, but is on every page of her text. She loves you and wants you to know it. One of the critical things I want to draw attention to here is that Lisa’s text is many parts Spiritual and Practical in its application of theology and pastoral guidance, but the underlying strength of the text is her interlocutors. She’s not relying on the standard Eurocentric white male theologians many of us have been trained to revere and frequently reference–if they didn’t say it, then how dare you say it?! Lisa participates in dismantling this septic trend and in overturning the status quo through her conversations with profound scholars like: George Tinker, Barbara A. Holmes, James H. Cone, Wilda C. Gafney, Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, Howard Thurman, Ibram Kendi, Phuc Luu, Gustavo Gutierrez, and Evagrius Ponticus (345-400 CE). It was such an honor to talk with Lisa, I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did.

Excited? You should be. Listen here:

Interview with Lisa Colόn DeLay

Lisa Colόn DeLay is an author specializing in teaching spiritual growth, healing, and transformation as weekly broadcaster on the Spark My Muse podcast, and on LIVE Stream events. Lisa also provides spiritual companionship. She holds the following degrees:

• B.F.A. Communication Design
• M.A. Spiritual Formation

Lisa’s book The Wild Land Within focuses on spiritual formation and the landscape of the heart (published by
Broadleaf Books, an imprint of 1517 Media). Her blog website: https://lisadelay.com/blog/

Love’s Love Walks On

Sermon on Mark 6:1-13

Psalm 48:1-2 Great is the Lord, and highly to be praised; in the city of our God is his holy hill. Beautiful and lofty, the joy of all the earth, is the hill of Zion, the very center of the world and the city of the great King.

Introduction

The Christian life isn’t easy. When I first became Christian, I was under the impression that the walk was going to be fun and light; I’d be that person whom everyone liked because I’d be so nice. So, as a new Christian, I read my bible daily, prayed, and journaled. I was clearly content and happy inside and out, which was the mark of being a true Christian. I was certainly happy in all things because my joy was in the Lord. Until I wasn’t content, until I couldn’t keep up joy and nice and easy. It took about two months before I realized that this was going to be harder than I thought. Happy fled in the face of internal conflict because I started to see the crisis of collision of myself, my faith, and the world. So, I hunkered down and read more, prayed more, journaled more, trying desperately to return to the pristine state of new-Christian where everything was easy and nice. I went to church as often as possible and took notes on every sermon. None of it worked. I’d try variations of this for years, even thinking that heading off to seminary was the thing: Maybe if I figure it out, I’ll get back my happy and easy.

While some would say that I was trying to earn my righteousness through works (I won’t deny that wasn’t there), I think there was something else more profound happening. As I walked with Christ, my glasses were not obtaining to a darker shade of rose. Rather they were going clear, the lenses correcting my vision. I saw things…things I hadn’t seen before. It turns out, the more I read, the more I prayed, the more I listened, the more my calcified heart gave way to flesh, the more my mind grew alert, unfettered by the shackles of chaos previously imprisoning it. I began to realize I couldn’t accept things as they were, couldn’t hold ideologies and opinions as I had, couldn’t affirm those who I once could. Because of Love’s love, I found myself in opposition to the status-quo and to those who upheld it. I couldn’t stomach making money for money, I couldn’t walk by people without homes and look the other way as if they didn’t exist, I couldn’t not see humanity in all people no matter what choices or deeds they’d made and done. 21 years out from conversion…Good Lord, the Christian life isn’t easy.

Mark 6:1-13

And then while the Sabbath was happening he began to teach in the synagogue and then many people listening were struck with panic/were shocked saying, “From where [did] this man [get] these things, both who [is] the one who gave wisdom to this man and power such as this being done by his hands?…” And they became indignant by him. And then Jesus was saying to them, “There is not a prophet without honor except in [the prophet’s] native place both among [the prophet’s] relatives and at [the prophet’s] home.[1]

Mark 6:3-4

After doing rather profound acts of divine intervention (restoring a man trapped by demonic presence and isolated to the tombs and drawing Jairus’s daughter from the dead into new life), Jesus and his disciples return to Jesus’s home. With news of Jesus’s healings and deliverances trickling into Nazareth, Jesus’s return was of great interest to his former neighbors, indicated by the invite to teach in the synagogue.[2] As Jesus is teaching the gathered crowd becomes panicked and shocked and eventually fall into indignation. The crowd responds to Jesus this way because Jesus’s teachings and actions, and also because of the panic infused confusion over the source of Jesus’s authority to do such as this.[3] Who gave him—the carpenter heir,[4] the kid[5] who used to run around this town—the authority to do such things? To which Jesus responds: a prophet has no honor in the prophet’s hometown, among family, and at home. Jesus, Love’s love, is in opposition to those of his hometown.

As a result of their lacking faith in their opposition to him, Jesus is unable to perform as many miracles as in the other lake-side towns.[6] As those who knew him when he was young box him in to a previous narrative, Jesus is prohibited from healing and delivering the people of his native place from sickness and ailments. He is being opposed and can only do so much. Mark concludes the section describing that Jesus was marveling and wondering because of their lack of faith. Mark pushes forward Jesus humanity:[7] like the prophets of old, Jesus knows and feels the opposition of his people.[8] No matter how much Jesus can accept things for what they are in wisdom and power, the hostility of those who saw him grow up—those whom he loved—hits him, and he is filled with astonishment. Love’s love is opposed by the beloved.

…and he began to send them two by two, and he was giving them authority [over] the unclean spirits…And then he was saying to them, “Wherever you enter into a home, you remain there until you leave from there. And if any place does not receive you and does not listen to you, depart from there, shake off the dust under your feet in witness against them.”

Mark 6: 7, 10-11

Jesus calls the twelve to him and then sends them out two by two. Before they go, Jesus gives them the authority to heal and deliver, the very authority that he himself has from God—the same authority called into question earlier. Mark designates the source of the disciples’ authority and power to do as Jesus did because the source of that power is not of themselves but from an other, the Christ, the son of God. Mark doesn’t specify for his audience where Jesus gets his authority because he’s already done so: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God” (1:1). So, with the power and authority that Jesus has,[9] the twelve are sent out in six groups of two to do the very thing Jesus himself was doing back in Nazareth.

However, as it is for Jesus, so it will be for Jesus’s disciples (all of them, past, present, and future). A hostile response to the disciples presence in towns and at homes (even not theirs) is completely possible and most likely probable. [10] The reign of God is often in opposition to the kingdom of humanity; those who are called to herald the coming kingdom and presence of God among the people in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit and who use words and deeds to bring forth such a reality will come into conflict with that which is normal and accepted and regular in society. Upheaval of divine proportions always brings with it a fracturing of the foundation of structures propping up the dominant group by the liberation of the oppressed.[11]

The very message[12] and deeds done by the disciples in the name of Christ by the power of God[13] in those neighboring towns and villages was not one of beneficent well-being of comfort and all is well. Rather, the disciples through their authority to heal and deliver people from oppression bring the judgment of God to the town favoring those held captive, bringing them life and liberty and making known to those who are complicit with oppressing God’s judgment on such systems. So, yes, some would receive them and listen; some would not. When opposition came, they were to do as Jesus did among his own kin: walk on.[14] Shake the dust from under your sandals and walk on. The judgment of God is on them[15] as they oppose Love’s love. The disciples weren’t responsible for changing minds and hearts if those hearts and minds were in opposition to love; that transformation is God’s. They were charged to love the oppressed, even if that meant loving the oppressed in another town.

Conclusion

Martin Luther writes at the end of The Freedom of a Christian, “Therefore there is need of the prayer that the Lord may give us and make us theodidacti, that is, those taught by God…and himself, as he has promised, write his law in our hearts; otherwise there is no hope for us.”[16] The Christian life isn’t easy, even if it starts that way. As we are taught by God, through God’s love being written on our hearts, our hearts hurt and break with pain, grief, sadness, and surprise because of opposition to love—hallmarks of those following Jesus out of the Jordan daring to see in new ways, speak in new words, and pulling forth new structures of the kingdom of God. In fact, it is hard for those who hear and see in new ways, who lean into Love’s love, to affirm old systems and conceptions of normal.

You the beloved, grafted into God by faith in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, are new creations; no longer of the old world but of the new that is the reign of God and life for you and for all people. You too, beloved, see and hear and feel things not in the old way but in the new: through the eyes and ears and heart of Christ that are now yours through faith. The Christian life isn’t easy, it is a burden and a blessing as we love with Love’s love. As we endure the same opposition Jesus himself endured, all we can do is walk on, loving radically as we have been radically loved.


[1] Translation mine unless otherwise noted. Intentionally substituted the pronouns of the sentence with the subject.

[2] R. T. France The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text NIGTC Grand Rapids, MI: 2002. 241 “Reports of that mission, however, have continued to reach Nazareth, so that the return of the local prodigy (with his followers from the lakeside towns) is a natural focus of interest.”

[3] France Mark 242, “As in the synagogue in Capernaum (1:22, 27), the congregation are astonished by both Jesus’ words and his deeds. The σοφία which impresses them is presumably discerned from the teaching given at that time, but the δυναμεις must be those of which they have heard at second hand (cf. Lk. 4:23), unless the healing of the ολιγοι αρρωστοι mentioned in v. 5 preceded the synagogue teaching. The primary cause of the astonishment is not, the wisdom and miracles in themselves, but the question Πόθεν τούτῳ ταῦτα;…”

[4] France Mark 242-3, “But Mark never mentions Joseph, and the absence of a father in 3:31-35…suggests that a simpler explanation is the traditional view that by the time of Jesus’ ministry Joseph had died, and therefore featured nowhere in the story outside the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke; in that case he was simply not a part of the tradition known to Mark. The absence of Joseph’s name [in v. 3], where members of the family are listed explicitly, supports this view. In that case Jesus, as the eldest son, would naturally have taken over the family business as ὁ τέκτων.” And, “In a small village the τέκτων would need to be versatile, able to deal both with agricultural and other implements and also with the construction and repair of buildings. As such he was a significant figure in the village economy, probably also undertaking skilled work in the surrounding area. In this context, then, there is nothing derogatory in the term. The point is rather in its familiarity; the τέκτων is (or rather was, until his fateful visit to John at the Jordan) a reassuring symbol of normality, not the sort of person from whom you expect σοφία and δυνάμεις.”

[5] France Mark 242, “To the people of Nazareth Jesus is the local boy, and they know no reason why he should have turned out to be any different from the rest of his family.”

[6] France Mark 244 “Both evangelists [Matthew and Mark] attribute Jesus’ ‘minimal’ miraculous activity to the ἀπιστία of the people of Nazareth, but Mark’s οὐκ ἐδύνατο is bolder, in suggesting that not even the ἐξουσία of Jesus is unlimited. Mark often highlights the importance of πίστις in healing and other miraculous contexts (2:5; 4:40; 5:34, 36; 9:23-24; 10:52; 11:22-24), so there is no surprise in seeing the opposite effect attributed to ἀπιστία, but the description of Jesus as unable to work miracles is christologically striking, and is not greatly alleviated by the mention of the ὀλίγοι ἄρρωστοι who were the exception to the rule.”

[7] France Mark 244, “The mention of Jesus’ surprise (only here in Mark; the verb is more normally associated with the crowds) further underlines the ‘human’ character of Mark’s portrait of Jesus. It also highlights the contrast between Jesus’ reception in Nazareth and the general popularity which he has come to enjoy in the lakeside towns.”

[8] France Mark 244, “In Mark, however, the saying is given in a fuller and more emphatic form, listing rejection not only in the πατρίς (as in most versions) and in his own οἰκία (as in Matthew), but also among his συγγενεῖς an addition which reflects the unhappy experience of 3:20-21,3b 35. The specific use of προφήτης (in all the Christian versions of the saying) need not necessarily be more than proverbial; the rejection of prophets by their own people is a common theme of the OT.”

[9] France Mark 248, “The ἐξοθσία τῶν πνευμάτων τῶν ἀκαθάρτων which was envisaged in 3:15 as part of the purpose of their being sent out, but which they have not hitherto had the opportunity to use, is now actually given (and will be effectively deployed, v. 13), even though 9:18,28-29 will remind us that there is no guarantee of ‘success.’ What has hitherto been a special mark of the ἐξουσία of Jesus 1:27; 3:11) is now to be shared with those who have been μετ’αὐτοῦ (3:14-15).”

[10] France Mark 246, “The possibility of a hostile reception has already been demonstrated in Nazareth (6:1-6) and is further envisaged in v. 11. There is a basic conflict of interests, even of ideologies, between the kingdom of God and the norms of human society- An ambassador of the kingdom of God is called not only to a mission of restoration and deliverance, but also to a conflict…”

[11] I’m not advocating for colonizing other cultures in the name of Christ; rather when the gospel enters different cultures it should liberate people who are oppressed in those cultures and not be a tool for oppression (something that has been done historically as a result of western missionaries and evangelists). The gospel, Christ as word and deed, is not in opposition to culture of any type, but is in opposition to captivity and oppression. Also, it must be stated that we are not to force people to accept a certain cultural interpretation of the gospel, as in converting people to a western conception of the gospel.

[12] France Mark 250, “Even though not included explicitly in Jesus’ charge in v. 7, proclamation (κηρύσσω) is an essential element in the disciples’ commission (3:14), just as it is in Jesus’ own ministry (1:14,38-39).”

[13] France Mark 250, “…the threefold ministry of preaching, exorcism, and healing which Jesus has already been exercising is now appropriately extended to the disciples.”

[14] France Mark 250, “In Middle Eastern society the expectation of hospitality for visiting teachers is no surprise; They ought to be able to take it for granted. A reasonably extended stay is apparently envisaged. What is surprising is the clear expectation that there will be some τόποι (not just single households but whole communities?) where they and their message are not welcome. Even at Nazareth Jesus and his disciples had at first been welcomed, even to the extent of an invitation to teach in the synagogue. But the ἀπιστἰα which followed there is likely to be repeated elsewhere, and in such a case the disciples must be prepared to do what Jesus did at Nazareth, to move on and focus their ministry in places where they will be welcome. (Cf. Lk. 9:51-55 for another example of Jesus’ acting by this principle himself.)”

[15] France Mark 250, “For ἐκτινάσσω τὸν χοῦν as a gesture of dissociation cf. Acts 13:51 (compare Acts 18:6). The gesture is more fully described in Lk. 10:10-11. The rabbis shook the dust off their feet when leaving Gentile territory, to avoid carrying its defilement with them. Such a gesture serves εἰς μαρτύριον αὐτοῖς, a phrase which could suggest that it is intended to lead them to a change of heart, but which generally carries the negative overtone of a ‘witness against’ (see above 1:44), a witness for the prosecution (this implication is explicit in Acts 18:6). A community ‘marked’ in this way as unrepentant (v. 12) will be liable to judgment (note how this gesture in Lk. 10:10-11 is followed immediately by pronouncement of condemnation on unrepentant towns, vv. 12-16).”

[16] Martin Luther The Freedom of a Christian vol 31 Luther’s Works Minneapolis, MN: Muhlenberg Press, 1957. 276-7.

and The Possibility Opens

Sermon on Jeremiah 31:31-34

Psalm 51: 11-3 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence and take not your holy Spirit from me. Give me the joy of your saving help again and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit. (49)

Introduction

I was diagnosed with Dyslexia as a young girl. I didn’t read “right”. From what I recall, letters jumped places, words flipped about, the sentences moved to their own beat—every written page was a gymnastics competition and those words were gold medalists. The diagnosis strapped me with insecurities about my intelligence and a disdain for reading. According to the diagnosis, I didn’t have the potential to read well because I was a “bad” reader. I lived into the idea that I wasn’t a “reader. My act of reading exposed I didn’t have the potential to read well. In our performance and production driven economy, it’s the actuality of the act that is esteemed. I wasn’t a reader because my actions demonstrated that I wasn’t.

Referring to Aristotle’s Metaphysics: this is what is known as actuality having priority over possibility. Aristotle’s ontological priority of actuality over possibility equates to the simple equation: yet v. not-yet. “Yet” being more important than “not-yet”; “not yet” means nothing if it is never actualized into “Yet”. Even though the actual is derived from the possible (the “yet” from the “not yet”), the possible strives toward the actual (like a seed striving to become actualized as a plant). [1] For Aristotle, actuality is both origin and goal of the possible, thus the possible serves and is subordinate to that actual.[2]

In that possibility serves actuality, actuality has primary position over possibility. Actuality is preferred and determines what the possibility was. So, we can say: one wasted their potential by not realizing it into actuality. Oh, she had so much potential! we say of people who have made “bad choices.” (As if potential can be “wasted” away if it’s not acted on.) The smart student who gets Ds also gets the obligatory look of disappointment. There was potential but it was never actualized as act; thus the potential is inferior in value to the actual and rendered as pointless apart from action.

But what if Aristotle was wrong?

Jeremiah 31-34

“The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

Jeremiah 31: 31, 33

Jeremiah prophesies about a new covenant God will make between God and God’s people. This new covenant will, according to Jeremiah, “…not be like the covenant that I [God] made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke…” (Jer 31). According to Jeremiah, it is not the fault of the content of the previous covenant, but the fault of the people: [3] they are unable to perform according to the covenant established on the far side of the Red Sea as they stood in the shadow of Mt. Sinai receiving the revelation of the law, Torah.[4] Leaving the Torah outside of the people as words carved in stone—as a thing to be actualized out of human possibility—was failing. The command to love God imparted to the stones, needed to be imparted to the hearts of the people.[5] The people needed the actual to manifest the possible.

In Deuteronomy the great Shema of chapter 6 is the heart of Jewish liturgy. The word shema means: to hear so deeply that you do.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9

While Israel promised that they would obey this and other commands they received from God, they didn’t. This didn’t render the Torah, the revelation of the Law, in error or wrong; rather, it exposed a deeper and bigger issue: a human inability to hear so well and so deeply that love comes forth. (The possibility of doings wasn’t manifesting into act.) In Dt 10,[6] God commands Israel to circumcise the foreskin of their hearts so that they obey God’s commands. But then, in Dt 30, Moses prophesies God’s promise that God will circumcise their hearts so that they will love God as they should.[7] The people needed the actual to manifest the possible.

Jeremiah is picking up on that promise. God is going to act on the inner life of Israel so that the love of God and of God’s people is written on their hearts of flesh rather than on tablets of stone. Relying on manifested human potential as act wasn’t working. Jeremiah stands in solidarity with God in God’s passionate zeal for God’s beloved people and creation.[8] He is filled with the divine pathos hearing God’s voice and feeling God’s love and heralds to the people this new promise: God will act not only on behalf of but also in God’s people. God will act on and in the people in a way that will create possibility for obedience to love; God will manipulate actuality, parting space like water and stopping time like the rains of the heavens and create room for the possible. Jeremiah exhorts and encourages, Shema, O Israel!

No longer will Israel have to wrestle with the inner failure of potential failing to become actual, with hearts that listen but do not truly hear. Rather, they will be caught in the divine activity that is oriented toward possibility. When God sweeps in and moves God’s people, in that actuality there is possibility. Thus, we say with confidence: with God all things are possible. God acts in our time and space, in our material realm and makes room for things that were not but now can be. In God’s economy it is not that possibility serves actuality, that potential serves act, but the opposite: actuality serves possibility, act serves potential, and the possible has primacy over what is actual.

Conclusion

It was in high school, during the later half of Junior year, where I wanted to receive untimed testing for the SATs. I was, as the test concluded in elementary school, dyslexic. My guidance councilor thought it was a good idea, but I had to be tested first before I’d be granted untimed testing. So, I sat for a test. A week later I sat with the examiner as she gave me my results. She explained before she went over my test that the test answers are scored on a scale of 1-14, 14 being the highest number and 1 being the lowest. The higher the score, the less a need for untimed testing. She opened my results and showed me a list of 14s and 12s with a 10 here and there. She laughed kindly, I’m sorry, there’s no way I can recommend an untimed test with these high scores. I was baffled. Where did my dyslexia go? I asked. Apparently, your brain fixed it, she replied. Becoming a good reader had nothing to do with “potential” made “actual” but about actuality making space and time for the possibility of being a good reader.

We take the actual and make it the final because we are taken with our deeds and actions as the final verdict of who we are as human beings on this planet; we’ve believed the lie that actuality has priority over possibility. We put too much stock in actions as determinant of who and what a person is. And this means we are focused on the past that we miss the divine activity of the future right in front of us for us.[1] We get wrapped up in what is, we miss what could be. What is isn’t all there is. And what is allows us the creativity and imagination to dream of what isn’t yet. As those encountered by God in the event of faith, we are people of possibility rather than only actuality. Here in lies our hope. A pandemic has disrupted what is; so, what could be? Where can we go from here? Can we dare to be people who face the anti-Asian racism plaguing this land, that eight lives were taken for no other reason than hate? Can our society meet the survival needs of people who find themselves stuck between two choices, work or don’t work, where both end in death? Can our society fight for the lives of Black, Indigenous people of color? Can our society become a safe place for people to be who they are, what they are, and love those whom they love freely?

What we have now doesn’t have to be what we have tomorrow; what we’re accustomed to isn’t all there is. Possibility has priority over actuality. There’s more than what the eye can see. Because sometimes the man on the donkey is a divine king in disguise and a state sanctioned instrument of death becomes a tool for the victory of life. For the beloved, what is isn’t ever all there is.


[1] Heschel Prophets 211 “Here, knowledge is not the same as thought, comprehension, gnosis or mystical participation in the ultimate essence. Knowledge of God is action toward man, sharing His concern for justice; sympathy in action. Inner identification with God’s will and concern is the goal of the new covenant…”


[1]   The quotation is from Aristotle’s Metaphysics “(2) In time it is prior in this sense: the actual which is identical in species though not in number with a potentially existing thing is prior to it. I mean that to this particular man who now exists actually and to the corn and to the seeing subject the matter and the seed and that which is capable of seeing, which are potentially a man and corn and seeing, but not yet actually, so are prior in time; but prior in time to these are other actually existing things, from which they were produced. For from the potentially existant the actually existing is always produced by an actually existant thing, e.g. man from man, musician by musician; there is always a first mover, and the mover already exists actually. We have said in our account of substance that everything that is produced is something produced from something and by something, and that the same in species as it” 1049b 19-28.

[2]   Eberhard Jüngel “Possibility”. 99-100. Referring to Aristotle: “So actuality is the origin and goal of all that comes into being, and possibility exists for the sake of actuality. Possibility stands in teleological relation to actuality.”

[3] JPS Study Bible Marvin A. Sweeney “Jeremiah” Eds Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler Jeremiah 31:31 New York, NY: OUP 2004 “The new covenant has been interpreted by Christians as a prophecy of the new covenant though Jesus (New Testament means new covenant), but here it refers to the restoration of Israel after the Babylonian exile and the reconstruction of the Temple. According to this passage, it is not the content of the new covenant which will be different, but how it is learned.”

[4] Exodus 19:1ff

[5] JPS Study Bible Jeremiah 31:33-34 “God places the Teaching, i.e., the Torah, in the inmost being or heart of the people so that the covenant cannot be broken again. This idea is developed in later Lurianic kabbalah, which maintains that all persons have a divine spark within. Since it is so inscribed, there will be no need for the Torah to be taught.”

[6] Deuteronomy 10:12-22, “12 So now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? Only to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments of the Lord your God[c] and his decrees that I am commanding you today, for your own well-being. 14 Although heaven and the heaven of heavens belong to the Lord your God, the earth with all that is in it, 15 yet the Lord set his heart in love on your ancestors alone and chose you, their descendants after them, out of all the peoples, as it is today. 16 Circumcise, then, the foreskin of your heart, and do not be stubborn any longer. 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, 18 who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. 19 You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. 20 You shall fear the Lord your God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear. 21 He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things that your own eyes have seen. 22 Your ancestors went down to Egypt seventy persons; and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars in heaven.”

[7] Moreover, the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live. The Lord your God will put all these curses on your enemies and on the adversaries who took advantage of you. Then you shall again obey the Lord, observing all his commandments that I am commanding you today, and the Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings, in the fruit of your body, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your soil. For the Lord will again take delight in prospering you, just as he delighted in prospering your ancestors, 10 when you obey the Lord your God by observing his commandments and decrees that are written in this book of the law, because you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

[8] Abraham J. Heschel The Prophets New York, NY: JPS, 1962. 25 “The prophet is not a mouthpiece, but a person; not an instrument, but a partner, an associate of God. Emotional detachment would be understandable only if there were a command which required the suppression of emotion, forbidding one to serve God ‘with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might.’ God, we are told, asks not only for ‘works,’ for action, but above all for love, awe, and fear. We are called upon to ‘wash’ our hearts (Jer. 4:14), to remove ‘the foreskin’ of the heart (Jer. 4:4), to return with the whole heart (Jer. 3:10). ‘You will seek Me and find Me, when you seek Me with all your heart’ (Jer. 29:13). The new covenant which the Lord will make with the house of Israel will be written upon their hearts (Jer. 31:31-34).”

[9] Heschel Prophets 211 “Here, knowledge is not the same as thought, comprehension, gnosis or mystical participation in the ultimate essence. Knowledge of God is action toward man, sharing His concern for justice; sympathy in action. Inner identification with God’s will and concern is the goal of the new covenant…”

Hearing unto Life

Romans 5:12-19 (Sermon)

On Ash Wednesday, Rev. Kennedy and I placed ashes on foreheads and whispered the words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The alb became our sackcloth, the stole a millstone, and our words reminders that the wage and curse of sin is death. We anointed fragile and vulnerable people not with the oil of life, but with the ash of death.

The sermon carried a glimmer of hope, yet I was taken by the deep tenor of the service. Life eclipsed by death. The moment driven home when I placed ashes on the foreheads of my own children. My hands, my voice, my body–which gestated, nurtured, sustained, warmed, comforted and consoled my babies–delivered their sentence: death. Woven through the reminder of return to dust was the maternal apology that from this I cannot protect them. The great reaper knocks on every single door and collects.

Just as through this one person sin entered the cosmos and through [this] sin death, and in this way death spread into all humanity, on the basis of one all sinned. (Rom 5:12)

In Romans, Paul marries together sin and death in such a way that (grammatically) to tear one from the other would be to destroy both. The presence of death is evidence of the presence of sin.[1] That we die is, for Paul, evidence that something has gone terribly wrong. How has this come to be?

To answer, Paul, in vv. 13-14, yanks Adam out of Genesis 3 and makes him stand trial. Paul makes it clear it is not the Law that caused sin. (As if we could just get rid of the law to get rid of sin, if we did would only eliminate the exposure of sin.[2]) That there is death, which existed before the giving of the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai, there is sin because death is before the Law was.[3] For Paul, before there is the Law there is death, before death there is Adam and with him the “sin.” Before the manifestation of the “sin,” there is the problem.

What is this “problem that thrust all of humanity into the cold, boney arms of death?[4] It’s not an issue of will, it’s an issue of hearing.

The language Paul employs talking about the “sin” of Adam sounds more like mis-stepping and slipping[5] than willful disobedience. It’s aiming but missing the mark. It’s trying to walk but falling down. It’s being well intentioned and making a huge mistake. You can love and cause pain.

In v.19 things get interesting. It’s here we get the first reference to “disobedience” and “obedience.” Again, the words chosen for the discussion are built from the concept of hearing.[6] And herein lies the problem that precedes the “sin”: hearing wrongly v. hearing rightly. (Shema O, Israel the core of Jewish liturgy and would have been coursing through Paul’s veins.) Paul creates a scene where Adam misheard and (thus) mis-stepped.

Going back to Gen 3, to the intellectual cage match between Eve and the serpent, something revelatory occurs. When tempted with the “forbidden” fruit, Eve without hesitation tells 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,”’” (Gen 3:2-3). Do you hear the problem? Eve misquotes the prohibition to the serpent.

In Genesis 2:15-17, Adam is created out of dust and is inspired by God’s breath. Then he’s brought into the garden to work and have dominion over it. “And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die,’” (Gen 2:15-17). Who received the prohibition? Adam.  According to the narrative fluidity of the two chapters, who relayed it to Eve? Adam. What was the problem resulting in the situation at the tree? Not the ingesting of the fruit, that’s the wage (the fruit) of “sin” which partook of death. The problem: someone misheard.

Adam was spoken to first. And then Eve. One of them or both of them misheard. Did they love God? We can assume they did. Did they want to do poorly? No. They intended well and mis-stepped because the fundamental problem of humanity is hardness of heart resulting in a stiff neck preventing the hearing of hearing,[7] hearing so deeply that you do (Shema). We can be God-inspired, God-breathed creations, placed in paradise, and still have massive hearing problems.

Martin Luther explains that part of the original sin we are born into is not only a lack of uprightness in the entire (inner and outer) person, but a “nausea toward the good.”[8] Why is the idea of good, of God, so loathsome? Because it’s an issue of hearing. I hear God as a threat to me because I mishear. That God is and reigns comes to me as threat: threat to myself, my will, my reason, my perception of what is good, etc. The proclamation that God is is flat out offensive to me; it means I am not the queen I think I am.

Thus, when the law comes, it exposes my predicament, plight, and problem. In the Law’s ability to expose, I blame it for my predicament; ignorance is bliss. Had the law never come, I’d not know I was stuck. But now in seeing that I’m stuck, I’m angry, and I blame the law for my stuckness, which I was before the law came. But I blame wrongly because I hear wrongly.[9]

This is the original sin that we are born into. We are not evil and horrible, willfully bent on disobedience and destruction. Rather, we’ve genetically inherited poor hearing and this results in disobedience, missing the mark, and mis-stepping, and thus into death. To hear wrongly is to die; to hear rightly is to live. We need to be caused to hear rightly. The great Shema O, Israel[10] goes forth, but who has ears to hear so deeply that they hit the mark, step rightly, to walk and not slip?

Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. It is he who hears rightly, steps rightly, hits the mark and walks without slipping. He is God incarnate, the word made flesh[11] who proclaims the word of God, obeys the word of God, and performs the word of God he hears. Jesus proclaims the reign of God, he lives the reign of God, he is the reign of God. This is the one who is baptized by John in the river Jordan and hears God proclaim him as God’s divine son. This is also the one who has heard the word of God so well he will defeat the attacks of the evil one, being successful where Israel wasn’t. Shema O, Israel.

Just as we who are born of flesh are born into Adam’s imperfect hearing resulting in disobedience and death, we are reborn by hearing through the giving of ears to hear in the proclamation of Christ Crucified. In this encounter with God in the event of faith (hearing), we are brought through death and are recreated into Christ’s perfect hearing resulting in obedience.[12]

When God acts on behalf of God’s people, God doesn’t merely contend with “disobedience” (that’s what we do). God contends with the problem by giving the free gift of new, circumcised[13] hearts and spirits which lead to obedience.[14] God gives the free gift of the grace of and righteousness of God in Christ Jesus, making the unrighteous righteous. It is the grace of Christ that eclipses the sin of Adam;[15] it is the life of Christ that drowns out the death of Adam; it is the perfect hearing of Christ that resurrects all who are stuck in the death of the mishearing of Adam.[16] It is the supernova of Christmas and Easter that engulfs and swallows the sting of death.

It is Christ, the righteous one, who heals those who are lame, declares clean those who are unclean, gives sight to those who can’t see and hearing to those who can’t hear. It is Christ who is the free gift of God’s grace and righteousness.[17] It is Christ who speaks to those condemned to death as criminals with his pronouncement of acquittal and restores them to life. This is the substance of the church’s witness to the world in her speech and sacraments. In hearing rightly, we speak to and act rightly in the world. In hearing rightly, we are brought to the font and table, witnessing to our identification with Christ in his death and resurrection. And there we are anointed not with ash but with oil, sealed as Christ’s own and into his obedience, fed by Christ’s hand, hearing the comfort of the divine whisper, “This is my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”[18]

 

 

 

[1] Luther LW 25. 298. “…if death comes by sin and if without sin there would be no death, then sin is in all of us. Thus it is not personal sin that he is talking about here. Otherwise it would be false to say that death had entered by sin, but rather we ought to say that it came by the will of God.”

[2] Luther LW 25. 303. “And thus it is not understood to mean that sin existed until the Law came and then ceased to exist, but that sin received an understanding of itself which it did not possess before. And the words of the apostle clearly indicate this interpretation: ‘But sin was not counted where there was no law,’ as if to say that through the Law, which it had preceded, sin was not abolished but imputed.”

[3] Luther LW 25. 298. “…sin was in the world before the Law was given, etc. (v. 13). Actual sin also was in the world before Moses, and it was imputed, because it was also punished by men; but original sin was unknown until Moses revealed it in Gen. 3.”

[4] Luther LW 25. 299. “Note how at the same time it is true that only one man sinned, that only one sin was committed, that only one person was disobedient, and yet because of him many were made sinners and disobedient.”

[5] Α῾μαρτα´νω: I miss the mark, I sinned, I made a mistake. η῾ παρα´βασις: the going aside, deviation, overstepping. το` παρα´πτωμα: the trespass, false step, lapse, slip, sin.

[6] Η῾ παρακοη´: the hearing amiss, by implication disobedience; imperfect hearing. η῾ υ῾πακοη´: obedience, submissiveness, compliance.

[7] Deuteronomy 30:6ff

[8] Luther LW 25. 299. What is original sin, “Second, however, according to the apostle and the simplicity of meaning in Christ Jesus, it is not only a lack of a certain quality in the will, nor even only a lack of light in the mind or of power in the memory, but particularly it is a lack of uprightness and of the power of all the faculties both of body and soul and of the whole inner and outer man. On top of all this, it is propensity toward evil. It is a nausea toward the good, a loathing of light and wisdom, and a delight in error and darkness, a flight from and an abomination of all good works, a pursuit of evil…”

[9] Luther LW 25. 307. “And this is true, so that the meaning is: the Law came and without any fault on the part of the Law or in the intentions of the Lawgiver, it happened that it came for the increasing of sin, and this happened because of the weakness of our sinful desire, which was unable to fulfill the Law.”

[10] Deuteronomy 6.

[11] John 1

[12] Luther LW 25. 305. Luther makes reference later to 1 Corinthians 15:22.

[13] Deuteronomy 30:6

[14] Ezekiel 36:24-27, Jeremiah 31:31-34

[15] Luther LW 25. 306. “This gift is ‘by the grace of that one Man,’ that is, by the personal merit and grace of Christ, by which He was pleasing to God, so that He might give this gift to us. This phrase ‘by the grace of that one Man’ should be understood of the personal grace of Christ, corresponding to the personal sin of Adam which belonged to him, but the ‘gift’ is the very righteousness which has been given to us.”

[16] Luther LW 25. 306. “Thus also original sin is a gift (if I may use the term) in the sin of the one man Adam. But ‘the grace of God’ and ‘the gift’ are the same thing, namely, the very righteousness which is freely given to us through Christ. And He adds this grace because it is customary to give a gift to one’s friends. But this gift is given even to His enemies out of His mercy, because they were not worthy of this gift unless they were made worthy and accounted as such by the mercy and grace of God.”

[17] Luther LW 25. 305-6. “The apostle joins together grace and the gift, as if they were different, but he does so in order that he may clearly demonstrate the type of the One who was to come which he has mentioned, namely, that although we are justified by God and receive His grace, yet we do not receive it by our own merit, but it is His gift, which the Father gave to Christ to give to men, according to the statement in Eph. 4:8, ‘When He ascended on high. He led a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men.’”

[18] These final few thoughts in this paragraph are influenced by the profound work of Dr. W. Travis McMaken in his book, The Sign of the Gospel: Toward an Evangelical Doctrine of Infant Baptism after Karl Barth Emerging Scholars Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2013. It was difficult to find one quotation to demonstrate how I was influenced—the entire book is a masterpiece. However, for the sake of space, I think this gets at the thrust of it: “The objective-subjective character of baptism as a mode of the church’s gospel proclamation confronts those baptized with the demands of the gospel thereby proclaimed. As mode of the church’s gospel proclamation, baptism confronts those baptized with the message that they were baptized in Jesus Christ’s baptism, died in his death, and were raised in his resurrection. This baptismal proclamation calls those that it confronts to, as Paul puts it, “walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). Such an exhortation requires neither a baptismal transfer of grace nor a baptismal ratification of personal commitment; rather, it flows from the objective-subjective and holistically particular installation of the church’s gospel proclamation within the history of those baptized.”233-34.