Solidarity to Love and Liberate

Psalm 29:10-11 God sits enthroned above the flood; God sits enthroned as Creator for evermore. God shall give strength to God’s people; God shall give God’s people the blessing of peace.

Introduction

Coming off of abundant spontaneous good will and festivity of the Thanksgiving-to-New Years season can be a letdown, a big one. So, in the gray of January we find ourselves seemingly dropped off at the curb in the wind and ice of winter. Lights are still up for now…but they will slowly come down over the next few weeks. Brightly lit trees will go the way of compost. The beautiful candles of our Jewish siblings celebrating their sacred festival of lights have long been blown out. Presents have ceased to come in; Christmas cards, too…even the late ones… *clears throat. School’s looming return draws nigh, work summons us return, and the “normal” grind resumes.

(In fact, we all know that depression and self-harm surges during this time after the holiday season. If you’re feeling that dip, that dark cloud, that existential sadness, please know you, beloved, are not alone; please reach out and ask for help. The cheer might have died down, but love for you has not died down in the least.)

So, in the midst of packing up the remnants of celebration we need something to divert our attention. Some good news. We need something that transcends our limitedness of time and place, something that is independent of our calendar, something that is outside of us, something that can call us to look out, away from ourselves, and wonder…We need something or someone who stands with us even when it feels like everything has just left us…

Matthew 3:13-17

But John was obstinately preventing him saying, “I, I have the need to be baptized by you, and you, you come to me?” And answering, Jesus said to him, “You permit this moment, for in this way it is right for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then [John] permits him. And after being baptized, Jesus at once came up from the water and, behold, the heavens were being opened for him, and he saw the spirit of God descending as if it were a dove and coming upon him…[1]

Mt 3:14-16

Here, Matthew invites us to look upon Jesus’s baptism by John in the River Jordan. Matthew’s account focuses less on the scene surrounding the baptism, and more on the interaction between Jesus and God in this moment of solidarity with humankind.[2] Jesus traveled from Galilee to/toward (πρὸς) John who is waist deep in the Jordan baptizing people to wash them of their sin. In other words, Jesus doesn’t stumble upon John, his buddy, his relative, and think he’ll just pop into the Jordan real quick for a little visit and, heck, why not get baptized, too. This is an intentional journey, a divine intentional journey.

Thus why John is both surprised and resistant to Jesus showing up and getting baptized. Even though John opened up the idea of baptism to incorporate everyone (lay and leader alike),[3] he didn’t intend to open it up this much. This doesn’t make sense, Cuz, we both know you aren’t like the rest who come to me, you are the not-so-regular one! John’s resistance makes sense and is, from our perspective, theologically accurate: I, John, have the need to be baptized by you! John knows who Jesus is; but Jesus knows that his solidarity with humanity[4] necessitates participating in this moment, this event, this encounter with God in humility and dependence. This is why Jesus commands[5] John to allow it: it is necessary and right and good so to do.[6] For this righteousness that must be fulfilled is the very will of God—it is divine vindication of the oppressed, it is deliverance for the captives, it is salvation for the dying,[7] and it’s for God’s people.[8] The one who stands before John is the representative of the people.[9] Jesus is thoroughly of the people for the people; and this is part of the mission of divine love in the world born those many years ago in a meager cave among animals and shepherds.

But Matthew doesn’t stop with the solidarity of Jesus with humanity. There is one more move up his story-telling sleeve: Jesus is also the human in solidarity with God. As soon as Jesus came up from the water, the heavens tore open making way for the descent[10] of God’s spirit as if it were a dove. Once again, a dove is sent out over the waters to find a place to land, and it lands; this time, though, it lands not on some long unseen tree-branch rising from the departing waters, but on the long promised shoot from the stump of Jesse parting the waters.[11] And in this moment, God speaks, And behold a voice out of the heavens saying, “this is my beloved son, in him I am well-pleased.” Make no doubt about it, those who were merely bystanders partially wet, hanging out in the Jordan on that day, were ushered in as witnesses to Jesus’s divine sonship; everything that happens from this moment on, is as God’s mission[12] of love in the world.[13]

Conclusion

Just like on Christmas, we are invited again to come and see. This time our location is not a cave, but in the water; it is not among animals and shepherds but a host of other “regular” people ushered into the event. And we witness what was long hoped for all those years ago: God in solidarity with humanity, humanity in solidarity with God. We are beckoned to come and see and witness this great moment pointing to what will come when Jesus will (once again) stand in solidarity with the poor and oppressed, the captives and those sentenced to death.[14]

Remember, on Christmas Eve, I said:

“That night, as Mary labored, a new story was born and with it hope. That night, as Joseph sought the midwife, a new story was born and with it, peace. That night, when the shepherds arrived, a new story was born, and with it, joy. Because—on that night—Love showed up and changed everything forever.”[15]

In this moment, told to us by a voice located in ages past, we are reminded love didn’t just show up once; it kept showing up. God’s relentless mission of divine love in the world didn’t end when the curtains closed on Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and the shepherds and animals. It kept going, it kept growing, and now it stands in the River Jordan baptized by John to demonstrate that God’s righteousness is made full not only through incarnation but through deep, deep solidarity with humanity, and it won’t stop not even in the face of death.

As soon as Jesus leaves the Jordan the divine mission of hope, of peace, of joy, and of love is on the move and nothing will ever be the same again.

Come and see the one baptized as you are, Beloved. Come and see a new story on the move. Come and see a better way to live.[16] Come and see divine love do the only thing it knows to do: love and liberate the captives, to love and stand with you and never ever forsake you.


[1] Translation mine unless otherwise noted.

[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. 118. “But for Matthew the importance of the event is not in the baptism itself, but in the revelation which follows it, which culminates in the declaration that Jesus is God’s unique Son, a theological position which has been assumed in 2:15 but is now brought into the open.”

[3] Case-Winters Matthew, 51. “In extending this practice to everyone, John is in effect declaring that everyone stands in need of conversion, signaling their repentance and turning to God. Even the religious leaders stood in need of baptism.”

[4] Anna Case-Winters Matthew Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible Eds Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher. Louisville, KY: WJK, 2015. 50. “One way we might understand Jesus presenting himself for baptism is as a sign of his solidarity with sinners. In this context, ‘to fulfill all righteousness’ is to be with God’s people, stand in their place, share in their penitence, live their life, die their death.”

[5] ἂφες aorist active imperative 2nd person singular (verb). Jesus is telling John to let it happen.

[6] France, Matthew, 119. “The substance of Jesus’ reply is clear enough: John is to overcome his scruples and carry out the baptism requested. Whatever may be their ultimate relationship, this is the right course ‘for now,’ and Jesus will be, now as throughout the gospel, perfectly obedient to the will of God. But the explanation given does not spell out why this is ‘the right way for us to fulfill all that is required of us.’”

[7] Case-Winters Matthew, 50. “We might also inquire into the meaning of ‘righteousness.’ In the Hebrew Scriptures the term (tsedaqah) is not so much about sinless perfection as it is about right relationship and the fulfilling of covenant obligations. It is about the establishment of God’s will that justice should prevail everywhere. God’s righteousness is connected with ‘vindication,’ ‘deliverance,’ and ‘salvation’ (tsedaqah is alternately translated by these terms). God’s righteousness is seen in God’s special regard for those who are powerless or oppressed and stand in need of justice.”

[8] France, Matthew, 119. “The usage of dikaiosyně (which I have translated ‘what is required’) elsewhere in Matthew’s gospel indicates a basic meaning of the conduct which God expects of his people.”

[9] France, Matthew, 120. “The most obvious way in which Jesus’ baptism prepares for his mission is by indicating his solidarity with John’s call to repentance in view of the arrival of God’s kingship. By first identifying with John’s proclamation Jesus lays the foundation for his own mission to take on where John has left off. Further, as Jesus is baptized along with others at the Jordan, he is identified with all those who by accepting John’s baptism have declared their desire for a new beginning with God.”

[10] France, Matthew, 121. “Isa 63:19 (EVV 64:1) asks God to tear (LXX anoigō, as here) the heavens and come down to redeem his people. The opening of heaven is the prelude to the divine communication which follows and especially to the visible descent of the Spirit.”

[11] France, Matthew, 122.

[12] Case-Winters Matthew, 51. “Just as God’s Spirit was at work in Jesus’ conception (Matt. 1:18) and now in his baptism (3:16), so the Spirit will lead him throughout his ministry. The first stop is the wilderness into which Jesus is ‘led up by the Spirit.’”

[13] France, Matthew, 124. “[God] is declaring in richly allusive words that this man who has just been baptized by John is his own Son in whom he delights. From this point on Matthew’s readers have no excuse for failing to understand the significance of Jesus’ ministry, however long it may take the actors in the story to reach the same Christological conclusion (14:33; 16:16; 26:63-64). It will be this crucial revelation of who Jesus is which will immediately form the basis of the initial testing which Jesus is called to undergo in 4:1-11: ‘If you are the Son of God…’ (4:3, 6). And there, as in the account of the baptism, Jesus’ sonship will be revealed in his obedience to his Father’s will.”

[14] W. Travis McMaken Sign of the Gospel: Toward an Evangelical Doctrine of Infant Baptism after Karl Barth. Emerging Scholars. Minneapolis, MN: 2013. 227 “…Jesus’ submission to baptism by John was not only expression of solidarity with sinful humanity. It was also a substitutionary event wherein Jesus acted in the place of sinful humanity… In submitting to John’s baptism of repentance in view of impending eschatological judgment, Jesus Christ not only acted with but also as sinful humanity, displacing that humanity and enacting the repentance required of it. He was baptized in our place. But Jesus’ baptism was not merely the first step on a road that would lead to a substitutionary work on the cross’ rather, it was itself a substitutionary act that with his work on the cross constitutes Jesus Christ’s saving history….In a way, Jesus’ baptism by John and the following descent of Spirit is a prolepsis of the whole saving history of Jesus Christ—and perhaps especially of his death resurrection and sending of the Spirit—that stands at the beginning of his actively messianic ministry.”

[15] https://laurenrelarkin.com/2022/12/24/love-changed-everything/

[16] Ref. to Helmut Gollwitzer’s sermon “Reason at Last, of Another Kind” from The Way to Life: Sermons in a time of World Crisis. Trans. David Cairns. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1981.

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.”

Solidarity in the Margins

Sermon on Luke 18:9-14

Psalm 65:4-5 4 Happy are they whom you choose and draw to your courts to dwell there! They will be satisfied by the beauty of your house, by the holiness of your temple. Awesome things will you show us in your righteousness, O God of our salvation, O Hope of all the ends of the earth and of the seas that are far away.

Introduction

Have you every felt unworthy? Like, you weren’t good enough? As if other people, or the space, or the thing carried a demand for purity that you didn’t have? Like, maybe you should hang back, keep your distance, and look on from afar? Afraid? Scared that if someone saw you—really saw you—you’d be thrown out, rejected, ostracized, because you didn’t belong in that space, or with that group of people, or with that thing?

Caught in the muck and mire of feelings of being outcast and unacceptable, we hope Maybe one day I’ll be worthy, if I can just… (fill in the blank). Maybe we’ll be worthy when we finally achieve that certain level of perfection we’re sold on—some mythical conception of human existence that doesn’t actually exist. We’ve become convinced by brilliant marketing campaigns dependent on our desire for inclusion that there’s such a thing as “normal” and “regular” and that, somehow, we just don’t measure up. And we really want to measure up, to fit in, to be “normal” and “regular”, to be chosen and selected. But maybe I’m too fractured and broken to fit in…At times we find ourselves desperate to feel good about ourselves, so we elevate ourselves above others hoping that identification with the culture of the dominant group will put our fears at rest…at least I’m not that person over there…

Sadly, this always bleeds into our relationship with God. Does God really love me just because? Does God really need me? Want me? Choose me? It doesn’t help when the church and its leaders are also dead-set on the mythical notions of “normal” and “regular” peddled as “God’s will”. Bombarded on all sides, our doubt moves us farther and farther back. God is too much for us. So, we grow more and more afraid to come close, to be human—really human—in the presence of God, afraid to pray because we’re not good enough and don’t have the right words, afraid to approach because we’re impure, afraid to touch because our touch is unclean and cursed. So, we stand farther and farther and farther back…

Luke 18:9-14

And now Jesus told this parable to certain ones who have had confidence in being just in the eyes of God on the basis of themselves and despising the rest… “…Now the tax collector having stood from afar not even willing to lift up [his] eyes to the heavens, but he was striking his breast, saying, ‘God, please show favor to me, a sinner.’ Truly I say to you, this man went down into his home having been justified…because all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and the one who humbles themselves will be exalted.” [1]

Luke 18:9, 13-14

Getting started, Luke tells us to whom Jesus addresses this parable: And now Jesus told this parable to certain ones who have had confidence in being just in the eyes of God on the basis of themselves and despising the rest… The parable features two men: one a tax collector and the other a Pharisee. Jesus tells the story featuring the Pharisee first: he goes in, stands by himself to maintain ritual purity, and prays. What follows is a litany of ways he is righteous: he is not like those sinners—the unjust extortioners, the adulterers, and this tax-collector—and performs his ritualistic duties—fasts on the sabbath and pays his tithe on all he has and gets. Next up, the tax-collector. The tax-collector stands far off refusing to lift up his eyes to heaven. All he can do is remorsefully beat his chest and plead for divine mercy because he is a sinner. Jesus wraps up the parable with a quick and short (and familiar): Truly I say to you, this man went down into his home having been justified more than that one, because all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and the one who humbles themselves will be exalted.

It’s tempting to look at this short and clear parable and deduce the motto: don’t be like those bad Pharisees! Ironically, as soon as we do that we become the self-exalted one in the story.[2] It’s not about the Pharisee being bad. They aren’t “bad”, their the most religious of all the children of Israel; they loved God and God’s law, wished to be obedient to it, to study it, discuss it, and teach it.[3] It’s about Jesus up-righting upside-down systems, even religious ones.

Thus the parable is not a warning against being a hypocrite, but an exhortation to be as those who do not elevate themselves over others. It’s about those who stand far off because they know who they are—sinners, people who miss the mark, fail, stumble, tumble, and get back up. When the people expected those who are technically perfect[4] and can stand on their own to be declared righteous;[5] Jesus says the righteous are those who can’t stand on their own, who aren’t perfect and know it.[6] It is not about thinking oneself better than the rest because of your deeds, your status, your birth, your dogmas and doctrines; it’s about realizing exactly who you are.[7]

Even when you find yourself casting your eyes downward, standing far off for fear of being unable to fit in, for fear of not being accepted as you are, for fear of making others impure because of your impurity, you may find yourself a humble creature square in the presence of a Creator who adores you[8] and receiving the fullness of divine love, favor, and mercy.[9]

Conclusion

The parable is a paradox. The farther you back away, stand from a distance, the more you find yourself in God, accepted, loved, adored, cherished, as you are. That’s the reversal. It’s not those who are holy, pure, perfect, obedient, abiding the law at every turn who are closest to God, it’s actually the ones who are aware of how far they miss the mark who throw themselves on God’s mercy and lean into God’s love. It’s the tax collectors and sinners with whom Jesus dwells, it’s those who know God because they know themselves.[10]

The thing is, knowing who you are—faults and all, shame and all, vulnerability and all, weakness and all—the more you know who God is: the one who stands in solidarity with the outcasts, with you. God in Christ chooses, desires, and identifies with the outcasts, (literally!) those on the fringe, those on the margins, those who just don’t measure up and fit in. You are never too far away to be square in the middle of God.

I’ll close with a story from my favorite childhood novel, Black Beauty:[11]

“No doubt a horse fair is a very amusing place to those who have nothing to lose; at any rate, there is plenty to see.

“There was a great deal of bargaining; of running up and beating down, and if a horse may speak his mind so far as he understands, I should say, there were more lies told, and more trickery at that horse fair, than a clever man could give an account of. I was put with two or three other strong, useful-looking horses, and a good many people came to look at us. The gentlemen always turned from me when they saw my broken knees, though the man who had me swore it was only a slip in the stall.

“There was one man, I thought, if he would buy me, I should be happy. He was not a gentleman, nor yet one of the loud flashy sort that called themselves so. He was rather a small man, but well made and quick in all his motions. I knew in a moment by the way he handled me, that he was used to horses; he spoke gently, and his gray eye had a kindly, cheery look in it. It may seem strange to say—but it is true all the same—that the clean fresh smell there was about him made me take to him; no smell of old beer and tobacco, which I hated, but a fresh smell as if he had come out of a hayloft. He offered twenty-three pounds for me; but that was refused, and he walked away. I looked after him, but he was gone, and a very hard-looking, loud-voiced man came; I was dreadfully afraid he’d have me; but he walked off. One or two more came who did not mean business. Then the hard-faced man came back again and offered twenty-three pounds. A very close bargain was being driven; for my salesman began to think he should not get all he asked, and must come down; but just then the gray-eyed man came back again. I could not help reaching out my head towards him. He stroked my face kindly.

“‘Well, old chap,’ he said, ‘I think we should suit each other. I’ll give twenty-four him.’

“‘Say twenty-five and you shall have him.’

“‘Twenty-four ten,’ said my friend, in a very decided tone, ‘and not another sixpence—yes or no?’

“‘Done,’ said the salesman, ‘and you may depend upon it there’s a monstrous deal of quality in that horse, and if you want him for cab work, he’s a bargain.’

“The money was paid on the spot, and my new master took my halter, and led me out of the fair to an inn, where he had a saddle and bridle ready. He gave me a good feed of oats, and stood by whilst I ate it, talking to himself, and talking to me. Half-an-hour after, we were on our way to London, through pleasant lanes and country roads, until we came into the great London thoroughfare, on which we traveled steadily, till in the twilight, we reached the great City. The gas lamps were already lighted; there were streets to the right, and streets to the left, and streets crossing each other for mile upon mile. I thought we should never come to the end of them. At last, in passing through one, we came to a long cab stand, when my rider led out in a cheery voice, ‘Good night, Governor!’

“‘Halloo!’ cried a voice, ‘have you got a good one?’

“‘I think so,’ replied my owner.

“‘I wish you luck with him.’

“‘Thank ye, Governor,’ and he rode on. We soon turned up one of the side streets, and about half way up that, we turned into a very narrow street, with rather poor-looking houses on one side, and what seemed to be coach-houses and stables on the other.

“My owner pulled up at one of the houses and whistled. The door flew open, and a young woman, followed by a little girl and boy, ran out. There was a very lively greeting as my rider dismounted.

“‘Now then, Harry, my boy, open the gates, and mother will bring us the lantern.’

“The next minute they were all standing round me in a small stable yard.

“‘Is he gentle, father?’

“‘Yes, Dolly, as gentle as your own kitten; come and pat him.’

“At once the little hand was patting all over my shoulder without fear. How good it felt!

“‘Let me get him a bran mash while you rub him down,’ said the mother.

“‘Do, Poly, it’s just what he wants, and I know you’re got a beautiful mash ready for me.’

“‘Sausage dumpling and apple turnover,’ shouted the boy, which set them all laughing. I was led into a comfortable clean-smelling stall with plenty of dry straw, and after a capital supper, I lay down, thinking I was going to be happy.”


[1] Translation mine unless otherwise noted

[2] Joel B. Green The Gospel of Luke The New International Commentary on the New Testament Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997. 645. “Insofar as Luke’s audience will identify themselves with one or the other of these characters, then, Luke has structured this account so as to render the choices starkly and to ensure that the toll collector will be viewed, however paradoxically, as the positive model.”

[3] Gonzalez, Luke, 212. “…in fact the Pharisees were among the most religious—sincerely religious—people in Israel. Their desire to be obedient to the law led them to study it assiduously, and to discuss how it ought to be interpreted and obeyed in all circumstances of life. Thus the parable is not about hypocrisy and sincerity but rather about the great reversal that is so clear throughout the Gospel of Luke.” and the reversal is religious!

[4] Green, Luke, 647. “Jesus’ portrayal of this Pharisee operates at two levels. On the one hand, he is engaged in and admits to behavior characteristic of Pharisees: praying, fasting, and tithing (5:33; 11:42). In and of themselves, these are admirable practices for which scriptural warrant is easily found….”

[5] Green, Luke, 646. “First, having become convinced of their own righteousness, they have come to depend on themselves. They are self-possessed, able, at least in their own minds, to live Honorably before God quite apart from divine mercy. On the other hand, they disdain others, their concerns with holiness manifested in the exclusion of others from their circles.”

[6] Gonzalez, Luke, 212-213. “Both the Pharisee and the tax collector stand, one ‘by himself’ and the other ‘far off,’ One stands by himself so as not to be contaminated by others less pure than he. The other stands far off because he does not consider himself worthy. Yet, the one who stands far off is in fact nearer to God.”

[7] Green, Luke, 649. “Within his social world, the toll collector is a person of low status, a deviant; he has no place among the others, nor does he attempt to seize a place by asserting his honor. Averting his eyes, beating his breasts-these are demonstrations of humility and shame that are consistent with his request for divine favor.”

[8] Green, Luke, 649. “…One claims superior status for himself by comparing himself with and separating himself from others; the other makes no claims to status at all, but acknowledges his position as a sinner who can take refuge only in the beneficence of God. Convinced of his righteousness, dependent on his own acts of piety, one asks for and receives nothing from God. The other comes to God in humility and receives that for which he asks, compassion and restoration. Like other ‘sinners’ in the Third Gospel, he finds himself included among God’s people…”

[9]  Green, Luke, 643. “The basic issue is this: Who recognizes God as the gracious benefactor? Who are those who not only come to God openhandedly in trust and expectation, but also behave accordingly, with graciousness, toward others.”

[10] Gonzalez, Luke, 213. “All that the Pharisee says he does he should be doing; and all he says he is not, he should not be…Jesus is not saying that people should not do what the Pharisee does (fasting and tithing) nor that they should become collaborators with the powerful and the ungodly, as tax collectors were. He is saying that, when the Pharisee uses his piety and religious practices to consider himself better than the tax collector, he will not be justified; and that even a tax collector who acknowledges his sin and his shortcomings will be justified. The reversal is that the one who brings piety, purity, and obedience, and who trusts in all these, is farther away from God than the one who simply brings misery, weakness, and dependence.”

[11] Anna Sewell Black Beauty New York, NY: Grosset & Dunlap, 1950. Original Publication: UK: Jarrold & Sons, 1877. pp.180-185.

A Gift is A Gift (Full Stop.)

Sermon on Luke 14: 1, 7-14

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 14:1, 7-14

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

Luke 14:12-14

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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


[1] Translation mine unless otherwise noted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Released to Release

Sermon on Luke 13:10-17

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

Luke 13:10-17

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

(Luke 13:10-13)

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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


[1] Translation mine unless otherwise specified.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Divine Division, Divine Solidarity

Sermon on Luke 12:49-56

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

Luke 12:49-56

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

Luke 12:49-52

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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


[1] Translation mine unless otherwise noted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love Loves = Love Shares

Sermon on Luke 12:13-21

Psalm 107: 1, 8-9 Give thanks to God, for God is good, and God’s mercy endures for ever. Let them give thanks to God for God’s mercy and the wonders God does for God’s children. For God satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.

Introduction

If you’re familiar with the Enneagram of Personality—the third sacrament of the Western Protestant tradition, replacing the MBTI[1]—then you may be aware of the “vices” and “virtues” associated with each of the nine “types” or (how I learned to refer to them) “languages”. If you aren’t familiar, here they are:

Ones: Anger/Serenity
Twos: Pride/Humility
Threes: Deceit/Honesty
Fours: Envy/Equanimity
Fives: Avarice/Non-Attachment
Sixes: Fear/Faith
Sevens: Gluttony/Constancy
Eights: Lust (Excess)/Innocence (Newness)
Nines: Sloth (Self-forgetting)/Right Action[2]

https://lesliehershberger.com/enneagram/enneagram-vices-and-virtues/

While a discussion about the Enneagram is a good time, that’s not the topic of this sermon. So, what I want to bring your attention to is that I, according to the professional Enneagram test, am a very strong 5. Look at that list again…

Fives: Avarice/Non-Attachment

According to the Enneagram, my virtue is “non-attachment” meaning, I have the uncanny ability to observe and watch without my own personal investment. Ah, but my vice! Now that’s a fun one: avarice. This is from the latin: avaritia; meaning: greed, miserliness, stinginess, rapacity (which is just another juicy noun). So, this means that I can hoard, with the best of ‘em.

While most people associate “greed” with “money” it isn’t strictly limited to cash and its root-of-all-evil forms. For us 5s, avarice shows itself in the way we will acquire information (by reading, observing, data collection, watching, waiting) and then never, ever, ever sharing it. Ever. (Unless one has a dissertation deadline, then we will—BEGRUDGINGLY—share it; and we will complain the entire time especially as we didn’t have time to read that stack of books of quinary sources.) We even collect and save up our emotions (at least our outward expressions of emotions); yes, pray for our partners. I can save treats for myself for year…s.

So, looking at our gospel passage; I felt a bit dragged, the shadow of divine shade being thrown in my direction. What’s so wrong with storing up stuff? And sitting on it? Keeping it forever and ever? And ever?

Well, according to Jesus, Luke, and my daughter at three: sharing is caring.

Luke 12:13-21

And [Jesus] said to them, ‘Perceive and be on your guard [away] from all avarice because one’s life is not abounding out of possessions for them … And [the man] sad, ‘This I will do: I will pull down my storehouses and I will build great houses and I will bring together there all my grain and goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods being laid up into many years; you rest, eat, drink and feast.” But God said to him…[3]

Luke 12: 14, 18-20a

Luke tells us a man from the crowd demanded[4] Jesus settle a dispute about inheritance between him and his brother. I won’t vilify this man; Jesus regularly displayed great power, authority, wisdom, and justice; why not ask him to arbitrate the matter? [5] And Jesus’s response isn’t to condemn, but to beg off, uh, comrade, who appointed me judge and distributor between you?[6]Jesus isn’t here to meddle or be concerned about the finances between two brothers; this private realm of who gets what from dad isn’t the realm of the justice of God.[7] When Jesus responds the way he does, he distances himself between the justice of the kingdom of humanity and the justice of the reign of God.[8]

This distinction between kingdoms is why Jesus uses this moment as a teaching moment. In response to what seems like a basic and common-sense request for arbitration, Jesus opens up this teaching moment by warning the audience to perceive and be on your guard away from all avarice because one’s life is not abounding out of possessions for them. To the man demanding his part of the inheritance and to us, this correlation of what’s rightly mine to avarice feels extreme. It should feel extreme. Jesus is literally correlating this man’s withheld inheritance as greed because of the way inheritance functioned(/s?) in society. It was a means to keep wealth in one family and it advanced social standing, thus access to power and privilege.[9] Thus, understanding the conflict necessitates taking seriously all that Luke has told us thus far: the Good Samaritan, Mary and Martha with Jesus, the Lord’s Prayer, the Midnight Bread Ride… Sharing is caring.

Jesus continues with a parable. (The parables are always encounters with God; stories change us.) So, Jesus tells a story: A man, already quite wealthy, decides to tear down the structures he has to build bigger structures to store his grain and goods (perishables and non-perishables).[10] As he tells himself all is now well and he has enough and can just kick it, rest, and feast, God shows up. And rather than applaud this man’s problem solving and saving frugality, God calls this man a “Fool” (lit: without reason, perception) because one’s life isn’t secured in accumulating[11] and storing up material goods[12] but in God.[13] God asks the man, These things you collected up, when you die, whose will they be? Jesus concludes the parable with a summary: those who store up for themselves, are not rich in God.

Conclusion

There’s a distinction between what Joseph, the patriarch of Israel, did way back in Genesis and what this man did. Is God against big harvests and storing grain? No.[14] The orientation of the action matters. So, the distinction is located in the orientation of the person. Joseph stored up grain for people; this man stored up grain and goods for himself.[15] The man literally financially impacted the village(s/?) and the village people around him with this decision.[16] As long as he has his, nothing, he believes, can bother him; he was safe by his own hand and cunning. But he was dead in the midst of living.[17]

Being orientated toward both perishable and imperishable material goods, collecting them up, hoarding them in silos and safes, for himself, rendered this man not safe from calamity, but thrust into it. Hoarding these resources for himself, he put himself directly in harm’s way, because he forsook his neighbor, the very person who assisted him in his accumulation of wealth and the very person whom he is now depriving of vitality.[18] Truly, resting your hope in your saved-up resources isn’t wise, it’s foolish, because those things can’t bring life, only God can. [19]

Luke has been driving home the same message, week after week after week: do not orient toward that which brings death but that which brings life. This story, the gospel, isn’t about me and mine, it’s about you and yours. This is the orientation on the one encountered by God in the event of faith. From each of our perspectives, it’s always you and yours—it always has been. When we turn in, when we pull away, when we take for ourselves, when we make material goods our priority in order to save, secure, comfort ourselves, we turn from God because we’ve turned away from others. Even as Protestant as I am, even as firm as I am on the doctrine of justification by faith alone, in Christ alone, by the power of the Holy Spirit alone, there is no way on this green earth, that this entire encounter with God is for me alone. If a Christian’s theology, philosophy, ethical posture, political theory, and economic practice is about me and what I (alone) can get and keep to myself, then I must ask: does that person follow the Christ?

When we pull apart from each other, when we turn in on ourselves, when the world orbits us alone, when we think we can capture and hold Jesus (and God) to our whims and fancies as best suits us, we render ourselves dead—living but not alive—isolated and alone. But. But when we hear our names called by Love, and we turn and see Love loving us by sharing theirself with us and loving others, we are brought into the fulness of life out of death, given resurrection now as we are swept up in the majestic, life-giving momentum of divine Love unleashed into our hearts, around our bodies, around each other yoking us together. Together we laugh, we live, we love, and as we love, we share: we share our joy, we share our sorrow, we share our need, we share our fill, we share our life, we share our space, our time, and energy… because, to quote Jesus, Luke, all the prophets of Israel, and 3yo Liza herself: sharing is caring.

Because Love loves and Love shares.


[1] Myers Briggs Type Indicator

[2] Taken from: https://lesliehershberger.com/enneagram/enneagram-vices-and-virtues/

[3] Translation mine unless otherwise noted

[4] Aorist Active Imperative even if addressed to a superior carries a command even if we add in the necessary gloss of hierarchy in terms of referential plea. See also Green, Green, Luke, 488. “He addresses Jesus as ‘teacher,’ acknowledging Jesus’ authority to render a decision in his case, but his is less a request, more a directive. He knows already the ruling he expects and needs only for Jesus to place on it his imprimatur.”

[5] Cardenal, Solentiname, 343. “‘The man saw that Jesus was just and that’s why he wants to set him up as a judge. But he didn’t know that Jesus’ justice was another kind of justice, revolutionary justice. Even now there are Christians who think that Christ’s justice is the justice of capitalism. The Chilean military junta says it’s restoring Christianity, because it’s restoring private property.’”

[6] Cardenal, Solentiname, 343. “LAUREANO: ‘He didn’t come to divide up wealth, to create capital.’”

[7] Ernesto Cardenal The Gospel in Solentiname Trans. Donald D. Walsh. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2010. 342. “WILLIAM: ‘He didn’t come to distribute the riches; it’s up to society to do that. And the sharing ought to be done among everybody, not just between two. In that sharing they asked Jesus to do, the rest were left out. They ask him to sanction private property, the inheritance laws, the status quo. He refuses, he hasn’t come for that. On the contrary, he’s come to destroy that social order.’”

[8] Justo L. Gonzalez Luke Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible Eds Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher. Louisville, KY: WJK, 2010. 157. “Amid a crowd that is amazed at the teachings and deeds of Jesus, which are no less than signs of the kingdom of God, this man is concerned about his own wealth, and about how to deal with a brother who may be withholding what belongs to him. For him, Jesus is an opportunity to validate his claim to an inheritance. But Jesus will not be manipulated. Rather than taking sides with the man-or even against him-he challenges the very basis of his request. Even though he calls the man “friend,” the Parable that follows clearly shows him to be a fool.”

[9] Green, Luke, 488-489. “‘Greed’ can denote the hunger for advanced social standing as well as the insatiable desire for wealth, though in Luke’s world these two images are intricately related. This is because, in his world, wealth is one of the several important units of exchange that could be translated into advanced status honor. Greed was widely regarded as a form of depravity, both in Jewish literature and in the larger Greco-Roman world. In the present case, the intertwining of community standing and wealth is obvious, since landholders (the rank this younger brother seeks to join in his request for Jesus’ intervention) enjoyed advanced status both in the village economy presumed here and throughout the Empire.”

[10] Green, Luke, 490. “The extent of this man’s wealth is suggested not only by Luke’s initial characterization of him as ‘rich.’ and not only by his capacity to undertake a building program without the benefit of the sale of this year’s produce, but also by his need to build bigger barns both for his grain and for the rest of his ‘goods’ (v 18). Given the subsistence economy of the peasant population surrounding him, this need for increased personal storage space not directly related to his agricultural activity must have seemed odd in the extreme, if not utterly monstrous.”

[11] Gonzalez, Luke, 159. “He is a fool because he forgets that, as is often said today, ‘you can’t take it with you.’”

[12] Cardenal, Solentiname, 344. “I: ‘According to Jesus, it’s not just happiness; it’s life itself that doesn’t depend on the things one may have.’”

[13] Gonzalez, Luke, 160. “But the man is a fool also in a deeper sense. He is a fool because he acts as if there were no God. The words in Psalm 14:1 immediately come to mind: ‘Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God” they are corrupt, they do abominable deeds.’ The fools to whom the psalm refers are not modem-day atheists, people who with their words deny the existence of God. They are rather people who, while still part of Israel, act as if there were no God. They do not care what God desires or commands, and the result is that they do abominable deeds. The man in the parable is a fool not only because he thinks he can secure his own life, but also because he acts as if there were no God. Presumably he is part of the people of God, and he knows that in the Hebrew Scriptures God repeatedly commends those in need to the care of those who have resources. This man knows this, and yet ignores it. This is what makes him a fool like those in Psalm 14. As Jesus says, he is ready to store up treasures for himself, but is not rich toward God.”

[14] Cardenal, Solentiname, 346.

[15] Gonzalez, Luke, 159. “Specifically in the first story, that the man is concerned only about himself and his possessions is e abundantly clear by the constant repetition of ‘I’ and ‘my.’ It is as if there were nothing else in the world but this man and his possessions. His greatest concern is that he does not know what to do with an exceedingly abundant crop; and his only solution is to build bigger barns so he can hold more and be more secure-so that ‘my’ soul may ‘relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ The problem is that nothing of what he has not even his soul-is his. It will be claimed when he least expects it, and all his plans will come to naught.”

[16] Green, Luke, 490-491. “Jesus portrays the farmer as engaging in self-talk. Although this might seem perfectly natural in this setting, persons engaged in soliloquy are consistently portrayed negatively by Luke (cf. 2:35; 5:21-22; 6:8; 9:46-47) In this instance, given the high level of interconnectedness characteristic of the village economy, it is worth asking why this farmer lays out a course of action in isolation from others whose well-being is affected by this decision. Additionally, the content of the farmer’s self-talk echoes similarly self-damning language in Jewish literature.”

[17] Cardenal, Solentiname, 344. “TOMAS: ‘A selfish person is dead in the midst of life.’” “‘But Jesus speaks of the one that “piles up riches for himself.” He’s not against big harvests, he’s against piling them up just for yourself. Like that man did: to keep them and rest and enjoy himself the rest of his life.’”

[18] Green, Luke, 491. “This farmer has sought to secure himself and his future without reference to God. This is the force of the label given him by God, ‘fool,’ used in the LXX to signify a person who rebels against God or whose practices deny God—a usage that coheres with the representation of ‘greed’ (v 15) as a form of idolatry. He did not consider that his life was on loan from God. Failing to account for the will of God in his stratagems, he likewise failed to account for the peril to life constituted by an abundance of possessions (v 15) and for the responsibility that attends the possession of wealth. He thus appears as one of several exemplars of the wealthy over whom ‘woe’ is pronounced in the Gospel of Luke (cf. 6:24). Such persons are not simply those with possessions, but more particularly those whose dispositions are not toward the needs of those around them, whose possessions have become a source of security apart from God, and, thus, whose possessions deny them any claim to life. The worthlessness of the farmer’s machinations is well represented in God’s parting words: These possessions, whose will they be now?”

[19] Green, Luke, 489-490. “…it means that this farmer is cast as one who has fallen victim to the polarity between an existence oriented toward life and one oriented toward possessions (v 15) or between a life in pursuit of the pseudosecurity resident in possessions (= ‘storing up treasures for themselves’) and a life in pursuit of riches vis-à-vis God (v 21). From the Lukan perspective, then, the wealthy farmer has failed to comport himself properly with respect to his possessions, for he has not entrusted his life to God and, as a con sequence, has not acted faithfully with respect to his possessions.”

Prayer of Love and Solidarity

Sermon on Luke 11:1-13

Psalm 85:7-8, 10 Show us your mercy, God, and grant us your salvation. I will listen to what God is saying, for God is speaking peace to God’s faithful people and to those who turn their hearts to God. Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

Introduction

Over the two decades being Christian I have had both robust and sickly relationship with prayer. On again, off again. It makes sense, it doesn’t make sense. I feel God’s presence; where’d God go? Yes! This is an important part of my Christian spiritual expression!; Gah! What the heck am I doing, this’s nuts. I wish I could claim a prowess and steadfastness in prayer, but I can’t.

I think the moments of prayerless malaise stem from my early Christian experience that’s marked by a heavy influence of both malnourished charism and ardent evangelicalism. My naiveté and lack of biblical and theological training was easily manipulated by friends who were more “experienced” in their journey with the Lord. I was influenced by fellow lay people taking matters into their own hand, and I loved the idea of being fueled with a spiritual power that was akin to wizardry. Faith, if you had enough, earned you things you wanted. Prayer—when prayed hard enough, hungry enough, claimed enough—produced the answers and results you desired.

My best friend at the time, the one who brought me to Christ, showed me that the faithful named and claimed things, believed beyond material evidence otherwise, and all of it applied to material things—even future spouses (as if they were things to get). According to this friend, prophecies in the first testament were “for me”, if you happened upon them playing bible-roulette. Words of wisdom and knowledge were events worthy of future expectation (things that will happen…if you don’t doubt). Prayer was a necessary expression of how much you wanted something and the more you prayed and the longer you prayed the more you showed God your commitment and faith and the more God would see to fulfilling your request.

When things didn’t go my way? Well…eventually this malnourished charism grew exhausting to uphold. I just couldn’t. With so many unanswered claims and prayers, I guess I was just a faithless person, maybe it wasn’t my thing. Thus, I’ve wrestled with prayer.

So, this week’s gospel, had me all:

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I’m truly human; I must both laugh and cry when challenged to confront some of my own spiritual trauma and walk through death to get to the other side into new life.

So, I’m asking: why pray? I believe Jesus shows the better way.

Luke 11:1-13

And it happened while he was in a certain place as he was leaving off praying, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, please teach us to pray, even just as John taught his disciples.” And [Jesus] said to them, “Whenever you pray you say, ‘Beloved Parent, let your name be purified; please let your kingdom come; please give to us our bread for the coming day in accordance with the day. And release from us our failures, just as we ourselves release all [people] owing to us. And do not lead us into calamity.”

(Luke 11:1-4)

The transition from chapter 10 (ending with “Mary picked out for herself the good part [and] it will not be taken from her whatsoever.”) to “And it happened while he was praying” feels like one of the worst transitions ever. But it isn’t. Moving from a conversation about what it looks like to be neighborly (having mercy) and to love God (choosing that which is living over that which is dead) to a conversation about prayer actually makes sense.[1] Orientation toward neighbor and God impacts the activity of our worship, and our worship impacts our orientation toward neighbor and God.[2]

So, Luke tells us this next event happened right as Jesus finished praying. One of Jesus’s disciples asks him for a prayer like the other rabbis give their disciples.[3] So, without missing a beat, Jesus says, Okay great, whenever you pray say this… And then we have “The Lord’s Prayer.” This prayer is “The prayer of the Lord’s Disciples” and sets Christ’s followers apart from other schools of thought,[4] functions as a means to formation (inwardly and outwardly), and identifies them as Christ’s disciples.[5]

What are the key characteristics that now mark Christ’s disciples?

  • God is close and personal, like a parent, so we should address our prayer to this loving God elder/parent, who is intimately identified and identifies with us.[6] (Our Father)
  • We ask for God’s name to be hallowed (sanctified/purified) among us and in the world around us; we desire not to profane God’s name or to have God’s name profaned by others. (Let your name be purified)[7]
    • This entails justice and not injustice, equality and not inequality: the hungry fed, the naked clothed, the widowed cared for, the oppressed liberated, the homeless homed…[8]
    • Thus we also pray that God’s reign comes in this way…(let your kingdom come)[9]
      • Specifically in (but not limited to[10]) the form of giving us real bread to satisfy real hunger; if we are satisfied, we say “us” so that bread is provided to all who need it (give to us our daily bread)[11]
      • Not given spontaneously generate apart from us but with and through us and our participation[12]
      • In accordance to ways rejecting the violent systems established by the kingdom of humanity[13]
    • Help us to spread your love in the world through being reconciled and reconciling, being restored and restoring, being forgiven and forgiving,[14] for we know the activity of divine love is not static but active (forgive us our debts as we forgive those who have debts against us)[15]
  • And, finally, please assist us not to fall into the traps and temptations in the world that cause us to return to the old age of death dealing narratives and systems (lead us not into temptation).[16]

Then, as we follow Luke’s narrative weaving, Jesus offers two examples intimately connected to what was just discussed. The imagery of the midnight request for bread in the first story links what follows to the request for daily bread in the prayer. However, the idea that it’s strictly about asking and asking and asking for things we want—which was how it was taught to me—is antithetical to what is actually going on in light of Jesus giving the “Lord’s Prayer” to the disciples. In fact, it’s not about “perseverance” as much as it’s about a lack of shame in praying for something for your friend. ἀναίδειαν is about being shameless in your request not how many times you ask—not for yourself but for others[17] (thus the link back to chapter 10: loving God is loving the neighbor). The man asks one friend who has bread to give him bread so he may supply bread to the friend who’s shown up because he doesn’t have bread to give (intercessory request).[18]

So, according to Jesus’s teaching on prayer, to pray is not to pray for only yourself and what you want but what is needed so that basic human needs are met. More specifically, looking at the structure of the Lord’s Prayer—which shapes the follower’s praying and living in the world toward neighbor and God—we rarely pray strictly for me and mine, but for we and us, for things we all need. Thus, if I’m not in need but pray God to supply us our daily bread, I pray in solidarity with those who do need it.

Conclusion

In this prayer and in the stories that follow, the disciples are exhorted to see their umbilical link to their neighbors: they hurt when the neighbor hurts, they are hungry when the neighbor is hungry, they are cold when the neighbor is cold…In this way God’s name is purified and not profaned, God’s reign comes, and divine love continues to sweep through the world capturing the captives unto liberation and life. And not of our own doing. Praying in this way is to bring this solidarity among humans to the One who is in solidarity with them: Jesus the Christ of Nazareth, this human who is God, this neighbor who is God, this one who knows us and our needs, our pain and our sorrow, our hunger and dependence, our vulnerability and death.

So, back to the introduction and the question: why pray? Because I love you. Because I love those whom God loves. Because I want people to know and the world to experience the divine love of God. Today, I pray not because it gets me anything, but that it brings you everything. Lifting each other up in prayer knits us in tight solidarity with each other as we weep with those who weep, hunger with those who hunger, sorrow with those who sorrow, get angry with those who are angry, and even rejoice with those who rejoice. And all of it, by prayer, is done in the presence of God whom we draw close as we shamelessly dare to face God and boldly ask: please, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.


[1] Joel B. Green The Gospel of Luke The New International Commentary on the New Testament Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997. 438. “The Lukan account of Jesus’ interaction with Martha and Mary, then, prepares for Jesus’ teaching on the [parenthood] of God by focusing on one’s disposition toward authentic hearing in the presence of the in breaking kingdom.”

[2] Justo L. Gonzalez Luke Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible Eds Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher. Louisville, KY: WJK, 2010. 142-143. “Action shapes attitude, and rite shapes belie: Historians often refer to this with the Latin phrase lex credenda est lex orandi, ‘the rule of worship (or prayer) is the rule of belief.’ … In Our everyday experience we know that the simple action of smiling often leads us to want to smile. In the life of faith, faith leads us to worship; but worship also leads us to faith.”

[3] Gonzalez, Luke, 143. “At the time when Jesus taught this prayer, many other rabbis and teachers proposed certain prayers for their disciples to repeat.”

[4] Green, Luke, 440. “Jesus’ followers pray in this way because this is a distinctive practice of Jesus’ followers. Such practices nurture dispositions appropriate to the community of Jesus’ followers; through its repetition, the message of this prayer would engrave itself into the life of the community.”

[5] Gonzalez, Luke, 143. “So the Lord’s Prayer is also the prayer of the disciples of the Lord the prayer by which these disciples are formed, and which serves as the mark of their identity.”

[6] Green, Luke, 441. “Though often carrying connotations of authority (and, thus, of the response of obedience), in this case ‘father’ actualizes other properties of this metaphor as well-for example, love, nurture, mercy, and delight.” This is why I am opting for another name for this intimacy because Fatherhood and Father have often been abused as authoritative rather than nurturing.

[7] Gonzalez, Luke, 143. In that passage, as in the Lord’s Prayer, the main consideration is the name of the Lord. The Lord’s Prayer begins with, ‘hallowed be your name,’ and the prayer in Proverbs ends with the concern not to ‘profane the name of my God.’ What Proverbs says is that injustice and inequality that lead the poor to steal profane the name of the Lord, and that abundance that leads to self-sufficiency ignores that very name….” And, Green, Luke, 442. “God’s eschatological work to reestablish the holiness of his name, then, invokes shame on the part of his people and invites them to embrace practices that honor him.”

[8] Green, Luke, 440. “Within the practice of such prayer, a premium would be placed on the infusion of a worldview centered on the gracious God, on dependence on God, and on the imitation of God, all understood against an eschatological horizon in which the coming of God in his sovereignty figures prominently.”

[9] Gonzalez, Luke, 143. “Thus the petitions ‘hallowed be your name’ and ‘your kingdom come’ are not independent from the one about daily bread. This is not a list of petitions. It is a single, ardent call for the kingdom in which God’s name is hallowed, and in which all have what they need.”

[10] Green, Luke, 443. “However polysemic Luke’s phrase may thus seem, this does not detract from what is most clear about this petition-namely, its concern with the reliance of Jesus’ followers on God’s provision for the basics of daily life.”

[11] Gonzalez, Luke, 144. “Is this about physical, edible bread, or about spiritual bread? The Question itself reflects a dichotomy that is alien to the biblical text. Eating is a spiritual act, and discipleship is reflected in eating and in sharing food. Furthermore, the very ambiguity of the word translated as ‘daily bread’ points to both the physical and the spiritual… In the Lord’s Prayer, we are asking for exactly that sort of bread—bread of justice and of trust in God.”

[12] Green, Luke, 442. “It is God’s kingdom that will come; only God can overturn the powers at work in the world and establish his universal reign, so the faithful do well to join persons like Simeon and Anna in their hopeful anticipation of the decisive, divine intervention 2:25, 38). At the same time, with the coming of Jesus the kingdom is already being made present, necessitating lives oriented toward serving the divine project and restorative practices that participate in and further the reach of the new order being established by God…”

[13] Green, Luke, 443. “The prayer Jesus teaches his followers embodies the urgency of giving without expectation of return that is, of ripping the fabric of the patronage system by treating others as (fictive) kin rather than as greater or lesser than oneself.”

[14] Green, Luke, 444. “As in previous texts (esp. 6:36), Jesus spins human behavior from the cloth of divine behavior, the embodiment of forgiveness in the practices of Jesus’ followers is a manifestation and imitation of God’s own character.”

[15] Gonzalez, Luke, 144. The implication is that our sins are like unpaid debts-perhaps even unpayable debts-and that while we pray God not to collect on us, we also commit not to collect on others. Connecting this with what has been said above about the kingdom and bread, those who pray for the kingdom and serve it commit not to claim for themselves more than is due, and at the same time, recognizing that they are not always faithful to that promise, to forgive those who take more than is their due.

[16] Gonzalez, Luke, 144. “Finally, the petition about the time of trial” may be an eschatological reference to the final judgment, and also a reference to the temptation not to trust God for daily bread.”

[17] Gonzalez, Luke, 144-145. “One could therefore say that the parable is about intercessory prayer. It is not about my asking God for what I want, but rather about asking God tor what others need. When on that basis we ask, we are given; when on that basis we search, we shall find; when on that basis we knock, the door will be opened. Significantly, at the end of the passage Jesus does not promise his disciples ‘good things,’ as in Matthew (Matt. 7:11), but rather ‘the Holy Spirit.’ What Jesus promises his disciples who ask is that they will be given the Holy Spirit, who in turn will help them ask on behalf of others.”

[18] Gonzalez, Luke, 144. In this story, the theme of bread serves as a link with the Lord’s Prayer. The story is not about ‘perseverance in prayer’ as the NRSV titles it. Actually, the word that the NRSV translates as ‘persistence’ in verse 8 can also be understood as ‘impudence’ or ‘shamelessness.’ So the story is about a man who is sufficiently concerned about the friend who has arrived unexpectedly to dare wake another friend in the middle of the night. It is about one who asks on behalf of another. The one caught with no bread when the friend arrives is also caught between two principles of conduct: hospitality to the unexpected guest on the one hand, and respect for the friend who sleeps on the other. To him, there is no choice-he must call upon the friend who has bread in order to feed the one who has not.

Our Stories This Story: A Revolutionary Story

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

Sermon on Luke 24:1-12

Psalm 118:15-17 There is a sound of exultation and victory in the tents of the righteous: “The right hand of [God] has triumphed! the right hand of [God] is exalted! the right hand of [God] has triumphed!” I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of [God].

Introduction

Death dared to stand between God and the Beloved and did not survive; like a mama bear eager to protect her cubs, God roared and death became dust; God’s beloved was liberated. Happy Easter! Hallelujah!

Today, we are people of story.

Today, on this beautiful day of celebration, of praise, of great and big Hallelujahs! we become a people of story. We become a people created and crafted by a radical and profound story of God’s abundant, steadfast, unconditional, never-giving-up, mama-bear-like love for the cosmos.

Today our posture uncoils, and we boldly turn our faces toward the outer edges of the universe letting the rays of the risen Son shine down upon us. All that was has come undone; everything is now as it should be according to God’s story of love for the world and all people.

Today, we get to stand (literally and metaphorically) in the realm of life in the aftermath of the exposure that we do not know what we are doing. Today, we get to float in the wonderful amniotic fluid of divine love soothing over every wound and trauma, we get to dance freely to the manifold melodies of liberation, we get to drink in the waters of life, consume the food of the word of God of love, and hear the comforting declaration that even when we did not and do not know what we are doing, God does know what God’s doing.

Even when we were determined to terminate God’s story, God met our determination with God’s story of love and forgiveness, mercy and grace; what we sentenced to death and thrust into the dirt, God made alive and caused the very ground under our feet to burst open. In the resurrection of the Christ, we receive the splendor of God’s story and watch it eclipse our own feeble stories hallmarked with pain and sorrow, captivity and complicity, sickness and trauma, and death. Today our stories become living, breathing testaments to the revolutionary love of God.

Today we are a people of story.

Luke 24:1-12

Now, on the first [day] of the week at the deep of the early dawn, [the women] came to the tomb carrying spices that they prepared. And they found the stone having been rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus; they became perplexed about this. And then, Lo!, two men in lustrous clothing stood by the women; [the women] became full of fear. While bowing [their] faces to the earth, [the two men] said to the women, “Why are you seeking the living among the dead? He is not here, but he has been raised. Remember how he said to you while in Galilee saying ‘it is necessary the Son of Humanity is handed over into the hands of sinful humanity and crucified and on the third day raised up.’” And the women remembered his words…

Luke 24:1-8, translation mine unless otherwise noted

“And the women remembered his words…” This is the profound moment when these brave women[1] who were previously lurking in the background of Luke’s story surge to the foreground.[2] In addition to that, this is the moment when they begin to grasp the depth of what they’ve encountered: God…the awe inspiring and undiluted power of God’s fulfilled promise to liberate the captives even.

Luke tells us: coming to the tomb early in the morning, bearing their spices, they were prepared to meet Jesus’s dead body. Make no mistake, these women are no heroes of “blind faith”, as if they obstinately held to some whimsical fantastic fiction denying what had happened, refusing to accept reality. They knew what happened; they were grounded. They were (literally) carrying spices for burial. They expected to fight against larger-than-life stone to access the decaying body of Jesus of Nazareth and anoint it.[3]

They expected to encounter death; they were ready for that. Instead, they encountered life, and were thrown back on their heels.

Two men greet them in lustrous and dazzling clothes and tell the women: why are you looking for the living among the dead? Let’s imagine the two men ask the question and then smile, knowing (full well) what these women were expecting and knowing (full well) they are seconds away from dropping all those prepared burial spices on the ground. Try to listen to the lilt in the question as it falls on the astounded women who are becoming more perplexed… the living…?among the dead?

The familiar aroma of the paradox of comfort and chaos lingers in that hewn out hole in the rock. For these women, the world is turned upside down…Jesus is alive and not among the dead…The story just took a radical turn. In a moment, these humble women are wrapped up (and lead! [4]) in what will become one of the revolutionary stories of divine love for the world. A story so radical many people and churches will and do suffer persecution and death to tell it.

For these women, nothing will ever be the same. As they leave the empty tomb and return home proclaiming this divine revolution against death in Jesus being raised from the dead, their own stories change for good. What follows, what comes after this encounter with God is not a continuation of what went before…everything is being made new! A new order is ushered in.[5] This isn’t some happy ending where everyone lives happily ever after; this is a brand-new story, a new chapter in history, in the history of these women, in the history of the world.[6] God’s battle with death is won in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit; everyone who collides with this story, will be forever changed in one way or another.[7]

Conclusion

Today,

  • We are a people who passes on story rather than mess
  • We are a people who passes on story rather than isolation and alienation
  • We are a people who passes on story rather than toil
  • We are a people who passes on story rather than utility
  • We are a people who passes on story rather than exclusion
  • We are a people who passes on life rather than death

Today, we become a people who passes on story rather than not-story. As those who encounter God today, in this story, we are changed for good. What was before is eclipsed by this moment. The stories we bring here today—the ones we were given by others who couldn’t love us as well as they wanted to; the ones we were given by those who hated us; the ones we were given through pain, sorrow, suffering, illness, grief, trauma, bullying, and death; the ones we give ourselves—all of our stories, one by one, are rendered to dust as we are enveloped and wrapped up in this new story of God’s for us: Beloved. In this “Beloved” we are called, we stand up, we rise, we are resurrected, and we enter into the divine revolution of God’s love loosed against the remnants of death and its destructive systems.

What was, ended; all that lies ahead is the divine material that is the foundation of our new life and new creation, our liberation and belovedness, our faith, hope,[8] and persistence.[9] This new life—this rising up and resurrection[10]—becomes our praxis in the world. As resurrected new creations, our posture in the world and toward others is completely altered. In this new life we participate with the Holy Spirit in the liberation of the captives.[11] As those summoned from death, from slumber, from the myths and lies we’ve been telling ourselves, we become those who wake up and see, hear, feel, and speak the profound good news of liberation for the world[12] from the captivity of death. In doing so, we demonstrate to the world that resurrection is for now and not strictly for the future.[13] As we bring good news to the oppressed, disenfranchised, poor, lonely, isolated, excluded, used up, and the burnt out, we bring resurrection into the present and push back the expired tyranny of death and usher in the reign of love and life. [14]

I want to close by way of a poem I stumbled across in my studies this week. The title of the poem is Threatened with Resurrection, by Julia Esquivel a poet and Guatemalan exile. I’m quoting the final few stanzas:

No, brother,
it is not the noise in the streets
which does not let us sleep.

Join us in this vigil
and you will know what it is to dream!
Then you will know how marvelous it is
to live threatened with Resurrection!

To dream awake,
to keep watch asleep,
to live while dying,
and to know ourselves already
resurrected![15]

Julia Esquivel, “Threatened with Resurrection”

By living into this story we’ve been given today, we live into resurrection now, living lives joining in the “vigil” of those who suffer under what was and those who are threatened with the violence of not-yet, we live “already resurrected,” we live “while dying,” we “dream awake”, and keep watch even while sleeping. When we dare to let the resurrection of the Christ be the divine revolution in the world that it is, we dare to live resurrected now, we dare to become those who don the love of God and spread it to everyone, and we dare to be those who pass on liberation, pass on love, pass on life…those who dare to pass on the story.


[1] Ernesto Cardenal The Gospel in Solentiname “The Resurrection (Matthew 28L1-10) “Thomas Pena: ‘The got up early because they wanted to. And they were brace, because they weren’t scared of the National Guardsmen that were on duty there.’” P. 618

[2] Justo L. Gonzalez Luke Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible Eds Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher. Louisville, KY: WJK, 2010. 272. “…Luke will tell parallel but different stories about the women disciples and the men. In this particular case, however, the story about the women comes first. These women have been present, but have remained mostly in the background of the story, ever since Luke introduced them in 8:2-3…Now they come to the foreground as the first witnesses to the resurrection.

[3] Gonzalez Luke 273. “They, no less than the rest, believe that in the cross all has come to an end. It is time to return home to their more traditional lives. But before they do that, they must perform one last act of love for their dead Master: they must anoint his body.”

[4] Gonzalez Luke 273. “Even though the later course of church history, with its expectation of entirely male leadership, would lead us to think otherwise, it is they who bring the message of the resurrection to the eleven, and not vice versa.” See also, Cardenal Solentiname “[Cardenal]: ‘In those times nobody paid much attention to women. And that’s why those women maybe didn’t run any risk, as Laureano says. Their role was only to go and weep and then embalm the body of Jesus. A humble role. But this Gospel assigns them a more important role: they were witnesses to the resurrection.” P. 618

[5] Gonzalez Luke 273

[6] Gonzalez Luke 274. “The resurrection brings about a new reality, a new order. Things do not continue as before … The resurrection is not the continuation of the story. Nor is it just its happy ending. It is the beginning of a new story, of a new age in history…The victory is won. What now remain are no more than skirmishes in a battle that has already been won.”  

[7] Gonzalez Luke 275. “Thus, in the areas that were part of Christendom as well as in the rest of the world, Christians have been rediscovering the significance of the resurrection as victory over the powers of the old age, and as the beginning of a new order and a new history pointing to the final establishment of the reign of God.”

[8] Gollwitzer Way to Life 141 “Nothing is lost, nothing is in vain. Tribulation is not the last thing, joy, arrival at the goal will be the last thing, and for this reason we shall be able to hold on in faith and in hope, hearing the primes ever anew.”

[9] Helmut Gollwitzer The Way to Life: Sermons in a Time of World Crisis Trans. David Cairns Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1981 (eng) p. 139 [German version: Wendung zum Leben München: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1980. “The whole Gospel calls to us ‘look forward!’ however things are going with you. Look forward! Hope will come to you form that direction, and staying power. Look forward, you see there what gives you the power to hold on!”

[10] Dorothee Sölle “Uprising and Resurrection” The Strength of the Weak: Toward a Christian Feminist Identity Trans. Robert and Rita Kimber Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1984. Pp. 71 “Rising, uprising, and resurrection belong together factually as well as linguistically. Rising is a word that describes what an individual does in the morning, uprising, what a people does when it shakes off political sleep. Both of them mean learning how to walk upright, in a way that is still perhaps unfamiliar. To rise up means not to cringe anymore, to lose fear.”

[11] Helmut Gollwiter The Rich Christians & Poor Lazarus Trans. David Cairns Edinburgh: St. Andrews Press, 1970 (eng) p.3 [German version: Die reichen Christen und der arme Lazarus München: Chr. Kaiser Verlad, 1968.] “Only by altered attitudes in this world, not by assertions about divine truths, which are claimed to be true ‘in themselves,’ can we bear witness to the relevance of our confession of faith. Therefore John A. T. Robinson is right to ask his question ‘Do we affirm the Easter faith in these days, when we insist that God raised Jesus from the dead—or when we dare to gamble our lives in the faith that God will raise us from the dead? Can we do the former, without doing the latter.’ And indeed, keeping our eye on the liberal reduction of faith to humanism, we shall also have to add, “Can we do the latter, without doing the former?”

[12] Sölle Strength 71-72 “We rise from sleep; we are resurrected from death. An uprising is a rising from political sleep, from a kind of death in which people are deprived of crucial elements of their lives and are commandeered by others.”

[13] Sölle Strength 76 “The price we have to pay for a truly human life has not become less since ancient times, much as we may want to believe that it has. People are still being tortured today because they have fought for justice. People are still dying today from the indifference of others who do not want rebellion and do not need resurrection. But despite the betrayal of the revolution and, God knows, the betrayal of Christ, we see happening again and again what we all need most uprisings of life against the many forms of death; which is to say, resurrection.”

[14] Cardenal Solentiname 619 “I: ‘And he goes on showing us that he’s alive, us, gathered here twenty centuries later; and he’s present in the midst of us.’ WILLAM: ‘-The important thing is that he’s alive wherever there’s community.’”

[15] Julia Esquivel Threatened with Resurrection for more information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julia_Esquivel. I’ve ordered her book of the same title; more to come!

Our Stories This Story: The Worker

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

Sermon on Exodus 3:1-15

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

Introduction

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

From the Ash Wednesday 2022 Sermon

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

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

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

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

Exodus 3: 1-15

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

Exodus 3:4-6

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

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

Exodus 3: 7-8

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

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

and this my title for all generations.”

Exodus 3:13-15

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

Conclusion

In sermon on Genesis 11, Helmut Gollwitzer preaches,

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

Helmut Gollwitzer Way to Life

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


[1] Taken from the Ash Wednesday 2022 Sermon

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

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