Text Study for Luke 3:1-6 (Pt. 4); December 5, 2021

A People Prepared

We prepared for the birth of our first child during Advent of 1984. We were living in a parsonage, and we got permission to redo an upstairs bedroom as the nursery. While I was too distracted to wax theological at the time, I have often reflected in the succeeding years about what it meant to prepare for our baby as a window into what it means to prepare for The Baby.

One of the most vivid memories I have of that time is removing wallpaper. We wanted to paint the walls with soothing colors and cute stencils. We – well, I’m using the royal “we” here, since I was clueless as to how our nursery should look. In any event, the walls were covered with seven layers of wallpaper, the earliest layer dating from some time in the 1930’s. While at the time I missed the mystical significance of the number of layers on the walls, it is clear now that this was a perfectly horrid task that needed to be done.

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We rented a steamer for a week in order to move the work along. The paper was so thick and the gluing so generous that I need to hold the steamer pad on an eight-inch by twelve-inch section of the wall for up to a minute. Then we had to let the heat and moisture do their work for a time before we could begin to scrape of the old stuff. Of course, there were places where we could tear away larger pieces. At those points we could see the changing fashions in wallpaper over the decades and could marvel at the things other people found attractive.

Preparing for the baby required, first of all, removing the remnants of older ways of life. To be fair, those older wallpaper choices weren’t bad. They were, however, no longer useful. This is one of the actions that John, through Second Isaiah, proclaims in his preaching. Mountains and hills will be leveled, and the slag will be used to fill up the valleys. That leveling is a prelude to straightening out the roads that formerly snaked around the geography. The bumps and ridges will be smoothed to allow for trouble-free transportation.

Neither Second Isaiah nor John the Baptist is really talking about physical road construction here. What is at stake is the renovation of human hearts, human relationships, political structures, and social boundaries. That is what’s at stake in our own Advent journeys as well.

I do recall being at least somewhat reflective as I stood holding the wallpaper steamer. I was noticing that my internal “wallpaper” (and overall architecture) was being refashioned to a degree as we prepared for parenting. I was aware of the obvious changes upcoming – financial demands, limits on personal freedom and social life, changes in alcohol consumption and time-wasting behaviors. I found that, whether I wanted it or not, I was moving into “adulting.”

It’s not that these changes were bothersome or burdensome. They were simply part of the deal. They were signs to me (and to the world, I hope) that the baby was coming, and we were getting ready. And they were changes which, taxing as they might have been, were making me into a better person for the long haul.

The prophet Malachi describes this personal, spiritual, communal, and social renovation as a “refiner’s fire” and “fuller’s soap.” Margaret Odell offers an excellent commentary on Malachi three on the workingpreacher.org site (did you make your contribution to the fundraiser?). In addition, the focus of Malachi’s proclamation is on the Levitical priesthood, rather than on the whole covenant community. Thus, Odell writes that “Malachi 3:1-4 challenges preachers to consider their own preparation for this particular season of the Lord’s coming. What,” she asks, “does Malachi envision as a necessary first condition for being ready to meet God?” For the Levitical priests, that first condition is apparently the burning and scrubbing which will render them transformed to a condition that makes their faithful ministry once again possible.

“This little text suggests that the first order of business as we prepare for the Lord’s coming is not endless discussion—no more endless questions, please, about how we came to be in the mess we are in—of who is right and who is wrong, or, for that matter, whether God sees these things as we do,” Odell writes. “Rather, the first order of preparation,” she continues, “is to establish the conditions for reconciliation—to consider how this God who desires life and peace may once again be encountered in ordinary human communities of conflict and tension.”

Odell reads Malachi as urging this “first order of preparation” as the more fundamental problem, prior to but not excluding issues of justice in the community. I’m not so sure that either the Malachi text or the trajectory of the Lukan reading support this as clearly as Odell presents. As she notes, Malachi 3:5-6, refers to some heavy-duty reforms in the community.

Even though the NRSV begins Malachi 3:5 with “then,” the Hebrew text has a simple “and” at the beginning of the sentence (the same is true in the LXX). It seems as likely to me that concerns for purity and justice are concurrent in the text as that they are consecutive. My Hebrew is far too rudimentary to get into the niceties of the vav-consecutive and its impact on verb tenses here. In any event, the burning and scrubbing will go hard on those who engage in idolatry (perhaps for money) and those who oppress and exclude the hirelings, the widows, the orphans, and the resident aliens. If this is addressed to the Levitical priesthood, there are some damning accusations here.

Michael Chan says it well in his workingpreacher.org article, “A Season for Truth-telling.”

“Whatever Malachi means by ‘refinement,’ it includes identifying and exposing acts of unfaithfulness. Yahweh’s fiery, refining love burns for those who suffer and are mistreated in this world. For those left out in the cold, the divine fire provides warmth. For those who break faithfulness with God and neighbor, the fire singes and purifies. In Malachi, Yahweh’s judgment attacks human indifference, along with its tempting tendency to view oppressed workers and vulnerable people as just another feature of the created order.”

As we prepared the nursery space to welcome our new baby, my heart, mind, spirit, and worldview were being refurbished and refashioned as well. So, it is in this season of Advent. Part of the joyous discipline of this season is the challenge prayerfully to ask myself what valleys need filling, what mountains and hills need leveling, what crooked ways need straightening and what rough roads need smoothing – in me as well as around me.

It became clear as we continued our room preparation that we were making others ready to welcome the baby as well. Through announcements, showers, celebrations, and casual conversation, we were reconfiguring the world around us for the change in our home, our hearts, our relationships, and our priorities. The world was going to be different for grandparents, aunts, uncles, parishioners, co-workers, and neighbors. The world was going to be different because we were going to be different. In fact, we were preparing a community to receive the baby.

That is another dimension of the Advent journey. Zechariah learns that John was going to “turn many of the sons of Israel upon the Lord their God” (John 1:16, my translation). He hears that the ministry of John is “to prepare for the Lord a people purpose-built” (John 1:17c, my translation). Relationships will be remodeled and hearts re-fashioned as part of this preparation. Zechariah affirms that calling in the Benedictus, in John 1:76.

One thing I know about that first nursery-making experience is that no matter how much we prepared, we weren’t prepared. I’m glad we did so much advance work, and it was exciting to do all that preparation in expectation of a great joy. The preparation made it possible for us to not only survive but to flourish in and through everything we didn’t know and didn’t anticipate. Just because we did lots of prep work doesn’t mean that we foreclosed on all the surprises and challenges of being new parents.

We were preparing for a different life, a new life, a transformed life. We could not imagine the extent of the differences, the changes, the transformations. All we could do was to put ourselves in the best place we could to receive whatever was coming. Getting ready for the baby was an exercise in trust and hope. There wouldn’t be much point in preparing if we weren’t pretty sure that someone new was coming.

So, we make changes at our house to get ready for The Baby. We are worshipping face to face in a local congregation weekly for the first time in eighteen months. The coincidence of that personal return to in-person worship and the beginning of a new church year has been refreshing and stimulating. Everything old seems new again. Worship has a fresh edge to it for me, and I find myself anticipating Sunday in ways I haven’t for some years.

We are reading Walter Brueggemann’s Celebrating Abundance as our Advent devotional discipline at the breakfast table. Brueggemann’s bracing readings of Hebrew and Christian scripture perks up my ears and focuses my attention. I find myself being on the alert, as Jesus urged us to be last week in the gospel reading.

I’m still steaming the wallpaper off my spirit – a lifelong task, for certain. But I also find that we are painting Advent blue in our lives and in our devotions, with some sparkles thrown in on the ceiling to make us look ahead to the Holy Night. That, by the way, was the decorative scheme of our first nursery – my only contribution to the aesthetics of the space.

After all, it was Advent.

References and Resources

Burnett, Clint. “Eschatological Prophet of Restoration: Luke’s Theological Portrait of John the Baptist in Luke 3:1-6.” Neotestamentica, vol. 47, no. 1, New Testament Society of Southern Africa, 2013, pp. 1–24, http://www.jstor.org/stable/43048893.

Chan, Michael J. https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/a-season-for-truth-telling.

Hearlson, Adam. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-of-advent-3/commentary-on-luke-168-79-5.

Levine, Amy-Jill, and Witherington, Ben. The Gospel of Luke. Cambridge University Press, 2018.

Norton, Yolanda. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-of-advent-3/commentary-on-luke-168-79-7.

Odell, Margaret. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-of-advent-3/commentary-on-malachi-31-4-6.

Swanson, Richard. Provoking the Gospel of Luke: A Storyteller’s Commentary, Year C. Cleveland, OH.: Pilgrim Press, 2006.

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Text Study for Luke 3:1-6 (Pt. 3); December 5, 2021

The Word that Works

“The word of God,” the Lukan author declares, “came upon John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness” (Luke 3:2b, my translation). This is the way of beginning for all the prophets of the God of Israel. While the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, renders “word” in “the word of the Lord” most often with the word logos, there is a difference in Isaiah 40. That matters because the Lukan author uses an extended quotation from that passage to undergird John’s ministry of preaching and baptizing.

On the one hand, what is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet is “words” (logon). On the other hand, what comes upon John is the word of God (rhema). These Greek terms come out the same in the English translation, but they are not the same in the rendering by the Lukan author. The work of the Markan composer is of no help here since these phrases don’t appear in the Markan composition. This is all on Luke.

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We might simply say that this doesn’t matter. The Lukan author may have changed up the words for aesthetic or stylistic reasons. That’s certainly possible, but I find it neither interesting nor likely. The Lukan author uses better than average Greek grammar and style. It doesn’t seem likely that the vocabulary at such an important point in the document would be left to the whims of personal preference.

On the one hand, this change in vocabulary can distinguish between John and the great prophets of old. John is not Elijah. Nor is John Isaiah, Jeremiah, or Ezekiel. The “word” that is quoted in Luke 3 comes from one of those great prophets and deserves the designation that later the Gospel of John will reserve for the Incarnate Messiah himself. The “word” that came to John is different. At least that’s one way of looking at it.

On the other hand, there is the fuller context of Isaiah 40 to consider. The Lukan author expands the quotation in the Markan composition. But that expansion is also selective when it comes to verse 5. The Hebrew of Isaiah 40:5 as reflected in the NRSV declares, “Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

The Septuagint rendering is a bit different, and it renders the Hebrew in more literal terms. “And the glory of the Lord shall be seen, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God because the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 40:5 LXX, my translation). To be fair, the Hebrew of the verse says, “all flesh,” but often this phrase means, in fact, “all human beings.” The Lukan author exploits the multivalence of the term to support the author’s agenda of universal inclusion.

What does the mouth of the Lord have to say? In Isaiah 40:1-2, the Lord speaks words of comfort to the people of God. Those words of comfort come to Jerusalem announcing the end of the consequences for previous unfaithfulness. In verses three through five, the speaking is regarded as an accomplished event – the Lord has spoken, and therefore it is done.

The prophet hears the command to declare the limits of creaturely existence and the unending faithfulness of God’s promises. In Isaiah 40:8, the prophet is reminded that, despite the mortality of flesh, “the word of our God remains into the ages” (my translation). The word for “word” here is rhema. This is the word that comes to John as the prophetic call. The word of God that outlasts the ages of mortal life is the word of comfort in the face of chaos, of hope in the face of helplessness, of life in the face of death.

The rulers listed in Luke 3:1-2 are not there to serve as mere markers on the divine timeline. They are the guarantors for and beneficiaries of the status quo. This is the status quo that demands domination, despair, and death as the price of existence. They are the forces of power masquerading as peace, of violence pretending to be virtue, of enslavement under the cover of extravagance. They are the ones who want to determine the content of the “word” – to declare what is true and good and beautiful and to punish all who might disagree.

It is to that historical place and structure that the undying word comes upon and then through John. I am running ahead of the text a bit at this moment, but we should notice that John’s actual preaching is, on the surface, anything but comforting (more on that next week). In my experience, such “prophetic” sermons have not produced much of anything except for complaining calls and anonymous emails in the week following the sermon.

John’s call reminds me of the call of another odd prophet, Jonah, the son of Amittai. Jonah hears the word (logos) of the Lord to go and proclaim against Nineveh, archenemy of Israel. On the first go-round Jonah flees in the opposite direction, and we get the ship, the storm, the fish, the psalm, and the unceremonious puking of the prophet back on the shore. But the Lord is not so easily deterred.

The same word comes to Jonah a second time. He is, apparently, trainable. So, this time he goes a day’s journey into the great city and gives the worst and shortest sermon in human history. “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be turned upside down!” (Jonah 3:4b LXX, my translation). The verb I translated as to “turn upside down” is the same root as our English word, “catastrophe.” Jonah declares that in less than six weeks the Lord is going to “catastrophize” Nineveh unless things change radically.

The story, of course, is that things do change radically in Nineveh, things are turned upside down, from the humblest home to the highest palace. Even the livestock wear sackcloth and ashes and engage in repentance. It is the Gentile king who is the best theologian in the book. “Who knows,” the king wonders, “perhaps this Lord will turn around and not carry out the catastrophization.” That is precisely what happens and is precisely the outcome Jonah had hoped to avoid.

Jonah is the anti-prophet by which all other prophets are to be measured. John’s call comes in the midst of regimes that make old Nineveh look like a social ministry organization. In the midst of that setting, John proclaims (just like Jonah) that, in light of the new Reality coming into being, things have to change.

I have wrestled with how much of Luke three to read this week and how much to save for next week. I am not often a fan of repeating verses from one week to the next, but I think that preaching will be served by some repetition this time. I would suggest that we might read through verse nine this week rather than through verse six. I think it would be best to get the whole sermon from John rather than just the first half. I think it’s fine to repeat verses seven through nine next week to make the connection in the text.

If we think Jonah’s sermon was a homiletical train wreck, John’s is not much better. He, too, calls for repentance. He includes an insult to the ancestry of his audience and the threat of Gehenna thrown in to boot. I don’t think John’s preaching is likely to be held up as a model in most of our “nice” mainline shops where people expect to go home feeling better than when they arrived (a presumption of privilege, of course).

The real similarity between Jonah and John is in the outcome. People begin to change! I, for one, need to hear this part of the message over and over again. I have so little confidence in the possibility that people might be changed by the word that comes through me that I usually don’t even bother to try. Of course, I’m really assuming that it is my word rather than the word of the Lord which comes from my lips. If that’s the case, then my pessimism is well-founded.

I know from experience, however, that I underestimate the impact of the authentic word of the Lord far too often. I give God’s people far too little credit for listening with open minds and hungry hearts to the message the Lord is sending. I am therefore too often surprised when behaviors actually change, when priorities alter, when hearts are transformed.

Jonah was not surprised that the word of the Lord has such transformative power. Jonah was so sure of that power that he resisted speaking. And when he did speak, he said as little as possible. “Didn’t I tell you, Lord,” he complains in chapter four, “that this is precisely what would happen?” Jonah is so put out by the effectiveness of the Lord’s word that he wants to die in frustration.

Nor is John surprised by this power. Next week we will examine the ways that John urges people to change in preparation for the Big Event. He doesn’t appear surprised when folks ask what they should do. He’s ready with specific answers and advice. I’ve rarely found myself in that position and would have had to scramble to come up with helpful answers to the question.

But this is part of the Good News of Advent, at least for me. The word of the Lord remains when the ages have all ended. That word is effective in bringing about change, in spite of my jaded cynicism. People hunger for that word, even if it means judgment on the current state of affairs. Many of us know that things cannot continue as they are, and we long for a way forward into a different age.

Stir up our hearts, O Lord – we pray this in many liturgical traditions in this Advent season. I hear the call to trust that the stirring will happen and will bear fruit worthy of repentance.

References and Resources

Burnett, Clint. “Eschatological Prophet of Restoration: Luke’s Theological Portrait of John the Baptist in Luke 3:1-6.” Neotestamentica, vol. 47, no. 1, New Testament Society of Southern Africa, 2013, pp. 1–24, http://www.jstor.org/stable/43048893.

Hearlson, Adam. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-of-advent-3/commentary-on-luke-168-79-5.

Levine, Amy-Jill, and Witherington, Ben. The Gospel of Luke. Cambridge University Press, 2018.

Norton, Yolanda. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-of-advent-3/commentary-on-luke-168-79-7.

Swanson, Richard. Provoking the Gospel of Luke: A Storyteller’s Commentary, Year C. Cleveland, OH.: Pilgrim Press, 2006.

Text Study for Luke 3:1-6 (Pt. 2); December 5, 2021

Prophet of the Most High

In Luke 1:5-25, an angel of the Lord tells Zechariah that he and Elizabeth are to have a baby after years of infertility. But not just any baby! “He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God,” the angel declares. “With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:16-17, NRSV).

In his 2013 article in Neotestamentica, Clint Burnett looks closely at the Lukan portrait of John the Baptist as “eschatological prophet of restoration.” It will be worth the time working through that article to explore the details of this description as Burnett identifies them. Burnett begins by noting that the Lukan author is careful to distinguish John from “Elijah reborn.” John will have the spirit and power of Elijah, which is different from being Elijah.

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Burnett notes that we might expect the detailed dating offered by the Lukan author to precede the onset of Jesus’ ministry. The fact that it comes before John’s ministry “uniquely highlights the importance of John’s ministry” (page 4). This historical anchoring also identifies John as a prophet, just as prophets in the Hebrew scriptures were often described in terms of the reigns during which the word of the Lord came to them.

In addition, the dating introduces the majority of the antagonists who will be part of the narrative. And this dating, according to Burnett, creates a sense of literary irony. I would observe that this irony comes from the fact that the reader knows the two-level understanding of history upon which the Lukan author relies. Readers are aware, Burnett points out, that God has already begun the Great Reversal described in the Magnificat. “As a result,” he writes, “Luke encourages readers to form a negative opinion of the rulers…and see them as antagonistic forces throughout his work” (page 5).

It is the connection to the spirit and power of Elijah that marks John out as one of the great prophets of old. Burnett notes that the documents of Second Temple Judaism (especially the Wisdom of Sirach 48) connect Elijah to the restoration of Israel. It is helpful to be reminded that this restoration is one of the themes and concerns of the Lukan author.

After all, this is the question the disciples ask just prior to the Ascension – is now the time when you will restore Israel? And this is the hope of the two walkers to Emmaus – that Jesus would have been the one to redeem Israel. The extended attention to John the Baptizer demonstrates that the Restoration of Israel is precisely what is at stake in the Lukan gospel – just not in the way that people expected.

The Lukan author is concerned to make sure that we connect John to and place him “in the wilderness.” We get that notice first in Luke 1:80, and it is then picked up in Luke 3:2. For the Lukan author the wilderness, according to Burnett, is a positive place. It is the place where prophets are called, where a deeper relationship with God can be cultivated, where both Moses and Elijah were called into service, and where Elijah experienced his “second” call while fleeing from the wrath of Ahab and Jezebel (page 9).

In addition, Burnett notes, the wilderness is sometimes the place the prophets see as the location for the eschatological renewal of God’s people. The wilderness motif lends itself to seeing events in the gospel as a sort of new Exodus, the place where Israel would rely solely on the Lord. This is certainly true in the words both of Hosea and Ezekiel. It is also made manifest in the community life and literature of the Qumran community (pages 9-10).

The Lukan author expands the Marcan quotation from Isaiah 40 in describing John’s ministry. Second Isaiah, in the Septuagint translation, depicts a voice crying out in the wilderness and declaring that a New Exodus is about to begin. It appeared to many later readers that this New Exodus had not been fully accomplished. So, many were still waiting for that fulfillment, including any number of the prophets in the Hebrew scriptures.

“According to Luke’s use of Isaiah,” Burnett writes, “the wait is over, and John is the voice that begins the new exodus…” (page 15). The language of preparing the way is particularly filled with meaning for Lukan readers, according to Burnett. It points back to the language in Luke 1:17 about how John will prepare a people for the Lord and to Zechariah’s prophecy in Luke 1:76 that John will prepare the Lord’s ways. Remember that Luke, like all the gospel writers, plays on the ambiguity of the use of “Lord” here and allows it to refer to God and Jesus.

Burnett notes, as do numerous others, that references to the “way” in the Lukan account will always take us to the Book of Acts and the label which the early Jesus followers chose for themselves – “The Way.” This continues in the extended Isaiah quotation, where the “ways” will be made smooth for the coming of the Lord.

The Lukan author extends the quotation primarily, Burnett suggests, to make sure we hear that “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” He argues that this supports the universal scope of the Lukan gospel. In the Song of Simeon, Jesus is identified as the salvation of God for all peoples – enlightenment to the Gentiles and glorification for Israel (Luke 2:30-32).

“It is only as the narrative of Luke-Acts unfolds,” Burnett writes, “that this promise comes to fruition as the gospel is taken to Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles” (page 18). This emphasis shows up at the beginning of the Lukan Gospel account. It makes a final appearance, Burnett notes, In Acts 28:24, where Paul is portrayed as taking the “salvation of God” to the Gentiles in Rome. “Therefore, Luke’s promise of a universal mission to both Jews and Gentiles,” Burnett writes, “forms an inclusio that begins, not with Jesus, but with the eschatological prophet of restoration, John, and his preparation of the way…which results in the salvation of God coming to all flesh” (page 19).

Burnett argues that John’s role as eschatological prophet of the restoration of Israel is not incidental to the Lukan account but rather is essential to that account. John’s work of preparation is indispensable as the bridge from the Hebrew scriptures to the Gospel mission. The Lukan author demonstrates not only a deep concern for that connection but an encyclopedic knowledge of those scriptures and their meaning for God’s plan. In spite of the importance of John as prophet, he is clearly not the Messiah. The way the Lukan author tells the story makes this obvious (page 20).

What can we as preachers do with this close analysis? First, we can seek to imitate the careful way that the Lukan author outlines the relationship between the people of Israel and the Church. The Lukan perspective is not one of replacement or supersession. It is, rather, a hope for the fulfillment of the mission of Israel in and through the life of the Church. While the Lukan author pays close attention to the mission to the Gentiles, the framework for that mission is always the fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel.

Some of us Christian preachers simply don’t believe that and thus regard the Church as the “success” and Israel as the “failure.” The consequences of that theological aberration in the history of the Church have been and continue to be deadly for Jews. In the Lukan view, the mission of the Gentiles is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel – the promise to be a blessing to the entire cosmos.

The historical grounding of John’s ministry reminds us that “the revolutionary kingdom of God will not be buried in a corner of history,” as Fred Danker put it in Jesus and the New Age (page 43). There is no actual division in the Lukan account between “sacred history” and “secular history.” Instead, these are two different lenses on the same reality. The same can be said, by the way, about Martin Luther’s “Two Kingdoms” theology. Again, the two kingdoms are not separate realms but rather simply different ways of describing the one Reality.

Thus, the unfolding of the Gospel occurs within history as well as beyond history. With discerning eyes, we can peer underneath the surface and glimpse the mystery of God’s unfolding plan (once in a while and in a glass dimly). Artificial distinctions, such as that between religion and politics or theology and ideology, have no place in the Lukan understanding of how God operates in and through the cosmos.

And this unfolding is universal in scope as well as action. All flesh shall see the salvation of our God. Here the Lukan author adds to Isaiah 40 with an allusion to Isaiah 52:10 (NRSV) – “The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.” The Good News of Jesus shall be proclaimed in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Thus, the Lukan account is radically inclusive. And this radical inclusion is the fulfillment of the mission of Israel. John, as the bridge between the eras, launches this mission of restoration with a call to repentance.

References and Resources

Burnett, Clint. “Eschatological Prophet of Restoration: Luke’s Theological Portrait of John the Baptist in Luke 3:1-6.” Neotestamentica, vol. 47, no. 1, New Testament Society of Southern Africa, 2013, pp. 1–24, http://www.jstor.org/stable/43048893.

Hearlson, Adam. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-of-advent-3/commentary-on-luke-168-79-5.

Levine, Amy-Jill, and Witherington, Ben. The Gospel of Luke. Cambridge University Press, 2018.

Norton, Yolanda. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-of-advent-3/commentary-on-luke-168-79-7.

Swanson, Richard. Provoking the Gospel of Luke: A Storyteller’s Commentary, Year C. Cleveland, OH.: Pilgrim Press, 2006.

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Text Study for Luke 3:1-6 (Pt. 1); December 5, 2021

Last week we studied Luke’s theology of history – the superficial veneer of power politics overlaying the actual outworking of God’s longing to redeem the world. In the coming of Jesus, those two dimensions are going to collide with violence from the politicians and love from God.

The intersection of these two dimensions is described in the first verses of Luke 3. First, the Lukan author firmly anchors us in the calendar and geography of Imperial politics and administration. Then we hear John announcing that a new realm is bursting forth, a reign through which “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

The Lukan theology of history is “layered,” as is the case, for example in the Book of Revelation (put into written form in a different location but perhaps relatively close in time to the Lukan account). But this theology of history is also segmented. Hans Conzelmann proposed this segmented schema in his 1960 work on the theology of the Gospel of Luke.

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According to Conzelmann, the Lukan author sees history from Creation through the ministry of John the Baptist as the time of Israel. This is followed by the time of Jesus’ ministry, the period covered by the Lukan gospel proper. The comes the period of the Risen Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, which lasts until the Second Coming of Christ. This period is described in the Book of Acts and continues until the End of the Age.

The Lukan author is not, according to Conzelmann, primarily an ancient historian or biographer. Instead, Conzelmann argues, the Lukan author is a theologian of history. The author is presenting the history of salvation, not merely the history of the cosmos. There are exceptions and contradictions to this schema within the Lukan texts, but they are primarily elements which have become fixed in the tradition by the fourth quarter of the first century.

These apparent contradictions (such as Luke 10:9,11; 18:8; 17:20; and 21:32) seem to indicate that the Lukan author expects the Second Coming at any moment. However, in the early church (the time of the Spirit), the New Age is both now and not yet, both present time and future time, thus the “layered” view of historical events. While the End can come at any moment for an individual Jesus follower or community, the End of the Cosmos is still in the future.

In this Lukan Advent, we move toward the Magnificat. We move toward the song that proclaims those “up” as down and those “down” as up. It is a song, as Richard Swanson notes, about the “right-side-uping” (sic) of the world. “John’s entry into the story out of the wordless wilderness,” Swanson writes, “begins with a listing of those powers who hold the world upside down” (page 60).

He notes that this listing is closely connected to the washing which the Baptizer proclaims. He writes that “this change, this preparatory washing, aims to shape faithful Jews for a more thorough living of their identity. All of this prepares them, and all of God’s creation,” Swanson continues, “for the moment when the world will be turned right-side-up” (page 60).

So, John the Baptizer comes on the world stage at an historical inflection point – no, at the historical inflection point. On one hand, the Baptizer is the final and fulfilling voice of Old Testament prophecy regarding the Messiah and the End of the Age. On the other hand, he points to the beginning of the New Regime in the One who is to come after him. “When John appears, he is pointing to that unattainable moment,” Swanson writes, “to the culmination of all things. Those powers that hold the world upside down are listed,” he concludes, “but John represents their limit” (page 61).

We preachers could take this text as an opportunity to look at our own lives in historical and personal context. What are the forces and structures that continue to hold our lives “upside down”? Who are the people and what are the institutions that benefit from an “upside down” world? What factors keep my life and world “upside down” (and what part do I play in that topsy-turvy way of living)?

In other words, if I were to create an historical context to describe the investments in the “upside-downness” of the world as I experience it, how might I construct that description? We would surely do it differently based on our social, economic, and political positioning and privilege. That in itself is instructive, because the Lukan account offers a description developed from the viewpoint of the least, the last, and the lost.

We get two weeks of the Baptizer in the Lukan Advent, so we can go slowly and carefully in reflecting on the details of the account. And we can spend some time on the supporting texts offered to us by the Revised Common Lectionary. The portrait the Lukan author paints of the Baptizer in chapter three demands that we attend to the Benedictus, the Song of Zechariah, that serves as the psalmody for this Sunday. This canticle demonstrates the whole theological sweep of John’s birth, ministry, and even death, in light of the redemption of Israel.

The first part of Zechariah’s song could be a portrayal of John himself as the “mighty savior of Israel,” descended from the house of David. But verse seventy-six makes plain John’s role and his relationship to Jesus. Zechariah announces to the infant that he “will be called the prophet of the Most High.” He will “go before the Lord to prepare his ways…” The Lukan author takes advantage of the ambiguity in the Greek title, “Lord,” here to show that John will prepare the way for the Lord Jesus.

The Benedictus answers the question fueling the gossip network in the entire hill country of Judea. “What then will this child become?” John is the child of promise to an elderly and infertile Jewish couple. He is the culmination of that narrative which drives the book of Genesis from beginning to end and rumbles in the background of all the Hebrew scriptures. John is in the line of the prophets who promise rescue from the hand of all who hate the Chosen people. He will enlighten the people regarding the forgiveness of sins that leads to their salvation.

All of this information comes by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit which equips Zechariah to testify. This theme runs from the Lukan account through Acts. We have a bit of a foreshadowing of Pentecost here, just as we did in the Lukan Apocalyptic Discourse last week. Old people see prophesy here. The “hand of the Lord” is with John, and he will become “strong in spirit.” As he grows, he heads off into the wilderness to await his cue on “the day he appeared publicly to Israel.”

Levine and Witherington point out that the word translated in the NRSV as “looked favorably” (Luke 1:68) is better translated as “visited his people.” Yolanda Norton makes the same observation in her workingpreacher.org commentary. What happens here is more than an approving glance from God. Rather, “Luke gives the impression of direct divine presence,” Levine and Witherington write.” In addition, the verbs in the song are primarily in the past tense, not the future. Zechariah “sees the victor and the redemption as a fact of history, not a promise yet to be fulfilled” (page 45).

Norton connects the verb to the Septuagint report of God’s response to the barrenness of Sarah in Genesis 21. “God’s visit is something more than simple presence,” Norton writes, “it is about more than merely seeing. When God visits God’s people, God makes God’s self manifest in their lives. God shows up,” she continues, “to interrupt misery and lack with an intention to restore and sustain the people.”

Norton’s concluding paragraph is worth quoting in full. “All of this theological reflection in Luke 1:68-79 happens outside of time. Prior to this text and following it there is a narrative chronology. However, in this moment the author breaks time to speak to God’s amazing capacity to operate across and within chronological time. This brief text takes its reader through the exodus, into the monarchy, across the prophetic tradition of ancient Israel and into the hope for a new promise fulfilled first through John the Baptist and then through Jesus. As such, the text reminds us that we live in a cycle of both the declaration and fulfillment of God’s promises in prophetic utterances.”

Zechariah goes from the silence of (temporary) deafness and muteness directly into this prophetic canticle. “The old priest has been unable to speak for months,” Adam Hearlson writes in his workingpreacher.org commentary, “and as he finally fulfills the angel’s demands from earlier in the chapter, he bursts like a dam.” I wonder how much the Lukan author intends Zechariah to be a metaphor for Israel.

The voices of the prophets have been silent, at least in the first-century theological understanding, for nearly five hundred years. The seventy weeks of years prophesied in the Book of Daniel were coming to an end. This is why “the people were filled with expectation” (see Luke 3:15) and were wondering if John the Baptizer was actually the promised Messiah.

In any event, just as the prophetic voices had been silenced, so was Zechariah. But now the announcement burst forth out of his mouth – both about his long-awaited son and about Israel’s long-awaited Messiah and Savior. Just as John was soon to move into the wilderness for his mission, so Israel was to move into the new territory of life with the Savior.

“For Luke’s audience,” Hearlson writes, “the presence of war, the destruction of the temple and the daily indignities of living under occupied rule did not feel as if the promises of God had been fulfilled. Yet, Zechariah’s song announces that God is trustworthy, and the promises of God will be fulfilled. That the fulfillment is coming,” he continues, “is an invitation to live as if it is already here. From this posture, John is given his vocation: prepare people to live into the fulfilled promise. John is responsible for helping people repent,” Hearlson concludes, “so that they might see the breaking dawn of the promise.”

The Advent invitation is to live “as if.” Zechariah’s prophecy, with all of its past tense verbs, is an “as if” song. Sing and dance, live and love, celebrate and serve as if the “not yet” is already “now.”

References and Resources

Hearlson, Adam. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-of-advent-3/commentary-on-luke-168-79-5.

Levine, Amy-Jill, and Witherington, Ben. The Gospel of Luke. Cambridge University Press, 2018.

Norton, Yolanda. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-of-advent-3/commentary-on-luke-168-79-7.

Swanson, Richard. Provoking the Gospel of Luke: A Storyteller’s Commentary, Year C. Cleveland, OH.: Pilgrim Press, 2006.

And That’s the Good News — Saturday Sermons from the Sidelines

Read Luke 21:1-36

My world is disintegrating. And that’s the good news.

My world has been coming apart at the seams and from the center since long before I was born. “Things fall apart,” William Butler Yeats wrote in 1919, in ‘The Second Coming,’ “the centre cannot hold.” Yeats wrote his twentieth century apocalyptic verse in the aftermath of the First World War, the Spanish flu pandemic, the near-fatal illness of his wife, and at the beginning of the Irish War of Independence. Disintegration was in the air around the globe.

Secular prophets had predicted and pointed to the dissolution of modernity even earlier. “God is dead,” Friedrich Nietzsche wrote in Also Sprach Zarathustra, “and we killed him!” The collaboration of Enlightenment modernity and liberal Protestantism had produced a sterile and empty consensus which equated Christianity with high European culture. That empty consensus was the soil out of which National Socialism arose as the old world continued to fly apart.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

I didn’t know about these things in my young life. The world seemed put together well-enough for my tastes. I was born while the myth of American innocence and the ideology of American exceptionalism still seemed to make sense. There was that odd little police action on the Korean peninsula that threatened to unmoor us a bit, but we recovered from that. Joe McCarthy rattled the chains of authoritarianism, but he was too stupid to make that stick.

My world – the world of White, Male, European, Moderate, Capitalism continued to turn, apparently undisturbed. But under that serene surface, my world was disintegrating.

Thurgood Marshall moved the Supreme Court into only its second spate of morally defensible rulings on race. But the world that produced me pushed back – some schools resisting until nearly the end of the millennium. Sputnik threw us Americans into a beep-beeping panic as we wondered if we really were the best and the brightest this cosmos had to offer. But Jack Kennedy, poster boy for these best and brightest, promised that we would land on the moon before the end of the decade.

President Kennedy nearly got us blown out of the cosmos before the first space capsule could be launched with the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis. We survived by a hairsbreadth. Then Lee Harvey Oswald ripped the façade off our invincibility from the School Depository window. The center began to wobble. The foundations started to shake.

I learned to speak, to write, to read, and to think while Civil Rights and Vietnam filled the newspapers. The nightly news carried the body counts, the bombings (both foreign and domestic), and the cities on fire. Malcolm died, although I didn’t hear about it until later. Then Martin. Then Bobby. The wobble became a shaking. The foundations were crumbling.

I lost a school bus driver, a friend, and a cousin to the body bags. I came of political age in the era of Watergate. I cast my first vote for Carter, but the tide was already running to Reagan. Law and order, family values – White, Male, European, Moderate, Capitalism pushed back hard. My world was held together with myths and lies, with enemy lists and Iran Contra, with law and order that was hardly lawful and anything but orderly.

My world is disintegrating. And that’s the good news.

I got to seminary and learned to watch my language. I wasn’t swearing in class, well, not much. But I heard about inclusive talk, something my conservative little church college had kept safely in the shadows. I knew the critique was correct and started to wonder what else I assumed that was wrong. The list was and is so very long.

I hadn’t gotten out of seminary yet when I heard that everything I had learned, all the training I had received, was obsolete. I had been trained as a pastor in “Christendom” (whatever the hell that was), and the time of Christendom was now over. I had to be contemporary, seeker-sensitive, visitor-friendly, and driven by attendance numbers rather than membership statistics.

I learned about the homogeneous unit principle of church growth, although I never learned to love it. And I went to conferences in places that looked like gyms and warehouses rather than basilicas and cathedrals. Megachurch pastors were like rockstars. I didn’t want to be one, but it didn’t hurt to imitate them.

Well, that had a short shelf-life, decreased in part by the misconduct of giant egos and in part by the classism, racism, misogyny, homophobia, and narcissism of the models employed. That wasn’t the answer. But my world kept spinning into wider chaos, deeper despair, murkier visions of the future.

So, I’ve spent a lifetime chasing a dying world because that’s what I was given.

Our personal worlds have a tendency to fly apart as well. I thought I could see the path from the all-consuming parish to a quiet retirement with my spouse. But the denomination and the congregation had other plans. The denomination made the right decision on homosexuality, and some of those closest to me in the parish made the wrong kind of response. It was time to go, and to let go of that part of my world.

A few months later, I was no longer married, and my first wife was buried. Only now did I really experience what it was like to have a world disintegrate, to have the future run through my hands like so much sand. There was no going back to the way things were. There was no recovery. There was only being pushed forward into a newness that I had not sought and for which I was not prepared.

My world has been disintegrating my whole life, and most of the time I didn’t even know it. Yet, that disintegration is the good news.

It’s the good news because large parts of that world need to die in order for God’s love to live fully among us. A world constructed for the sake of White Supremacy does not deserve to continue. A world built to preserve Male dominance is not worth saving. A world that makes northern European the definition of normal and cultured is too limited for the grandeur of Human being. A world that seeks moderation in all things always ends up underwriting the status quo of those with the power. Unfettered capitalism will destroy us and our environment on its own unless we find another way.

We know from the Hebrew scriptures that there is nothing new under the sun. Those who claim to be the only ones who can save us – those charlatans are a dime a dozen in human history. Nonetheless, we are often still seduced by their siren songs. Wars and insurrections are everyday realities now and have been for millennia. Conflict between nations, empires, kingdoms, and tribes is ubiquitous. Natural disasters arrive like clockwork, plagues (and pandemics) don’t care about scientific progress, and famine is a perennial feature of human greed.

“Now,” Jesus tells his followers, “when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” My world is disintegrating. And that’s the good news.

We who follow Jesus proclaim that we are not destined to face the disintegration alone. The Son of Man is the Coming One – not just once or twice, but always. This is the very heart of the one we call Jesus. He is Immanuel, God with us. That’s why we can lift up our heads in hope as the world is falling apart. Heaven and earth will come apart, he tells us, but his words – his promise of hope and salvation – will never desert us.

“This coming of God into the place of disordering violence is crucial to our understanding of the events around us,” Serene Jones writes, “as clergy, could it be that our call is primarily to announce God’s already-enacted advent, the divine coming? If so, then we need to remember that as we seek to minister in a world too full of violence, we do not need to make God appear, for God is here already. Our task is to proclaim God’s presence” (page 39).

It is that presence which makes the proclaiming possible. White Christian Nationalism must be dismantled if humans are once again to flourish as part of the American project. White Male Supremacy must be abandoned if all people are to live out their identities in hope and love. An economic system that places the majority of the world’s wealth in the hands of a group small enough to fit in a conference room is a system that cannot be allowed to continue. A world political order that declares democracy obsolete and human rights impractical is an order that must fall.

You see, I have just described my world – the world I inherited, the world I accepted uncritically, the world that has given me more power, position, privilege, and property than I could ever deserve. That’s the world that has been disintegrating for longer than I’ve been alive. That process of dissolution will continue long after I’m gone. Perhaps my great-grandchildren will look back in disgust at the world they have left behind.

I’m no utopian. The world as we know it, on our own terms, is always coming to an end. And that’s the good news. But there is something about our time which has a particular stench of death and decay about it. And the dim outlines of a different way are beginning to rise up out of the debris.

So, we hear the call of Advent to be awake, to be alert, to stay sharp, and to do it all with prayer and courage. And that’s the good news.

References and Resources

DiAngelo, Robin J. White Fragility. Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.

Hall, Douglas John. The Cross in Our Context. Fortress Press, 2003.

Jones, Serene. Trauma and Grace, 2nd Edition. Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

Kendi, Ibram X. How to Be an Antiracist. Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Lalkhen, Abdul-Ghaaliq. An Anatomy of Pain: How the Body and the Mind Experience and Endure Physical Suffering. NewYork: Scribner, 2021.

Sleeth, Natalie. “Hymn of Promise.” http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/h/y/m/n/hymnprom.htm.

Swanson, Richard W. Provoking the Gospel of Luke: A Storyteller’s Commentary, Year C. Cleveland, OH.: The Pilgrim Press, 2006.

West, Audrey. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/first-sunday-of-advent-3/commentary-on-luke-2125-36-5.

Yeats, William Butler. “The Second Coming.” https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43290/the-second-coming.

Text Study for Luke 21:1-36 (Pt. 6); November 28, 2021

Pain Management

How do we deal with the pain that is an inevitable part of life? Pain is a signal from our body that something is wrong and requires attention. But pain is also an experience that can be managed to some degree. “Pain is a warning system,” writes Dr. Abdul-Ghaaliq Lalkhen in his book, An Anatomy of Pain, “informing us that there is a threat to the safety of our body or even that damage has already occurred, bit if experiencing pain and receiving this information is not immediately beneficial, then the message relaying this information will be de-prioritized and sometimes ignored by the brain” (page 10).

We have some measure of choice in how we respond the experience of pain once it passes the gateway of our nervous system and is processed by our brain. We may choose, at least for a while, to ignore the pain and hope it goes away. We may look for the cause of the pain to see if we can stop it at the source. We may recruit others to help in that effort (they are called physicians). We may seek to dull or suppress the pain through chemicals or distractions. Or (and this is the exceptional response), we may seek to understand the pain and deal with it as part of our larger reality of being human.

Photo by Kindel Media on Pexels.com

The readers of the Lukan account are experiencing some measure of pain as a community. We can speculate about the specific sources of that pain, but it should be obvious from our reading that the result is a deep disruption of their lives and threats to their continued existence. The inventory of persecutions in Luke 21:12-18 makes the nature of this pain clear and specific.

It seems that they are tempted to deal with the pain by denying, dulling, and suppressing it. “Pay close attention,” we read in verses 34 and 35, “lest your hearts are burdened in dissipation and drunkenness and the anxieties of this everyday life, and that day lands upon you unexpectedly as a trap.” The language used here refers not only to emotional avoidance but also to the use of substances to dull the senses and to make one simply not care about the pain experience.

These days opioids are the primary chemical agents in use by physicians (and by any number of informal users) to dull and suppress the pain. No, that’s not quite right, as Dr. Lalkhen points out. “We use opiate medications postoperatively because they affect the way you interpret the sensations from your body,” he writes, “they make you care less. Opiates have been called the perfect ‘whatever’ medication,” Lalkhen continues, “because they allow you to ignore the messages that are coming from your body” (page 39).

I found that description surprising. I was under the impression that all pain medications interfered in some way with the actual transmission of the injury or illness information from the location in the body to the processing centers in the brain. Opiates, however, work on our assessment of the pain experience rather than the mechanism of pain itself. Since pain is an experience rather than merely a sensation, how much I care about that experience makes all the difference in what I feel.

The words in our text describe a response to the pain of life for the Lukan readers that is very much about caring less about the pain. That response to pain makes a great deal of sense. We can only be alert to pain and threat for so long before we lose attention and resilience. We can become habituated to a certain level of pain in our bodies and in our communities. We can ignore a certain amount of pain as well. The American response to the Pandemic makes it clear that given a certain amount of time and emotional distance, we can accommodate far more social suffering than we would care to admit.

If, on the other hand, we remain alert and vigilant for an extended period of time, we can develop stress disorders. PTSD, for example, keeps a person’s systems on high alert even when the pain or the threat has been treated or dissipated. The PTSD sufferer remains in the pain experience and is hearing psychological and physiological alarm bells all the time, even in response to unrelated stimuli. That sort of hypervigilance is debilitating and not what the Lukan author intends here.

I want to suggest that our text is not about maintaining hypervigilance but rather is about developing the faithful stamina necessary for the long haul. Perhaps that is the best translation of hupomene in verse 19. The translation, “patient endurance,” is certainly adequate, but it is perhaps too passive to fully communicate the Lukan intention. Faithful stamina is something that we can develop, maintain, and then rely upon in the face of pain and distress.

This leads me to reflect on the counsel and challenge Robin DiAngelo offers to White people in responding to and “treating” our deeply rooted White Supremacy. She urges us to be active in confronting our participation in the Domination system. Acknowledging our place in that system can be painful, and we can seek to escape that pain. “But rather than retreat in the face of that discomfort,” DiAngelo writes, “we can practice building our stamina for the critical examination of white identity—a necessary antidote to white fragility” (page xiv).

This particular variety of faithful stamina is about looking closely at myself as White and as living and benefitting from a web of White dominance and privilege. “Given how seldom we experience racial discomfort in a society we dominate,” DiAngelo observes, “we haven’t had to build our racial stamina. Socialized into a deeply internalized sense of superiority that we either are unaware of or can never admit to ourselves,” she continues, “we become highly fragile in conversations about race” (page 1-2).

The challenge is to sit with the discomfort – the pain – long enough that we can begin to name it for ourselves with honesty and hope. The temptation is to flee to immediate solutions, and there are many who seek to profit off that desire for quick fixes. That’s not a new game, by any means, as we can see in Luke 21:7-8. But we can be just as easily taken in by the spiritual, political, and ideological snake-oil peddlers as could the first readers of the Lukan text.

DiAngelo argues that “a critical component of cross-racial skill building is the ability to sit with the discomfort of being seen racially, of having to proceed as if our race matters (which it does). Being seen racially is a common trigger of white fragility,” she observes from long experience, practice, and self-examination, “and thus, to build our stamina, white people must face the first challenge: naming our race’ (page 7).

One of the marks of privilege is the ability to insulate ourselves from such discomfort and pain. Perhaps this is also a problem for the Lukan community as they settle a bit more into the culture — that they will become oblivious to the real pain of the world. But insulating ourselves is the moral and spiritual equivalent of using opioids to deal with long-term pain issues. The pain doesn’t go away. We simply care much less about it. The more insulated we are, the less practice we have in sitting with the pain, and the lower our stamina is. “An antidote to white fragility is to build up our stamina to bear witness to the pain of racism that we cause,” DiAngelo writes, “not to impose conditions that require people of color to continually validate our denial” (page 128).

One of the marks of my own privilege is the simple temptation to keep all the pain of Reality at a distance. I can isolate myself physically and emotionally from the hard edges of contemporary life. I can unfriend, unfollow, and uncare. I can withdraw my attention and withhold my support. I can pretend that “everything is awesome” and that I can stop worrying and be happy. In short, I can use social and informational means to “opioid” my existence without investing in the chemicals.

So, I am personally convicted by this text and led to look for the marks of faithful stamina included here. It is clear that truth produces faithful stamina and self-deception reduces it. It is clear that informed discernment produces faithful stamina and superficial panic reduces it. It is clear that authentic community produces faithful stamina, and personal isolation reduces it. After all, the “you’s” addressed in this text are indeed plural.

I depend, for example, on my Antiracism book study group with which I meet weekly for conversation and accountability. We have been meeting for more than a year at this point. If it were not for that group, I would be far less motivated to continue growing and studying, practicing and advocating for my own Antiracist growth and changes in my world. That group continues to connect me as well to the larger community of Antiracist thinking and action through the resources we discuss.

Alert attention produces faithful stamina, and sullen slumber reduces it. This is not an exhortation to ongoing hypervigilance. Luke 21 is not an invitation to faith-based PTSD. Instead, this is about willing, patient, and prayerful mindfulness. When the physical threats are real, it may be necessary to flee to the mountains. The Gentiles of our own time may well triumph for a season, and that season may need to ripen to fulfillment. But alert attention – nourished by humble prayer – is the stance of Jesus followers for the long haul.

Just as holistic pain management is still a hard sell in the larger medical community (especially when pills are so much easier and so much more popular with us as consumers), so sitting with the pain of the world and exercising faithful stamina is not the response of choice for some “Christians” in the United States at this point. It is no wonder that we fall into the traps of polarization and prejudice that ensnare us.

This collision of worldviews takes place in the headlines on a daily basis and will be focused to a hard point around holiday tables this week. I’m not at all good at acknowledging either physical or social pain, so this is a gritty text for me. It’s good that we begin our Advent journey with this call to faithful stamina. So, I pray that I might lift up my head in the face of the pain and trust that my/our redemption is at hand.


References and Resources

DiAngelo, Robin J. White Fragility. Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.

Hall, Douglas John. The Cross in Our Context. Fortress Press, 2003.

Jones, Serene. Trauma and Grace, 2nd Edition. Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

Kendi, Ibram X. How to Be an Antiracist. Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Lalkhen, Abdul-Ghaaliq. An Anatomy of Pain: How the Body and the Mind Experience and Endure Physical Suffering. NewYork: Scribner, 2021.

Sleeth, Natalie. “Hymn of Promise.” http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/h/y/m/n/hymnprom.htm.

Swanson, Richard W. Provoking the Gospel of Luke: A Storyteller’s Commentary, Year C. Cleveland, OH.: The Pilgrim Press, 2006.

West, Audrey. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/first-sunday-of-advent-3/commentary-on-luke-2125-36-5.

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Text Study for Luke 21:1-36 (Pt. 5); November 28, 2021

Working History

How does “history” work? The Lukan author is clearly interested in history and in the answer(s) to this question. The author is careful to date the events in this “orderly account.” The birth of John the Baptist in chapter one is dated to the reign of King Herod “the Great.” The Roman registration in chapter two is pegged to the administration of Quirinius as governor of the province of Syria.

The public ministry of John the Baptist in chapter 3 is dated to the fifteenth year of Tiberius’ imperial rule, the tenure of Pontius Pilate as prefect, Herod Antipas as puppet king of Galilee, Philip and Lysanias overseeing the balance of Jewish lands, and Annas and Caiaphas somehow sharing the office of high priest. We learn that Jesus is about thirty years old at this time, and that his pedigree extends from Joseph to Adam and thus to God.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Pexels.com

The Lukan account sticks a fairly firm pin in the ancient timeline, no matter how many complications and inconsistencies the various dates might produce in hindsight. But how does history actually work? Does history run in ever repeating cycles, just as the days and the months and the seasons run through the same paces over and over? Or did it begin with a “golden age,” and it’s been downhill ever since? Or is there a direction, a goal, a purpose, an end to it all at some point?

The ancient Greeks proposed and elaborated the cyclical view of history. Plato thought that human governments devolved from aristocracy through democracy and into tyranny. Aristotle, Polybius, and Cicero elaborated on this view. None of them regarded this model as a good thing and theorized how a society might “break” the cycle and sustain the best form of government. There was some difference in opinion about what that “best” form would be.

In the modern world, we have our ideas about cyclical, determined paths for history. Hegel was certain that history was moving toward the perfection of the human spirit as the perfect Idea. The dialectic of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis was moving inexorably toward the fulfillment of History (as opposed to “history”). Marx took this dialectic out of the spiritual realm and argued that scientific materialism mandated the triumph of the proletariat and the formation of a workers’ paradise. Of course, we’re still waiting.

The Romans had cyclical sympathies, but they were more taken with the Golden Age view of how history works. The founders of Rome were larger than life and produced glory and greatness. But as the Romans looked at themselves and their contemporary rulers, they could see fallible and frail humans who were anything but heroic. Therefore, history was the story of decline. This decline, however, was not inevitable. Rather, nearly every emperor promised a return to the “Golden Age.” Caesar Augustus declared that he had fulfilled such a promise in the Pax Romana.

Many people these days are living with some sort of “Golden Age” theory of the working of History. Vladimir Putin is quite certain that liberal democracy is an obsolete model that should be replaced with an enlightened autocracy (meaning one with him at the top). Right-wing politicians in the United States and a number of other countries agree with this assessment. In the United States that “Golden Age” also means the supremacy and domination of White Men, a regime which some hope to reassert and sustain with violence, if “necessary.”

I should pause to say that this conversation is framed largely in Western European terms. The question has been asked mostly by European men who have sought to justify their hegemonic colonialization of the world by a theory and/or theology of History. The question is framed in somewhat different ways in the global East and South. But the Lukan account has not had as much traction in those settings. So, the conversation now is admittedly parochial and privileged.

Enlightenment thinkers developed the theory and doctrine of progress. The Roman arrow of history was reversed. The Dark Ages were in the past. History was illuminated by the lamp of Reason, and the result was inevitable “progress.” While Hegel, Marx, and company described cyclical processes within History, the arrow of History as a whole was always “up” toward the fulfillment of human potential. Things were simply designed and destined to get “better.”

That bias toward “progress” is still the default view of history for the majority of people in the West. We know, if we take a moment, that the Enlightenment project came to a crashing halt in the trenches and under the machine guns of World War I. But our expectation of “progress” is dying a slow death. For example, one of the four-alarm emergencies in our American culture is that the next (White) generation may have a lower standard of living than previous generations. That decline takes our understanding of history and pulls the stuffing out of it.

In personal terms, we expect that we can somehow make things better. I think about conversations among White people discussing what to do about systemic and personal racism in this country. These days, it seems that antiracism efforts are not yielding straight-line progress toward diversity, equity, and inclusion. I hear White people who wilt under that reality. “Give me some hope!” they say. Without that hope, they might collapse into the inaction of despair.

Of course, the expectation of progress and the demand for “hope” are marks of privilege, whether we intend them to be or not. The doctrine of historical “progress” has been an article of faith only for those who have power, position, privilege, and property. This view of history is not one that makes sense for those upon whose bodies and at whose expenses the progress has been structured and accomplished. For people in that social location, progress is not an option. Resilient and patient endurance is the only reasonable response.

How, then, does “History” work? There is no natural, given, inevitable course of human history. There are no predictive “laws” of history which can be discerned and put to use. That is the fullest Enlightenment conceit, that somehow with enough charisma or calculation, we can see past the shrouded mists of the present and get a clear vision of the future. It’s no accident that two major science fiction projects, Frank Herbert’s Dune and Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, propose ways to commandeer the future. But, in fact, “history” itself is a construction and not a weather front or a differential equation.

The Lukan author is proposing and narrating a theology of history. And it sounds, for all the world, like another proposal for prognostication, prediction, and power. But the Lukan Apocalyptic discourse is not another human theory of how history “works.” Rather, it is a description of how Jesus followers live in a history that doesn’t “work.” It is, as Douglas John Hall puts it in The Cross in Our Context, mission as “living the story” (pages 192ff.).

Hall argues that this mission rests on a theology of faith, not sight; hope, not finality; and love, not power. We pray for the power of the Holy Spirit to discern God’s working in, with, and under the chaos of historical events. As the Church we are a community on the way (perhaps the way to Emmaus!), not an institution that has arrived somewhere. We are live as “hope in action,” not hope for results. And we are called to renounce any and every expression of institutional power, whether in congregations or denominations. Such power leads only to colonization, white supremacy, and the bodies of Native children buried on the grounds of now-defunct White schools.

Hall argues that this Jesus-centered view of history always leads us toward the world God loves. This world needs our witness, no matter how the world might penalize us for calling out falsehood and speaking God’s truth. There will be opportunities to be martyred, both in word and in deed. “We are not allowed to abandon [the reality of the Cross] in favor of some otherworldly consummation,” Hall writes, “some paradisiacal ecstasy, and certainly not by regarding this or that present personal or political estate as though it were nicely compatible with that shalom for which the Christian hope yearns” (page 216).

Yet, that is precisely the theological problem with White Christian Nationalism. More than anything else, White Christian Nationalism is a theology of history. It is a theology of history which declares that the “natural” and inevitable end and fulfillment of history is the ascendance and triumph of “Christian” Whiteness, at least in the system of American exceptionalism. Anything other than this White Christian ascendancy and supremacy is regarded as regression to a dark age (quite literally in terms of skin tone) and an abomination to the god behind this historical process.

A theology of history which demands power for its proponents and adherents always results in triumphalism. Triumphalism is both ideology and idolatry. Truth, beauty, and justice are required by a triumphalist system to conform to the pre-existing tenets of the ideology. And those tenets are constructed for the benefit of the proponents and adherents. The ideology no longer points to a god but rather becomes that god and demands ultimate obedience.

This is the import of Luke 21:8ff. Ideology equips individuals to claim the “I am” of God’s name for themselves and to claim to have their hands on the throttle of the historical process. Those in the thrall of ideology will compete with one another for domination. Truth-sayers will be persecuted and prosecuted. Bigger fish will eat smaller fish, only to be eaten by still bigger fish. People will lose their way (and their lives).

Yet, underneath it all, redemption is happening. This is not an optimistic statement. This is not a promise to the privileged of a happy ending sooner rather than later. Heaven and earth will pass away, of that there is no doubt. But that passing is not the last word of the History to come.

References and Resources

Hall, Douglas John. The Cross in Our Context. Fortress Press, 2003.

Jones, Serene. Trauma and Grace, 2nd Edition. Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

Kendi, Ibram X. How to Be an Antiracist. Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Sleeth, Natalie. “Hymn of Promise.” http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/h/y/m/n/hymnprom.htm.

Swanson, Richard W. Provoking the Gospel of Luke: A Storyteller’s Commentary, Year C. Cleveland, OH.: The Pilgrim Press, 2006.

West, Audrey. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/first-sunday-of-advent-3/commentary-on-luke-2125-36-5.

Text Study for Luke 21:1-36 (Pt. 4); November 28, 2021

Living in the Tween Times

As we read the Lukan account this year, we must always remember that the Gospel According to Luke is the first part of a two-volume set. We will benefit if we read the Lukan work always with an eye toward the Acts of the Apostles. What seeds does Luke plant in the gospel soil that will bear fruit in the Jerusalem temple, in a eunuch’s chariot, on the Damascus Road, in the jails of Roman captors, in the halls of imperial administration? What foundations are laid, scaffolding erected upon which Luke will build the edifice of the Way?

The Lukan author always has an eye on the far missional horizon, the life of the Church in the six decades between Easter and the Lukan moment. We get a replay of those decades in Luke 21:7-24. After the long “peace” of Caesar Augustus and the uneven reign of Tiberius, the accumulated rage and lust for power began to work loose from its institutional constraints. Claudius was capable. Caligula went from the affection of his “Little Boots” nickname to institutional bloodlust. Nero was a neurotic narcissist.

Photo by ArtHouse Studio on Pexels.com

At first, the Jesus followers flew under the imperial radar. Their numbers simply didn’t elicit much notice. But the movement was growing. The Jesus Way was still primarily seen as another Jewish sect, at least by the Romans. So, when Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome in the mid-forties, the Jewish Christians were caught up in the wash. Nero allowed them to return in the late fifties, but early in the next decade he scapegoated the Christians to cover the disaster of the Great Fire.

It was, perhaps, in this persecution that both Peter and Paul were executed, although we can’t be sure. Not long after that, the Jewish War commenced. Toward the end of this war, the Imperial regime disintegrated. It was the “Year of the Four Emperors,” filled with intrigue, coups, and assassination. In the following months, Jerusalem was sacked and leveled. Christians in Rome saw the triumphant procession of Titus (an emperor in the making) who presented the riches of the Temple to the Senate and people of Rome.

The ship of state was righted, but the world continued to reel and stagger. Emperor Vespasian died, to be succeeded by Titus. Vesuvius exploded and buried Pompeii and Herculaneum under ash and stone, not to be uncovered for 1800 years. Titus died of fever, to be succeeded by Domitian. Domitian focused some of his attention on the now noticeable Jesus movement and made the followers pay with their honor, their property, their pain, and their lives. It was of sufficient severity that the writer of the Apocalypse of John thought of Domitian as Nero reborn.

This is the world in which the Lukan author presents his “orderly account” to the “most excellent Theophilus.” This is a world where news of wars and insurrections has been a constant for two generations. Civil war and revolution have been averted by a whisker. Earthquakes, famine, and plagues have arrived with regularity. Jerusalem was surrounded by armies, and the faithful who were able fled to refuge. Jerusalem was trampled on by the Gentiles, the Temple was a few lonely stones, and the city was still in ruins.

All of this destruction was wrought by “the Gentiles” – those who were not part of the Covenant People of God, the Chosen People of Israel. Yet, these Gentiles are precisely the target of the Good News of Jesus Christ for the life of the world. The major turning point in the Book of Acts is the beginning of the mission to the Gentiles in chapters 10 and 11. We should notice that this beginning takes place in the home of Cornelius, a Roman centurion. There can be no clearer representative of the Imperial system of domination and violence than this man. It was men just like Cornelius who surrounded Jerusalem, starved the populace, slaughtered the babies, and desecrated the Holy of Holies.

The story of Cornelius is forty years before the debacle in Judea. He represents the progress of the gospel among the Gentiles. God tells Peter in a dream that what God has declared clean no one else should dare declare unclean. That’s true of food. And it’s true of people. The Jerusalem council, in Acts 11, ratifies this counsel and command from God and invites the Gentiles to embrace the covenant of Noah as part of our common humanity given from God the Creator.

The Empire will not be defeated by force of arms. That sort of resistance results in utter destruction for Jerusalem and Judea. Instead, in those early years, the Empire will be subverted from within, perhaps one centurion’s household at a time. Domination and death will continue as the order of the day on the surface of things, but something else is happening underneath. The trampling Gentiles will continue their rampage until their time is fulfilled. It is not fulfilled by victory but rather by conversion.

Is this how it actually worked out? That question demands a complex answer. But the Lukan author is proposing and narrating a Christian theology of history more than a report of actual events. The Markan composition urged the Jesus followers to hang in there for a little while longer. The End was coming soon. The Lukan account encourages Jesus followers to understand the deep workings of the Holy Spirit in, with, and under the currents of human and natural history and to see that “your redemption is drawing near” no matter how long it might take.

Thus, we start our Advent journey at the end rather than the beginning. “The Gospel texts for these four weeks run in reverse narrative order,” Audrey West writes, “starting near the end of Luke’s Gospel and moving backward to the beginning.” The Lukan discourse in chapter 21 takes us beyond the Cross and Resurrection into a preview of the life of the Church. Jesus has come once and will come again. How do we live the faith in the “Tween Times”?

I had a colleague years ago who loved to remind us of what he considered always to be the most important question. That question was, “What time is it?” Of course, he was not checking to see if it was time yet for dinner, although that’s an important question. He was asking for a discernment of God’s time in the midst of the world’s time. “Jesus in Luke 21 reminds his followers that God is not constrained by the chronos time represented by calendar and clock, the sort of time that keeps everything from happening at once,” Audrey West writes, “In God’s kairos time, past and future are woven together for the sake of today.”

How do we live the faith in the Tween Times? I am the proud grandparent of a “tween” (soon to be a full-fledged teen). I observe the challenges of that liminal stage of life. Adolescence is one long dance through the maze of being neither one thing nor another, neither fish nor fowl, neither child nor adult. And yet, the Tween stands at the threshold of this confusing journey which is more “both/and” than it is “either/or.”

Our tween doesn’t get nearly enough credit for being able to negotiate the maze, so God help us all. One of the tasks for us all in this journey is to see beneath the struggles and glimpse the glorious person who is unfolding and unfurling before our very eyes. The task of discernment for living in the Tween Times is much the same.

A fig tree shoots buds and unfurls leaves, and we can be sure that summer is near. The branches are still bare, and buds don’t look like much on their own. Yet the promise can barely be contained. I hope that in many Christian congregations this Sunday we will hear and sing the words of Natalie Sleeth’s “Hymn of Promise.” It is a perfect complement to our text and to the inauguration of yet another Advent. I encourage to find the lyrics here.

The Lukan author is sure that the season of revealing is now, while the season of fulfillment is not yet. “So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near” (Luke 21:31, NRSV). The bulb, the cocoon, the cold and snow are not the end or the goal. But they are signposts pointing to what is to come and evidence of what is already happening under the surface, invisible to the un-Spirited eye.

 Anne and I were part of a community honored to meet Natalie Sleeth and have dinner with her in 1981. She and her husband, Ron, joined us for that meal. He shared his creative theological research, and she described her prayerful process of composition. It was a rich and inspiring evening of conversation, one that stays in my mind forty years later.

A few years after that evening, Sleeth composed the “Hymn of Promise.”  She wrote that the hymn came about as she was “pondering the death of a friend (life and death, death and resurrection), pondering winter and spring (seeming opposites), and a T. S. Eliot poem which had the phrase, ‘In our end is our beginning.’ These seemingly contradictory pairs led to the thesis of the song and the hopeful message that out of one will come the other whenever God chooses to bring that about.”

About that time, her beloved Ron fell ill. Shortly before his death, he heard the hymn for the first time. He asked that it would be presented at his funeral. He heard the powerful promise in the words and the hope in the music. Life in the Tweens does not answer to the powers of domination and despair. This life is our answer to the call to stand up and raise our heads…

References and Resources

Jones, Serene. Trauma and Grace, 2nd Edition. Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

Kendi, Ibram X. How to Be an Antiracist. Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Sleeth, Natalie. “Hymn of Promise.” http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/h/y/m/n/hymnprom.htm.

Swanson, Richard W. Provoking the Gospel of Luke: A Storyteller’s Commentary, Year C. Cleveland, OH.: The Pilgrim Press, 2006.

West, Audrey. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/first-sunday-of-advent-3/commentary-on-luke-2125-36-5.

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Text Study for Luke 21:1-36 (Pt. 3); November 28, 2021

The End of the World as We Know It

It is the first Sunday in Advent. We start another church year. And every year it’s the same blessed thing.

Cosmic catastrophe.

            Political upheaval.

                        Oceanic upsets.

It is the end of the world as we know it. Or at least that’s how it seems.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Life is a “dual process” reality. For every step “forward” (whatever that directional metaphor actually means), there is likely at some point a step “backward” (ditto). In the grieving process, for example, there are no “stages” (even Elizabeth Kubler-Ross critiqued the use of her work as some sort of diagnostic checklist). When we are bereaved, at some points we are “recovering.” At other points, we are struggling. Both are true at the same time.

History, as a reflection of life, is a “dual process” reality. In the struggle against personal and systemic racism in the United States, the dual process reality is also true. As Ibram X. Kendi points out in How to Be an Antiracist, “History duels: the undeniable history of antiracist progress, the undeniable history of racist progress” (page 33).

The Reconstruction amendments and laws in the decade following the American Civil War were met with judicial rejections, Jim Crow legislation, and a century and a half of vigilante violence. Brown v. Board, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and the Fair Housing Act have been followed by seventy years of White legislative and violent backlash. At some points, American society is growing more just. At other points, American society is becoming more totalitarian. Both are true at the same time.

Everything is falling apart. Something new is being born. We Western Europeans have been dealing with the defects of philosophical dualism for at least twenty-five hundred years. We want everything to be one thing or another. We prefer our Reality digital rather than analogue – on or off, good or evil, forward or backward, true or false, winning or losing. It’s easier to put “either/or” in a flow chart, harder to factor in “both/and.”

The Good News of Jesus Christ comes to us from the Author of Reality. Therefore, it is also a dual process phenomenon. Theologians often capture that notion in a paradox of time – “now and not yet.” Our digitized demand for dualism can’t accommodate this paradox (or any other paradox, for that matter).

So, on the one hand (another excellent dualistic metaphor) we have the end-times fanatics who assure us that the crisis “NOW!” Never mind that “now” has come and gone hundreds of times over the centuries. On the other hand, we have the end-times deniers who suggest that “not yet” is a relatively permanent thing (although the Second Law of Thermodynamics would beg to differ).

But Reality is another story. Everything is falling apart. And something new is being born.

Pray,” Jesus urges us. “Pray that you have the strength to escape these things.” Easy for Jesus to say. He’s not the one who had to read this doom and gloom report and then cheerfully conclude, “The Gospel of the Lord.”

And yet, Jesus says, it is gospel—good news. “Now when these things begin to take place,” Jesus continues, “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

Somehow, the cosmic catastrophe, the political upheaval, the oceanic upset—somehow these are signposts on the path to salvation. Perhaps we need to become better sign-readers. Otherwise, we may get carried away on the wild winds of our imagination.

In 2007, I traveled to northern Tanzania with ten parishioners. Our first night in-country, we stayed at the Uhuru Lutheran Hostel outside of Moshi. We were staying in the safest place in the most stable democracy in sub-Saharan Africa. It was a warm night, so we left open the windows.

At about 2 a.m., I woke out of a sound sleep to the sound of trumpets blaring in the distance—dozens of them. Then I heard whistles blowing and men shouting. I heard vehicles starting and weapons loading. My imagination shifted into overdrive. “It’s the revolution!” I thought to myself. “I have brought ten innocent people eight time zones only to land them in the middle of some African civil war!”

I thought it was the end of the world as I knew it. I waited the rest of the night in a cold sweat for the knock on our door. Of course, it never came.

In the morning, I learned the truth. On the other side of the hill was a regional police training center. The instructors often rousted out the recruits in the middle of the night for exercises. That was the source of the noise and the cause of my panic.

Everyone else thought it was wonderfully amusing.

This is the end of the world as we know it, Jesus says. And that’s the good news!When you see these things taking place,” he tells us, “you know the kingdom of God is near.”

We must not misuse Jesus’ words here. He is not describing our current world crisis, no matter how similar it might sound. Using Scripture to make predictions and utter threats is to abuse Scripture. That sort of thing verges on blasphemy.

Instead, Jesus says that the mighty Jerusalem temple will soon be destroyed. That destruction happened less than forty years later. The Bible shall not be used to peddle pet projections or to amplify anxieties.

Advent is the time for testimony, not terror.

This is the end of the world as we know it. And that is the good news!

Something has happened that changes everything. The something is not a terrorist attack. The something is not our changing climate. The something is not the latest electronic toy or the newest car. The something is not a drug or a war or an idea or an invention.

Something has happened that changes everything. It’s a baby—but not just any baby. The Maker of all things, the Lord of the Universe, the Author of life—God has come to us, and become one of us. There is no army. There are no guns. There are no bombs.

There is just this baby—poor, helpless, persecuted. There is just this baby—the God who is with us, and for us and among us always.

This is the end of the world as we know it. And that is the good news!

No matter what anyone says, the world’s message is crystal clear. Nothing ever changes. So when trouble comes—and it always does—you should be afraid, be very afraid. Duck and cover, the world says, and wait for the dust to settle. The cast may be different, but it’s the same old script.

So don’t bother with something as foolish as hope. It’ll just break your heart.

But what if things really could change? That is the Advent question. If things could really change, then there would be reason to hope.

This is the end of the world as we know it. And that is the good news!

We know that things can change because we know that things have changed. We know how the story ends. We know this baby grows to be a man. We know the manger morphs into a cross. We know he dies by violence so that violence itself will die. We know he lives to give God’s life back to the world.

So what is this good news?

If the world can change, then so can I. I am not bound by my past or my pain. I can be different. As a church family, we can abound in love for one another and for all those around us. We can leave behind our doubts about God, about ourselves and about our neighbors. We are not stuck here. And that is the good news!

If this is the ending that marks the beginning, then I can resist the power of fear. Perhaps on Thanksgiving you heard me say that worry cannot come from God. Neither can fear. “There is no fear in love,” we read in First John, “because perfect love casts out fear.” Think of the freedom we can enjoy when we refuse to be controlled by fear. And that is the good news!

If this is the end of the world as we know it, then we can begin to live in God’s new world right now. The Righteous Branch of David is here to execute justice and righteousness in the land. We are the people of the Righteous Branch. We have the power to live as his people. We have the power to be partners in the Holy Spirit’s life-giving work. And that is the good news.

So we begin with the ending. This is the end of the world as we know it. And that is the good news!

References and Resources

Jones, Serene. Trauma and Grace, 2nd Edition. Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

Kendi, Ibram X. How to Be an Antiracist. Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Swanson, Richard W. Provoking the Gospel of Luke: A Storyteller’s Commentary, Year C. Cleveland, OH.: The Pilgrim Press, 2006.