The Personal Cost of Causing Division

Herb Montgomery | August 12, 2022

To listen to this week’s eSight as a podcast episode click here.


“Our reading this week calls to mind times when we have also had to make decisions about speaking out against things we feel are unjust or harmful and facing division or controversy as a result. How many times have we found ourselves in a situation where doing what we feel is right or speaking out would involve a personal cost?”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.

He said to the crowd: When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, Its going to rain,and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, Its going to be hot,and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you dont know how to interpret this present time?” (Luke 12:49-56)

The context of this week’s reading is Jesus looking ahead to his arrival at Jerusalem and the demonstration or protest he will engage in there. He will flip the tables of the moneychangers, that protest will cause an uproar, and he will receive pushback that might cost him his life.

A word about the language Luke uses here. The metaphorical imagery of Jesus as a fire starter held different meanings in different versions of the Jesus story. In the gospel of Thomas, for example, fire is something that Jesus kindles and guards till it blazes. This makes fire a good thing that symbolizes the growing Jesus movement itself.

In Luke, however, this rhetoric conjures a more dangerous connotation: social and political conflict. These are the connotations I want to emphasize this week. Jesus’ internal conflict was not with his own Jewishness or his Jewish tradition. He struggled with the economic, political, and social harm he saw being committed against those his society had made vulnerable, and with what he felt he had to do in response.

The language of baptism (immersion) is also a metaphor for the concrete hardship or distress that Jesus’ protest and speaking out could possibly cause. In this passage we are reading of a Jesus who is in distress on one level but also resolute and embracing the reality that he will cause division and the personal cost that will involve. He doesn’t wish to avoid it but rather wishes that it was already over.

It’s also noteworthy that the divisiveness that Jesus is talking about will thoroughly permeate his society’s social structures, all the way to the family unit. The family unit in 1st Century Judea and Galilee was the central economic and social structure of Jesus’ society.

Our reading this week calls to mind times when we have also had to make decisions about speaking out against things we feel are unjust or harmful and facing division or controversy as a result. How many times have we found ourselves in a situation where doing what we feel is right or speaking out would involve a personal cost?

I think of whistleblowers who have to make these difficult decisions.

I think, too, of social truth tellers in religious and nonreligious contexts who suffer personally because they chose to speak truth rather than silently go along with things they knew were harmful.

I don’t quote Leo Tolstoy very often anymore, but this week’s reading reminds me of a statement that I love:

“And therefore you cannot but reflect on your position as landowner, manufacturer, judge, emperor, president, minister, priest, and soldier, which is bound up with violence, deception, and murder, and recognize its unlawfulness. I do not say that if you are a landowner you are bound to give up your lands immediately to the poor; if a capitalist or manufacturer, your money to your workpeople; or that if you are Tzar, minister, official, judge, or general, you are bound to renounce immediately the advantages of your position; or if a soldier, on whom all the system of violence is based, to refuse immediately to obey in spite of all the dangers of insubordination. If you do so, you will be doing the best thing possible. But it may happen, and it is most likely, that you will not have the strength to do so. You have relations, a family, subordinates and superiors; you are under an influence so powerful that you cannot shake it off; but you can always recognize the truth and refuse to tell a lie about it. You need not declare that you are remaining a landowner, manufacturer, merchant, artist, or writer because it is useful to mankind; that you are governor, prosecutor, or tzar, not because it is agreeable to you, because you are used to it, but for the public good; that you continue to be a soldier, not from fear of punishment, but because you consider the army necessary to society. You can always avoid lying in this way to yourself and to others, and you ought to do so; because the one aim of your life ought to be to purify yourself from falsehood and to confess the truth. And you need only do that and your situation will change directly of itself.” (Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God Is Within You, pp. 263-264)

In this week’s reading, Jesus stands within his own Jewish prophetic tradition, where the prophets speak out against the unjust actions of the centered rich and powerful harming the poor and marginalized.

How many times have we been told not to be divisive in our time? There is a time to push for unity, and there is also a time when division is holy, just, and good.

The Hebrew scriptures remind us:

“There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under the heavens:

  a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

  a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

  a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

  a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

  a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

  a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

  a time to love and a time to hate,

a time for war and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

Yes: there is a time for unity and there is a time for division.

My burden this week is that each of us will have the wisdom to discern the difference, that we will have the wisdom to recognize where calls for silence are coming from. Is it the privileged who are warning us not to rock the boat? Will division be harmful to those we are trying to help, or is the division simply threatening those who are benefiting from an unjust system.

One last word about Luke’s Jesus.

In this week’s passage, Jesus is engaging in resistance and speaking out, not promoting passive endurance of injustice. He is also not choosing to die, as feminist and womanist theologians have explained. (See Christianity, Patriarchy, and Abuse: A Feminist Critique by Brown and Bohn, Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk by Williams, and Proverbs of Ashes: Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and the Search for What Saves Us by Parker and Brock.) He’s rather choosing to hold onto a life-giving ethic even when threatened with an unjust execution. He’s answering not whether he is willing to die but how badly does he want to live. For me, these are not semantics. The difference informs how I myself respond to injustice and abuse.

I desire us to have wisdom and also to have courage in these kinds of moments: courage to bear the personal costs we will suffer when we are called to “instigate” division for the sake of what is right.

Our reading concludes with clouds on the horizon and a coming storm. This could reflect Luke’s (and possibly also Matthew’s) beliefs in a coming eschaton (cf. Matthew 16:2-3). It could also indicate that Jesus saw that injustice is not sustainable and that, eventually, societies that benefit a few by harming the masses will break down. When they do break down, it harms us all.

In the end, it’s harm reduction and mitigation that is moving Jesus to speak out. It is the reality of this harm to everyone that outweighs the personal cost he will suffer for speaking out.

What can this week’s story say to you when you, too, are called to speak out?

HeartGroup Application

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. Share an experience in your own life where you were faced with similar decisions as we see in this week’s reading. How did things turn out? Discuss with your group.

3.  What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone?

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



Begin each day being inspired toward love, compassion, action, and justice.

Go to renewedheartministries.com and click “sign up.”

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 Envisioning a World of Care

broken chain

Herb Montgomery | August 5, 2022

To listen to this week’s eSight as a podcast episode click here.


We don’t see Luke’s Jesus traveling around passing out tickets to heaven; instead we see him teaching a more socialized way of living here on earth that could lift up the marginalized and downtrodden from the harms their society was committing against them.


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke.

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak.

“But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Luke 12:32-40)

The first portion of this week’s reading centers on Jesus’ ethic of resource-sharing and wealth redistribution as a universal expectation for all of Jesus’ followers. This is the same ethic Jesus called individuals to elsewhere in the gospel stories (see Luke 18:22, Mark 10:21, and Matthew 19:21). But in Luke, this ethic of sharing and redistribution was not for isolated individuals in specific situations, but for every able Jesus follower.

There’s a similar principle in the companion book to Luke’s gospel, the book of Acts:

“Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostlesteaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:41-47, emphasis added)

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And Gods grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. (Acts 4:32-35)

This is the basis for the story of Ananias and Saphira (Acts 5) and the story about the Hellenistic widows in the early Jesus movement being overlooked and not receiving shared resources (Acts 6).

Most Christians exclude this practice from their Jesus-following today but early Jesus followers couldn’t exclude it. It was expected that Jesus followers would practice this principle. We don’t see Luke’s Jesus traveling around passing out tickets to heaven; instead we see him teaching a more socialized way of living here on earth that could lift up the marginalized and downtrodden from the harms their society was committing against them.

Jesus’ vision of a human community was simple: If you find yourself with more than what you need, be the one to provide for those who have less than they need, and hope that one day, if you have less than you need, we’ll have created a community where someone who has more than they need will share with you.

It’s a competing vision for organizing our world. We can follow the path of rugged individualism where isolated people place their assurance in how much wealth they have hoarded to provide for themselves and their needs. Or we can follow the path of Jesus, where we are investing in one another and creating a community that shares resources so that if we ever have needs, we also have each other. No matter what the future brings, we can face it together because we have each other’s back.

This is how I interpret the following passage:

“Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

I don’t interpret this as people storing up treasure “in heaven” for people to enjoy after they are dead. Rather this is about storing up treasure in the ethics of heaven, storing up treasure in a way that couldn’t be stolen or destroyed, and storing up treasure in people, in community, where no thief or moth can touch. Community is Jesus’ solution to our challenge of survival and thriving.

As I shared last week from the work of James Robinson:

“[Jesus’] basic issue, still basic today, is that most people have solved the human dilemma for themselves at the expense of everyone else, putting them down so as to stay afloat themselves. This vicious, antisocial way of coping with the necessities of life only escalates the dilemma for the rest of society.” (The Gospel of Jesus: A Historical Search for the Original Good News, Kindle location 138)

We can store up wealth or invest in building communities where we take care of each other. For wherever our treasure is, there our hearts will be also.

The next part of our reading transitions away from resource-sharing and wealth redistribution and focuses on examples of watchfulness and alertness.

This is another place in the Jesus story where we must be honest about context. The authors of the early Jesus story never assumed a world where some humans were not owned in some form by others. All the way to the final book in the New Testament cannon, we still encounter the language of masters and slaves.

As much as I wish the writers of our sacred texts had had large enough imaginations to envision a world without slaves, the fact is that they didn’t. But today, as Jesus followers, we can and must do better. Rather than using the scriptures as a justification for injustice when we encounter it, we can be honest about the shortcomings of our sacred texts and take the ethics of love, compassion, justice and mercy, the golden rule, etc. to their logical conclusions and applications, further than the authors of our texts could or did. Today we can work toward a world with no more masters and no more slaves. As Marx and Engles used to say, “we have nothing to lose but our chains.”

Lastly, I want to address an unsettled debate among Jesus scholars today. There are two camps among scholars of the historical Jesus. One believes that Jesus, like John the Baptist, Paul, and Paul’s Christian converts, subscribed to apocalypticism and believed the world was about to end. The other camp believes Jesus did not hold this view but was laying down ethical teachings that could become a long-term lifestyle here on earth, a way of living that was salvific in the sense that it saved us from structures of violence, oppression and injustice offering a different way of ordering our world. (If this debate is new to you, let me recommend a small, introductory book: The Apocalyptic Jesus: A Debate by Robert J. Miller and Dale C. Allison Jr.).

This debate has practical implications for how we choose to live today. Were Jesus’ ethical teachings of resource-sharing and wealth redistribution a short-term way of living because the world was about to end? Does that mean that we cannot possibly be expected to practice them long term or apply them to our lives today? This interpretation would be very convenient for the billionaire class or a capitalistic society!

Or, much more challenging, was Jesus different from John the Baptist and Paul in this sense? Was he laying down a livable ethic of community and taking care of one another that we can apply to our lives long term and use to organize our societies and economies in a different way? Was Jesus imagining a world where we didn’t live by a system that produced winners and losers no matter how many had equal opportunity to play the game? Or was he imagining a world where everyone had what they needed to thrive?

There are signs of this ethic in the ancient Hebrew story too:

“The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed.” (Exodus 16:17-18)

I believe the ethics we find in the Jesus story are livable, and regardless of where we land on scholarly debates about the historical Jesus, I hope that we can agree that a world where we take care of each other rather than leaving each person on their own to take care of themselves is a much better world to live in and the kind of world we would all want to live in.

This topic can lead us to heated discussions about things like taxes, wealth limits, redistribution, universal health care and child care, universal basic income, and more. And when I look around at today’s disparities and the harm being produced, these are discussions worth having.

There’s a lot to ponder here. How does our Jesus story where Jesus tells his followers, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor” have any application to our economic challenges today?

HeartGroup Application

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. What are some present-day applications to current political and economic debates around economic justice in our society today? Rather than labelling positions as liberal or conservative, grade various opinions along a spectrum from closer to far away from the world-vision we have been reading in the past two weeks here in Luke. Discuss with your group.

3.  What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone?

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



Begin each day being inspired toward love, compassion, action, and justice.

Go to renewedheartministries.com and click “sign up.”

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Sharing More Than We Need

puzzle piece

Herb Montgomery | July 29, 2022

To listen to this week’s eSight as a podcast episode click here.


Every day, we face the evolutionary challenge of survival. We here in the U.S. have also been deeply conditioned by our culture of individualism, independence, and self-sufficiency. So even if we have solved the survival dilemma for ourselves, that’s usually all we’ve done: solved it for ourselves and too often at the expense of someone else, intentionally or unintentionally. Too often, we’re told that some need to go without so some others can have more. But what if this isn’t true? What if there is actually enough for everyone?


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

Someone in the crowd said to him, Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

Jesus replied, Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” And he told them this parable: The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops. Then he said, This is what Ill do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And Ill say to myself, You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” But God said to him, You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself? This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:13-21)

A pastor friend of mine recently shared some of their vocational challenges with me. Commenting on their congregation, they said, “The challenge of my congregation is not its poverty, but its wealth.” As uneasily as we discuss our wealth or lack of wealth, this week’s reading invites us into that uncomfortable conversation. We are socialized by our U.S. culture to be uneasy here. Lean into this discomfort.

The passage begins with an outburst from one of Jesus’ listeners. Possibly struck by Jesus’ emphasis on justice for those being wronged, the person shouts out for Jesus to intervene with his brother to share the inheritance that their father had left them.

This request comes from a certain social location in Jesus’ society. Those who would even have had an inheritance to fight over in Jesus’ society would have been from the wealthy class. Disputes regarding large inheritances were not the plight of the poor or middle classes in Judea or Galilee. And Jesus didnt view settling disputes between the rich as his purpose.

The Jesus of the gospels stood squarely in the Hebrew prophetic justice tradition’s concern for the poor. So rather than settle this dispute for this man, Jesus called him into solidarity with the poor through a parable.

When we find ourselves with more than what we ourselves need to thrive, then rather than building bigger barns to store that wealth, it is time for wealth redistribution.

“Ill say to myself, You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”

I remember being deeply moved years ago while reading the following statements from James Robinson’s The Gospel of Jesus, In Search of the Original Good News:

“The human dilemma is, in large part, that we are each others fate. We become the tool of evil that ruins another person as we look out for ourselves, having long abandoned any youthful idealism we might once have cherished. But if we each would cease and desist from pushing the other down to keep ourselves up, then the vicious cycle would be broken. Society would become mutually supportive rather than self-destructive. This is what Jesus was up to . . . I am hungry because you hoard food. You are cold because I hoard clothing. Our dilemma is that we all hoard supplies in our backpacks and put our trust in our wallets! Such security” should be replaced by God reigning, which means both what I trust God to do (to activate you to share food with me) and what I hear God telling me to do (to share clothes with you). We should not carry money while bypassing the poor or wear a backpack with extra clothes and food while ignoring the cold and hungry lying in the gutter. This is why the beggars, the hungry, the depressed are fortunate: God, that is, those in whom God rules, those who hearken to God, will care for them. The needy are called upon to trust that Gods reigning is there for them (Theirs is the kingdom of God”).” (Kindle Location 72)

Jesus shares his solution in this week’s parable.

Every day, we face the evolutionary challenge of survival. We here in the U.S. have also been deeply conditioned by our culture of individualism, independence, and self-sufficiency. So even if we have solved the survival dilemma for ourselves, that’s usually all we’ve done: solved it for ourselves and too often at the expense of someone else, intentionally or unintentionally. Too often, we’re told that some need to go without so some others can have more. But what if this isn’t true? What if there is actually enough for everyone?

Jesus’ solution for the dilemma of survival was more social than individual. He encouraged mutually supportive communities, communities where we take responsibility for caring for one another. When we find ourselves having more than what we need for our own thriving, we’re called to share that extra with those who don’t have what they need to thrive. That’s how we all thrive together.

When we do this, we are creating a new world, setting in motion a world of different quality. When we share with those whose daily needs are not being met today, we create mutuality where if something should happen in the future, those who have more than what they need then will share with us.

We could instead choose to hoard our wealth so that if anything ever happened in the future we could simply take care of it ourselves. But that was not Jesus’ solution. Elsewhere in the Christian scriptures we read:

“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” (1Timothy 6:17)

Putting hope in hoarded wealth is an option, but Jesus called us to put our hope in each other. “Be rich toward God,” meant sharing resources with others who are the objects of God’s universal love. We can trust God enough to be the people God is calling to share our extra resources today, and we can trust, too, that if something should happen to us in the future, God will send someone to share their extra resources with us.

Again:

“Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality.” (2 Corinthians 8:13-14)

This can be done in a multitude of ways, one of them being taxation.

Consider this example within the early Jesus community:

“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And Gods grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.” (Acts 4:32-35)

The community’s practice was in direct response to Jesus’ call for those with more than they needed to sell what they had and give it to the poor. The early church practiced a form of wealth redistribution, not to enrich the church institution, but to redistribute that wealth among those who were in need.

And what was the result? Not universal poverty. Instead, the story says, “there were no needy persons among them.”

This calls into question our society where billionaires exist. Do we want to live in a society where some people have more than they will ever need while there are others who for whom the vast wealth disparity in our society is lethal. Would we rather live in a society with a smaller disparity between the haves and have nots? How can this week’s reading inform our discussions about a possible billionaire wealth tax?

I don’t believe wealth disparity makes a society healthy (see How economic inequality harms societies). I believe it is deeply harmful for all of us, and I want a society with less hoarding, more sharing, and more abundance for all.

HeartGroup Application

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. What are some ways we can practice sharing our surplus with those in need starting simply within our HeartGroups? Discuss as a group.

3.  What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone?

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



Begin each day being inspired toward love, compassion, action, and justice.

Go to renewedheartministries.com and click “sign up.”

Free Sign-Up at:

https://renewedheartministries.com/Contact-forms?form=EmailSignUp

The Pain of Unanswered Prayer 

hands folded in prayer

Herb Montgomery | July 22, 2022

To listen to this week’s eSight as a podcast episode click here.


“When we dont directly face the anguish caused because some of our most desperately wanted prayers are unanswered, the reality puts us in a state of torment. The conflict between what we think we are supposed to believe and the way things are causes a deep need for resolution that many never find. Some choose to simply live with the torment, and some of them are haunted by it. Others challenge what they have been taught to believe, and find rest.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke.

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

He said to them, When you pray, say:

  ‘Father,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread.

  Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.

And lead us not into temptation.’

Then Jesus said to them, Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.And suppose the one inside answers, Dont bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I cant get up and give you anything.I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:1-13)

For many people, this week’s reading brings up painful memories and deep questions about unanswered prayers.

The first portion of the prayer is believed to have come from the same source as Matthew’s version:

“Father, hallowed by your name, your kingdom come.”

Here, within his own cultural setting, Jesus is praying for a world where resources are justly distributed to all. Where everyone has what they need to thrive. In that patriarchal culture, the father was the householder who had the responsibility of maintaining a just distribution of resources for all within the household. No one was to have too much while others didn’t have enough. (For more on this see God the Father, Exclusive Othering, and a Distributive Justice for All)

I know the language of kingdom is also problematic, being both patriarchal and undemocratic.  Today, we live in different social contexts from the audiences for which the gospels were originally written. In our social contexts, we can use better language to describe a just world where everyone has what they need to thrive.

Nonetheless, what this language is attempting to describe is a just world order. This prayer is a patient expression of longing for some other iteration of our present world. It is a prayer that this world, with all its injustice, violence, and hurt, will be put right.

This context helps explain the next phrase that both Matthew’s and Luke’s versions have in common—that we will together all have our daily bread. This means that we will have what we need, not simply to survive but also to thrive. It is not a spiritual prayer but a physical one. It is concerned with the concrete needs of people living their daily lives in the here and now.

From time to time I hear pastors say that saving souls for the afterlife is to be our mission as followers of Jesus. They denounce being concerned with matters of justice and rights and equality in this life and so reveal their own privileged social locations here. Jesus’ prayer calls that gross other-world focus squarely into question.

Luke’s version changes the third prayer request from the debt cancelation Matthew’s version includes to forgiveness for sins. This might represent a shift taking place in the Jesus movement away from calls for economic justice to forgiving sins in general. I’ve written before on my preference for Matthew’s version and why in our context today Matthew’s call for economic justice and plea for reduced inequality and the year of Jubilee is more life-giving. (For more on this, see A Prayer for Debts Cancelled.)

After the prayer, Jesus and the disciples share an anecdote intended to emphasize the importance of persistence in prayer. The story is rooted in Mediterranean shame/honor cultural expectations and the social tensions connected to them. In that region it would be shameful not to show hospitality to a friend who arrives late from a journey, and it would also be shameful for someone to approach their neighbor to help show hospitality very late at night. The person in the story chooses to risk the shame of going to their neighbor late at night over risking the shame of not being hospitable to their unexpected guest.

It’s difficult for us in our contexts today to understand how deep these social expectations of hospitality were in this culture and how strong the sense of shame would be if someone failed to meet them. A host cannot bring themselves to deny sustenance to their guest and must thus ask for help, despite the inconvenience hour. Luke adds that the neighbor finally decides to help because of the host’s persistence.

It’s awkward to use a story about hospitality to teach a different value, persistence in prayer. But Luke’s gospel attempts it nonetheless.

That’s how this reading becomes problematic. Presuming that God is good and that goodness is the only variable in prayers being answered, Luke’s Jesus uses some troublesome absolute language:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

If only it were that simple. If only answered prayers were solely dependent on the variable of an all powerful, good Divine being. Absolutes like this have produced atheists when reality doesn’t line up with the teaching.

Because everyone who asks doesn’t receive.

Sometimes those who seek don’t find.

Sometimes the door remains closed in spite of our persistent knocking.

And it’s okay to admit this!

I don’t claim to know how God, the universe, or prayer work. What I do know is that absolute language like this, used by the author of Luke’s version of the Jesus story, has proven to be more troublesome than helpful when people experience bad things in their lives and the prayers we need answered are not.

In this month’s recommended reading from Renewed Heart Ministries, Nancy Eiesland quotes Nancy Mairs’ book, Carnal Acts: Essays:

The bodies we inhabit and the lives those bodies carry on need not be perfect to have value. Bad things do happen, we know—to bad and good people alike—but so do good things. Life’s curses, like life’s blessings are always mixed.” (In The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability, p. 13)

I find the expectation that some prayers may not be answered or are even unanswerable to be more life-giving in my own work of endeavoring to shape our world into a safer, more just, more compassionate home for everyone.

I never see the Jesus of the gospels waxing eloquent in Hellenistic philosophical fashion to explain why bad things happen and why some prayers go unanswered. What I do find is a Jesus who calls his followers to keep doing what they have the capacity to do to be the answer to other people’s prayers. Being someone else’s answer is something I can often do (not always). I’m going to have to accept that is enough.

Not all prayers are answered. And they are not all answered for a multitude of reasons.

Yes, we can say that. We must, because it’s true.

When we dont directly face the anguish caused because some of our most desperately wanted prayers are unanswered, the reality puts us in a state of torment. The conflict between what we think we are supposed to believe and the way things are causes a deep need for resolution that many never find. Some choose to simply live with the torment, and some of them are haunted by it. Others challenge what they have been taught to believe, and find rest.

I believe there is wisdom in facing this pain rather than living in denial.

It is in facing our disappointments that we begin to grieve and in the end our spirits are released.

Believing that everyone who asks receives can impact our personal well-being when we don’t receive. This doesn’t even begin to address how believing the absolutes about answered prayer can often relieve us of our own responsibilities to take action on behalf of others and sometimes even ourselves.

But I believe the path of healing begins not with believing that the door is always opened for those who just knock long enough, nor even with the belief that all prayers are answered, but instead with coming to terms with the reality that, for whatever reason makes the most sense to you and is most life-giving for you, sometimes we pray, and don’t receive.

HeartGroup Application

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. If you feel comfortable, please share with your group a story of how you had to come to terms with a prayer that went unanswered, and how you processed that experience.

3.  What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone?

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



Begin each day being inspired toward love, compassion, action, and justice.

Go to renewedheartministries.com and click “sign up.”

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https://renewedheartministries.com/Contact-forms?form=EmailSignUp

Jesus, Politics, and the Rights of Cis Women, Trans People and Nonbinary Folk

diveristy

Herb Montgomery | July 15, 2022

To listen to this week’s eSight as a podcast episode click here.


“Luke’s Jesus does not rebuke Mary for taking up space that is often reserved only for men. He, instead, praises her.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

This story is only found in Luke’s version of the Jesus story, but its inclusion suggests some of the struggles that the early Jesus movement might have been facing. I also think there is something for us today.

This story challenged the gender assumptions and gender roles for women in certain 1st Century cultures. It contrasts the domestic role of hostess with that of the rabbi or teacher. What we miss being so far removed from the culture in which this story was created is that according to Luke, the early Jesus movement opened the role and authority of being a teacher to women.

I don’t disparage Martha’s labor, however. Her role in this story was in her culture and conditioning, and was the best way she knew to express her devotion to Jesus. Within 1st Century Jewish culture, hospitality was deeply important, and it involved food preparation for guests that was generally required of the woman of the house. Martha was doing the best she knew to do in relation to Jesus’ presence as a guest in her home.

We can affirm Martha’s actions in her cultural context while critiquing similar cultural assumptions about women, too.

In this story, Mary is the transgressor. What I mean by this is that Mary chooses to transgress patriarchal, gender binary, gender role assumptions. The story also lauds her as having done a good thing! This is a heavy critique on gender exclusivity. Let’s unpack Mary’s actions a bit more. The following comes from the IVP New Testament Background Commentary:

“People normally sat on chairs or, at banquets, reclined on couches; but disciples sat at the feet of their teachers. Serious disciples were preparing to be teachers—a role not permitted to women. (The one notable exception in the second century was a learned rabbi’s daughter who had married another learned rabbi; but most rabbis rejected her opinions.) Mary’s posture and eagerness to absorb Jesus’ teaching at the expense of a more traditional womanly role (10:40) would have shocked most Jewish men.” (p 218)

Rabbis were typically men, and so those sitting at the feet of other rabbis hoping to learn from and one day become rabbis themselves were also men. In the patriarchal cultural expectations of the time, Mary was supposed to be either at the back of the room standing if she wanted to hear Jesus’ teaching or not in the room at all but helping Martha in the kitchen.

These gender assumptions are being challenged by this week’s story. Women are equals here, in the Jesus movement. And in this story, the role and authority of teacher is open to women just as much as it is to men.

This is a strong message and should be weighed carefully by all Christian communities and institutions that relegate women in ministry to some other designation than those open to men. This story may even have been written in response to other statements in the early writings of the Jesus movement that we now call the New Testament. The New Testament is not monolithic, and we must ask ourselves which statements about women in it are life-giving and which are harmful. We have a choice to make when we find a conflict in our sacred texts. Not only should we lean into passages that are most life-giving for all, we should also embrace life-giving interpretations. Luke’s Jesus does not rebuke Mary for taking up space that is often reserved only for men. He, instead, praises her.

I also want to offer a side note about the political purpose of using the title “Lord” for Jesus in Luke. Over the past few weeks of lectionary readings we have bumped into the title “Lord” for Jesus repeatedly, and given the U.S.’ history of people enslaving others, I need to address this.

In 1st Century Rome, “Lord” was the title reserved for Caesar, so to refer to Jesus as Lord wasn’t as much religious as it was political. In Luke especially, from the pre-birth and infancy narratives through the stories of his adulthood, Jesus is over and over again contrasted with the Roman Caesar. When people call Jesus “Lord” in Luke, it meant they subscribed to Jesus’ teaching that society should be organized otherwise than it was shaped and organized under Rome and Caesar. This is one reason the early gospel so appealed to marginalized and vulnerable people pushed to the edges and undersides of Roman society. The concept of Jesus’ Lordship may have begun as a critique of how Jews were treated under the Roman empire (see Mark and Matthew) but by Luke it also included Gentiles who were oppressed and exploited under Rome.

This calls into question a claim making the rounds again on social media: It’s the false claim that “Jesus didn’t use politics.”

We must remember a few things.

First, Jesus wasn’t living in a democracy but an authoritarian empire.

Second, Jesus didn’t even belong to the privileged class of citizens of the Roman empire. Howard Thurman comments on this:

“Jesus was not a Roman citizen. He was not protected by the normal guarantees of citizenship—that quiet sense of security which comes from knowing that you belong and the general climate of confidence which it inspires. If a Roman soldier pushed Jesus into a ditch, he could not appeal to Caesar [like Paul]; he would just be another Jew in the ditch . . . Unless one actually lives day by day without a sense of security, he [sic] cannot understand what worlds separated Jesus from Paul at this point.” (Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited, p. 33)

By contrast, Paul did use his political privilege to “appeal to Caesar” when he was imprisoned.

Third, Jesus was deeply political in ways that were available to people living in his social location. What can one do living in an authoritarian society when you are devalued by the state as an outsider? Plenty, and also different things than we might do today. If this is a new thought for you, I want to recommend Ched Myers’ Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus.

We live in a different time and circumstance. Though we can learn from the Jesus story and allow it to speak into and inform our justice work today, the political context and the tools we have at our disposal are not always the same.

Lastly, a word about politics.

Politics are about people, the polis, our larger society, and our smaller local community. It’s about what kind of society we want to live in.

As a Jesus follower, I want to live in a society where people matter. People do matter! Therefore politics matter. We also cannot escape the reality that all theology is political as well.

When it comes to matters of murder and theft against them, privileged Christians have no problem with the state intervening. But when it comes a more distributive just society, or protecting the rights of people who are marginalized or devalued, all of a sudden certain privileged Christians cry out, “We are followers of Jesus and shouldn’t use the state. We should be instead about transforming people’s hearts and minds.”

I can’t tell you how tired I am of this lack of logic. I’m sure those with less privileged social locations are even more so.

Reaching people’s hearts and minds and working to change the state are not mutually exclusive. We need not choose between changing peoples hearts and minds or legislating laws, policies, and rights that the state must recognize the state. We can, and I would argue must, be about both approaches if we genuinely care about people who are being harmed within systems of injustice.

I’m reminded of the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at UCLA on April 27, 1965. On this YouTube link, you can hear the following quotation around 33:33:

“It may be true that you can’t legislate integration, but you can legislate desegregation. It may be true that morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart, but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law can’t make a man love me, but it can restrain him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important also. So while the law may not change the hearts of men, it does change the habits of men. And when you change the habits of men, pretty soon the attitudes and the hearts will be changed. And so there is a need for strong legislation constantly to grapple with the problems we face.”

Legislation protecting people from being hurt by others plays a strong role in shaping the hearts and minds of future generations as well. Adults a generation from now will value those different from them according to the way their society’s laws socialized them to.

Jesus was political in ways that were available to him. The various versions of the Jesus story in each canonical gospel are political as well. This week, we looked at the politics of gender equality.

Right now, the bodily autonomy and privacy rights of cis women, trans people, and nonbinary folk are under attack, again, in our society.

What is a Jesus who teaches gender equality saying to you?

HeartGroup Application

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. What does a Jesus who teaches gender equality say to you in our present political climate in the U.S.? Discus with your group.

3.  What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone?

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



Begin each day being inspired toward love, compassion, action, and justice.

Go to renewedheartministries.com and click “sign up.”

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The Subversive and Transgressive Call to Love Our Neighbor

Herb Montgomery | July 8, 2022

To listen to this week’s eSight as a podcast episode click here.


“What Christian stereotypes about others are we being called to subvert in our societal context? What are those stereotypes rooted in? Are they rooted in bias and bigotry toward a different gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, education, economic status, or some other category? What stereotypes about those different from you have you, from your own experience, found to be staggeringly untrue?”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered, ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37)

Some rhetoric and other elements of the Jesus stories have not aged well, but this week’s reading is one reason I still hold onto the Jesus story. This week’s section displays the heart of the moral philosophy of the Jesus of the gospels, a moral philosophy that I believe still has intrinsic value as we seek to be compassionate, just, safe humans today.

A version of the passage is found in each synoptic gospel as well as the Gospel of Thomas:

“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.” (Mark 12:28-34)

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-40)

“Jesus says: ‘Love your brother [sic] like your life! Protect him [sic] like the apple of your eye!’” (Gospel of Thomas 25)

Most historical Jesus scholars agree, given Rabbi Hillel’s influence in 1st Century Judaism, that the Hillellian practice of interpreting Torah through love (of God and neighbor) was the Jewish interpretive school Jesus was following here.

Jesus named the second greatest commandment as Leviticus 19’s command to love one’s neighbor as yourself. The context of this command in Leviticus shows that its “love” was much more than sentimentality. This love was also economic and political. Loving one’s neighbor in meant prohibiting the oppression and exploitation of people Israel’s society had made vulnerable (see Leviticus 19:9-17).

Because of this, those of us who seek to follow the moral philosophy of Jesus today have a strong precedent for interpreting our sacred texts through the interpretive lens of love and applying that ethic of love politically, socially, and economically.

Recently, I was in Lexington, Kentucky, during a denominational pastors convention. I was not there as a conference attendee, but worked alongside Seventh-day Adventist Kinship International to call for LGBTQ inclusion and provide pastors with LGBTQ-affirming resources that their denomination refuses to provide. While I was there, I attended a presentation by Alicia Johnston, a pastor within that tradition who was fired when she publicly came out as bisexual. Her presentation introduced her new book The Bible and LGBTQ Adventists.

Alicia shared an example in her talk that resonated deeply with me. Today, she said, LGBTQ-affirming theologians often use love as the lens through which to interpret and understand their sacred text, while non-affirming theologians use the sacred text (interpreted through their own social location) to define what “love” and “loving” mean.

For those who may be tempted to imagine that these two interpretive options are both viable, their fruits are not the same. One is life-giving and life-affirming while the other has a long history of producing harmful definitions of love that have proven lethal. The lethal results of prioritizing the text over an ethic of love should give us all pause.

This story also has some unique elements.

Luke’s gospel is the only gospel that adds to the love-based interpretation of Torah the story of the good Samaritan, a story that shows how this lens was to be lived.

Luke’s Jesus applies the ethic of love by applying it even outside of his own community. This story uses the then long-held tensions between people in Judea and people in Samaria, once the capital city of the Northern Israelite tribes. This story turns the commandment to love one’s neighbor on its head with a Samaritan neighbor modeling the ethic of compassion for others.

Jesus’ story is both subversive and transgressive. Jesus subverts his society’s stereotypes about Samaritans and transgresses the strongly held boundary between “us” and “them.” The Samaritan shows compassion through his actions toward someone who had been beaten, robbed and left for dead. In the story, this happens after the political and religious representatives from that person’s own region had passed him by. The Samaritan in the story transgresses social and political boundaries to practice this ethic of love, demonstrating a larger application of “neighbor” that include Judeans as well as Samaritans. And so the Samaritan becomes an example of enlarging neighborly love to include “them” as well as “us,” and Jesus calls those in Judean society to practice the same love as the Samaritan does.

I love this story because the Samaritan practices a universal love ethic. In this story, this is deeply transgressive of framing the Samaritan as morally inferior.

There is so much that we can glean from this story today.

What Christian stereotypes about others are we being called to subvert in our societal context?

What are those stereotypes rooted in? Are they rooted in bias and bigotry toward a different gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, education, economic status, or some other category?

What stereotypes about those different from you have you, from your own experience, found to be staggeringly untrue?

How does the ethic of love of neighbor call us to transgress our community’s boundary of “us” and “them?”

Whether we think of political, religious, or social communities, what does it look like for us to lean into boundary-transgressing practices of defining our “neighbor?”

What does genuine authentic love look like once our definition of “neighbor” has been enlarged?

Lastly, what else are you reading in this week’s story? Who else does this story invoke for you?

HeartGroup Application

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. What boundary transgressing definition of “neighbor” is this week’s story bringing to mind for you? Discus with your group.

3.  What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone?

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,
I’ll see you next week



Begin each day being inspired toward love, compassion, action, and justice.

Go to renewedheartministries.com and click “sign up.”

Free Sign-Up at:

https://renewedheartministries.com/Contact-forms?form=EmailSignUp

 The Gospel of Interdependence

To listen to this week’s eSight as a podcast episode click here.

interdependence

Herb Montgomery | July 1, 2022

****This week’s article was written before last Friday’s devastating U.S. Supreme Court ruling. We at Renewed Heart Ministries, as a community of faith, stand in opposition to the decision to remove fifty years of federal protection for the bodily autonomy rights and privacy of cis women as well as trans and nonbinary folk. We will continue to stand alongside those harmfully impacted by these efforts. We feel this week’s article remains relevant. We will have more to say over the coming weeks. ****


“These itinerant workers were to be characterized by dependence, not independence. In the U.S.  today, we live in a hyper-individualistic culture where we are subjected daily to the philosophy of independence and self-sufficiency. Many of us forget that no matter how much we may strive for individual self-reliance and independence, we are still connected to one another. We are part of one another, and we cannot escape the fact that we are in reality truly dependent on one another.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road. When you enter a house, first say, Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near. Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

The seventy-two returned with joy and said, Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” He replied, I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:1-11, 16-20)

This week’s passage is the second time in Luke’s version of the Jesus story that Jesus instructs those he sends out (cf. Luke 9:1-6). Earlier they were instructed to take no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, and no extra shirt. Here they are instructed to not take a purse (i.e. money), a bag, or even an extra pair of shoes.

Mark and Matthew’s lists complicate the instructions. In Mark 6, the instructions were to take a staff, but no food, no bag and no money. You could wear sandals, but not take an extra shirt. In Matthew (Matthew 10) the instructions were to no take any money, no bag, no extra shirt, no extra sandals, and no staff. There was clearly some disagreement among early Christians about what exactly Jesus’ instructions were. What can we glean from these various lists?

I appreciate the insights of Stephen Patterson on this passage:


What does it actually mean for the empire of God to come? It begins with a knock at the door. On the stoop stand two itinerant beggars, with no purse, no knapsack, no shoes, no staff. They are so ill-equipped that they must cast their fate before the feet of a would-be host . . . These Q folk are sort of like ancient Cynics, but their goal is not the Cynic goal of self-sufficiency; these itinerants are set only for dependency. To survive they must reach out to other human beings. They offer them peace—this is how the empire arrives. And if their peace is accepted, they eat and drink—this is how the empire of God is consummated, in table fellowship.” (The Lost Way: How Two Forgotten Gospels Are Rewriting the Story of Christian Origins, pp. 74-75)

These itinerant workers were to be characterized by dependence, not independence. In the U.S.  today, we live in a hyper-individualistic culture where we are subjected daily to the philosophy of independence and self-sufficiency. Many of us forget that no matter how much we may strive for individual self-reliance and independence, we are still connected to one another. We are part of one another, and we cannot escape the fact that we are in reality truly dependent on one another. The COVID-19 pandemic is just the most recent example where independence and interdependence were brought into stark contrast. While many were crying about personal freedoms and individual rights, others focused on the safety of others, society’s common good, and not unnecessarily risking communities’ exposure to a very lethal infection.

I’m thankful for the masks, vaccines, boosters, and other treatments that have helped reduce infections and deaths from COVID since 2020. But through each of these years, we have seen the conflict between those who did not want anyone telling them what to do and those who realized that society’s well-being and safety requires each of us to keep one another safe.

Regardless of which version we read, Jesus’ instructions to his followers all emphasize dependence on those they were going out to serve rather than independence from them. Contrast this with Paul’s teachings—and this is one of the differences scholars recognize between Jesus and Paul:

“Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. Dont we have the right to food and drink? Dont we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lords brothers and Cephas? Or is it only I and Barnabas who lack the right to not work for a living? . . . If others have this right of support from you, shouldnt we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 9:1-6, 12)

Paul, as a tent-maker, could be highly independent from those he sought to serve. In some circumstances that might be commendable but given our cultural philosophy, I find Jesus’ instruction more life-giving than Paul’s practice.

We deeply need to reconnect with the reality that we are part of one another. Either we survive and thrive together, or we don’t survive or thrive. I love how Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis of Middle Church express this: “If there is such a thing as salvation, we are not saved till everyone is saved.” It reminds me of a joke one of my daughters used to tell when she was younger: “Communist jokes aren’t funny unless everyone gets it.”

Stephen Patterson shares another insight I’d like to draw your attention to in the context of this week’s reading.

The empire comes when someone receives food from another. But then something is offered in return: care for the sick. The empire of God here involves an exchange: food for care.

This warrants pause. Food for care. In the ancient world, those who lived on the margins of peasant life were never far from deaths door. In the struggle to survive, food was their friend and sickness their enemy. Each day subsistence peasants earn enough to eat for a day. Each day they awaken with the question: Will I earn enough to eat today? This is quickly followed by a second: Will I get sick today? If I get sick, I wont eat, and if I dont eat, Ill get sicker. With each passing day the spiral of starvation and sickness becomes deeper and deeper and finally, deadly. Crossan has argued that this little snippet of ancient tradition is critical to understanding why the followers of Jesus and their empire of God were compelling to the marginalized peasants who were drawn to it. Eat what is set before you and care for the sick.’ Here is the beginning of a program of shared resources of the most basic sort: food and care. Its an exchange. If some have food, all will eat; if any get sick, someone who eats will be there to care for them. The empire of God was a way to survive—which is to say, salvation.” (The Lost Way: How Two Forgotten Gospels Are Rewriting the Story of Christian Origins, pp. 74-75)

We should remember the social location many of the early Jesus followers lived in. For them, the gospel of interdependence was not only life-giving, but also life-saving. They had been pushed to the undersides and margins of their communities, so the gospel wasn’t about how they could escape post-mortem danger, but about how they might practically survive in this life, despite oppression, as they worked toward a world of liberation, safety, compassion and justice for all.

This makes me pause given the opposite emphasis of the culture we live in in the U.S.

What might the teachings of mutual aid or resource sharing and exchange found in the moral philosophy of Jesus in the gospels be saying to us today?

How are we still connected, still part of one another?

How else do individual freedoms and community wellbeing conflict in political debates today about the kind of society or communities we want to live in?

And how might passages like this week’s inform Jesus followers today as we apply Jesus’ social teachings in our own contexts?

There’s a lot to ponder this week. I love it when something in the Jesus story calls us to reassess the social waters we swim in. And I love how this week’s saying encourages interdependence rather than independence.

What is this week’s passage saying to you?

HeartGroup Application

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2.  In what ways does this week’s story call you to lean into our interdependence either in our larger secular society or in your more local faith community? Discus with your group.

3.  What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone?

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



Begin each day being inspired toward love, compassion, action, and justice.

Go to renewedheartministries.com and click “sign up.”

Free Sign-Up at:

https://renewedheartministries.com/Contact-forms?form=EmailSignUp

When Liberation Becomes Complicated

Herb Montgomery | June 17, 2022

To listen to this week’s eSight as a podcast episode click here.


“And what does change cost? Is it this cost that causes us to be more moderate when we should be directly and actively opposed to things in our system that are harming the objects of the Universal Divine love we preach? Do we see ourselves in this story?”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, dont torture me!” For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.

Jesus asked him, What is your name?”

Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.

A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission. When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesusfeet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.

The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him. (Luke 8:26-39)

This week’s story hasn’t aged well. Taking the story literally has born harmful fruit to those with disabilities because the culture in which the Jesus story was written and shared believed that things like mental disabilities and epilepsy were the result of demonic possession.

Josephus, a Jewish historian near the time of Jesus, wrote:

“Exorcism is an exceptionally powerful cure among our own people down to this very day.” (Jewish Antiquities, 8.46)

Today we know better. Things we once did not understand that once had supernatural explanations now have scientific explanations. The history of scientific discovery should make us careful about explaining things we still do not understand today with supernatural explanations, especially explanations like demon possession that have historically only hurt marginalized communities. Stories like this week’s now need to be shared with interpretive explanations to reduce the risk that Christians might use them to wittingly or unwittingly harm others.

In this story, the demonic possession is a metaphor for the very concrete, literal political reality of the Jewish people during this time. The Jewish people were possessed, that is, occupied by the Roman empire. One hint that this story should not be taken literally but as code for political oppression is that the name of the “demon” possessing the man in the story is Legion.

A Roman legion was the Roman army’s largest military unit. This occupying, militaristic presence kept Rome’s invaded and conquered territories in line during the Pax Romana, the peace of Rome. These occupying forces, literally peacekeepers, kept uprisings and rebellions repressed through their continual military presence.

Another sign of metaphor in this story is the presence of pigs and pig farmers in a Hellenized Jewish community. Pigs are unclean in the Torah and forbidden as food. I imagine that the Jewish farmers in this story may have raised them for export to other regions of the Roman empire. Pig farming in this Jewish community indicates the economic entanglement of being “possessed” by the Roman empire. Roman occupation, especially in Hellenized Galilee, was a complex reality where Roman occupation both harmed and benefited the people simultaneously.

And this is a major story theme. To be liberated from Rome would come at a cost, an economic cost at least. The community eventually rejects Jesus’ liberation ministry because even though Roman occupation harmed them in some areas of their lives, it was beneficial in others and they were willing to live with it.

Jesus’ exorcism represented a real, political repudiation of the Roman occupying force. The people’s response to Jesus reveals the sentiment in some Hellenized communities that they didn’t want to be liberated to the extent that they would lose the benefits of Rome’s occupation. They may have wanted independence but that desire simply did not outweigh the benefits occupation brought to their daily lives.

Last month, Renewed Heart Ministries recommended book of the month was Kwok Pui-lan’s Postcolonial Politics and Theology: Unraveling Empire for a Global World. The work of decolonizing our theology and unravelling from empire is relevant to our story this week. The tension we encounter in this story between the desire for liberation and the fear of uncertainty and change that freedom and independence would bring is very real and not something we should brush off too lightly.

I used to read this story with eyes focused primarily on the demoniac. But as I get older, I’m starting to perceive the demoniac as a story device to connect the hearers of this story to its central characters: those so enmeshed and entangled in the system of their oppressors that they no longer want liberation when the possibility arises. Ched Myers reminds us, “Whether personal or political, liberation has a cost, and there will always be those unwilling to risk it.” (*Myers, Ched; Dennis, Marie; Nangle, Joseph; Moe-Lobeda, Cynthia; Taylor, Stuart, “Say to This Mountain”: Mark’s Story of Discipleship, p. 60)

We often have said here at Renewed Heart Ministries that our primary work as followers of the moral philosophy of Jesus in our contemporary context is to, in whatever way we can, work toward shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone, especially those made unsafe in our world and our societies.

As we imagine what a safer, more just world could look like, and as we work toward that kind of world, how do our entanglements with our current society create tension and reluctance for us to change things today?

For some people, this society doesn’t outweigh the desire for change; it doesn’t even come close. But for many others, and I’m thinking of many of my liberal friends who are straddling two realities, the present iteration both benefits them and causes them deep concern for the people who are harmed by capitalism, classism, the patriarchy, White supremacy, heterosexism, gun legislation, or so many other things.

There are times when it is appropriate to take inventory of whether you really want things to change? Is it enough to grant equal opportunity in a system that will continue to produce winners and losers? Or does the system itself desperately need change.

And what does change cost? Is it this cost that causes us to be more moderate when we should be directly and actively opposed to things in our system that are harming the objects of the Universal Divine love we preach?

Do we see ourselves in this story?

When liberation stands on the threshold of our lives, knocking, are we through our choices quietly asking it to also leave because we are “overcome with fear”?

As someone who didn’t ask to be born into my social location, my prayer is that when liberation comes knocking, I will have the courage to open the door and invite the change in.

HeartGroup Application

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2.  What does change cost? Is it this cost that causes us to be more moderate when we should be directly and actively opposed to things in our system that are harming the objects of the Universal Divine love we preach? Discus with your group.

3.  What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone?

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



Begin each day being inspired toward love, compassion, action, and justice.

Go to renewedheartministries.com and click “sign up.”

Free Sign-Up at:

https://renewedheartministries.com/Contact-forms?form=EmailSignUp

Jesus, and God as Woman

Herb Montgomery | June 3, 2022

To listen to this week’s eSight as a podcast episode click here.


“We don’t get to go from exclusively gendering God as male for two thousand years in Christianity to describing God as genderless. This conveniently bypasses the internal confrontation many have to face through the practice of gendering God as a woman.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of John:

Philip said, Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: Dont you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, Show us the Father? Dont you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. (John 14:8-17)

This week’s gospel lectionary reading has a lot to details to notice. The first thing that strikes me now is the overwhelming maleness of this passage: Jesus is male, reveals the Father as male, and refers to the Divine exclusively in male language and symbols.

The symbols we use for God have a function. Exclusively speaking of God with only male language and symbols has a function too. Elizabeth Johnson explains:

“This exclusive speech about God serves in manifold ways to support an imaginative and structural world that excludes or subordinates women. Wittingly or not, it undermines womens human dignity as equally created in the image of God.”(Elizabeth A. Johnson, She Who Is, Kindle Edition. Location 831)

Describing the Divine as exclusively male or masculine has produced bad fruit throughout Christian history. I offer two examples. The first comes from John Paul Boyer in Some Thoughts on the Ordination of Women:

“Being a Jew, being a Palestinian, being a first century man—all these are what we might call, in the language of Aristotelian metaphysics, the ‘accidents of Christ’s humanity’; but his being a male rather than a woman is of the ‘substance’ of his humanity. He could have been a twentieth-century Chinese and been, cultural differences notwithstanding, much the same person he was; but he could not have been a woman without having a been a different sort of personality altogether.” (In A Monthly Bulletin of the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Vol XLI, No. 5, May 1973, Quoted by Jacquelin Grant in White Women’s Christ and Black Woman’s Jesus, p. 77)

For Boyer, every other detail of the incarnation is incidental, but the fact that Jesus was male is substantive.

The second example is from Pope Paul VI. On October 15, 1976, Pope Paul VI issued a declaration on the question of women and the priesthood. The declaration specifically excludes women from the Imago Dei and justifies the exclusion by referring to Jesus as the exclusive revelation of the Divine:

“The Christian priesthood is therefore of a sacramental nature: The priest is a sign, the supernatural effectiveness of which comes from the ordination received, but a sign that must be perceptible and which the faithful must be able to recognize with ease. The whole sacramental economic is in face based upon natural signs, or symbols imprint upon the human psychology: ‘Sacramental signs’, says Saint Thomas, ‘represent what they signify by natural resemblance.’ The same natural resemblance is required for persona as for things: when Christ’s role in the Eucharist is to be expressed sacramentally there would not be this ‘natural resemblance’ which must exist between Christ and his ministry if the role of Christ were not taken by a man. In such a case it would be difficult to see in the minister the image of Christ. For Christ himself was and remains man.” (Franjo Cardinal Seper; Vatican Declaration, published February 3, 1977)

According to this declaration, because Jesus was male, those who represent Jesus sacramentally must also be male. It is only one step further to state that because Jesus was male and Jesus is the express revelation of God, God is also exclusively male.

Patriarchal hierarchy has been deeply ingrained not only through teachings based on Jesus’ exclusive male gendering of the Divine, but also the Second Testament practice of describing the church as the bride of Christ. With Christ superior to the church and the church subservient to Christ, the symbols of a male Jesus and a female church unhealthfully reinforce the false belief that men are superior to women and women are subservient to men. This doesn’t even begin to address how harmful a binary, exclusive understanding of gender can be.

I find it telling that it is often the gender of Jesus that defines God, qualifies human men for ordination, and centers men while disenfranchising those who do not identify as male within the church. Rarely do we see Jesus’ ungendered concern for the poor, marginalized, and excluded on the edges of society or Jesus’ ethic of universal love and treating others as you would like to be treated as what defines God, qualifies one for ordination, or impacts how to view and treat those who are not gendered as male.

There are many life-giving symbols of the Divine in the Jesus story. But Jesus’ maleness and the Divine being repeatedly and exclusively gendered as “Father” is not one of them. Because of them, many Christian and non-Christian feminists alike have questioned whether Jesus can be an effective savior or liberator for women at all within deeply patriarchal societies.

To say that Jesus is the “express revelation of God,” as Christianity claims, can be life-giving or death-dealing depending on what someone means by that statement. What do you mean when you say Jesus is a revelation or the revelation of the Divine?

Some, seeing the above challenges, have chosen to adopt genderless symbols for God or the Divine, and use symbols that can be heard and understood in multiple gender expressions. While part of me applauds this as an important step, we may have skipped a step. We don’t get to go from exclusively gendering God as male for two thousand years in Christianity to describing God as genderless. This conveniently bypasses the internal confrontation many have to face through the practice of gendering God as a woman.

A few years ago now, I engaged in a twelve-month practice of exclusively referring to and thinking of God with female gendered language and symbols. I was not prepared for what this would dig up inside of me that I didn’t even know was there. I had to face my own indoctrination and socialization in patriarchal social structures and internal biases that I didn’t know I had. I would now recommend the practice to anyone. It doesn’t take long to realize that gendering God as a women is not only life-giving, but that also not neutral: it’s redemptive and restorative as well—medicinal or therapeutic.

Fish don’t know they’re wet. Many of us don’t realize the misogynistic waters we’ve been swimming in all our lives and how we have inadvertently soaked up some of that water, no matter how hard we have endeavored to swim against the stream. I was raised by a single mother and thought I had evolved past a lot of these gender-based assumptions. I was shocked to discover how much patriarchy had still shaped me.

There are resources that can help if this is a new journey for you.

Just a few of books that I have found of incredible value are:

  • She Who Is by Elizabeth A. Johnson
  • White Women’s Christ and Black Women’s Jesus by Jacquelyn Grant
  • A Woman’s Lectionary for the Whole Church by Wilda C. Gafney
  • Christianity, Patriarchy, and Abuse by Joanne Carlson Brown and Carol R. Bohn
  • The Divine Feminine Version of the New Testament by The Christian Godde Project
  • And, especially for children, there is a new children’s book project due soon from a dear friend of mine, Daneen Akers, author of Holy Trouble Makers and Unconventional Saints. The book, Mama God, helping children imagine and relate to Divine femininity.)

People of all genders should be able to see themselves as bearing the image of the Divine because we all do. In our language for God, in the symbols we use for God, we can and must represent that image more clearly. Language and symbols have a function! We must be honest in asking whether the language and symbols we use genuinely are life-giving for everyone.

HeartGroup Application

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. How does imagining the Divine in genders other than male, impact your own Jesus following? Discuss as a group.

3.  What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone?

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



Begin each day being inspired toward love, compassion, action, and justice.

Go to renewedheartministries.com and click “sign up.”

Free Sign-Up at:

https://renewedheartministries.com/Contact-forms?form=EmailSignUp

 When Unity is Destructive

Unity

Herb Montgomery | May 27, 2022

To listen to this week’s eSight as a podcast episode click here.


“I don’t read this week’s reading as calling for this kind of unity. I don’t read this week’s passage as placing unity as our value of highest priority. It’s a call for unity, yes.  But it’s not a call for unity at all costs.  If we have to choose between unity and harm being done to those our status quo has made vulnerable, then in the name of justice and love and compassion, our highest concern should not be maintaining unity. This kind of unity leaves the status quo unchallenged and unchanged.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of John:

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (John 17:20-26)

I commented a few weeks ago on the various communities represented in the closing chapters of the gospel of John, as well as the effort of the author(s) of this gospel to offer legitimacy to each of them. We encounter a “big tent” approach for the communities that recognize Mary, John, Peter, and Thomas as all valuable parts of the much larger early Jesus community. (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:12)

This week, we are meeting once again the desire of the Johannine community that all of the varied communities of those seeking to follow the moral philosophy and teachings of Jesus in those early years, would be one.

I don’t think we need to read into this call for oneness a desire for homogeneity. But that each community, with its varied emphasis and characteristics, to recognize one another as fellow Jesus followers as long as no one’s interpretation of Jesus is doing harm to the vulnerable and those on the undersides of community.  Whether that was accomplished is up for historical debate, but we read in this week’s reading at least that desire being present.

Most scholars of John see this prayer as the Johaninne community’s equivalent of “the Lord’s prayer” in the gospel of Matthew and Luke. This passage also includes some provocative statements regarding the relationship between Jesus and “the Father.”  It is ironic and sad that because of this, this prayer in John’s gospel for oneness was also one of the most significant sources of tension (at best) and harm and murder (at worst) between Christians during the 4th and 5th centuries regarding various beliefs of how Jesus was related to divinity. Much harm has been done around the question of the divinity of the Christ.

On this note briefly, early Christianity wasn’t settled on this question. What mattered most to these early Jesus followers was how folks defined and endeavored to follow the moral philosophy of Jesus. Not whether or not they all agreed to how Jesus was or was not divine.

I think we could learn from this today.  Before Christianity turned creedal, it was far more important how one practiced their Jesus following.  Beliefs were important, but they always held in tension with what fruit those beliefs were actually producing in one’s life. Are your beliefs manifesting themselves in life-giving ways or are your beliefs bearing harm.

This is important.  Today, I’d much rather have folks that are endeavoring to follow the moral philosophy of Jesus of love in their practices both personally and socially, politically, and economically, even if they have doubts and questions on the bigger faith claims of orthodox Christianity, than someone who could check off all the theological boxes on the list, but who weren’t genuinely endeavoring to follow Jesus ethical teachings in their daily lives.

Back to the prayer though.

This prayer remember was written by a community already one generation removed from the first generation of Jesus followers. These were second generation Jesus followers writing this.  And the need to repeatedly call for unity is already being felt.

And all of this leads me to a question about unity.  When is unity life-giving and when is unity death-dealing. Considering the above, one example could be unity over orthodox while ortho-praxy is ignored. This means a greater emphasis is placed on all of us believing the same thing as opposed to desire that we all be unified in our effort to follow a practice (praxy) rooted in life-giving definitions of love.

The creeds themselves can be an example of this kind of harmful unity. Take the Apostle’s creed for example:

I [We] believe in God, the Father almighty,

creator of heaven and earth.

I [We] believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son,

our Lord.

He was conceived by the power

of the Holy Spirit

and born of the Virgin Mary.

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, died, and was buried.

He descended to the dead.

On the third day he rose again.

He ascended into heaven,

and is seated at the right hand of the

Father.

He will come again to judge the living and

the dead.

I [We] believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy Catholic Church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and the life everlasting. Amen.

There is a lot here that I find problematic for Jesus followers today, but one of my biggest concerns is right in this section:

Speaking of Jesus, it states,

“conceived by the power

of the Holy Spirit

and born of the Virgin Mary.

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, died, and was buried.”

We go from Jesus’ birth directly to his execution.  There are ZERO statements about Jesus’ life and teachings. Zero. And this is for many what defines whether a person is a legitimate Christian or not.  You don’t have to believe anything (much less endeavor to practice) anything regarding Jesus’ teachings if we take the creeds literally.

This is concerning.

I think of other examples of where unity is death-dealing rather than life-giving. I think of how communities that suffer harm and injustice are often called to forgive and reconcile with those who have harmed them while no efforts have been made toward restitution or reparations.

I think of how silence in regards to injustice is called for against those who “speak up for the oppressed” (Psalm 82:3) in the name of not rocking the boat or not causing a stir. Whenever I begin to feel this pressure to remain silent I take some time to go back and reread King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail in its entirety.

Here is just a snippet:

“I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows . . . So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.”

As someone who shares my social location within our present society, I want to be honest about how deep the temptation is at times to just stay quiet, to not have the energy to rock the boat once again, and to justify that silence by a pretense of concern for “unity.”

Wake up! This is that very “unity” that is indeed death-dealing.

I don’t read this week’s reading as calling for this kind of unity. I don’t read this week’s passage as placing unity as our value of highest priority. It’s a call for unity, yes.  But it’s not a call for unity at all costs.  If we have to choose between unity and harm being done to those our status quo has made vulnerable, then in the name of justice and love and compassion, our highest concern should not be maintaining unity.

This kind of unity leaves the status quo unchallenged and unchanged. And nothing could be further from the spirit of the table flipping Jesus we read of in the gospel stories.

To be a follower of this Jesus (and his ethical teachings of love) means, not to place our highest concern on maintaining unity within an unjust system. It means our highest priority being transforming our present world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone, just as we see the Jesus of the gospels modeling in his life.

There is a time for unity. There is also a time for disunity.

May we have the wisdom to know the difference.

HeartGroup Application

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. Share experiences of where you have witnessed both life-giving and destructive expressions of unity with your communities. What are some ways you can foster one and stand up to the other. Discuss as a group.

3.  What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone?

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



Begin each day being inspired toward love, compassion, action, and justice.

Go to renewedheartministries.com and click “sign up.”

Free Sign-Up at:

https://renewedheartministries.com/Contact-forms?form=EmailSignUp