A New Iteration of Our Present World

Mountain view

Herb Montgomery | January 27, 2023

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


“Jesus’ words aren’t about leaving the status quo untouched and unchanged while we work on privatized, individual, spiritual virtues that give us a ticket to a postmortem heaven. These words are Jesus’ vision for a world here, now, today, where those presently being harmed are harmed no more.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Matthew.

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

  Blessed are those who mourn,

for they will be comforted.

  Blessed are the meek,

for they will inherit the earth.

  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

for they will be filled.

  Blessed are the merciful,

for they will be shown mercy.

  Blessed are the pure in heart,

for they will see God.

  Blessed are the peacemakers,

for they will be called children of God.

  Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.

Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:1-12)

As we read Matthew’s sermon on the mount, I find it helpful to remember that these words are descriptive, not prescriptive. They are also about practicing a preferential option for people living in a different social location than the locations this world priorities, centers, and privileges. Let’s break these ideas down a bit.

First what do we mean by “descriptive, not prescriptive”? Jesus’ words have long been interpreted as rules or prescriptions in more privileged expressions of Christianity. These “beatitudes” or blessings have been read as spiritual virtues that Christians should foster in themselves so they can receive the referenced blessings: be poor in spirit, mourn for the “sins of the world” or one’s personal sins, practice meekness, hunger for righteousness, practice mercy, strive to be pure in one’s heart, be a peace keeper, and patiently and often passively endure under persecution. In this interpretation, we should practice all of these virtues for our whole lives, knowing that we will reap a reward.

I could not disagree with this interpretation more. And it’s deceptively slick! This interpretation, as it prescribes values Christians should practice, also distracts us, averting our minds from contemplating the social locations being contrasted and the political changes the passage could bring about. By focusing on prescribing virtues we are to develop individually, the social location of the privileged, powerful, and propertied is protected rather than being addressed or called into question. Jesus’ originally deeply political words have been replaced with a supposedly apolitical and benign interpretation that leaves our present systems of privilege and priority unquestioned, unchallenged, and thus unchanged.

To interpret these words descriptively means being concerned with the material, political harms people are presently suffering right now and not only focusing on future rewards. Let’s look at what that means, starting with the first blessing.

In the first blessing, Jesus called for a blessing on those who are “poor in spirit.” Who were these people?

Speaking of John the Baptist as a child, Luke’s gospel reads, “And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.” (Luke 1:80)

John the Baptist was “strong in spirit,” and contrasts with those Jesus describes as “poor in spirit.” Jesus is referring to those who have pushed down, pushed out, treated unfairly, or whose spirits have been broken by the systems of this world: those who have been so mistreated they don’t even have the spirit to fight back or work for change. In Jesus’ new version of our world, those whose spirit has been so beaten down, who have a poverty of spirit, are the ones who will be centered. Our present world instead blesses those who are strong in spirit, those who self-advocate, or stand up to injustice.  Strong in spirit can also apply to these who play the economic and political games of their era, also (although John’s strength of spirit would have been manifest in standing up to those systems.) It can apply to those who are motivated to get out of bed each day with initiative and the drive, for whatever purpose their spirit is set to.

Next, Jesus describes those who mourn. These are those to whom our present system brings the grief of loss. For those who mourn the way things are and things that have been taken from them, Jesus offers a new world especially for them.

The contrast resonates with me. Our present system rewards those who are assertive, confident, bold, assured, and decisive. Those who are meek get trampled. Jesus calls us to reshape our systems so that the meek are centered and taken care of.

To hunger and thirst for righteousness, those things that are right, means to long for a world of distributive justice where privilege is replaced with egalitarianism and we value our differences rather than sustain a valuation system and hierarchy that disenfranchises some members of our community. To hunger and thirst for righteousness is to hunger and thirst for a world that is a just, safe, compassionate home for all of us, with space large enough for all the ways we are different from one another.

Those who are pure in heart are those who have not allowed the present system to change them. I think of the elderly war protestor who stood alone night after night in front of the White House with a single candle lit in protest of the Vietnam war. When asked if he really thought his little candle would change anything, he responded, “I don’t do this every night to change them, I do this so that they don’t change me.”

Peacemakers are quite different from peace keepers. People who prioritize keeping the peace are those who don’t want to rock the boat: don’t cause a scene; don’t cause a stir. Leave things the way they are. Keep the peace. Peace makers instead realize that genuine peace is arrived at through distributive justice for all: a society where “everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid” (Micah 4:4). Peace is the fruit of this kind of justice. This blessing is pronounced upon those who desire peace for everyone and who therefore work toward a justice that bears that fruit. They disrupt the present system. When confronted with their own inability to make the changes that are necessary, they make those who do have the ability uncomfortable until they make the changes. They are peace makers, not peace keepers.

Lastly, Jesus calls for a world where those presently persecuted, insulted, and lied about are instead, blessed. But persecution by itself is not a safe indicator that one is on the right path. If people do not like you, it might be because you are a jerk.

So social location matters here. You have to ask yourself, where are the insults or criticisms coming from? Are those who on the undersides and margins of our society against you while those at the top in more centered, privileged social locations singing your praises? Then your life story is in stark contrast with the Jesus story we read in the gospels.

Are you standing in solidarity with and working alongside those on the margins and undersides of your society while those at the top and more centered, privileged social locations insult you, lie about you, and say all kinds of evil things about you? If so, then you’re standing in the right story.

Those at the center of society might respond to you harshly if your work threatens their privilege. Those who are benefited by the present system don’t want things to change. To them, you are evil. So again, it’s not enough to have folks speaking poorly of you. You have to ask who is speaking and what their social location is in our present system.

This way of reading the Sermon on the Mount descriptively is deeply political, social, and economic. It asks us to consider who our present system prioritizes and who it harms. Then it calls us to stand in solidarity with all those being harmed, and work for a world that “blesses” them instead. This is what liberation theologians refer to as practicing a preferential option. Who does our present system harm? These are those the sermon on the mount calls us to practice a preferential option for while we work toward a different world.

Jesus’ words aren’t about leaving the status quo untouched and unchanged while we work on privatized, individual, spiritual virtues that give us a ticket to a postmortem heaven. These words are Jesus’ vision for a world here, now, today, where those presently being harmed are harmed no more. But even more so, it’s a world where those presently being harmed are given everything they need, not only to survive, but to thrive. A world where their value, worth and humanity are embraced and supported.

If you were to rewrite this sermon on the mount today, which people would yours include?

HeartGroup Application

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

2. If you were to rewrite this sermon on the mount today, which people would yours include? 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.

You can find Renewed Heart Ministries on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. If you haven’t done so already, please follow us on your chosen social media platforms for our daily posts. Also, if you enjoy listening to the Jesus for Everyone podcast, please like and subscribe to the JFE podcast through the podcast platform you use and consider taking some time to give us a review. This helps others find our podcast as well.

And if you’d like to reach out to us through email, you can reach us at info@renewedheartministries.com.

My new book, Finding Jesus: A story of a fundamentalist preacher who unexpectedly discovered the social, political, and economic teachings of the Gospels is now available at renewedheartministries.com

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.


Now Available at Renewed Heart Ministries!

It’s here!  Herb’s new book Finding Jesus: A story of a fundamentalist preacher who unexpectedly discovered the social, political, and economic teachings of the Gospels, is available at renewedheartministries.com, just in time for the holidays!

Here is just a taste of what people are saying:

“Herb has spent the last decade reading scripture closely. He also reads the world around us, thinks carefully with theologians and sociologists, and wonders how the most meaningful stories of his faith can inspire us to live with more heart, attention, and care for others in our time. For those who’ve ever felt alone in the process of applying the wisdom of Jesus to the world in which we live, Herb offers signposts for the journey and the reminder that this is not a journey we take alone. Read Finding Jesus with others, and be transformed together.” Dr. Keisha Mckenzie, Auburn Theological Seminary

“In Finding Jesus, Herb Montgomery unleashes the revolutionary Jesus and his kin-dom manifesto from the shackles of the domesticated religion of empire.  Within these pages we discover that rather than being a fire insurance policy to keep good boys and girls out of hell, Jesus often becomes the fiery enemy of good boys and girls who refuse to bring economic justice to the poor, quality healthcare to the underserved, and equal employment to people of color or same-sex orientation.  Because what the biblical narratives of Jesus reveal is that any future human society—heavenly or otherwise—will only be as  good as the one that we’re making right here and now. There is no future tranquil city with streets of gold when there is suffering on the asphalt right outside our front door today.  Finding Jesus invites us to pray ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ on our feet as we follow our this liberator into the magnificent struggle of bringing the love and justice of God to all—right here, right now.”—Todd Leonard, pastor of Glendale City Church, Glendale CA.

“Herb Montgomery’s teachings have been deeply influential to me. This book shares the story of how he came to view the teachings of Jesus through the lens of nonviolence, liberation for all, and a call to a shared table. It’s an important read, especially for those of us who come from backgrounds where the myth of redemptive violence and individual (rather than collective) salvation was the focus.” – Daneen Akers, author of Holy Troublemakers & Unconventional Saints and co-director/producer of Seventh-Gay Adventists: A Film about Faith, Identity & Belonging

“So often Christians think about Jesus through the lens of Paul’s theology and don’t focus on the actual person and teachings of Jesus. This book is different. Here you find a challenging present-day application of Jesus’ teachings about the Kingdom of God and the Gospel. Rediscover why this Rabbi incited fear in the hearts of religious and political leaders two millennia ago. Herb’s book calls forth a moral vision based on the principles of Jesus’ vision of liberation. Finding Jesus helps us see that these teachings are just as disruptive today as they were when Jesus first articulated them.” Alicia Johnston, author of The Bible & LGBTQ Adventists.

“Herb Montgomery is a pastor for pastors, a teacher for teachers and a scholar for scholars. Part memoir and part theological reflection, Finding Jesus is a helpful and hope-filled guide to a deeper understanding of who Jesus is and who he can be. Herb’s tone is accessible and welcoming, while also challenging and fresh. This book is helpful for anyone who wants a new and fresh perspective on following Jesus.”— Traci Smith, author of Faithful Families

Get your copy today at renewedheartministries.com


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When Healing Justice Comes Near

sunrise

Herb Montgomery | January 20, 2023

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


“Today we still have social sicknesses that desperately need healing justice. I think of the sicknesses of patriarchy and misogyny, of racism and White supremacy, of classism and victim blaming practiced toward poor people, of heterosexism and bigotry toward same-sex sexuality, and bigotry from certain cisgender people toward transgender or nonbinary people. Healing justice can still liberate today as it did in some of our most sacred, ancient stories.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Matthew:

When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:

Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,

the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,

Galilee of the Gentiles—

  the people living in darkness

have seen a great light;

on those living in the land of the shadow of death

a light has dawned.”

From that time on Jesus began to preach, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. Come, follow me,” Jesus said, and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. (Matthew 4:12-23)

This week’s reading starts with John the Baptist in prison. As we discussed two weeks ago, John preached against social and systemic injustices of his society. (See Breaking With the Way Things Are) Preachers don’t get imprisoned for handing out tickets to heaven. They’re imprisoned for calling for systemic, societal change that threatens those benefiting from the current status quo (see Letter from a Birmingham Jail).

When Jesus hears of John being arrested and put in prison, he leaves the area and goes to Galilee. The author associates this geographical shift with a passage from Isaiah. As much as I understand the rhetorical purpose of contrasting light and darkness for those who lived in the Middle East before electricity and modern lighting, we should now be careful with this language.

The authors of both Matthew and Isaiah were people of color. The Bible was not written by White people. Today, though, we live in the wake of a long history of White people demonizing darkness in ways that harm people whose skin color is darker than theirs. Whiteness and light  and darkness and Blackness have been closely associated in White supremacist polemics. Today it behooves us, given White degradation of Black people, to say unequivocally that we are all equal. Our differences reveal the rich diversity of the human family of which we are all a part. And our differences are to be celebrated, not used to create hegemony or a hierarchy of value.

This impacts how we talk about the Bible’s use of light and darkness, too. We don’t have to demonize the darkness to talk about the benefits of light. Light has intrinsic value and benefit. So does darkness. Darkness is not evil. It is life giving. Things grow in darkness, not just in light. In darkness, we rest and heal. Too much light can also harm.

We could perhaps reclaim the rhetoric of light and darkness today by speaking of balance between the light and the dark. Socially, making one difference supreme over another is death-dealing. As we need balance biologically, we need egalitarianism socially. Our call is not to lift up light over the darkness, but to work toward a world that is safe and just for us all; a place where each of us can feel at home. We are called to work toward a world that has room for all of our differences and is big enough for us all.

In our reading, with John now in prison, Jesus embarks on his own journey, preaching that the kingdom has arrived. This language, too, needs updating within our context. The language of a kingdom might have been meaningful when contrasted with the Roman empire and given the hopes for the renewal of David’s kingdom among 1st Century Jewish liberationists, but today we live in a multiracial, multi-gendered, richly diverse democracy.

Kingdoms are both patriarchal and hierarchical. What could Jesus’ “kingdom” be called in our democratic context today? Some have updated the language to call it the beloved community. Others refer to this change as God’s just future that is breaking through into our world here and now. Still others call it a kin-dom referring the kinship we all share being part of one another within our human family. (See Finding Jesus, Herb Montgomery, p. 53)  Here at Renewed Heart Ministries we call it making our world a safe, just compassionate home for all. Whatever one decides to call it, we are talking about changes here and now, not post mortem bliss in the future but life-giving healing and change from the violence, injustice, and oppression (hell on earth) that many people face on our planet, today.

Lastly in our reading this week, Jesus calls the disciples. Last week’s reading had these events taking place on the banks of the Jordan. This week, John has been arrested and the action takes place in Galilee instead. Each of the gospels have differences like this depending on the audiences and political purposes each was written for. Matthew was written for Galilean and primarily Jewish Jesus followers.

As we’ve discussed before, in several Hebrew scriptures, fishing for people was about hooking or catching a certain kind of person, a powerful and unjust person, and removing them from the position of power where they were wielding harm. It wasnt about saving souls so they could enjoy post mortem bliss, but about changing systemic injustice in the here and now.

Speaking of those who do harm within their positions of power, Jeremiah reads:

But now I will send for many fishermen,” declares the LORD, “and they will catch them. After that I will send for many hunters, and they will hunt them down on every mountain and hill and from the crevices of the rocks. (Jeremiah 16:16)

Speaking of those who oppress the poor and crush the needy,” Amos reads:

The Sovereign LORD has sworn by his holiness: “The time will surely come when you will be taken away with hooks, the last of you with fishhooks.” (Amos 4:2)

Speaking of the abusive Pharaoh, king of Egypt, Ezekiel reads:

In the tenth year, in the tenth month on the twelfth day, the word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, set your face against Pharaoh king of Egypt and prophesy against him and against all Egypt. Speak to him and say: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says:

‘“I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt,

you great monster lying among your streams.

You say, “The Nile belongs to me;

I made it for myself.”

But I will put hooks in your jaws

and make the fish of your streams stick to your scales.

I will pull you out from among your streams,

with all the fish sticking to your scales.

I will leave you in the desert,

you and all the fish of your streams.

You will fall on the open field

and not be gathered or picked up.

I will give you as food

to the beasts of the earth and the birds of the sky.

Then all who live in Egypt will know that I am the LORD. (Ezekiel 29:1-6)

And commentators agree on this association:

In the Hebrew Bible, the metaphor of people like fish’ appears in prophetic censures of apostate Israel and of the rich and powerful: I am now sending for many fishermen, says God, and they shall catch [the people of Israel]…’ (Jeremiah 16:16) The time is surely coming upon you when they shall take you away with fishhooks…’ (Amos 4:2) Thus says God: I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt…. I will put hooks in your jaws, and make the fish of your channels stick to your scales…’ (Ezekiel 29:3f) Jesus is, in other words, summoning working folk to join him in overturning the structures of power and privilege in the world!” (Ched Myers, Marie Dennis, Joseph Nangle, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, Stuart Taylor; Say to This Mountain: Marks Story of Discipleship, p. 10)

If this is a new interpretation for you, you may be interested in reading my brief article Decolonizing Fishing for People.

Our reading this week ends with Jesus’ Jewish renewal movement traversing through Galilee, teaching in synagogues and proclaiming the good news or “gospel” of the kingdom. The term “gospel” was taken from the Roman empire. Rome proclaimed a gospel each time it arrived to take over new regions. The gospel authors appropriate this term to contrast Rome’s approach with Jesus’ vision for ordering our world in ways that are life-giving for all.

Our passage characterizes Jesus’ way as being one of healing.

Today we still have social sicknesses that desperately need healing justice. I think of the sicknesses of patriarchy and misogyny, of racism and White supremacy, of classism and victim blaming practiced toward poor people, of heterosexism and bigotry toward same-sex sexuality, and bigotry from certain cisgender people toward transgender or nonbinary people.

This week, let’s choose to focus our following of Jesus on working to heal and eradicate these social diseases. Healing justice can still liberate today as it did in some of our most sacred, ancient stories. May it continue to do so through us, today.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. How has your Jesus following changed as a result of testing the fruit of your beliefs and actions by the condition of whether they are life-giving? Share 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.

You can find Renewed Heart Ministries on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. If you haven’t done so already, please follow us on your chosen social media platforms for our daily posts. Also, if you enjoy listening to the Jesus for Everyone podcast, please like and subscribe to the JFE podcast through the podcast platform you use and consider taking some time to give us a review. This helps others find our podcast as well.

And if you’d like to reach out to us through email, you can reach us at info@renewedheartministries.com.

My new book, Finding Jesus: A story of a fundamentalist preacher who unexpectedly discovered the social, political, and economic teachings of the Gospels is now available at renewedheartministries.com

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.


Now Available at Renewed Heart Ministries!

It’s here!  Herb’s new book Finding Jesus: A story of a fundamentalist preacher who unexpectedly discovered the social, political, and economic teachings of the Gospels, is available at renewedheartministries.com, just in time for the holidays!

Here is just a taste of what people are saying:

“Herb has spent the last decade reading scripture closely. He also reads the world around us, thinks carefully with theologians and sociologists, and wonders how the most meaningful stories of his faith can inspire us to live with more heart, attention, and care for others in our time. For those who’ve ever felt alone in the process of applying the wisdom of Jesus to the world in which we live, Herb offers signposts for the journey and the reminder that this is not a journey we take alone. Read Finding Jesus with others, and be transformed together.” Dr. Keisha Mckenzie, Auburn Theological Seminary

“In Finding Jesus, Herb Montgomery unleashes the revolutionary Jesus and his kin-dom manifesto from the shackles of the domesticated religion of empire.  Within these pages we discover that rather than being a fire insurance policy to keep good boys and girls out of hell, Jesus often becomes the fiery enemy of good boys and girls who refuse to bring economic justice to the poor, quality healthcare to the underserved, and equal employment to people of color or same-sex orientation.  Because what the biblical narratives of Jesus reveal is that any future human society—heavenly or otherwise—will only be as  good as the one that we’re making right here and now. There is no future tranquil city with streets of gold when there is suffering on the asphalt right outside our front door today.  Finding Jesus invites us to pray ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ on our feet as we follow our this liberator into the magnificent struggle of bringing the love and justice of God to all—right here, right now.”—Todd Leonard, pastor of Glendale City Church, Glendale CA.

“Herb Montgomery’s teachings have been deeply influential to me. This book shares the story of how he came to view the teachings of Jesus through the lens of nonviolence, liberation for all, and a call to a shared table. It’s an important read, especially for those of us who come from backgrounds where the myth of redemptive violence and individual (rather than collective) salvation was the focus.” – Daneen Akers, author of Holy Troublemakers & Unconventional Saints and co-director/producer of Seventh-Gay Adventists: A Film about Faith, Identity & Belonging

“So often Christians think about Jesus through the lens of Paul’s theology and don’t focus on the actual person and teachings of Jesus. This book is different. Here you find a challenging present-day application of Jesus’ teachings about the Kingdom of God and the Gospel. Rediscover why this Rabbi incited fear in the hearts of religious and political leaders two millennia ago. Herb’s book calls forth a moral vision based on the principles of Jesus’ vision of liberation. Finding Jesus helps us see that these teachings are just as disruptive today as they were when Jesus first articulated them.” Alicia Johnston, author of The Bible & LGBTQ Adventists.

“Herb Montgomery is a pastor for pastors, a teacher for teachers and a scholar for scholars. Part memoir and part theological reflection, Finding Jesus is a helpful and hope-filled guide to a deeper understanding of who Jesus is and who he can be. Herb’s tone is accessible and welcoming, while also challenging and fresh. This book is helpful for anyone who wants a new and fresh perspective on following Jesus.”— Traci Smith, author of Faithful Families

Get your copy today at renewedheartministries.com


Are you receiving all of RHM’s free resources each week?

Begin each day being inspired toward love, compassion, action, and justice. Free Sign-Up HERE.

Breaking With the Way Things Are

sunset road

Herb Montgomery | January 6, 2022

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


“That our participation in John’s baptism might symbolize that for us today gives me pause. Do I really want to break with the way things are? Do I really want change? How committed am I to that change? Am I committed enough to choose those differences in my daily life? All of this and more is on my heart as this new year begins. What changes will our choices and actions bring this new year?”


Happy New Year from all of us here at Renewed Heart Ministries!

Our reading this week, as we begin the new year, is from the gospel Matthew:

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

Jesus replied, Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17)

The first thing we have to understand about this story is that the narrative details were designed for its original audience: people in Galilee. These details were designed to echo liberation and justice themes from other passages from the Hebrew scriptures. Three passages they’d have reminded that original audience of are from Isaiah and Psalms:

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,

that the mountains would tremble before you!

  As when fire sets twigs ablaze

and causes water to boil,

come down to make your name known to your enemies

and cause the nations to quake before you! (Isaiah 64:1-2)

This passage is about being liberated from foreign oppression, and Matthew’s version of the Jesus story was written for people longing for liberation from Roman imperialism.

The kings of the earth rise up

and the rulers band together

against the LORD and against his anointed, saying,

I will proclaim the LORDS decree:

  He said to me, You are my son;

today I have become your father.

Therefore, you kings, be wise;

be warned, you rulers of the earth. (Psalms 2:2, 7, 10)

This verse would have reminded the Galileans of King David’s struggles against the empires around his country. It also hints at Jesus and his movement being a renewal movement of liberation and restoration in the context of Roman imperialism.

  Here is my servant, whom I uphold,

my chosen one in whom I delight;

I will put my Spirit on him,

and he will bring justice to the nations. (Isaiah 42:1)

This last passage speaks of a servant YHWH delights in as the conduit through which the nations experience justice. This association speaks to the early Jewish followers of Jesus’ belief that Jesus’ movement would begin their liberation from foreign oppression, right all injustice, and end all violence.

All of these connections to liberation and justice would have been made by those who originally heard this story read to them. What lessons might we draw from it today in our context?

First, before forming his own movement, Jesus participated in the renewal movement of John the Baptist. John’s movement called people to reject the present order, power structures, and the complicity with Roman imperialism embodied in Rome’s client overseers, Herod and his sons. John called the propertied, privileged, and powerful in his society to repent of participating with Roman oppression and be washed clean of acts of injustice through both water and restitution.

There are a lot of similarities between John’s movement and Jesus’. John was originally a mentor of Jesus. Both led a Jewish renewal movement. Like John, Jesus called for both individual repentance and social, community repentance. And in our reading this week Jesus participates in the baptism of repentance John practiced. I side with the scholars who see Jesus’ baptism as a genuine act of social repentance and a confession of past social mistakes of the society he belonged in relation to the teachings of the prophets. These societal injustices Jesus was rejecting could have been things such as complicity with Rome, injustice toward the poor, and/or the exclusion of those marginalized. His baptism by John signals his inward resolve to break away from the unjust power structures of his society and to choose a different path. Jesus’ baptism clearly rejects the social, political and economic order of Rome. As a Jewish man, Jesus isn’t rejecting his Judaism. He is rejecting the elites’ Jewish-Roman collaboration and he is canceling their approach to power and community life.

There are also some differences between Jesus’ movement and John’s. John’s movement is a forerunner movement: it announces that a change is coming! Jesus, on the other hand, announces that the time for change has already arrived: “The kingdom of God is in your midst” (Luke 17:21).

How does this relate to us today?

As this year begins, we need some honest reflection. We are living in the wake of harmful laws and social structures. Christianity in America has been complicit in or directly responsible for many of them. The legal assault on women’s bodily autonomy has roots in a patriarchal expression of Christianity that tries to regulate a woman’s choices and sexuality. Many LGBTQ folks have experienced harm at the hands of Christians. And while I’m deeply grateful for the recent Respect for Marriage Act, what stands out is the compromising exemptions that seem to say, “Fine, let them marry, but don’t involve us.” Certain Christians have loudly ensured that they don’t have to participate in social progress. I recently spoke with a pastor friend who still loses members every time his weekend sermon is about an issue of social salvation, things such as racial justice or economic justice for the poor, instead of on personal, individual (psychological) salvation.

What would it look like for Jesus followers today to participate, like Jesus, in a baptism that symbolized us breaking away from the injustices of systems in our society. What if we chose alignment and solidarity with efforts to bring about change? What could a baptism of social repentance look like for us?

Many Christians have a “Jesus-instead-of-us” religion based on the belief that Jesus died instead of us. We must be careful not to let that mean that Jesus was also righteous instead of us, that he was baptized instead of us, or that he lived a life of social concern instead of us.

To follow Jesus instead means to model our lives after the example of Jesus. I’m thinking specifically in the areas of the Golden Rule: neighborly love, solidarity with the marginalized, economic justice for the poor, egalitarianism toward women, nonviolent resistance, and more.

As we begin this new year, how can we renew our commitment to reshaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone? How can we renew our dedication to creating a world that’s big enough for our many and varied differences, one where differences are celebrated rather than feared?

As this new year begins, I want to be baptized by John the Baptist, too! Not in the sense of traveling back in time to the banks of the Jordan, but in the sense that in my own social context, I want to, like Jesus, break with the way things are and be immersed in working toward change.

The Sermon on the Mount, remember, was not a prescription for how to make it through the pearly gates. The Sermon on the Mount announced changes breaking out in our world and invited all to participate in them. It was a pathway, not to heaven, but for a transformed earth. That transformation is hard work. But in the end, it’s worth it.

Matthew tells us that “People went out to John from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.” (Matthew 3:5-6)

Luke’s version clearly names these “sins” as social injustices:

What should we do then?” the crowd asked.

John answered, Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

Even tax collectors came to be baptized. Teacher,” they asked, what should we do?”

Dont collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

Then some soldiers asked him, And what should we do?”

He replied, Dont extort money and dont accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” (Luke 3:10-14)

I can understand why many preachers are reluctant to focus on the social elements of John’s (and Jesus) teaching and preaching. Pastors today find it much easier to talk about Jesus and John than to talk about the themes they both talked about.

Yet once you see the social emphasis of the gospel stories, it’s really hard to unsee. Now that we have, though, which social injustices might we include in our confessions and choices for change today?

What can it look like for us today to, like Jesus, break from the way things are and choose to follow a different way.

As the late Peter Gomes wrote in his book, The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus:

“When Jesus came preaching, it was to proclaim the end of things as they are and the breaking in of things that are to be: the status quo is not to be criticized; it is to be destroyed.” (p. 31)

That our participation in John’s baptism might symbolize that for us today gives me pause. Do I really want to break with the way things are? Do I really want change? How committed am I to that change? Am I committed enough to choose those differences in my daily life?

All of this and more is on my heart as this new year begins.

What changes will our choices and actions bring this new year?

HeartGroup Application

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

2. What hopes do you have for change in this new year? 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.

You can find Renewed Heart Ministries on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. If you haven’t done so already, please follow us on your chosen social media platforms for our daily posts. Also, if you enjoy listening to the Jesus for Everyone podcast, please like and subscribe to the JFE podcast through the podcast platform you use and consider taking some time to give us a review. This helps others find our podcast as well.

And if you’d like to reach out to us through email, you can reach us at info@renewedheartministries.com.

My new book, Finding Jesus: A story of a fundamentalist preacher who unexpectedly discovered the social, political, and economic teachings of the Gospels is now available at renewedheartministries.com

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.


Now Available at Renewed Heart Ministries!

It’s here!  Herb’s new book Finding Jesus: A story of a fundamentalist preacher who unexpectedly discovered the social, political, and economic teachings of the Gospels, is available at renewedheartministries.com, just in time for the holidays!

Here is just a taste of what people are saying:

“Herb has spent the last decade reading scripture closely. He also reads the world around us, thinks carefully with theologians and sociologists, and wonders how the most meaningful stories of his faith can inspire us to live with more heart, attention, and care for others in our time. For those who’ve ever felt alone in the process of applying the wisdom of Jesus to the world in which we live, Herb offers signposts for the journey and the reminder that this is not a journey we take alone. Read Finding Jesus with others, and be transformed together.” Dr. Keisha Mckenzie, Auburn University

“In Finding Jesus, Herb Montgomery unleashes the revolutionary Jesus and his kin-dom manifesto from the shackles of the domesticated religion of empire.  Within these pages we discover that rather than being a fire insurance policy to keep good boys and girls out of hell, Jesus often becomes the fiery enemy of good boys and girls who refuse to bring economic justice to the poor, quality healthcare to the underserved, and equal employment to people of color or same-sex orientation.  Because what the biblical narratives of Jesus reveal is that any future human society—heavenly or otherwise—will only be as  good as the one that we’re making right here and now. There is no future tranquil city with streets of gold when there is suffering on the asphalt right outside our front door today.  Finding Jesus invites us to pray ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ on our feet as we follow our this liberator into the magnificent struggle of bringing the love and justice of God to all—right here, right now.”—Todd Leonard, pastor of Glendale City Church, Glendale CA.

“Herb Montgomery’s teachings have been deeply influential to me. This book shares the story of how he came to view the teachings of Jesus through the lens of nonviolence, liberation for all, and a call to a shared table. It’s an important read, especially for those of us who come from backgrounds where the myth of redemptive violence and individual (rather than collective) salvation was the focus.” – Daneen Akers, author of Holy Troublemakers & Unconventional Saints and co-director/producer of Seventh-Gay Adventists: A Film about Faith, Identity & Belonging

“So often Christians think about Jesus through the lens of Paul’s theology and don’t focus on the actual person and teachings of Jesus. This book is different. Here you find a challenging present-day application of Jesus’ teachings about the Kingdom of God and the Gospel. Rediscover why this Rabbi incited fear in the hearts of religious and political leaders two millennia ago. Herb’s book calls forth a moral vision based on the principles of Jesus’ vision of liberation. Finding Jesus helps us see that these teachings are just as disruptive today as they were when Jesus first articulated them.” Alicia Johnston, author of The Bible & LGBTQ Adventists.

“Herb Montgomery is a pastor for pastors, a teacher for teachers and a scholar for scholars. Part memoir and part theological reflection, Finding Jesus is a helpful and hope-filled guide to a deeper understanding of who Jesus is and who he can be. Herb’s tone is accessible and welcoming, while also challenging and fresh. This book is helpful for anyone who wants a new and fresh perspective on following Jesus.”— Traci Smith, author of Faithful Families

Get your copy today at renewedheartministries.com


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Crosses and Resurrections

crosses

Herb Montgomery | November 18, 2022

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


“It’s this Jesus who, for Christians, is the decisive revelation of the Divine, the decisive example of our faith, and the decisive model for how we live our lives.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the rebels—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, He saved others; let him save himself if he is Gods Messiah, the Chosen One.” The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. One of the rebels who hung there hurled insults at him: Arent you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebel rebuked him. Dont you fear God,” he said, since you are under the same sentence? We are punished equitably, for we are getting what is due our deeds. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, Truly I tell you today, you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:33-43)

We are coming to the end of our time in the gospel of Luke in the lectionary.

For me, this week’s passage feels more appropriate for Easter season than for the seasons of Advent and Christmas, but there’s so much in the passage that we could contemplate this week: Jesus’ generous spirit of forgiveness toward those who participated in his crucifixion.

The fact that crucifixion was used as a political tool of the state to prevent uprisings against the empire.

The actions of the soldiers.

The watchfulness of the people compared to the sneering of those in power.

The conversation between the two rebels, and Jesus’ response.

There is a lot here.

First, I want to head the warnings of womanist Christian scholars such as Delores Williams, who admonishes us to not forget the cross but not to glorify it either (See Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk). The resurrection story event affirms how wrong Jesus’ crucifixion was. It was an unjust act of state violence, an act God responds to by undoing it. In my opinion, we miss the story’s point when we interpret the cross as something positive, good, salvific, or redemptive. The cross is the historical evil toward a crucified class of people. Jesus is part of that class, and God overturns and overcomes their position through Jesus’ resurrection.

In this context I’m reminded of Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglass, who reminds us in her book Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God that the crucifixion of Jesus solidifies Jesus’ solidarity with the crucified class of his day. Through that solidarity, and coupled with the reversing of the crucifixion, the story speaks to the restoration “to life those whose bodies are the particular targets of the world’s violence to signal triumph over crucifying violence and death itself” (p. 185).

What does it mean for us today to be followers of this Jesus? How might we stand in solidarity with all who are oppressed and daily suffer what Douglass labels “crucifying realities”? What does it mean for Jesus followers who desire to be death-reversing, life-giving presences in the spaces we inhabit?

Might those in power or those seeking to be in power sneer at us, as they sneered at Jesus? Will we encounter ignorance in those who simply don’t understand what they are doing? What does a spirit of forgiveness look like in those moments?

Will there be times when we are associated with others who are working for liberation with different methods we may not embrace but who share our end goals? Might that association leave us targets just as much as them?

Luke’s version of this story give me pause as we move quickly into the end of another year of working toward justice, liberation, and a world of love, compassion and safety for those the present iteration of our society marginalizes and makes vulnerable.

At the time of writing this, I’m still looking ahead to the elections happening in the US. By the time you read or hear this, however, the election will have passed and our table for the next two years will be set. Will these coming years be more life-giving or more death-dealing? That’s what’s on my mind this week as we contemplate the Jesus of the gospels, a man characterized as a Jewish prophet of the poor from the margins of Galilee who ends up on a Roman cross. It’s this Jesus who, for Christians, is the decisive revelation of the Divine, the decisive example of our faith, and the decisive model for how we live our lives. And it’s this Jesus who ended up on a cross for his faith and actions living out a vision of a just future for all of God’s children, especially those who were being pushed to the margins and harmed in his own time and society.

Fortunately the story of Jesus doesn’t end with a Roman cross. In the end, everything accomplished through the crucifixion of Jesus was undone through the Divine reversal of the resurrection before the end of that weekend. So the story we read this week is ultimately a story of hope, a story of ups and downs, victories and defeats, and defeats undone.

What will our next week bring? Will the elections yield a victory for justice, life-giving, inclusivity, love, and compassion, or will we be left to swim against even stronger currents for the next two years? Will this election be a crucifixion or a resurrection for the kind of world we want?

Regardless of the election results, we’ll have work to do. The results will make our work either easier or harder, but we’ll need to do it nonetheless. This week, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus point us to the themes and events of his life and how God doesn’t end the story at his death. Crosses are not the final verdict. Life overcomes even death, even death that comes through state violence.

I’m holding onto that truth this week: Life can overcome death. Love can overcome hate. Justice and compassion can overcome wrongs even when those wrongs have the backing of the propertied, powerful, and privileged.

Making sense out of death is something that people in privileged classes can wrestle with because it doesn’t make sense to them from their social location. Bad things are not supposed to happen to them! And those in unprivileged social locations generally don’t waste time trying to make sense out of wrongs or looking for some salvific, redemptive purpose in those events. They simply see them as wrong, and they may look for hope’s response to the wrongs they’ve endured. Our story this week speaks to that hope. The God of our story is with those who are crucified in our societies. This is a God of the marginalized and disenfranchised. This is a God who acts in solidarity with crucified classes and communities. And this story tells us that these crucifixions don’t have the last word.

Resurrection might look different in every situation, and some resurrections simply take time. Don’t give up.

Whatever happens over the next two years, may we keep our eyes on the possibility of a just future, a compassionate iteration of our world, one where our communities become a safe-space along with all our differences and there is room for each of us.

Whether there be crosses or not, may our hope be in life and in life giving and a way of life that overcomes death-dealing. We get to decide how we show up in our communities. May we be the kind of people whose actions don’t betray the Jesus of our most sacred stories. May we be sources of healing, inclusion, good news for the oppressed, love and life, just like the Jesus of our stories and our faith.

May we live lives that hold sacred the dignity of each person’s humanity—not just those who are like ourselves—but every person celebrating the rich diversity of our shared humanity.

This is the kind of person I want to be over the next two years. How about you?

HeartGroup Application

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

2. Again, it’s this Jesus who, for Christians, is the decisive revelation of the Divine, the decisive example of our faith, and the decisive model for how we live our lives. Discuss with your HeartGroup what this means to you. 

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.

You can find Renewed Heart Ministries on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. If you haven’t done so already, please follow us on your chosen social media platforms for our daily posts. Also, if you enjoy listening to the Jesus for Everyone podcast, please like and subscribe to the JFE podcast through the podcast platform you use and consider taking some time to give us a review. This helps others find our podcast as well.

And if you’d like to reach out to us through email, you can reach us at info@renewedheartministries.com.

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


book cover

Coming Soon!

Available December 1, 2022

It’s finally here!  Herb’s new book will be available at renewedheartministries.com December 1st.

Here is just a taste of what people are saying:

“Herb has spent the last decade reading scripture closely. He also reads the world around us, thinks carefully with theologians and sociologists, and wonders how the most meaningful stories of his faith can inspire us to live with more heart, attention, and care for others in our time. For those who’ve ever felt alone in the process of applying the wisdom of Jesus to the world in which we live, Herb offers signposts for the journey and the reminder that this is not a journey we take alone. Read Finding Jesus with others, and be transformed together.” Dr. Keisha Mckenzie, Auburn University

“In Finding Jesus, Herb Montgomery unleashes the revolutionary Jesus and his kin-dom manifesto from the shackles of the domesticated religion of empire.  Within these pages we discover that rather than being a fire insurance policy to keep good boys and girls out of hell, Jesus often becomes the fiery enemy of good boys and girls who refuse to bring economic justice to the poor, quality healthcare to the underserved, and equal employment to people of color or same-sex orientation.  Because what the biblical narratives of Jesus reveal is that any future human society—heavenly or otherwise—will only be as  good as the one that we’re making right here and now. There is no future tranquil city with streets of gold when there is suffering on the asphalt right outside our front door today.  Finding Jesus invites us to pray ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ on our feet as we follow our this liberator into the magnificent struggle of bringing the love and justice of God to all—right here, right now.”—Todd Leonard, pastor of Glendale City Church, Glendale CA.

“Herb Montgomery’s teachings have been deeply influential to me. This book shares the story of how he came to view the teachings of Jesus through the lens of nonviolence, liberation for all, and a call to a shared table. It’s an important read, especially for those of us who come from backgrounds where the myth of redemptive violence and individual (rather than collective) salvation was the focus.” – Daneen Akers, author of Holy Troublemakers & Unconventional Saints and co-director/producer of Seventh-Gay Adventists: A Film about Faith, Identity & Belonging

“So often Christians think about Jesus through the lens of Paul’s theology and don’t focus on the actual person and teachings of Jesus. This book is different. Here you find a challenging present-day application of Jesus’ teachings about the Kingdom of God and the Gospel. Rediscover why this Rabbi incited fear in the hearts of religious and political leaders two millennia ago. Herb’s book calls forth a moral vision based on the principles of Jesus’ vision of liberation. Finding Jesus helps us see that these teachings are just as disruptive today as they were when Jesus first articulated them.” Alicia Johnston, author of The Bible & LGBTQ Adventists.

“Herb Montgomery is a pastor for pastors, a teacher for teachers and a scholar for scholars. Part memoir and part theological reflection, Finding Jesus is a helpful and hope-filled guide to a deeper understanding of who Jesus is and who he can be. Herb’s tone is accessible and welcoming, while also challenging and fresh. This book is helpful for anyone who wants a new and fresh perspective on following Jesus.”— Traci Smith, author of Faithful Families

Available December 1 at renewedheartministries.com


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

or Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Practicing Honesty Regarding Harmful Forms of Christianity

Christianity

Herb Montgomery | November 11, 2022

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


“I realize this week’s passage may open up uncomfortable conversations for many Christians. But these kinds of discussions are necessary nonetheless. I want to encourage us to lean into these discussions rather than averting our gaze and perpetuating a culture of denial, a false estimation of ourselves, and further death-dealing. I want us to instead practice our faith in life-giving ways.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”

Teacher,” they asked, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?” He replied: Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, I am he,and, The time is near.Do not follow them. When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”

Then he said to them: Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. And so you will bear testimony to me. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. Everyone will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. Stand firm, and you will win life. (Luke 21:5-18)

The lectionary reading from the gospels this weekend has a very long, antisemitic history, but we can understand this passage in ways that are faithful to the Jewish ethic that Jesus’ centered of in his teachings and help us love our neighbor as ourselves.

Remember that the Jesus movement did not begin as Christianity. Early Jesus followers were Jewish and the Jesus movement didn’t set out to create a new religion. So the teaching that later became these verses did not come from a context of Christianity versus Judaism, but were one Jewish perspective among many on Roman imperialism’s negative impact on Judaism and on the Temple aristocracy’s complicity with Rome. Many marginal Jewish voices during Jesus’ time were opposed to the Temple state because of its complicity with Roman imperial economic exploitation. Rome determined who would lead the Temple’s aristocracy, and so those in political power in the Temple state in Jerusalem cooperated with Rome to survive and keep power in Jewish society. Because of this political calculation, the High Priesthood lost the confidence of the masses who suffered economically.

Josephus tells us of a multitude of rebel prophets promising liberation from Roman imperialism. Here is just one example:

“These people [six thousand people who Rome killed] owed their demise to a phony prophet. He was someone who on that very day announced that God had ordered the people in the city to go up to the temple area, there to welcome the signs that they would be delivered. Many prophets at that time were incited by tyrannical leaders to persuade people to wait for help from God. . . . When humans suffer they are readily persuaded; but when the con artist depicts release from potential affliction, those suffering give themselves up entirely to hope.” (Josephus, Jewish Wars, 6.285-287)

I understand the Jesus movement beginning as one of this kind of Jewish liberation movements. Jesus’ preaching of the “kingdom” of God over and against the empire of Rome offered the people a way to return to and restore fidelity to the Torah, centered in love of God and love of neighbor.

Our reading this week also heavily depends on Mark 13, perhaps as a way to harmonize Mark with the tensions between Jewish and Gentile Jesus followers and between Christianity and Judaism that are expanded later, in the book of Acts. Through these stories, anti-Jewishness could grow into these passages and interpretations of those passages that have been deeply destructive to our Jewish neighbors and friends.

Because of these passages, some Christians have long falsely taught that the Temple was destroyed because the Jews “rejected” Jesus. I would instead argue that what we see in the Jesus story is classism playing out. Many Jewish people embraced Jesus’ liberation movement, but the upper classes in the story, threatened by Jesus and his teaching, were the only ones who played any part in turning him over to Rome to be crucified.

If there was an intrinsic cause that produced Rome’s destruction of the Temple, it was Rome’s economic exploitation of Jewish people that lead to the peasant uprising, which in turn led to the Jewish Roman War and a series of Roman destructions of Jerusalem and its temple, one of the worst of which was in 70 C.E.

Many scholars are convinced that this week’s reading was written well after this destruction took place, and that the author was trying to makes sense out of a world without a Jewish Temple. I agree.

So is there anything life-giving that we can glean from this week’s reading today?

I believe so. This passage in the lectionary gives us the opportunity to talk about the harm that some interpretations of Christianity’s sacred texts have led to. Supersessionism, the theological theory that Christians have “replaced” Jews, is only one example. The passage invites us to confess where we have sinned against our fellow members of our human family. And it gives us an opportunity to affirm or re-affirm our need to choose more life-giving actions today.

Through this week’s reading, we can do all of this in the context of honestly naming the harms against Jewish people that Christians are responsible for. Which other people have we as Christians harmed? What do we need to practice openly naming and making repair for today?

Some expressions of Christianity have a long history of not being life-giving to women, both cis and trans, and of all races, cultures, and ethnicities.

I think also of how Christians used the Bible to deal death to Indigenous people during colonialism. I think of Black people and how White Christians used the Bible to support slavery. In so many expressions of Christianity today, people still engage in harmful misunderstandings and actions toward the LGBTQ community. We could go on and on.

I realize this week’s passage may open up uncomfortable conversations for many Christians. But these kinds of discussions are necessary nonetheless. I want to encourage us to lean into these discussions rather than averting our gaze and perpetuating a culture of denial, a false estimation of ourselves, and further death-dealing. I want us to instead practice our faith in life-giving ways.

Admitting guilt for past harms is only a step toward more life-giving actions, and it is not enough. We must also actually take life-giving actions today and in the future.

We need to be honest about the harm we have done in the past, and we also need to do the hard work of practicing more life-giving ways to follow Jesus today. As things in our society change, we can also make changes as part of the transformations every generation of Jesus followers must make to align the story we hold so dear and our faith with the teachings of the Central Figure in our faith who reaffirmed those two Jewish central pillars:

The most important commandment,” 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.” (Mark 12:29-31)

We’ll lose nothing life-giving with honesty about where we have deeply messed up in the past. As difficult as it may be at times, that is what faithfulness to the teachings of that Jewish prophet of the poor from Galilee requires from us.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. Again, we need to be honest about the harm we have done in the past. What are ways that you perceive we can lean more deeply into and practice this honesty? 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.

You can find Renewed Heart Ministries on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. If you haven’t done so already, please follow us on your chosen social media platforms for our daily posts. Also, if you enjoy listening to the Jesus for Everyone podcast, please like and subscribe to the JFE podcast through the podcast platform you use and consider taking some time to give us a review. This helps others find our podcast as well.

And if you’d like to reach out to us through email, you can reach us at info@renewedheartministries.com.

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

or Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Persistence Toward Justice

persistence

Herb Montgomery | October 14, 2022

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


No effort invested in working toward a safe, compassionate, just world that is home for everyone is in vain. We never know what new concession from those who wield power is just around the next corner.


Our reading this week continues from the gospel of Luke:

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, Grant me justice against my adversary.

For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, Even though I dont fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she wont eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:1-8)

Historical Jesus scholars attribute this week’s parable to the Jewish Jesus although they also allow for the possibility that the author of Luke created the story given the overall focus of the gospel of Luke. The story only appears here in Luke’s version of the Jesus story. And the message encourages persistence.

The widow in the story demands justice. In the patriarchal culture of Jesus’ society, a widow had a fragile economic status, and the justice tradition of Judaism had ways of addressing that.

“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in God’s holy dwelling.” (Psalm 68:5)

“The Most High watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but the Most High frustrates the ways of the wicked.” (Psalms 146:9)

“The Most High tears down the house of the proud, but the Most High sets the widows boundary stones in place.” (Proverbs 15:25)

“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17)

“Your rulers are rebels, partners with thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widows case does not come before them.” (Isaiah 1:23)

“…To deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.” (Isaiah 10:2)

“…If you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm . . .” (Jeremiah 7:6)

“This is what the Most High says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.” (Jeremiah 22:3)

“In you they have treated father and mother with contempt; in you they have oppressed the foreigner and mistreated the fatherless and the widow.” (Ezekiel 22:7)

“Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.” (Zechariah 7:10)

“‘So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,’ says the Most High, the Almighty.” (Malachi 3:5)

I share this lengthy collection of passages so that we can begin to get the cultural context for our parable: what we would today describe as Jesus’ concern for social justice. Working for social justice is at the heart of what it means to follow the Jesus of synoptic gospels. It is a central theme of the Hebrew prophets’ justice tradition, and it is to this tradition that Luke’s version of the Jesus story adds its voice.

It strikes me as very odd today when I hear Jesus followers making fun of or speaking derisively of those who work for  social, political and economic justice in our time. The Jesus of our stories was speaking throughout Galilee’s villages to communities whose entire social fabric was being impacted by Roman imperialism. This impact enriched the elite at the expense of the masses. In Jesus’ audience, then, there would have been widows who knew this story by experience. Jesus wasn’t giving them a spiritual focus on post mortem bliss to pacify them while they continued to suffer. Jesus’s story would have inspired them to continue, to persist, to keep on going in their striving for concrete, temporal justice. They would also have prayed for God to match their persistent efforts by making a way for them. This parable is about prayer for sure, but it’s not only about prayer. The phrase we read in the introduction is to “always pray and not give up.”

If you are working toward justice and you find yourself feeling as if  you are swimming upstream against our society’s strong currents, don’t give up!

Also noteworthy is the unjust judge’s motive in this story.

His motive is not fidelity to God or concern for what people may think of him. The judge in the story is concerned that this widow may “eventually come and attack me.” The language for attack here would have been used to describe slapping someone in the face or giving them a black eye. So the judge acquiesces to the widow’s demand for justice for fear of her demands might turn violent. This reminds me of the political motives that lead to partial victories of the civil rights movement during the Johnson presidency. Faced with the demands of the King’s nonviolent movement versus the potential violence of other movements if changes weren’t made, the government partially heeded demands for change. Nearly 60 years later, we still have a long way to go to repair the harm born from our national sin of racism.

The author of Luke ends this section with a reference to the “Son of Man” and a question about where faith can be found. Again, this language is not concerned with post-mortem bliss but with present world realities. The title “Son of Man” comes from Jewish apocalyptic literature, specifically Daniel 7. In Daniel 7, world empires are depicted as monstrous beasts that will one day stand trial before the throne of justice to face judgment for their atrocities. In the end, the son of Man comes and gives liberation to the people.

“But the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever. Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High.” (Daniel 7:26-27)

So, from start to finish, the entire context of our story is  of establishing justice on Earth, ending violence, and restoring what oppression has stolen.

Lastly the question is asked, when the son of Man comes, will there be faith on the earth?

My challenge this week is not to switch tracks at the end and hear faith in terms of religious or metaphysical claims. Contextually, given the focus of our story, faith is synonymous with persistence in praying for and working toward justice here on our earth. It’s about concrete change in our present systems. It’s about persistence in our reordering this present world.

This week’s story moves me to do two things. In matters where I, like the judge in this week’s story, have the power to change things and make our world a safer, just place, this week’s story moves me to do so. In matters where, like the widow, I don’t have the power to change things myself, this week’s story moves me to make those with the power continually uncomfortable until they do.

I don’t know about you, but there are seasons when I get tired swimming against the various currents of injustice and voices that perpetuate them in our society, both inside of and outside of Christianity. I do believe it’s okay to rest sometimes, and we can accomplish more in the long run if we take time to rest today.

There is also a time to persist rather than to quit. My mother used to remind me when I felt like giving up, “It’s always darkest just before the dawn.” This week’s reading encourages Jesus followers not to give up. No effort invested in working toward a safe, compassionate, just world that is home for everyone is in vain. We never know what new concession from those who wield power is just around the next corner. Keep going!

HeartGroup Application

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

2. What are some ways that you balance rest and persistence in your own justice work? Share some of these 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.

You can find Renewed Heart Ministries on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. If you haven’t done so already, please follow us on your chosen social media platforms for our daily posts. Also, if you enjoy listening to the Jesus for Everyone podcast, please like and subscribe to the JFE podcast through the podcast platform you use and consider taking some time to give us a review. This helps others find our podcast as well.

And if you’d like to reach out to us through email, you can reach us at info@renewedheartministries.com.

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.

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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.”

Free Sign-Up at:

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

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

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