The Love and Justice of Advent

Herb Montgomery | December 9, 2022

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


“Today, we must let the kernel of concern for some people’s material needs found in the Hebrew prophets and the gospels evolve to include everyone, including people whom expressions of Christianity have struggled to apply this concern to, including women, people of color, LGBTQ folk, disabled people, and so many others. This Advent season, what does love (and justice) look like to you?”


Our Advent reading this week is from the gospel of Matthew:

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Jesus replied, Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

As Johns disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kingspalaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written:

  ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,

who will prepare your way before you.’

Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. (Matthew 11:2-11)

Love is a traditional theme during Advent. In the gospels, love holds the most concrete meaning for me when spoken of in the context of justice. We don’t see a lot of familial love in Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. We don’t see romance. But we do see love demonstrated though concrete actions of justice for the marginalized, disenfranchised, and excluded.

If we interpret the central message of the four gospels as universal love, what we see over and over in the stories is love and justice together, just as Dr. Emilie Townes once said in a documentary:

When you start with an understanding that God loves everyone, justice isnt very far behind.” —Dr. Emilie M. Townes, Journey to Liberation: The Legacy of Womanist Theology

In our reading this week, Jesus uses his actions of justice and liberation to validate his ministry to the imprisoned John:

“The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”

Each of these, except for leprosy, is from the book of Isaiah:

“Then will the eyes of the blind be opened

and the ears of the deaf unstopped.

  Then will the lame leap like a deer,

and the mute tongue shout for joy.

Water will gush forth in the wilderness

and streams in the desert.” (Isaiah 35:5-6)

“In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll,

and out of gloom and darkness

the eyes of the blind will see.

  Once more the humble will rejoice in the LORD;

the needy will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 29:18-19)

“But your dead will live;

their bodies will rise—

let those who dwell in the dust

wake up and shout for joy—

your dew is like the dew of the morning;

the earth will give birth to her dead.” (Isaiah 26:19)

“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,

because the LORD has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim freedom for the captives

and release from darkness for the prisoners.” (Isaiah 61:1)

It’s my opinion that the gospel writers add leprosy to this list because its concrete personal suffering and social effects were an appropriate metaphor at the time for Roman Imperialism’s destructive effects on rural communities. (For more on this, read our October eSight, Trading Individualism for Community.)

But the list is complicated. Folks without the ability to see, or hear, or have difficulty moving have their disability listed alongside leprosy and death and that is another example of the ableism in these ancient stories. We can glean much from the gospels while also being honest about how our stories have harmed those with different experiences from the stories’ authors. The gospel stories were written from the perspective of non-disabled people and have harmed people with disabilities. (For more on this, see The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability by Nancy L Eiesland. This volume was on Renewed Heart Ministries’ recommended reading list in 2022.)

Today, we can acknowledge how the ableism in our gospels stories has born harmful fruit, and in the spirit of our Jesus story, do better.

One item in this list that does resonate with me deeply this year is the last phrase, which sums up Jesus’ message as good news to the poor. In my early years in ministry, I thought I was preaching the gospel for years. But I never mentioned the poor, ever. I realize now that what I called the gospel then were themes Jesus never spoke of, while the themes that Jesus centered and most emphasized, I never mentioned in my preaching and teaching.

Whatever we define as the gospel, if it isn’t first and foremost good news specifically to the poor, then we should recognize that whatever we are preaching as “good news” is different than the gospel that the Jesus of our stories preached. Today, a lot of Christians preach a gospel about Jesus but I have found in my experience not as many are interested in the gospel Jesus in the story himself preached.

Advent and Christmas has historically been a time when Christians make charitable gifts to the poor. And while charity has saved many lives, it still leaves systems that create the need for charity unchanged. The Jesus of our gospels stories taught more than charity toward the poor. He also taught love for people living in poverty lived out in economic justice.

One of my favorite quotations from Gustavo Gutierrez is from his book The Power of the Poor In History:

But the poor person does not exist as an inescapable fact of destiny. His or her existence is not politically neutral, and it is not ethically innocent. The poor are a by-product of the system in which we live and for which we are responsible. They are marginalized by our social and cultural world. They are the oppressed, exploited proletariat, robbed of the fruit of their labor and despoiled of their humanity. Hence the poverty of the poor is not a call to generous relief action, but a demand that we go and build a different social order.” (Gustavo Gutierrez, The Power of the Poor In History, p. 44-45)

Our reading this week ends with Jesus referring to John the Baptist as the greatest prophet who had ever lived. Both Jesus and John align themselves with marginalized communities, not the centralized political power communities of their society. In addition, they, like other Jewish teachers, choose to stand in the rich Hebrew prophetic tradition of justice.

The prophetic tradition in the Hebrew scriptures is complicated too. Many of the Hebrew prophets use rhetoric that is life-giving for “the poor” and also death-dealing for women. This is another opportunity for those of us who value this tradition to practice honesty as we use it to inspire justice.

In her classic work, In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins, Dr. Elisabeth Fiorenza writes:

Feminist critics of the prophetic Israelite tradition have pointed to its devaluation and suppression of Goddess worship among Israelite women (cf. Jer 44:15-19) as well as to its transference of the patriarchal marriage pattern to the covenant relationship between Yahweh and Israel, in which Israel is seen not only as the dependent virgin and wife but also as the unfaithful harlot. Postbiblical feminist objections against the prophetic tradition—that it eliminates the divine female symbol as well as perpetuates the patriarchal subordination of women—must be dealt with critically from a historical perspective before feminist theologians can claim the prophetic traditions as ‘liberating’ for women.” (Elisabeth Fiorenza, In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins, p. 135)

Alongside the rhetoric of certain of the prophets (i.e. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, etc.) we also find strong calls for justice toward those their society had made economically vulnerable to harm. Within these same prophetic traditions we also find statements like the following from Amos that have been an inspiration to our some of our contemporary justice movements today, of which the civil rights movement is only one example:

“But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:24)

We must couple the message of universal love with a concern for the concrete needs of those we love: their liberation, justice, wellbeing, and thriving. Our material lives matter, and concern for the material needs of others is part of loving our neighbor as ourselves. Liberative and distributive justice is what love looks like in public.

Today, we must let the kernel of concern for some people’s material needs found in the Hebrew prophets and the gospels evolve to include everyone, including people whom expressions of Christianity have struggled to apply this concern to, including women, people of color, LGBTQ folk, disabled people, and so many others.

This Advent season, what does love (and justice) look like to you?

HeartGroup Application

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

2. Based on the ethics of the Jesus story, what communities do you feel Christians could evolve to be more inclusive with their concern for their concrete material thriving? 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 finally 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


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

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

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

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Advent and Coming Justice

Herb Montgomery | December 2, 2022

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


“In this just future that we are working for now, may all things death-dealing be burned up like chaff with fire that cannot be quenched. May all things life-giving be gathered up and cherished. And may this future be one of salvation for each of us together.”


Our reading this week comes from the gospel of Matthew:

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:

A voice of one calling in the wilderness,

Prepare the way for the Lord,

make straight paths for him.”’

Johns clothes were made of camels hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:1-12)

Our reading this week resonates with the context of Advent at this time of year. Advent is a time to commemorate not only the arrival of Jesus in Bethlehem, but also the coming of a just, safe, compassionate world here, one where every person, with all our differences, has space to feel at home.

Our present world doesn’t match that vision yet. In our world, some traits and experiences are privileged and centered while others are pushed to the margins. In this week’s reading, John the Baptist was not speaking from the center of his community. He was speaking from the margins of the wilderness. Ched Myers speaks of a possible narrative meaning for this detail in his book Say to This Mountain: Mark’s Story of Discipleship:

While the margin has a primarily negative political connotation as a place of disenfranchisement, Mark ascribes to it a primarily positive theological value. It is the place where the sovereignty of God is made manifest, where the story of liberation is renewed, where God’s intervention in history occurs.” (Ched Myers, Say to This Mountain: Mark’s Story of Discipleship, p. 12)

Our most cherished and sacred Jesus story begins and persists on the margins, on the edges, or in less centered social settings. Not only was Judea a marginalized region of the Roman empire, but the narrative placing John’s itinerant ministry outside the synagogues is a hint that readers or listeners should look toward the margins. For this itinerant ministry to be further located in Galilee, an even more marginalized region for already marginalized Jewish people within the Roman empire, makes Jesus and John’s ministry thrice-located on the margins compared to the urban institutions of their society.

From this narrative point, we learn that restoration, liberation, and life-giving transformations toward a more just world come from marginalized social locations in our societies. Change comes from the bottom up and outside in. To put it in our language today, change begins with the grassroots.

Another thing that strikes me about our reading this week is John’s no-nonsense, offensively blunt comments to the Pharisees and Sadducees who showed up to see what he was up to. It was a callout, but I want to steer clear of Christian antisemitic interpretations here. John the Baptist was Jewish. He was not trying to begin a new religion or rejecting his Judaism. John’s movement was about the renewal, restoration, and liberation of his fellow Jews, not about replacing them with a new people.

John’s attack of Pharisees and Sadducees in this story was not religious as we would understand it in our culture, but it was very much political. Remember, the Pharisees and Sadducees were powerful political parties in John’s society that not only competed with one another for political power, but also were complicit with Roman imperialism and Rome’s colonization of Judea, Galilee, and other small, rural communities across the region. Both Jesus’ and John’s movements were rural movements, not urban. Only at the end of his life did Jesus set his sights on Jerusalem and the economic injustices centered in the Temple state there.

Thus, the wilderness location of John’s ministry was also associated with his practice of a Judaism that rejected complicity with the Roman empire and contrasted with urban institutions including Herod’s family’s reign in Judea and the Temple state seated in Jerusalem.

John the Baptist was part of a Jewish liberation and reformation movement. He, like others, practiced immersion baptism as an act of repentance, atoning for past injustices, recommitting to righteousness, and dedicating oneself to a vision of liberation and restoration for Jewish people. That era of restoration would begin with a global end to all injustice, violence, and oppression.

I agree with scholars who interpret Jesus as having begun as a disciple of John’s. Within John’s community, there is a spirit of looking forward to something that was about to change for the better, and whereas John said it was coming, Jesus said it had arrived, was near, or was already among us, in our midst.

Today, those of us engaging justice work also look forward to and are working toward an iteration of our world that is more in harmony with justice and inclusion. Justice workers who value the Jesus story sometimes refer to this change as God’s just future, the basileia, the kin-dom, beloved community, and more. John the Baptist interpreted this change as the breaking in of God’s work in our world, an intervention in which his followers were invited to participate. Today, we also understand that a more just future depends on our cooperation with each other (and with the Divine for those of you who are theists).

As we wrap up another year, what accomplishments do we have to be thankful for? What lies ahead as we anticipate another year of working toward a world that is a safe and just home for everyone?

This week’s reading concludes with John’s anticipated restoration and liberation being an era of reversal and upheaval, not just restoration. It was to be a time of opposites, where wheat was gathered and chaff was burned up. I’m okay with this imagery if we apply it to life-giving social elements: I actually like the idea of gathering up life-giving things and forming a society out of them. I like the idea of death-dealing elements and systems being burned up in the purifying fire of life, love, compassion, and justice. I can lean into that!

But I want to lean away from any interpretation of this passage that applies threshing, gathering, or burning to people. We can say “no” to injustice while not letting go of the humanity of those responsible for that injustice. We can obstruct them and their activity today while holding space for them to change if they should choose to tomorrow. We want to reclaim and hold on to our own humanity while not letting go of anyone else’s. I love the way Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis of Middle Collegiate Church says it in her book Fierce Love:

“As a scholar who has studied religion and psychology, as an author of books on identity development and the power of stories, as a professor who teaches about leadership and anti-racist work, I understand why and how people and systems change. I know this to be true: The world doesnt get great unless we all get better. If there is such a thing as salvation, then we are not saved until everyone is saved; our dignity and liberation are bound together.” (Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, Fierce Love, p. 14).

During this season of Advent, we commemorate where justice, liberation and salvation has arrived in the past and make time to look forward to where it may arrive again and how we can participate that just future today.  In the spirit of Lewis’ inclusive salvation for everyone, I’ll close with a quote from Pam McAllister who, in explaining the work of Barbara Deming, shares this applicable wisdom:

“Barbara wrote about the two hands of nonviolence. She wrote that nonviolence gives us two hands upon the oppressor . . . This visual metaphor is particularly helpful in describing the basic attitude underlying the nonviolent sensibility. With one hand we say to an oppressor, ‘Stop what you are doing. I refuse to honor the role you are choosing to play. I refuse to obey you. I refuse to cooperate with your demands. I refuse to build the walls and the bombs. I refuse to pay for the guns. With this hand I will even interfere with the wrong you are doing. I want to disrupt the easy pattern of your life.’ But then the advocate of nonviolence raises the other hand. It is raised out-stretched—maybe with love and sympathy, but maybe not—but always outstretched with the message that (as Barbara wrote), ‘No, you are not the other, and no, I am not the other. No one is the other.’ With this hand we say, ‘I won’t let go of you or cast you out of the human race. I have faith that you can make a better choice than you are making now, and I’ll be here when you’re ready. Like it or not, we are part of one another.’ The peculiar strength of nonviolence comes precisely from the dual nature of its approach—the two hands.” (Pam McCallister, You Can’t Kill The Spirit, p. 6-7)

In this just future that we are working for now, may all things death-dealing be burned up like chaff with fire that cannot be quenched. May all things life-giving be gathered up and cherished. And may this future be one of salvation for each of us together.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. What does inclusive, societal salvation look like to you? 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 finally 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


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.

Advent as Too Political

End of Year Matching Donations!

2021 has been a year of big challenges. Doing ministry during an ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has brought its share of change along with moments of heartwarming providence and blessings.

As this year is coming to a close, I’m deeply humbled and thankful for all of you who read, listen to, and share RHM’s work.  I’m also grateful for the actions you have taken to make our world a safer, compassionate, just home for all. Thank you for being such an important part of our community, and for your continued support.

Thanks to a kind donor, who also believes in our work, we are able to extend matching donations through the end of month of December.  All donation this month will be matched, dollar for dollar, making your support of Renewed Heart Ministries, and the work we do, go twice as far.

Your support enables RHM to continue providing much needed resources to help Jesus-followers find the intersection between their faith and labors of love, compassion, and justice in our world today.

As 2021 ends, we invite you to consider making a donation to Renewed Heart Ministries to make the most of this very kind offer.

You can donate online by clicking online at renewedheartministries.com and clicking “Donate.”

Or you can make a donation by mail at:

Renewed Heart Ministries

PO Box 1211

Lewisburg, WV 24901

Thank you in advance for your continued support.

This coming year, together, we will continue being a voice for change.


 

Advent as Too Political

Star in the night sky

by Herb Montgomery | December 10, 2021


“If Jesus really did begin as a disciple of John, what was it about John’s preaching that resonated so deeply? Was it concern for what people were unjustly suffering within a system structured to benefit others at their expense? . . . How can we, as Jesus-followers during Advent season, continue John’s and Jesus’ work in our own settings today?”


This weekend is the third weekend of Advent. Our reading is:

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” 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.” The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them. (Luke 3:7-18)

The followers of John the Baptist comprised a movement that preexisted the Jesus moment and co-existed alongside it for a time. They were quite a broad Jewish community (see Mark 1:5; 11:32; and Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 18:118-119). Most Jesus scholars today see Jesus’ and John’s movements as separate but related, perhaps with Jesus following John before launching out on his own (see Mark 1:14).

The gospel of John, the canonical gospel written last, goes to great lengths to portray Jesus and his movement as being superior to John’s, however, and there are differences between John’s movement and Jesus’, including differences on fasting and baptisms (see Mark 2:18; John 4:1-2).

This week, in the context of Advent, I’ll focus on the themes that John’s teachings and Jesus’ held in common.

To the crowds, John taught:

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

To tax collectors:

Dont collect any more than you are required to.”

To soldiers:

Dont extort money and dont accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

In each of these instances, John reminds us of his own location: he’s not within the system of the temple-state we covered last week but a voice in the wilderness calling for social justice from outside. He’s standing within the Hebrew Prophetic tradition here. His concern is for justice to be practiced within his society because deeds prove social repentance is more than lip service. John demands that those who are exploiting others stop making them vulnerable.

Jesus made similar demands: “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” (Luke 12.33; cf. Luke 4:18; 6:20; 11:41; 18:22; 19:8)

John and Jesus were not itinerant preachers traveling the countryside, handing out tickets to a post mortem heaven as an escape from this world’s problems or a reward for religious purity. They were both itinerant prophets of the poor, deeply concerned not about a life hereafter but about the concrete realities of those suffering in the here and now.

In this light, and especially during the season of Advent, a Christianity that focuses on achieving entrance into heaven without regard for injustices being committed right now is out of harmony with the teachings of both John and Jesus.

For many Christians, it’s rare to speak out against real world injustice. I’ve bumped up against this disconnect myself. As I’ve spoken out against racism and White supremacy, patriarchy and misogyny, classism and predatory capitalism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, and exclusion, for many years now, too often it’s my Christian friends who’ve told me that we are to be “not of this world” and that I was reading the Jesus story too “politically.”

By “too political,” my friends don’t mean that I was endorsing and promoting a certain political party or specific candidate. But in our highly charged environment, speaking out against harm being done to vulnerable communities is political. Jesus was also political in that he taught that the reign of God belonged to those the present system makes poor.

Both Jesus and John are religious in the sense that they both interpreted their religious commitment to the God of the Torah, but their teachings were also political, economic, and social as well. You can’t separate Jesus’ and John’s teachings along these hard lines or categories. If you begin with an understanding that God loves everyone, then any harm being done in the present to the objects of that love should be opposed. This is what we see happening in the lives and ministries of both John and Jesus. Speaking out got John beheaded. It got Jesus crucified.

I’m reminded of the words of the late Dr. James H. Cone in this regard:

“What has the gospel to do with the oppressed of the land and their struggle for liberation? Any theologian who fails to place that question at the center of his or her work has ignored the essence of the gospel.” (James H. Cone, God of the Oppressed, p. 9)

Whether speaking out against harm to vulnerable communities is political all depends on which communities you claim are being harmed. If, for example, I were saying that Christian religious freedoms are being limited by recognition of same-sex marriage, or that men are at risk because of the accusations of the Me Too movement, or that White folks were being harmed by the teaching of critical race theory, or, especially at this time of year, that Christmas itself was under attack, then I would probably be applauded. I wouldn’t be accused of being “too political.” I’m guessing I wouldn’t hear that as Christians “we are not of this world.”

The problem, then, isn’t that I’ve taken a side, but which side I’ve have taken. Have I taken the side of those who are losing their positions of privilege and power in a changing society, or have I, reading the Jesus story through the lens of oppressed people, chosen to speak out alongside communities that for too long have been crying out for justice and change? Social location matters. Which communities in which social locations have we chosen to speak out alongside?

This Advent season, may we stand in the spirit of John and Jesus, and carve out time to listen to those calling for justice and change in our day. May we make time to listen to Indigenous communities and immigrants; to trans, lesbian, gay and bisexual people; let’s listen to Black and Brown people; to women and religious minorities in our communities; and let’s listen to those who, economically, daily scratch and scrape to survive on the losing side of our economic games.

If Jesus really did begin as a disciple of John, what was it about John’s preaching that resonated so deeply? Was it concern for what people were unjustly suffering within a system structured to benefit others at their expense? Jesus repeated and enlarged these themes in his own life and teachings.

How can we, as Jesus-followers during Advent season, continue John’s and Jesus’ work in our own settings today?

 

HeartGroup Application

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

2. How does Advent call you to focus on concrete forms of justice work in our society today? 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


 


 

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The Inherent Relationship of Love and Justice

 

clouds in the sky

by Herb Montgomery | May 7, 2021


“There is a way to teach God’s love that is complicit in oppression and is harmful to marginalized communities. There is another way to teach love that can be foundational to the work of transforming our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone . . . Love that only leaves the privileged in a conscience-appeased state so they can sleep better at night isn’t a love worth having . . . We can explore ways that understanding Universal love that lead us, not to private, assured passivity, but to the work of remaining in that love by shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for each and every one of us.”


Our reading this week is from John’s gospel:

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Fathers commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down ones life for ones friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his masters business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15:9-17)

The intended audience for this passage is the developing community of Jesus followers, and the central theme of the passage is love. Out of all the canonical gospels, John’s expresses the highest form of Christology since the writing of the gospel of Mark. Since then, the community developed its ideas about the relationship between Jesus and Jesus’ Father (see John 1:1-3). In our passage this week, this relationship and Jesus’ relationship with his followers are models for Jesus followers to emulate in their relationships with one another. Love is one of the central themes in John, more so than in Matthew, Mark, Luke and even the book of Acts where the word love does not appear even once.

Consider, by contrast, how often love is the focus of John’s version of the Jesus story:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, italics added.)

“The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands.” (John 3:35,italics added.)

“For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed.” (John 5:20, italics added.)

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34,35, italics added.)

“No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” (John 16:27, italics added.)

“I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:23, italics added.)

“I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (John 17:26, italics added.)

See also John 10:17; 14:15, 21-23, 31; 17:24; and 21:15-17.

Each of the synoptic gospels addresses love, but none of them repeats the theme to the degree we see in John’s gospel.

There is a way to teach God’s love that is nothing more than guilt management for the privileged, propertied, and powerful, that does nothing more than help them to silence the background noise of their troubled conscience. I’ve also found over the years that many Christians who live in an empowered or privileged social location also name John’s gospel as their favorite out of the four. I wonder if there is a connection.

There’s also another way to teach God’s love that could be foundational to our work to transform our world into a just, compassionate, safe home for all those who are vulnerable to harm in the present system. I’m reminded of the words of Dr. Emilie M. Townes:

“When you start with an understanding that God loves everyone, justice isnt very far behind.” (Dr. Emilie M. Townes; Journey to Liberation: The Legacy of Womanist Theology)

In 2010, Dr. Cornel West firmly grounded distributive, societal justice work in the soil of universal love when he said, “Justice is what love looks like in public.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. also relied on his deep belief in a universal love and social justice for the objects of that love:

“When days grow dark [sic] and nights grow dreary, we can be thankful that our God combines in his nature a creative synthesis of love and justice which will lead us through lifes dark [sic] valleys and into sunlit pathways of hope and fulfillment.” (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart, in A Gift of Love: Sermons from Strength to Love and Other Preachings, p. 9)

Love that only leaves the privileged in a conscience-appeased state so they can sleep better at night isn’t a love worth having. If a belief in universal love is only serves to achieve privatized, individual, internal well-being and doesn’t also move us to work publicly for justice within our communities, then we should abandon that belief and kind of love immediately. I agree with James Baldwin who wrote, “If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him.” (James Baldwin; The Fire Next Time, p. 47)

The late Thomas Merton went so far as to equate a theology of love with a theology of resistance and revolution:

“A theology of love cannot afford to be sentimental. It cannot afford to preach edifying generalities about charity, while identifying peace’ with mere established power and legalized violence against the oppressed. A theology of love cannot be allowed merely to serve the interests of the rich and powerful, justifying their wars, their violence and their bombs, while exhorting the poor and underprivileged to practice patience, meekness, longsuffering, and to solve their problems, if at all, nonviolently. A theology of love may also conceivably turn out to be a theology of revolution. In any case, it is a theology of resistance, a refusal of the evil that reduces a brother or sister to homicidal desperation.” (Thomas Merton; Toward a Theology of Resistance found in Thomas Merton: Essential Writings, p.121)

I want to offer one word of caution in relation to our passage this week. As I’ve repeatedly said over the past few weeks, John’s gospel speaks to the myth of redemptive suffering more so than any of the other canonical gospels:

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down ones life for ones friends.”

I’ve also written repeatedly about the harm the myth of redemptive suffering does to vulnerable communities so I will not unpack the whole discussion again here. Instead I will offer Dr. Katie Cannon’s words in the foreword to the 20th Anniversary edition of Delores Williams’ Sisters in the Wilderness:

“[Williams] contends that theologians need to think seriously about the real-life consequences of redemptive suffering, God-talk that equates the acceptance of pain, misery, and abuse as the way for true believers to live as authentic Christian disciples. Those who spew such false teaching and warped preaching must cease and desist.” (Kindle location 133)

As I wrote in Imagery of a Good Shepherd, there is a difference between empowered people sacrificing and them teaching disempowered people to sacrifice themselves. (Also see Brown and Parker’s For God So Loved The World?) The early church was largely comprised of those who, as Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas often says, didn’t have a wall to even have their back up against. While the giving of some people in privileged social locations can hardly be called sacrifice (see Mark 12:41-44), teaching disempowered people the myth of redemptive suffering can be destructive or even lethal.

I’ll close with Thomas Merton’s timely words:

“Instead of preaching the Cross for others and advising them to suffer patiently the violence which we sweetly impose on them, with the aid of armies and police, we might conceivably recognize the right of the less fortunate to use force, and study more seriously the practice of nonviolence and humane methods on our own part when, as it happens, we possess the most stupendous arsenal of power the world has ever known.” (Ibid.)

This week, let’s explore ways that understanding God loves everyone can lead us, not to private, assured passivity, but to the work of remaining in God’s love by shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for each and every one of us.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. Contrast some of the ways a message of love can be used to impede our justice work along with ways a message of love can be foundational.  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

 


For and Against John

Wall Street street sign“For John came to you. The tax collectors responded positively, but the religious authorities rejected him.” (Q 7:29-30)

Companion Texts:

Luke 7:29-30: “(All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and the experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.)”

Matthew 21:32: “For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.”

An Appeal to John’s Followers 

Let’s step back and look at what’s taken place in Sayings Gospel Q so far. We’ve ended the core of Q’s teaching section. Next was the story of the Centurion that set us up for Jesus’ interaction with John’s disciples. This focus on John’s followers can be further subdivided into four parts:

  1. John’s Inquiry  Q 7:18-23
  2. More than a Prophet (last week) Q 7:24-28
  3. For and Against John (this week) Q 7:·29-30
  4. This Generation and the Children of Wisdom (next week) Q 7:31-35

(see Sayings Gospel Q)

I believe the Q community used this section of the writings to reach out to John’s former followers and welcome them into the Jesus community. These two communities overlapped, and this part of the Sayings Gospel Q attempts to combine the communities into one. In both Judea and Galilee, these followers would have been minorities within the larger Jewish population. It’s not hard to imagine them pressing together to find community and support.

What can we learn today from this week’s saying?

Tax Collectors and Pharisees

Today, we often contrast tax collectors and Pharisees in terms of the Jewish Torah tradition. The Pharisees are presented as strict adherents of Jewish purity codes whereas tax collectors are assumed to have colluded with Rome and lived disregarding the Torah.

But this contrast is a great oversimplification, and fails to challenge the status quo in our own thinking.

There was a cultural contrast between the 1st Century tax collectors and Pharisees. To see it, let’s go to a story that only appears in Luke’s gospel. We’ll come right back to Q, but first consider the story of the rich man and Lazarus that Jesus told in Luke 16:19-21.

The story begins this way: “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.”

This introduction includes background references that the first audience would have recognized. J.Jeremias shares that background in his book Parables:

“In order to understand the parable in detail and as a whole, it is essential to recognize the first part derives from a well-known folk- material . . . This is the Egyptian folk-tale of the journey of Osiris, the son of Setme Chamois to the under-world . . . Alexandrian Jews brought this story to Palestine, where it became very popular as the story of the poor scholar and the rich publican Bar Ma’Jan.” (p.183)

This story was typical told as an afterlife reversal-of-fortunes tale involving a tax collector and a Torah scholar. The scholar character alluded to the Pharisees. The common way to tell the story contrasted the characters’ regard or disregard of the Torah’s purity codes. Yet Jesus does something more economically subversive than religiously subversive. His version changes the story in a way that the audience couldn’t miss.

Jesus’s version of the story did not emphasize the tax collectors’ disregard for the Pharisees’ interpretation of Torah but instead contrasted those who were wealthy and those who were poor. An economic contrast made no distinction between wealthy Pharisees and wealthy tax collectors. The immediate context of the story in Luke is Luke 16:14: “The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus.”

Remember that even the Pharisees of the school of Hillel, who practiced a much more progressive spirituality than the school of Shammai, nonetheless practiced and taught Hillel’s Prozbul in the area of economics. (We explored what the Prozbul meant in Renouncing One’s Rights.)

Jesus was a Jew, and not opposed to Judaism. When we understand how much the teachings of Jesus and the teachings of Hillel’s Pharisaical school agreed, we begin to see that what brought Jesus into conflict with the religious elite of his day wasn’t so much his religious teachings as much as his economic teachings. The Luke story shows that Jesus faced rejection from the Jewish elite, not the Jewish people themselves, and not for religious reasons but for economic ones. This is a very human dynamic between calls for mutual aid and resource-sharing and our universal greed and selfishness.

So back to our saying this week.

I challenge you this week to look at our saying in economic terms. We usually see the tax collectors and the wealthy Pharisees as belonging to two separate camps, but that is not what the narrative describes. In this part of the text, the tax collectors and the wealthy Pharisees both belonged to the same economic class, and they both opposed the poor. They both belonged to the wealthy elite. But at this point in Sayings Gospel Q, the writer wants us to know that the tax collectors that religious leaders viewed as “sinners” embraced the teachings of John and Jesus whereas the religious, wealthy elite simply did not.

We see this dynamic today among the secular and religious populations in America. There are exceptions to what I am about to say. Yet I see large numbers of secular people who in social and economic matters embrace the teachings of Jesus while large swathes of religiously conservative people who show ignorance of or even disregard for Jesus’s social and economic teachings. Religiously they worship Jesus, and may have incredibly high notions of him. At the same time they are passive about following what Jesus taught about the social and economic matters that are still relevant today.

In the teachings of Jesus that we’re looking at this week, we learn that the tax collectors and the wealthy Pharisees were the same in economic terms, and so the tax collectors cease being just “sinners” who Jesus ate with. Though the religious elite called them sinners, Jesus described the tax collectors as the people who actually responded to him and followed his economic teachings.

What does this mean for us today? Responding to Jesus may not seem very religious, and it might not gain us the approval of the religious elite. The tax collectors in Jesus’s day didn’t respond to him by becoming more faithful to the purity codes. But their lives did radically change in economic terms as they joined the followers of Jesus in indiscriminate care for the poor.

This saying might also mean that we find some people outside of the Church universal living lives more in harmony with the teachings of the historical Jesus even as they are in deep disharmony with the religious culture of Christianity. And we might find large numbers of those who proudly carry the title of “Christian” who are further away from following the teachings of the historical Jesus than their more secular human siblings are.

The community of Sayings Gospel Q calls us to remember Q 6:46.

Sayings Gospel Q 6:46: “Why do you call me: Master, Master, and do not do what I say?” (Q 6:46)

Luke 6:46, 47: “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like.”

Matthew 7:21-24: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock . . . ”

(For more commentary on these passages please see Not Just Saying Master, Master and Houses Built on Rock or Sand)

Again, I want to emphasize that we’re not putting Jesus in competition with the Torah. Sayings Gospel Q isn’t about Torah observance. It is simply interesting that the people in Jesus’s culture who were labeled “sinners” (that is, not observing the Torah) were the ones who embraced John’s and Jesus’s economic teachings, while those who thought themselves to be very strict about the purity codes of the law did not embrace those teachings. Yet Jesus’s teaching was more in harmony with the Torah’s economic teachings than Hillel’s teachings were. Who really observed the Torah? The people who complied with the Schools of Hillel and the Prozbul? Or those who did what Jesus taught?

If this is true. Jesus didn’t threaten the religious leaders because he taught a radical new religion (Christianity). Jesus was crucified because his economic teaching was gaining momentum. The Temple Protest narrative in the synoptic gospels was less religious and more about a system of exploitation that the Temple aristocracy had become the center of. Hillel had taught that people could make atonement with deeds of lovingkindness rather than animal sacrifice—“I desire love not sacrifice”—and he wasn’t crucified for this religious teaching but was instead regarded as one of the most progressive and enlightened rabbis in all Jewish history. So it’s important to see that Jesus’s rejection was limited to the the privileged elite and was not primarily religious but economic.

If today you find yourself resonating with Jesus’s socio-political-economic teachings, but out of step with most things Christian or religious, you are not alone. You’re in the right story.

Remember what Sayings Gospel Q states:

For John came to you. The tax collectors responded positively, but the religious authorities rejected him. (Q 7:·29-30)

HeartGroup Application

  1. This week, go through the gospels and make a list of all the changes that you see Jesus teaching. Note the chapter and verse references where this teaching is taught.
  2. Next, make a separate list of the changes that you’ve noticed contemporary Christianity expecting people to make when they choose to become a Christian.
  3. Sit down with your HeartGroup and discuss what your two lists have in common and where they differ.

It’s healthy to recognize when the changes we expect a new Jesus follower to make have nothing whatsoever to do with what Jesus of Nazareth actually taught. Some big ticket items to Christians today were never mentioned by Jesus, not even once, and some large elements of Jesus’s teachings aren’t highly prioritized today.

Discuss with your group what you’re learning about how to follow the teachings of Jesus more deeply.

Thank you, again, for joining us this week and for journeying with us through this series. I’m so glad you are here.

Keep living in love till the only world that remains is a world where only love reigns.

I love each of you dearly.

I’ll see you next week.