Loving One Another and Justice

dominoes

Herb Montgomery | May 13, 2022

 

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

 


“You can’t love another” without desiring that those whom you love have what they need to thrive, and also doing what is in your power for them to have it . . . When we start to really consider what love means, then if we are honest we must begin to perceive love is not only personal, but also social, political, economic, religious, and even global.”


 

Our reading this week is from the gospel of John:

When he was gone, Jesus said, Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. 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 13:31-35)

After Judas leaves the room, Jesus begins to speak about glorification and love.

The theme of glorifying God and being glorified in and by God is rhetoric repeated through and unique to John’s version of the Jesus story. John defines the closing scenes of Jesus’ life, his arrest, crucifixion and resurrection, as how God and Jesus are glorified.

Another difference between John’s version and the synoptics (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) is that John shifts Jesus message from love of neighbor and love of our enemies to love specifically among Jesus’s followers. The author of John, writing this late gospel, paints this shift as a “new teaching.”

These varying objects of love in the canonical gospels—neighbor, enemies, and Jesus’ disciples—point to the tension of love across three concentric circles. The inner circle is Jesus’ disciples. The next circle is those Jesus’ disciples share society with, whether disciples of Jesus themselves or not. And the outer circle includes those who are those outside the disciples’ society or the community in which we do life together. “Enemy” in this context does not necessarily mean those who do us harm; it may simply mean those who are outside the circle we draw around whomever we define as “us.”

In our time, I don’t think it’s helpful to define others as “enemies.” We can be honest about labeling choices or actions as hurtful or not without naming the people choosing them as “enemies.” And rather than speaking of “loving our enemies,” we can speak of loving those who choose to harm us. This kind of love, too, needs careful defining and explanation to be genuinely life giving and not a tool to sustain harm.

But our reading this week focuses on love amongst fellow Jesus followers. By that love, Jesus says, others would know that Jesus’ followers were the disciples of Jesus. In other words, love was to be the primary distinguishing characteristic others could use to know that we are endeavoring to follow the moral philosophy of that Jewish prophet of the poor from Galilee. That marker is not a bumper sticker, nor what station our radios are tuned to. It’s not what church denomination we choose or voting Republican (I do live in West Virginia).

The marker is not even whether we choose live inside or outside of Christianity’s faith claims. What signals to others that our attempts to follow Jesus are genuine is whether we live by an ethic of love. This is not to say that all who endorse an ethic of love as Jesus followers but that you can’t be a Jesus follower without embracing an ethic of love.

Regardless of which object of love a particular version of the Jesus story focuses on (whether neighbor, enemies, or our own community), it is important to define what that love looks like. How we define love matters: including what we define love to be and what we define love as not. Genuine love does no harm.

 

Love and Justice

To paraphrase the great Dr. Emilie M. Townes, when we start with love, justice is isn’t very far behind. Love expresses itself in distributive justice for all. It includes the desire to make sure the objects of our love have what they need to thrive. When we love, in each area of our lives, we desire that resources are shared so everyone’s needs are met and no one has too much while others have too little. When disparities exist between those whose needs are unmet and those who have more than they could possibly need, all parties are harmed. They don’t experience the same level of harm mind you, or even the same kind of harm, but they experience harm nonetheless.

This principle is at the heart of the Hebrew prophetic justice tradition in which the Jesus we encounter in the gospels stands:

 

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)

 

Woe to those who make unjust laws,

to those who issue oppressive decrees,

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 10:1-2)

 

A bruised reed he will not break,

and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.

In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;

  he will not falter or be discouraged

till he establishes justice on earth.

In his teaching the islands will put their hope. (Isaiah 42:3-4)

 

This is what the Most High says to you, house of David:

  Administer justice every morning;

rescue from the hand of the oppressor

the one who has been robbed” (Jeremiah 21:12)

 

I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak . . . I will shepherd the flock with justice. (Ezekiel 34:16)

 

But let justice roll on like a river,

righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5:24)

In love a throne will be established . . . one who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness. (Isaiah 16:5)

 

“Maintain love and justice.” (Hosea 12:6)

 

Love without justice is hypocrisy. To read Jesus’ words of love as only sentimental, and not as including a call to social justice is to take Jesus out of his Jewish context and transform him into something else for another purpose. Jesus was a preacher of the kind of love that expresses itself in justice for the oppressed, marginalized, excluded, and downtrodden.

This is why Jesus scholars such as the late Marcus Borg and his co-author John Dominic Crossan made such bold statements such as, “The first passion of Jesus was the kingdom of God, namely, to incarnate the justice of God by demanding for all a fair share of a world belonging to and ruled by the covenantal God of Israel.” (Marcus J. Borg & John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week, Kindle location 44.)

 

This is what I think of when I hear Jesus’ admonition us to love one another.

You can’t love another without desiring that those whom you love have what they need to thrive, and also doing what is in your power for them to have it.

All of this leads me to some questions about the intrinsic relationship between love and justice that those of us who are Jesus followers and who share my social location in our society need to allow ourselves to be confronted by.

Are we as White Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love Black people and people of color?

Are we as male Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for women?

Are we as straight Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisxexual, and/or pansexual?

Are we as cisgender Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for transgender people?

Are we as educated Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for those who are less educated?

Are we as middle-class Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for the poor?

Are we as U.S. citizen Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for refugees, migrants, and the undocumented?

Are we as settler-colonial Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for indigenous populations and communities?

Are we as North American Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for those who live in the Global South?

Whom does this list of questions make you think of this week?

When we start to really consider what love means, then if we are honest we must begin to perceive love is not only personal, but also social, political, economic, religious, and even global.

Whom do you think of when you hear Jesus’ words in John?

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

 

HeartGroup Application

 

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

2. How does loving others translate into societal justice for 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.

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

Breathing In Spirit, Exhaling Love and Justice

Herb Montgomery | April 22, 2022

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


“In the stories, Jesus doesn’t come back from the dead just to live another 30 or so years doing the same thing he’d done before he was executed. The attempted silencing of Jesus and his saving work is only an interruption, not an end. Each resurrection story defines Jesus’ resurrection as causing his life work to continue in the lives of his followers. Jesus commissioned his disciples to continue his life work in the same spirit that inspired him.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of John:

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Messiah. Again Jesus said, Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyones sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, We have seen the Messiah!” But he said to them, Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, My Savior and my God!” Then Jesus told him, Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:19-31)

This first weekend after Western Christianity’s Easter each year, we begin reading the stories of the early believers after the resurrection. In each post resurrection story, the good news or gospel is not that Jesus died or even died for you, but that this Jesus that was brutally murdered by the state and those who controlled the status quo is risen. He’s alive! The crucifixion and all that Jesus’ death accomplished has been undone, reversed, and overcome!

This week’s story from John is similar to yet still very different from those found in Luke 24:36-49, Mark 16:14-18, Matthew 28:18-20, and Acts 1:8.

In John, Jesus cryptically breathes the Holy Spirit onto his disciples. He then attaches to this gift of the spirit the authority of “loosing and binding,” forgiving, bringing comfort and liberation, and setting people free (cf. Matthew 16:19; Matthew 18:18).

It’s vital that the power of forgiving or not forgiving is connected to the disciples receiving the spirit of Jesus. Forgiveness divorced from that spirit serves to only perpetuate oppression and harm. I’ll explain.

Jesus uses this language in the gospel of Luke:

The Spirit of the Most High is on me,

because the Most High has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

The Most High has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

and recovery of sight for the blind,

to set the oppressed free,

to proclaim the year of the Most High’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

Here the work of the Spirit is to announce good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for prisoners, set the oppressed free, and announce the year of the Most High’s favor, the year when all debts would be forgiven, regardless of creditors’ wishes. In that year, debtors were released!

Those who are forgiven in the Jesus story are those on the margins, those pushed to the underside and edges of Jesus’ society by those benefiting from the status quo. What about those whose social location was more at the center or upper class? Did Jesus extend forgiveness to them, too?

Remember the story of Zacchaeus? (see Luke 19:1-9) Jesus forgave and loosed him, too. Yet Zacchaeus was not loosed or forgiven from the consequences from his actions. Jesus instead called him to stop participating in oppression. Only then did salvation come to Zacchaeus’ house, because salvation looks like justice for the oppressed. This reminds me of Gandhi critiquing Christianity: he said he didn’t want to be saved from the consequences of his actions but from those actions themselves.

How many times have we seen those who harm others or benefit from that harm being forgiven or assured of no condemnation without being called to make restitution or reparations?

Being loosed is not conditional on acts of restoration like a quid pro quo, tit for tat, or an exchange. Rather, for oppressors, being loosed actually is these acts of restoring that which has been taken from others.

This is why I believe the disciples were given authority not to forgive, too. Reserving “forgiveness” is a way to remind them that their freedom is intrinsically tied to their choice to stop participating in the harm being done to others. Anything less than that is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer described as “cheap grace.” During the 1930s, Bonhoeffer watched Christians giving assurance to the Nazis. Assuring oppressors that everything is okay while they continuing to do harm is akin to expecting victims or survivors to reconcile with those who have harmed them but done no work of restitution. Neither of these are life-giving interpretations of the forgiveness ethic in the Jesus stories.

These stories don’t help us recover so much of the historical Jesus as much as they establish the authority of his disciples. In this week’s reading, the focus is Thomas and the story about him serves a double purpose for the fledgling Jesus movement.

First, it establishes Thomas as an early movement leader. Multiple documents in Christian history would later be attributed to this disciple. Thomas is supposed to have taken the gospel to the Parthians and then on to India. He is credited with establishing the Mar Thoma Church and was martyred there as well. Thomas is also a central figure in Syrian Christianity: his bones are claimed by that faith tradition to have been removed from India and brought to Edessa close to the end of the fourth century.

Second, this story challenges people to believe in the Jesus story even though they haven’t seen Jesus for themselves.

What speaks to me most about these stories is that Jesus didn’t come back from the dead just to live another 30 or so years doing the same thing he’d done before he was executed. The attempted silencing of Jesus and his saving work is only an interruption, not an end. Each resurrection story defines Jesus’ resurrection as causing his life work to continue in the lives of his followers. Jesus commissioned his disciples to continue his life work in the same spirit that inspired him.

I consider again how Jesus’ life work was summarized in passages like Luke 4:18-19: as good news for the poor, release for the prisoners, setting free the oppressed, and proclaiming the most High’s favor or forgiving debts. There are similar teachings in both Luke’s sermon on the plain (Luke 6) and Matthew’s sermon on the mount (beginning in Matthew 5). These are the ethics and values in the Jesus story: Jesus both comforted and challenged individuals and also, in his overturning of the tables, challenged unjust systems, demanding a different order of things in the here and now.

So I ask myself, am I breathing in this same spirit that we read of in this week’s passage? And how closely is my story aligning with the Jesus story?

In what areas does my life harmonize with the Jesus story? Where is there dissonance?

Each of us looses and binds things every day. Are the things I bind and loose similar to or vastly different from the liberation work, the love, compassion, safety and justice in the Jesus story?

This first weekend after Easter, I want to foster more harmony between my life story and this story of Jesus that I hold dear.

I’m sure you do, too.

Here’s to breathing in that spirit, together, and exhaling love and justice with those our lives touch each and every day.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. In what ways are you inspired to breath in spirit and exhale love and justice in your own spheres of influence 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.

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

Excluded by Exclusion

color spectrum

Herb Montgomery | March 25, 2022

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


This week’s parable calls us to question whom we are excluding and the basis for our exclusion. And it’s calling us to question the practice of marginalizing and excluding others regardless of the basis . . . There is no conclusion. The elder brother who would exclude his younger brother is left alone by himself in the night, outside the party going on inside, not because he himself wasn’t welcome, but because he could not affirm the one being celebrated. And maybe that’s the point.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Then Jesus told them this parable . . . Jesus continued: There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. When he came to his senses, he said, How many of my fathers hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Lets have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. Your brother has come,’ he replied, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound. The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, Look! All these years Ive been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ ‘My son,’ the father said, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ (Luke 15:1-3, 11–32)

In this week’s story, Jesus is not answering his listeners’ questions about who gets to heaven or not. The context of the narrative isn’t about an afterlife at all. It’s about social and political dynamics in this life, in Jesus’ society. Within that context, the narrative addresses the exclusion of certain ones, tax collectors and those labelled as “sinners”, by those privileged in their society.

I want to note that I do not believe this story accurately represents the Pharisees or Jewish scholars of that time. It might represent some leaders within those social groups, such as the Pharisees of the school of Shammai. But this story does not rightly characterize the more inclusive Pharisees of the school of Hillel. Lumping all Pharisaical and later Rabbinical schools into a monolith and then to use that group perjoratively is deeply antisemitic and has an long history. (See https://truah.org/antisemitism/)

We must also address the label of “sinner.” I’ve written at length about this before:

“The term ‘sinner’ is used in the gospels in a very particular sense. Its not used in the universal ‘everyones a sinner’ sense. We see this in Jesussocio-political context. Imagine a circle. Those at the center controlled and made the decisions for the circle while those pushed from the center toward the edges had less and less say the further away from the center they found themselves. What determined how close to the center someone operated was an idea that we now have a difficult time understanding: this was the idea of purity. Those on the edges were pushed there by labelling them ‘sinners.’ Those on the edges of the circle had no power, privilege, or voice.” (See The Lost Coin)

It would help us in our context today to read “marginalized” where the text reads “sinner.” Sinner was the pejorative religious label that those at the center of Jesus society used to marginalize whomever they chose.

This all leads us to the central point, I believe, of this week’s reading. Jesus’ parable was originally aimed at those who excluded or marginalized others and then disparaged Jesus because of the people he embraced, affirmed, and included.

Within Christian faith communities today, many exclude and marginalize LGBTQ people of faith, and then label and exclude as dangerous allies who embrace, affirm and include them. I have firsthand experience with this.

I’m also reminded of patriarchal traditions that exclude women from certain ministerial roles or credentials and then label those who don’t exclude them as dangerous. White churches have practiced similar exclusion over matters of race and multiracial diversity, not only in their congregations, but in who is allowed and supported to take on certain leadership roles.

In our larger society, there are inclusions and exclusions, too. We at Renewed Heart Ministries have condemned Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine and our hearts are with all being harmed by this action. We continue to maintain that the road to peace is not war, but distributive justice, safety and compassion, and we affirm Ukraine’s rights of self-determination and self-defense.

I also notice the disparity in the global support for Ukraine now compared to other humanitarian crises. Journalists have even compared Putin’s problems with Ukraine to the U.S’ historical treatment of other countries. I wondered if they realized what they’re admitting about imperialism, because that is a level of truth-telling I don’t think we in the U.S. are willing to embrace. News reporters have betrayed their own racism when speaking of this conflict and their surprise at the plight of Ukrainian refugees. They use rhetoric as “relatively civilized,” “relatively European,” “blue eyes,” “blonde hair,” “not a developing, third-world nation, but Europe,” “well-dressed people.”

We should care about our Ukrainian siblings and other people living in that country as part of our human family, but we shouldn’t care about them or base our involvement or help on whether we perceive them to be White or European. Refugees from other parts of the world deserve our care and concern just as much.

The U.S. shows these patterns, too. Those who are working toward this country’s high ideals for an inclusive, multi-racial democracy or those working to transform society into a place of equity for women are characterized as dangerous. There are hundreds of legislative attacks against trans people and lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in states like Texas and Florida right now, including efforts to exclude children who belong to the LGBTQ community or have parents who do. Children this age are often asked by grandparents, aunts and uncles, and others, “Do you have a girlfriend/boyfriend yet?” Or their teachers ask them at school to “Share about your family.” But some of those children are being excluded now.

This week’s parable calls us to question whom we are excluding and the basis for our exclusion. And it’s calling us to question the practice of marginalizing and excluding others regardless of the basis.

Jesus’ story ends open-endedly. There is no conclusion. The elder brother who would exclude his younger brother is left alone by himself in the night, outside the party going on inside, not because he himself wasn’t welcome, but because he could not affirm the one being celebrated. And maybe that’s the point. As we are working toward a more inclusive, safe, compassionate, just society for everyone, if any are left out in the end, it won’t because they themselves aren’t welcome, but because they can’t accept other people.

As we consider our own practices of exclusion, this week’s story warns each of us that those we exclude may end up enjoying God’s party, while we, because of our exclusionary practices, may find ourselves outside the party, alone, in the night.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. We have many examples today of folks who have been excluded because of whom they include. Share some examples of how people or communities, today, are being, excluded because of their own exclusion? 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


March is Donor Appreciation Month at RHM

During the month of March, we want to do something special to thank you for supporting the work of Renewed Heart Ministries.

Renewed Heart Ministries provides deeply needed resources that help enable Christians to discover the intersection of their love for Jesus and their work of healing our world through actions of love, justice and compassion; actions Jesus modeled and called us to follow.

Engaging our communities in ways that shape our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone is often hard work and its worth it. We appreciate the actions, big and small, each of you take each day to engage this work.

This month, we are partnering with Watchfire Media to offer a free thank you gift, shipping included. We want to offer you Watchfire Media’s absolutely beautiful Holy Troublemakers & Unconventional Saints 2022 Wall Calendar to everyone who makes a special one-time donation of $50 or more through the following special link during the month of March to support RHM’s work.

The online donation link to use is https://bit.ly/RHMCalendar.

(Or you donate by mail by sending your donation to

Renewed Heart Ministries
PO Box 1211
Lewisburg, WV 24901

*If donating by mail, simply make sure that your donation is specially marked indicating you would like a HolyTroublemakers & Unconventional Saints 2022 Wall Calendar as a thank you.)

If you are unfamiliar with this special calendar, The Holy Troublemakers & Unconventional Saints 2022 Wall Calendar features 12 “holy troublemakers,” people of faith from different faiths and different eras who worked for more love, kindness, and justice in their corner of the world. Each of them did the right thing even when it was the hard thing, and even when it rocked the religious boat.

Like the book Holy Trouble­makers & Unconventional Saints, this calendar centers holy troublemakers who are women, LGBTQ, Black, Indigenous, and other people of color who have too often been written out of religious narratives. Their stories inspire, educate, challenge, encourage, and move us all towards more love and a faith that works for the common good of everyone.

Packed with original artwork, short bios, and inspiring quotes, the calendar also includes important holidays from diverse faith traditions, social justice movement anniversaries, and dates that help us remember that joy is an essential part of holy troublemaking.

Thank you in advance for supporting the work of Renewed Heart Ministries. Together we will continue being a voice for change. And thank you to Watchfire Media, as well, for partnering with RHM this month to be able to share this special thank you gift with our supporters. We appreciate all you do, too!

Product details:

2022 Wall Calendar: 24 pages

Publisher: Watchfire Media
Language: English
Product Dimensions: 12” x 13”
Shipping Weight: 1 lb.
ISBN: 978-1-7340895-1-6

Jesus and Antisemitism

Judaism

Herb Montgomery | January 28, 2022

 


“We can do better today. We don’t have to disparage Jewish people, Jewish wisdom, or Judaism to value Jesus and his ethical teachings. There is so much good in the Jesus story that can benefit our communities today as we live out the golden rule and shape our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone. That “everyone” genuinely means everyone, including Jewish people. And that means that we have to be honest about the harmful way Christian narratives have been told in the past and are still told today. We have to name those harmful story elements in our text. We must do better.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

Then he began to say to them, Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, Is not this Josephs son?” He said to them, Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, Doctor, cure yourself!And you will say, Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” And he said, Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophets hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way. (Luke 4:21-30)

There is a lot in our reading this week. The author of Luke’s gospel is elaborating on the theme of Jesus’ home-town rejection by using a contemporary proverb about a doctor being admonished to cure their own ailment.

This narrative first appears in Mark. Then it is expanded in Matthew, and elaborated on even further in Luke. Here are both Mark’s and Matthew’s versions:

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. (Mark 6:1-6) 

He came to his hometown and began to teach the people in their synagogue, so that they were astounded and said, Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power? Is not this the carpenters son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, Prophets are not without honor except in their own country and in their own house.” And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief. (Matthew 13:54-58)

Luke’s gospel adds the saying, “Doctor, cure yourself!”

So often, when Black and Hispanic people object to police brutality, White people divert the attention away from police with a “black-on-black violence” narrative or argument. This is a way of telling these communities to “cure yourself” rather than hold up law enforcement to scrutiny. When there’s an effort to hold oppressors accountable, oppressors and those who support them change the subject and find fault with the victim in an ad hominem attack.

This proverb also reminds me of a Twitter conversation where I was speaking of the differences between systemic injustice and personal or private injustice. One Twitter user replied, “You change your system and let us know how that goes” and made some comment about poor people needing to be made to work.

By contrast, I saw a meme this week that said the role of prophetic Christianity is to hold society accountable. But I think Christianity needs to heal itself first in matters of justice and equity before it should speak over the rest of society. Christians have little credibility critiquing other groups when there is so much housekeeping that needs to be done inside Christianity. We do not want to be open to charges of hypocrisy.

With this story, Luke also foreshadows how Jesus would later be mocked at his execution:

And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Anointed of God, God’s chosen one!’ (Luke 23:35)

That’s not all that Luke foreshadows in this story. He also lays the foundation for tension that emerges between Jewish and Gentile Jesus followers in the early Jesus movement. By the time Luke is written, Gentile followers of Jesus already want to distance themselves from the Jewish community in the eyes of the Roman empire, and this story illustrates that.

In this story, Luke’s Jesus uses two ancient Jewish folk stories (1 Kings 17:1-16 & 2 Kings 5:1-14) to justify including Gentiles in his community. Luke then paints the Jewish audience as becoming homicidally angry at even the notion that Gentiles should be included. I find this odd because usually when one group speaks ill of another in these stories, it is not Jewish Jesus followers speaking ill of Gentiles; it’s Gentile Jesus followers speaking ill of Jewish people. Later on in Acts, however:

After they [local Jewish leaders] had set a day to meet with him, they came to him at his lodgings in great numbers. From morning until evening he explained the matter to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the law of Moses and from the prophets. Some were convinced by what he had said, while others refused to believe. So they disagreed with each other; and as they were leaving, Paul made one further statement: The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your ancestors through the prophet Isaiah,

Go to this people and say,

You will indeed listen, but never understand,

and you will indeed look, but never perceive.

For this peoples heart has grown dull,

and their ears are hard of hearing,

and they have shut their eyes;

so that they might not look with their eyes,

and listen with their ears,

and understand with their heart and turn—

and I would heal them.

Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.” (Acts 28:23-28)

Our story this week doesn’t direct our focus to “those Gentiles” or how much “they” want to exclude Jewish people. It focuses on “those Jewish people” and how deeply and violently they hate having to share a world with Gentiles. Luke/Acts was written by Gentiles, the group of believers that won the early Jesus movement, and this week’s reading paints the people sitting in the synagogue with Jesus that Sabbath day in the worst possible light. This mischaracterization of Jewish people in later versions of the Jesus story has proven to be so harmful.

Gentile Christians have committed grave harm against Jewish people throughout history because of how our Jesus story is written. As the adage goes, history is told by the conquerors. As the Jesus community became primarily Gentile, it added anti-Jewish elements to our sacred stories, subtly painting Jewish people in those stories and even Jesus himself as anti-Jewish.

In our society, whenever people call for inclusion or equity for Black or Brown people, some White and other voices allege that these efforts are somehow harmful to White people. Making the United States a multiracial democracy is not being anti-White people; it’s being pro-all people. But looking back at Luke, I wonder how much of the Jewish bigotry toward Gentiles that we read in the gospels is really Greek-speaking Jesus followers seeking to paint their Jewish peers in the worst possible light to justify the distance they wanted between Christianity and Judaism.

It’s been quite effective. How do you disparage a community that you are bigoted against? Accuse them of murderous bigotry toward you instead. Though there were competing Jewish voices within Jesus’ own Jewish society with varied Jewish attitudes toward Gentiles (I think of the differences between the teachings of the School of Hillel and the School of Shammai, see Rabbi Harvey Falk’s Jesus the Pharisee: A New Look at the Jewishness of Jesus), Judaism itself has always taught that there are those deemed “righteous” among all nations.

Unfortunately this anti-Jewish theme paved the way for the Roman empire, when it finally absorbed Christianity as Rome’s official state religion, to escape being held accountable for executing Jesus. Instead, Roman Christianity scapegoated the Jewish people and blamed them for Jesus’ execution. Christian anti-semitism continued to evolve.  So much so that in certain eras, we find anti-semitic Christians opposed even to the reminder that Jesus himself was a Jew.

We can do better today. We don’t have to disparage Jewish people, Jewish wisdom, or Judaism to value Jesus and his ethical teachings. There is so much good in the Jesus story that can benefit our communities today as we live out the golden rule and shape our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone. That “everyone” genuinely means everyone, including Jewish people. And that means that we have to be honest about the harmful way Christian narratives have been told in the past and are still told today. We have to name those harmful story elements in our text. We must do better.

Some Christians today are doing better, and not just for our Jewish friends. They are raising consciousness of how Christianity has been used to harm Indigenous people, migrant populations, non-white and non-European people, women, the LGBTQ community, and so many more.

Jesus followers today have the responsibility to make sure our own house is in order. Before we can help anyone else with the speck that may be in their eye, we have to attend the beam that has been and still is in our own.

 

HeartGroup Application

 

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

2. What areas of injustice are you engaging within your own faith community? What changes are you working toward? 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

Following Jesus in the Time of Covid

mask with heart cut out

Herb Montgomery | January 14, 2022


Instead of arguing whether we should mandate vaccinations for the sake of the common good and for those who are vulnerable among us, as Jesus followers we already have a mandate in place: love your neighbor as yourself. This mandate requires us to act not only for our own best interests but also for the best interests of others.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of John:

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:1-11)

This story has received a lot of attention from Christians over the centuries. Whatever we take from this story, we must remember that it only appears in the last canonical gospel to be written and it was written when the Christian movement was becoming deeply anti-Jewish and trying to distance itself from Judaism in the eyes of the Roman Empire. Christians have used this story to contrast the jars used for “Jewish rites of purification” with Jesus’ “best wine” as if to say that Jesus’ teachings, though deeply Jewish, were at the same time superior to other Jewish wisdom and knowledge. We don’t have to disparage any other religion, especially not Judaism, to value the Jesus story. Antisemitic interpretations have historically been at the root of much of the harm Christians have committed against Jewish people. We can and must do better.

This story has also been at the center of teetotaler debates: there are arguments to this day about whether the wine Jesus made in this story was grape juice or alcoholic. These debates are silly to me.

The original audience would have understood that this story established Jesus as a great miracle worker. What can we take away from this story today?

One thing I like about this story is that only a few people were in the know about this miracle: Jesus, Mary, the servants, and the disciples. The wealthy wedding party hosts were oblivious to what Jesus was up to, and this speaks to me of the reality that not everyone experiences life the same way.

Recently, Senator Harry Reid died. Reid grew up in a family in Nevada that fought daily to survive deep poverty, and he carried his experiences with classism into his politics, adult life, and career. So few Congresspeople today have any experience with poverty in the United States and it shows in the decision they make in Congress.

But our story this week gives a nod to the lower social classes for whom the gospel of John was written. Jesus came to be for them. In other gospels, Jesus explains that the reign of God was God’s just future for the poor, outcast, marginalized, and excluded (see Luke 6:22-24, cf. Matthew 5).

And also in this story, Jesus’ mother, Mary, is centered. A woman in that society is the one really responsible for this miracle from the reluctant Jesus. Mary persuaded Jesus to do what John’s gospel treats as Jesus’ inaugural miracle. With Mary’s trust in Jesus, this version of the Jesus story really begins.

Mary’s words to the servants are at the heart of her role in this narrative: “Do whatever he tells you.” I imagine the original audience would have heard this clearly. For us today, following Jesus is much less about the creeds and much more about the ethics we choose to live our lives by. Are we endeavoring to do what Jesus told us? Are we, too, expending our energy to make our world a safer, more compassionate, just home for those our present system makes poor, outcast, marginalized or excluded?

Consider these ancient words found in the epistle of James:

“What good is it, my siblings, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a person is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do nothing to supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. (James 2:14-18, italics added for emphasis.)

We will find this emphasis more subtly spoken later in John’s gospel:

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

What designates one as a follower of Jesus is not the creeds we mentally assent to, but the kind of life we choose to live, the kind of values we seek to embody, the kind of ethics we endeavor to practice.

What we believe does translate into actions, but the emphasis in these teachings is always on which actions our beliefs give birth to.

Christianity’s sacred texts repeat this principle of “doing” and having our doing being defined by love. One of my favorite passages is in Romans 13:10:

“Love does no harm to one’s neighbor.”

This principle is one of the greatest areas of misunderstanding today. Our actions can and do protect us. But they also have implications for others. Like others living lives of compassion, Jesus followers should be choosing a course of action that takes into account the potential for harming others. This is love. Love takes yourself into account, yes, and it also takes into account the wellbeing and safety of those around you.

What does this mean for a Jesus follower in a global pandemic?

It means, if you can get vaccinated, get vaccinated. If you can wear a mask, wear a mask. Concern yourself with your neighbors who may be immunocompromised. At different stages of the pandemic certain communities have been more heavily impacted than others. Concern yourself with those who are particularly affected. Globally, vaccine disparity means that countries ravaged by colonialism are vulnerable to severe outbreaks.

Instead of arguing whether we should mandate vaccinations for the sake of the common good and for those who are vulnerable among us, as Jesus followers we already have a mandate in place: love your neighbor as yourself. This mandate requires us to act not only for our own best interests but also for the best interests of others.

We live in a system that is putting vulnerable people in harms way. What can we do while we are working to change that system? We can take every step to mitigate harms we may cause others. Others might take advantage of our efforts, but that is not our chief concern. Our priority needs to be doing everything we can to protect those our present system makes vulnerable.

In this week’s story, Mary says simply: “Whatever he tells you to do, do it.”

Those words have echoed from within this story over the centuries for every generation of Jesus followers. Jesus has told us to love. As this new year begins, take inventory of your life. Today, how is the Jesus of this story telling you to love?

HeartGroup Application

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

2. How is the Jesus of this story telling you to love in 2022? 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

Christmas Means Centering the Voices of Women

woman looking into the sun

Herb Montgomery | December 24, 2021


“We, too, can choose to listen when a woman has the courage to tell her story, even if it seems “impossible” to patriarchal men . . . If we are to take these Christmas narratives seriously, then we must center the voices of women in our society. We can choose to listen when they tell their stories . . . we, too, can follow the example of Luke’s Christmas narratives by centering women’s voices and pushing back against present-day expressions of Christianity that are patriarchal, that seek to silence women, or that still refuse to allow women to teach, be ordained, or hold positions of leadership.”


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

Merry Christmas to each and every one of you! Thanks for taking a moment to check in during this busy holiday weekend. I’ll be brief.

Our reading this week is from Luke 2:

Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a days journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Fathers house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor. (Luke 2:41-52)

There’s a lot to unpack in this week’s reading.

First, I want to address the history of antisemitism in some interpretations of this week’s reading. Many of them imagine Jesus as a child instructing Jewish elders and scholars, and so demote Jewish wisdom and knowledge to a status or quality beneath Jesus. This is not only harmful but also unnecessary.

And the passage doesn’t support such a picture. The text does say that Jesus was, first, “listening” to the scholars, and, second, “asking them questions.” They were amazed at his understanding (including of the explanations he was listening to) and his answers (implying they were questioning whether he grasped the depth of their teaching). The story reminds me of college students who impress their teachers with their understanding and their answers to questions. That in no way implies that those students know more or have greater experience than their teachers. At most, the gospel writer is characterizing Jesus as a gifted student, perhaps even a prodigy, but still very much a child. We don’t have to disparage Judaism or Jewish knowledge to listen to and value Jesus in the gospels.

Second, the Christmas and childhood narratives of Jesus in the gospels are following the format of Hellenistic hero biographies. True to that form, Luke includes a story from his hero’s childhood. These stories were typically included as predictions or prophecies of the nature of the hero’s life work and future accomplishments. Followers of Jesus, especially those for whom the gospel of Luke was originally written, were keenly devoted in proclaiming the value of Jesus’ teachings to others. For those others to take Jesus seriously, he had to be placed at least on the same level as other Hellenistic heroes. This is what we are witnessing in this week’s story. Luke’s hero, Jesus, is a precocious child, possibly a prodigy in understanding Torah, increasing in wisdom, learning, understanding, and respect, and so the narrative predicts that Jesus would grow up to become a great teacher.

In keeping with the Hellenistic hero form, in an almost ominous fashion, the story ends with “His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.”

In Luke, Jesus’ wisdom and learning grows and evolves. Readers soon encounter a Jesus who breaks into his society as a man with wisdom, learning, understanding and good news to share. And of all the passages in the Hebrew scriptures this Jesus could use to sum up his own purpose and passion, he chooses a passage from Isaiah.

“He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lords favor.” (Luke 4:16-19)

This great teacher’s wisdom is characterized in the story as good news to the poor. It proclaims liberty to the subjugated, including the imprisoned and oppressed. It also announces a return to Torah faithfulness (“the year of the Lord’s favor”), specifically in the context of economic restructuring that eliminates poverty (cf. Deuteronomy 15).

These are the elements of the Torah that the child in this week’s story will grow up to teach.

Lastly, I want to draw our attention to how Joseph is neither centered nor given any voice at all in this story. The only dialogue is between Mary and Jesus, and Joseph is in the periphery or background. Luke doesn’t ever center Joseph in any of the Christmas narratives.

I was recently contacted by a friend who had been tasked with speaking about Joseph during a church-related Christmas event, and they asked if I could offer some resources. But the more I thought about Joseph in the Christmas narratives, the more this point became clear. Luke’s Christmas narratives center women’s voices like Elizabeth’s and Mary’s. Even Zechariah, Elizabeth’s husband, has his literal voice taken away till John’s birth. And we never hear from Joseph in Luke: he isn’t centered in Luke’s birth or childhood narratives of Jesus at all.  This most likely was because Hellenistic heroes were typically assigned divine parentage in some form. Today, we can hear these narratives, though, as centering the voices of women.

And maybe that’s our point that we can take away from these stories in our context.

Even in Matthew’s gospel, Joseph gets a little more stage time than he does in Luke, but not much. An angel tells him to believe Mary no matter how impossible her story might seem, and Joseph chooses to listen and believe her. We, too, can choose to listen when a woman has the courage to tell her story, even if it seems “impossible” to patriarchal men.

I think of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford who told her story during the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to be a Supreme Court Justice. So many disbelieved her testimony. During his nomination hearing, Kavanaugh assured Senator Susan Collins that he respected the precedents around Roe vs. Wade, yet now that he is a Supreme Court justice, he has expressed complete disregard for that precedent in hearings about abortion restrictions in Mississippi. How many times must our society look back with regret and say “we should have listened to ‘her’”?

Social location matters. If we are to take these Christmas narratives seriously, then we must center the voices of women in our society. We can choose to listen when they tell their stories. And we must especially be about this business within our faith communities as well. As people of faith, we, too, can follow the example of Lukes Christmas narratives by centering womens voices and pushing back against present-day expressions of Christianity that are patriarchal, that seek to silence women, or that still refuse to allow women to teach, be ordained, or hold positions of leadership. We must do better. And we can.

As this year comes to a close and we prepare to embark on a new year, may we take these narratives to heart. May we listen to their lessons. And may we spend this coming year more deeply engaging the necessary work of making our world a safer, more compassionate, just home for everyone.

Merry Christmas to each of you!

HeartGroup Application

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

2. With your group, share some things you are thankful for from 2021, something you wish had been different, and some hopes you may have for 2022.

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


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.

The Feminist Liberation of Advent

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.


The Feminist Liberation of Advent

Herb Montgomery | December 17, 2021

“In this week’s reading from the gospel of Luke, we read of two more women: Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist and Mary the mother of Jesus. Both Elizabeth and Mary would, for Luke’s listeners, call to mind ancient stories of courageous, scandalous, feminine liberation on behalf of oppressed people, the stories of Jael and Judith.”

Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke, Luke 1:39-55.

I’ve chosen to quote Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney’s translation in her wonderful contribution to the church, A Woman’s Lectionary for the Whole Church; Year W.

Mary set out in those days and went to the hill country with haste, to a Judean town. There she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. Now when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. From where does the [visit] come to me? That the mother of my Sovereign comes to me? Look! As soon as I heard the sound of your greeting in my ear, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Now blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of those things spoken to her by the Holy One.” (p. 6)

And Mary replies,

My soul magnifies the Holy One,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for God has looked with favor on the lowliness of God’s own womb-slave,

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is God’s name.

God’s loving-kindness is for those who fear God

from generation to generation.

God has shown the strength of God’s own arm;

God has scattered the arrogant in the intent of their hearts.

God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly;

God has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty.

God has helped God’s own child, Israel,

a memorial to God’s mercy,

just as God said to our mothers and fathers,

to [Hagar and] Sarah and Abraham, to their descendants forever. (pp. 8-9)

Those who heard Luke’s narrative and were familiar with the stories of the Hebrew scriptures would have recognized Elizabeth’s greeting as an echo of earlier Jewish narratives:

Most blessed of women be Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, most blessed of tent-dwelling women. (Judges 5:24)

Then Uzziah said to her, “Blessed are you, daughter, by the Most High God, above all the women on earth; and blessed be the Lord God, the creator of heaven and earth, who guided your blow at the head of the leader of our enemies. Your deed of hope will never be forgotten by those who recall the might of God.” (Judith 13:18)

The first quote about Jael is from the story of Deborah, a prophetess and judge. In the book of Judges, Deborah tells Barak, a military commander, to assemble forces and battle Sisera, commander of the army of King Jabin of Canaan. Jabin “had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years” and “they [Israelites] cried to the LORD for help.” (Judges 4:3)

Barak tells Deborah that he will only go if she goes with him. She agrees, but replies, “because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the LORD will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” (Judges 4:9)

When Sisera escapes the battle, he flees on foot and hides in the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber. He mistakes Jael as a neutral party in the battle. Jael then seduces Sisera only to drive a stake through his temple while he sleeps. Jael ushers Barak in to behold the gruesome scene.

The song of Deborah memorializes this story:

  Most blessed of women be Jael,

the wife of Heber the Kenite,

most blessed of tent-dwelling women.

He asked for water, and she gave him milk;

in a bowl fit for nobles she brought him curdled milk.

  Her hand reached for the tent peg,

her right hand for the workmans hammer.

She struck Sisera, she crushed his head,

she shattered and pierced his temple.

  At her feet he sank,

he fell; there he lay.

At her feet he sank, he fell;

where he sank, there he fell—dead. (Judges 5:24-27)

This is a violent and bloody story of liberation from oppression by the hands of a woman. Medieval images of Jael often depict her as a prefiguration of Mary the mother of Jesus.

The second reference, from the deuterocanonical book of Judith, is found in the Septuagint. It tells the story of Judith, a courageous and beautiful Jewish widow. Judith uses her beauty and power of seduction to destroy the Assyrian general Holofernes and to liberate her people from oppression.

In Judith 10 we read:

“She removed the sackcloth she had been wearing, took off her widows garments, bathed her body with water, and anointed herself with precious ointment. She combed her hair, put on a tiara, and dressed herself in the festive attire that she used to wear while her husband Manasseh was living. She put sandals on her feet, and put on her anklets, bracelets, rings, earrings, and all her other jewelry. Thus she made herself very beautiful, to entice the eyes of all the men who might see her.” (Judith 10:3-4)

When Judith is captured by Holofernes’ patrol, she tells them, I am a daughter of the Hebrews, but I am fleeing from them, for they are about to be handed over to you to be devoured. I am on my way to see Holofernes the commander of your army, to give him a true report; I will show him a way by which he can go and capture all the hill country without losing one of his men, captured or slain.” (10:12-13)

Her beauty distracts them, and they take her to Holofernes who hears her tale and welcomes her.

Her words pleased Holofernes and all his servants. They marveled at her wisdom and said, “No other woman from one end of the earth to the other looks so beautiful or speaks so wisely! . . . You are not only beautiful in appearance, but wise in speech.” (11:20-23)

Holofernes holds a private banquet and intends to have sex with Judith afterwards. She gets him so drunk that late in the night, while he’s passed out and she’s alone with him, Judith stands beside Holofernes’ bed and prays: “O Lord God of all might, look in this hour on the work of my hands for the exaltation of Jerusalem” (13:4). She then takes down Holofornes’ sword, which hung from his bed post, and decapitates him in two blows.

This is another violent, bloody story of liberation from oppression by the hands of a woman.

In this week’s reading from the gospel of Luke, we read of two more women: Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist and Mary the mother of Jesus. Both Elizabeth and Mary would, for Luke’s listeners, call to mind ancient stories of courageous, scandalous, feminine liberation on behalf of oppressed people.

Elizabeth’s story is of a life miraculously conceived in her though she is past childbearing years. This is a common theme in Hebrew liberation narratives of liberation, including Hannah with Samuel, and Samson’s mother with Samson. Elizabeth’s miracle will prepare the way of liberation for people in hopeless oppression. Hers is a child who will proclaim hope in the face of impossibilities.

Mary’s story, on the other hand, is not one of life being created where it was impossible. Her story, like Jael’s and Judith’s, is much more sexually scandalous. The life growing in her was conceived before she and Joseph were joined in marriage. And that life will not prepare for liberation, like John’s will. No, this life will tell the story of the way of liberation itself. The scandal of Jesus’ conception, with all its surrounding questions, will climax in the scandal of women some thirty years later testifying to the scandal of an empty tomb.

These narratives aren’t perfect. In the ancient stories, it is the women who liberate. In the Christmas narratives women now give birth to sons who are the conduits of liberation. The ancient stories may have been written at a much less patriarchal time than the stories in our gospels; I don’t know. Still, this week’s reading is not about John or Jesus. The reading is about Elizabeth and Mary, who shaped them.

With all of this in mind, go back and read Mary’s Magnificat as translated by Rev. Wil Gafney, Ph.D:

My soul magnifies the Holy One,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for God has looked with favor on the lowliness of God’s own womb-slave,

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is God’s name.

God’s loving-kindness is for those who fear God

from generation to generation.

God has shown the strength of God’s own arm;

God has scattered the arrogant in the intent of their hearts.

God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly;

God has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty.

God has helped God’s own child, Israel,

a memorial to God’s mercy,

just as God said to our mothers and fathers,

to [Hagar and] Sarah and Abraham, to their descendants forever.

One of Advent’s loudest themes is that liberation, salvation, change come from the bottom up and from the outside edges in; from those in more marginalized social locations. In the economy or reign of the God of this gospel, it is the hungry who are filled with good things. It is the lowly who are lifted up. The arrogant are scattered, the powerful and privileged are brought down, and the rich are sent away empty.

As we look around us at our world, societies, and communities today, this way may seem as impossible as Elizabeth’s story. Dare we choose to be people of hope in the face of apparent impossibilities? Some may also deem this way as scandalous as Mary—scandalous in its inclusion, scandalous in its outspokenness, and scandalous in its brazenness.

During this time of Advent and always, this is the kind of life and work we are called to be about. Dare we choose to be people of the scandalous gospel of Jesus?

HeartGroup Application

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

2. On this last weekend of Advent, how are our stories speaking of liberation, change, and societal justice alongside of and in harmony with these ancient stories? 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

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


 


 

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

Advent, Hope, and Living on the Margins

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

ornament with a church in it's reflection

Herb Montgomery | December 3, 2021


“The gospel message here, and one of my favorite Advent themes, is that salvation, change, and liberation don’t come from the center of our societies, but from the margins. . . . Advent tells a liberation story that 2,000 years ago inspired hope in those who were being forced to live on their own society’s margins. Can it for us today?”


Our reading this week is from the Gospel of Luke:

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene—during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:

  A voice of one calling in the wilderness,

Prepare the way for the Lord,

make straight paths for him.

Every valley shall be filled in,

every mountain and hill made low.

The crooked roads shall become straight,

the rough ways smooth.

And all people will see Gods salvation.’ ” (Luke 3:1-6)

I love this week’s Advent reading for so many reasons.

The narrative has the “word of God” coming to John in an unusual location. John was a son of Zechariah the priest (Luke 1:5) and therefore, by lineage, he should not be in the wilderness acting like an ancient Hebrew prophet. He should have been occupying his place in the temple services, being a priest like his father. Instead, John rejected the path of working in the system or changing the system from the inside. I can imagine the struggle John might have gone through when he told his father that he wasn’t going to follow the family expectations and abandon a path toward priesthood for the margins of his society, the edges, and the wilderness.

The narrative’s contrast between the temple versus the wilderness resurrects a tension repeated by the Hebrew prophets: the centralized temple state and its priesthood versus those on the margins or edges of their society. The Hebrew prophets in the wilderness called for justice, for liberation, and for all violence against society’s vulnerable to cease.

This contrast takes on even more meaning when one realizes that one national myth of the Judean Temple-state was that Jerusalem and the Temple would eventually become the center of the world and all nations would flow to it. Consider these passages. All emphasis is added:

Psalms 2:6I have installed my king

on Zion, my holy mountain [the temple in Jerusalem].”

Psalms 14:7 Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! [Jerusalem and the Temple]

When the LORD restores his people,

let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad! (emphasis added)

Psalms 69:35-46- for God will save Zion [Jerusalem and the Temple]

and rebuild the cities of Judah.

Then people will settle there and possess it; the children of his servants will inherit it,

and those who love his name will dwell there.

Psalms 102:15-16 The nations will fear the name of the LORD,

all the kings of the earth will revere your glory.

  For the LORD will rebuild Zion [Jerusalem and the Temple]

and appear in his glory.

  He will respond to the prayer of the destitute;

he will not despise their plea.

  Let this be written for a future generation,

that a people not yet created may praise the LORD:

  The LORD looked down from his sanctuary on high,

from heaven he viewed the earth,

to hear the groans of the prisoners

and release those condemned to death.”

So the name of the LORD will be declared in Zion [Jerusalem and the Temple]

and his praise in Jerusalem

when the peoples and the kingdoms

assemble to worship the LORD.

Isaiah 4:5- Then the LORD will create over all of Mount Zion [Jerusalem and the Temple] and over those who assemble there a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night; over everything the glory will be a canopy.

Isaiah 18:7 At that time gifts will be brought to the LORD Almighty

from a people tall and smooth-skinned,

from a people feared far and wide,

an aggressive nation of strange speech,

whose land is divided by rivers—

the gifts will be brought to Mount Zion [Jerusalem and the Temple], the place of the Name of the LORD Almighty.

Isaiah 60:10-14Foreigners will rebuild your walls,

and their kings will serve you.

Though in anger I struck you,

in favor I will show you compassion.

Your gates will always stand open,

they will never be shut, day or night,

so that people may bring you the wealth of the nations

their kings led in triumphal procession.

For the nation or kingdom that will not serve you will perish;

it will be utterly ruined.

The glory of Lebanon will come to you,

the juniper, the fir and the cypress together,

to adorn my sanctuary;

and I will glorify the place for my feet.

The children of your oppressors will come bowing before you;

all who despise you will bow down at your feet

and will call you the City of the LORD,

Zion of the Holy One of Israel. [Jerusalem and the Temple] (emphasis added)

In the gospels, John rejects all of this. He turns his back on the city and its temple and takes up residence along the margins or the wilderness of his own society. The gospel message here, and one of my favorite Advent themes, is that salvation, change, and liberation don’t come from the center of our societies, but from the margins.

In Say to This Mountain by Ched Myers, Marie Dennis, Joseph Nangle, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, and Stuart Taylor, the authors write,

“The experience of wilderness is common to the vast majority of people in the world. Their reality is at the margins of almost everything that is defined by the modern Western world as ‘the good life.’ This wilderness has not been created by accident. It is the result of a system stacked against many people and their communities, whose lives and resources are exploited to benefit a very small minority at the centers of power and privilege. It is created by lifestyles that deplete and pollute natural resources . . . Wilderness is the residue of war and greed and injustice.” (Say to This Mountain: Mark’s Story of Discipleship, p. 11)

Advent begins by birthing hope within people who live in the wildernesses of their society: it tells  them that their lived experience on the margins of any society is not the result of divine will but the result of social, political, economic and religious forces wielded by the privileged and the powerful in our communities.

Our reading from Luke this week also corrects a conflation of passages we first read in Mark’s gospel:

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

  I will send my messenger ahead of you,

who will prepare your way” —

a voice of one calling in the wilderness,

Prepare the way for the Lord,

make straight paths for him.’ ” (Mark 1:1-3)

These words were not from the same source but from Exodus, Malachi, and Isaiah.

See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared.” (Exodus 23:20)

I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. (Malachi 3:1)

These words from Exodus speak of the liberation of Hebrew slaves and those from other groups who left Egypt with them. I question what the indigenous peoples of Canaan thought about this, given the history of how this same narrative was used against indigenous people here in America. We must be careful to remember that the liberation of one community should not mean the genocide of another.

The context of the passage from Malachi is God coming to God’s temple opposing “those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice” (Malachi 3:5). Because of this passage, I think of those today who must work more than 40 hours each week for less pay than they need to on .

Luke’s gospel drops these references to Exodus and Malachi and keep only the passage from Isaiah, though Luke will use the passage from Exodus and Malachi later in the Jesus story to refer to John:

“This is the one about whom it is written: I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.” (Luke 7:27)

The passage in Isaiah reads, “A voice of one calling: In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.”

Both John and Jesus emerge from the margins of their society and come to liberate oppressed people and restore justice to them. The gospels describe John as the forerunner for the reign of God that Jesus taught. Jesus came calling for change. But change doesn’t just happen.

Before any social change has ever taken place, years of groundwork has been laid. Many of those who did that initial ground work never lived long enough to see the fruit of their labor. They worked for a generation yet to come. Change doesn’t always take that long either: we can always choose change today.

But I think of changes taking place presently in the state of Georgia as just one example. The political changes we are witnessing in Georgia result from years of ground work by so many people including Stacey Abrams.

Changes today also depend on the work of generations who have gone before us. People chose to do the work they did not knowing for sure that change would come. They chose to live the kind of lives they lived because that was the type of people either they were and they refused to let the system shape them. They lived their life in a way that, even if they didn’t change the system, at least the system wouldn’t change them. Others did their work simply because it was the right thing to do. And still others labored because they hoped that one day, society would “reach the promised land” whether they were there to witness it or not.

This week’s reading includes two highly charged religious words: repentance and forgiveness.

If it helps, think of repentance as “thinking about things differently.” It’s much more about experiencing a paradigm shift than it is about the negative connotations religious abuse usually attaches to the term. Remember, too, that although contemporary Christianity often discusses forgiveness in the context of personal, individual morality, for the Hebrew prophets forgiveness and repentance sat in the context of calls for systemic justice and liberating a nation from injustice’s harmful effects. The Hebrew prophetic tradition speaks of sin as social injustice, repentance as turning away from that social injustice, and forgiveness as social restoration from that social injustice.

This is the context of John’s message that his listeners change their unjust ways for God’s reign. God’s just future was near.

I think of our society now. I think of LGBTQ justice work, racial justice work, and justice work for women. I think of economic justice for those our system pushes into poverty. I think of indigenous justice, and climate justice. So many justice movements are presently engaging our world, seeking to make it a safer, compassionate, just home for everyone.

During this Advent season, I also think of the Jesus story, not as only a Christian story to celebrate at Christmas time, but as a liberation story that 2,000 years ago inspired hope in those who were being forced to live on their own society’s margins.

What does Advent have to say to those living on the margins in our world today?

HeartGroup Application

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

2. How does Advent speak of liberation for you? 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



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 and a Different Iteration of Our World

advent candles

by Herb Montgomery | November 29, 2021

(To listen to this week’s eSight as a podcast, click here.)

 


“As we enter this Advent season this weekend, we are called again to build a better world. Hope can give way to despair if instead of change, we witness unjust systems evolving to perpetuate harm in new ways. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can choose something different. We have the power to begin the world over again.”


 

Happy Advent!

As we enter the Advent season this weekend, our reading is from the gospel of Luke,

There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” He told them this parable: Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:25-36)

As I wrote about our reading from Mark’s gospel two weeks ago, by the time this week’s reading was written, the Jesus movement was living in the wake of several destructive events including the Jewish-Roman war. The followers of Jesus are trying to make sense of all these events in both Luke and Mark.

In Mark we read a similar passage:

But in those days, following that distress,

  the sun will be darkened,

and the moon will not give its light;

  the stars will fall from the sky,

and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.

At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” (Mark 13:24-27)

I like how the early Jesus community, even in the chaos of their changing world, could perceive an opportunity to make the world a just, more compassionate place. Let me explain this idea.

The phrase “son of man” in Mark and Luke has a deeply Jewish, apocalyptic, liberation context. It’s from the late book of Daniel, and when that portion of Daniel was written, it was written in the context of deep “world change” for the Jewish community reading it. It was meant to inspire hope in the place of fear and anxiety.

Let’s look at a section of Daniel to understand this context. I’ve bolded the key words we’ll be focusing on in Daniel chapter 7:

“In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying in bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream. Daniel said: In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea. The first was like a lion, and it had the wings of an eagle. I watched until its wings were torn off and it was lifted from the ground so that it stood on two feet like a human being, and the mind of a human was given to it. And there before me was a second beast, which looked like a bear. It was raised up on one of its sides, and it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. It was told, Get up and eat your fill of flesh! After that, I looked, and there before me was another beast, one that looked like a leopard. And on its back it had four wings like those of a bird. This beast had four heads, and it was given authority to rule. After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beastterrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns. While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. This horn had eyes like the eyes of a human being and a mouth that spoke boastfully.

As I looked,

  thrones were set in place,

and the Ancient of Days took his seat.

His clothing was as white as snow;

the hair of his head was white like wool.

His throne was flaming with fire,

and its wheels were all ablaze.

  A river of fire was flowing,

coming out from before him.

Thousands upon thousands attended him;

ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.

The court was seated,

and the books were opened.

Then I continued to watch because of the boastful words the horn was speaking. I kept looking until the beast was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire. The other beasts had been stripped of their authority, but were allowed to live for a period of time.

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”

As with all of the Bible’s prophetic passages, people have spent endless hours arguing over possible interpretations from the themes to the most minute details—so much so that these arguments can cause us to miss the forest for the trees.

What is the overall narrative theme here? World empires that oppressed the Jewish people are likened to violent beasts of prey who dominate and destroy. The scene has tension from the beginning: the first beast-empire is both beast or monster and human. From there, the text speaks of a divine intervention where each empire meets the end of its unsustainable exploitation and is consumed. Then we meet a fifth being, not a beast but a human or human-like one. This being is “one like the son of humanity,” a person who replaces all the empires of this world and represents both the Jewish people’s triumph over their oppressors and a just future where all the violence, injustice, and oppression of our world is put right. This very apocalyptic narrative therefore repeats the Hebrew prophetic hope of God’s just future in our world. Consider how the narrative in Daniel 7 ends:

But the court will sit, and his [little horn’s] 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. His [the son of man’s] kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.(Daniel 7:26)

Following this model, a Hebrew way of interpreting the end of violent empires and the chaos such transitions create is that they could be the end of something beastly making way for the creation of a more humane world.

The fact that beasts and humans symbolize the contrast between societies that are destructive and those that are life-giving brings to mind the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. regarding power, love, and justice.

“What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.” (Martin Luther King Jr., Where Do We Go from Here, p. 38)

The son of man is not the only image borrowed from the Hebrew scriptures in this week’s reading: it also includes the fig tree. This reference also hints to its hearers that we may look through the chaos to the hope of God’s just future.

“All the stars in the sky will be dissolved

and the heavens rolled up like a scroll;

all the starry host will fall

like withered leaves from the vine,

like shriveled figs from the fig tree.” (Isaiah 34:4)

For the scriptures’ first audiences, a leafy fig tree meant that summer and the time of harvest was near. For both Isaiah and the gospel writers, “the time of harvest” was the time when societies would finally reap what the powerful had sown.

Mark and Luke also both use the phrase “being on guard,” but they use it differently.

In Mark, being on guard means being wary of false messiahs and being handed over to local councils. It is connected to the watchfulness Jesus implored his closest disciples to join him in in the garden of Gethsemane as he was about to face state execution for standing up in the Temple courtyard to an unjust status quo.

By the time of Luke’s writing, though, being on guard has expanded to include carousing, and this shift may reflect struggles within the Jesus community at the time Luke was written.

Luke’s gospel also shifts our vision of God’s just future as a time of reversal that “traps” some kinds of people. Mark used this idea of entrapment to refer to those who were powerful and using their power in unjust ways, but in Luke the trap captures those who are distracted:

Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap.” (Luke 21:34)

Lastly, where Mark’s gospel focuses on the Jewish community, Luke’s gospel expands the focus to the entire world: “For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth.”

How can we as Jesus followers read the above passage in Luke today?

Today I think of the beast of Daniel 7 when I think of our era. We are living in what some observers see as the final stages of predatory capitalism, and we are also transitioning to a post-pandemic world too. In the U.S.’s consumerist culture, we are experiencing rising prices in the cost of living, supply chain breakdowns, increased demand for services and goods, labor shortages, and people who still can’t return to their workplace and/or are feeling strained by working 40 hours weekly for pay they can’t survive on. Over the last two years, many of us have experience personal losses while witnessing others’ gains, especially the wealthy whose net worth increased exponentially during the pandemic. This week we once again see our legal system’s disparities on display via the Rittenhouse trial, the trial of those who killed Ahmaud Arbery, and the trial of those who orchestrated the racist violence in Charlottesvile.

Dare we see in these moments an opportunity to build a better world? If we can, it would be characteristic of the Jesus story itself.

As we enter this Advent season this weekend, we are called again to build a better world. Hope can give way to despair if instead of change, we witness unjust systems evolving to perpetuate harm in new ways. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can choose something different. We have the power to begin the world over again.

The lectionary texts our Advent season begins with this year are interpreted by certain Christians to point not to the first advent that many celebrate at Christmas but to a second advent, or God’s reign, or God’s just future in some form at some point in the future. Certain Christians see these as two advents. I want to challenge us to move past surface distinctions.  I want to encourage us to see not two advent events (first with baby Jesus and a future second with an adult returning Jesus), but instead as one entire process of transforming our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone; a process that is distributed over time. The events of our text this week, and the narratives of a baby in a manger, are both parts of the same whole. As we move into Advent, remember, the hope and belief that a new iteration of our world is possible, and that the creation of that new iteration has begun, is what Advent is genuinely all about.

 

HeartGroup Application

 

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

2. As Advent begins this year, what does Advent in our social context mean for you 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

 


#GivingTuesday 2021

 

Tomorrow is #GivingTuesday!

This year we are asking you to support the work of Renewed Heart Ministries on this special day.

All contributions this #GivingTuesday 2021 to RHM will be matched, dollar for dollar, thanks to a generous and kind pledge to from a few of our supporters.

On this special day, November 30th, go to renewedheartministries.com and click “Donate.”

 

#GivingTuesday is a global day of giving that harnesses the collective power of individuals, communities and organizations to encourage philanthropy and to celebrate generosity worldwide.

#GivingTuesday is held annually on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving (in the US) and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday to kick off the holiday giving season and inspire people to collaborate in improving our communities and to give back in impactful ways to the charities and causes they support.

#GivingTuesday is a global giving movement that began in 2012 that has been built by individuals, families, organizations, businesses and communities in all 50 states, and in countries around the world.

#GivingTuesday is endeavoring to transform how people think about, talk about, and participate in the giving season. It inspires people to take collective action to improve their communities, give back in better, smarter ways to the charities and causes they believe in, and help create a better world.

#GivingTuesday demonstrates how every act of generosity counts, and that they mean even more when we give together.

Every year millions of people come together on this special day to give back and to support the causes they believe in.

This November 30th, consider making a donation to support the ongoing work of Renewed Heart Ministries as one of your chosen nonprofits and help make this #Giving Tuesday the best one yet.

Again, on this special day, tomorrow, go to renewedheartministries.com and click “Donate.”

We can’t thank you enough for your support!