Safe-for-Everyone Interpretations and Practices

Safe-for-Everyone Interpretations and Practices

Herb Montgomery | February 3, 2023

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


“What does this mean for us? It means that we can do with the Jesus story today what those in the 1st Century were doing with the Torah. We can learn to interpret the Jesus story in life-giving ways, listening to the world around us and the harm previous interpretations have caused. We can think carefully, not just theologically but socially, politically, and economically . . . we can grapple with the ethics of the Jesus story in our cultural context today and find more life-giving ways of defining what it means to follow Jesus.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Matthew and continues the passage from last week.

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:13-20)

This week’s reading is this gospel’s collection of sayings and teachings that reflects the concerns and experiences of many Galilean members of the Jewish Jesus community at the time of this gospel’s writing.

To understand the phrase “if the salt loses its saltiness,” understand how salt was harvested in the region at that time. When harvested, salt was mixed with impurities or other whitish rocks. These rocks were then ground up into pebbles and placed in a seasoning bag that could be stirred into pots as they were cooking. Once all the salt dissolved, one was left with pebbles that would not dissolve and that weren’t salt. This “gravel” was worth nothing but to be thrown out. When this passage was written, the Christian community must have been experiencing a waning that would have helped them resonate with this metaphor. Their salt was losing its potency.

The language of a light on a stand and a city on a hill is interesting. I side with those who date Matthew’s gospel to after Rome’s violent destruction of Jerusalem and its temple. The intended audience for this gospel, Jewish Jesus followers in a Hellenized region, would have had both Jewish and Christian concerns, anxieties, and struggles as they pieced together their purpose in life now that Jerusalem and the temple were no more. The temple state was gone.

So it’s interesting to me that Matthew’s author applies language that would have been associated with the old Jerusalem—“a city on a hill”—to Jesus followers. For the author, these Jewish followers of Jesus were to carry on the hopes and promises that had once centered Jerusalem and the temple there.

Consider these passages from the Hebrew prophets to understand what these believers could have been wrestling with now that Jerusalem and their temple were gone:

“I will restore your leaders as in days of old,

your rulers as at the beginning.

Afterward you will be called

the City of Righteousness,

the Faithful City.” (Isaiah 1:26)

“In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:

  We have a strong city;

God makes salvation

its walls and ramparts.” (Isaiah 26:1)

“Look on Zion, the city of our festivals;

your eyes will see Jerusalem,

a peaceful abode, a tent that will not be moved;

its stakes will never be pulled up,

nor any of its ropes broken.” (Isaiah 33:20)

“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.” (Isaiah 60:14)

“They will be called the Holy People,

the Redeemed of the LORD;

and you will be called Sought After,

the City No Longer Deserted.” (Isaiah 62:12)

“In the last days

  the mountain of the LORDS temple will be established

as the highest of the mountains;

it will be exalted above the hills,

and all nations will stream to it.”

“Many peoples will come and say,

  ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,

to the temple of the God of Jacob.

He will teach us his ways,

so that we may walk in his paths.”

The law will go out from Zion,

the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 2:2-3)

“These I will bring to my holy mountain

and give them joy in my house of prayer.

Their burnt offerings and sacrifices

will be accepted on my altar;

for my house will be called

a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:7)

It’s important to note that Matthew’s gospel refers to the community of Jewish Jesus followers as a city on hill because this encouragement to them to let their light shine could be the very beginning roots of the supersessionism or replacement theology we now live with today. Supersessionism is the teaching that the Christian Church has replaced the Jewish people as God’s chosen, covenantpeople.

Two things about this teaching should give us pause. First, Christian supersessionism has a long history of harming the Jewish community, and its replacement seeds can be traced all the way to the atrocities of the 20th Century Holocaust in Europe. Supersessionism is still dangerous and harmful today.

Second, it is exceptionalist to imagine replacing someone else as God’s chosen. This Christian belief sits at the heart of America’s history as well. America has referred to itself as a “city on a hill.” This rhetoric from our Christian theology that has its roots in our passage this week.

By all means, we should let the light of love and justice shine, but not at the expense of someone else. We don’t have to demonize others to let our own light shine. We are all God’s children, each of us. In all our beautiful diversity, we bear the image of the sacred Divine. Rather than dividing a world where some are “chosen” and others are not, history has shown us that it is much more life-giving to see us each as deeply connected members of the same human family. Our salvation, liberation, and thriving is deeply connected to and dependent on others’ salvation, liberation, and thriving. If there is such a thing as salvation, none of us are saved till all of us are saved.

I don’t believe the author of Matthew intended their words in this week’s passage to set in motion any harm. I can see in my mind’s eye their intention being to simply encourage a community whose temple and city lay in ruins. But making the Christian church the new “city on a hill” has nonetheless done immense harm through the centuries. Today, given that history, we can do better.

Toward the end of this passage, Jesus speaks of not doing away with the law and the prophets. Jesus’ focus on love and justice as the fulfillment of the law, like Hillel’s, would have been deeply meaningful to Matthew’s original audience. The tensions around debates over the perpetuity of the Torah for Jewish Jesus followers had arisen by the time this gospel was written. This offers us something meaningful today. The Jesus of the gospels led a Jewish renewal movement, not a replacement movement, and that Jewish renewal was built on the foundation of interpreting the Torah through the lens of the Jewish ethics of enemy love, inclusion and embrace of the outsider, economic justice for the poor, and more. This way of interpreting Torah was not antithetical to the Torah.

Consider the following passages from the Hebrew scriptures:

“If you come across your enemys ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it. (Exodus 23:4-5)

“If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;

if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.” (Proverbs 25:21)

“Do not gloat when your enemy falls;

when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice.” (Proverbs 24:17)

Jesus’ way of interpreting the Torah was one among many. Jesus’ way contrasted with other interpretations that were more formal or that emphasized strict ritual observances to practice Torah faithfulness. But it was these interpretations that Jesus’ teachings contrasted with according to Matthew, not the Torah itself. Jesus’ way of defining faithfulness to the Torah would have also provided his followers with a meaningful alternative to the Temple rituals now they could no longer be practiced.

But, again, Jesus’ teachings were not the only teachings offering alternatives. Karen Armstrong gives another example:

In Rabbinic Judaism, the Jewish Axial Age came of age. The Golden Rule, compassion, and loving-kindness were central to this new Judaism; by the time the temple had been destroyed, some of the Pharisees already understood that they did not need a temple to worship God, as this Talmudic story makes clear:

It happened that R. Johanan ben Zakkai went out from Jerusalem, and R. Joshua followed him and saw the burnt ruins of the Temple and he said: ‘Woe is it that the place, where the sins of Israel find atonement, is laid waste.’ Then said R. Johanan, “Grieve not, we have an atonement equal to the Temple, the doing of loving deeds, as it is said, ‘I desire love and not sacrifice.” (Karen Armstrong, The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions, Kindle Locations 7507-7540)

What does this mean for us? It means that we can do with the Jesus story today what those in the 1st Century were doing with the Torah. We can learn to interpret the Jesus story in life-giving ways, listening to the world around us and the harm previous interpretations have caused. We can think carefully, not just theologically but socially, politically, and economically too.

Like those grappling with the Torah in the 1st Century, we can grapple with the ethics of the Jesus story in our cultural context today and find more life-giving ways of defining what it means to follow Jesus.

I’ll close this week with the inspiring words of the rest of above passage from Armstrong:

“Kindness was the key to the future; Jews must turn away from the violence and divisiveness of the war years and create a united community with ‘one body and one soul.’ When the community was integrated in love and mutual respect, God was with them, but when they quarreled with one another, he [sic] returned to heaven, where the angels chanted with ‘one voice and one melody.’ When two or three Jews sat and studied harmoniously together, the divine presence sat in their midst. Rabbi Akiba, who was killed by the Romans in 132 CE, taught that the commandment ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself’ was ‘the great principle of the Torah.’ To show disrespect to any human being who had been created in Gods image was seen by the rabbis as a denial of God himself and tantamount to atheism. Murder was a sacrilege: ‘Scripture instructs us that whatsoever sheds human blood is regarded as if he had diminished the divine image.’ God had created only one man at the beginning of time to teach us that destroying only one human life was equivalent to annihilating the entire world, while to save a life redeemed the whole of humanity. To humiliate anybody—even a slave or a non-Jew—was equivalent to murder, a sacrilegious defacing of Gods image. To spread a scandalous, lying story about another person was to deny the existence of God. Religion was inseparable from the practice of habitual respect to all other human beings. You could not worship God unless you practiced the Golden Rule and honored your fellow humans, whoever they were.” (Karen Armstrong, The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions, Kindle Locations 7507-7540)

We could learn a lot from these Jewish traditions. In our own era today, Christians desperately need to transition to more loving, compassionate, and safe-for-everyone ways of practicing our own faith tradition.

It won’t be easy work. But in the end, I believe it will be worth it.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. What are some of your experiences with safe-for-everyone changes in interpretations for what it means to follow Jesus today? Share with your group.

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

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

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

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week.


Now Available at Renewed Heart Ministries!

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

Here is just a taste of what people are saying:

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

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

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

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

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

Get your copy today at renewedheartministries.com


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

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A New Iteration of Our Present World

Mountain view

Herb Montgomery | January 27, 2023

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


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


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Matthew.

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

Blessed are the poor in spirit,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

  Blessed are those who mourn,

for they will be comforted.

  Blessed are the meek,

for they will inherit the earth.

  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

for they will be filled.

  Blessed are the merciful,

for they will be shown mercy.

  Blessed are the pure in heart,

for they will see God.

  Blessed are the peacemakers,

for they will be called children of God.

  Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HeartGroup Application

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

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

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

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

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

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week.


Now Available at Renewed Heart Ministries!

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

Here is just a taste of what people are saying:

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

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

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

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

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

Get your copy today at renewedheartministries.com


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

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

When Healing Justice Comes Near

sunrise

Herb Montgomery | January 20, 2023

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


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


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Matthew:

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

Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,

the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,

Galilee of the Gentiles—

  the people living in darkness

have seen a great light;

on those living in the land of the shadow of death

a light has dawned.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

you great monster lying among your streams.

You say, “The Nile belongs to me;

I made it for myself.”

But I will put hooks in your jaws

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

I will pull you out from among your streams,

with all the fish sticking to your scales.

I will leave you in the desert,

you and all the fish of your streams.

You will fall on the open field

and not be gathered or picked up.

I will give you as food

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

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

And commentators agree on this association:

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

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

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

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

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

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

HeartGroup Application

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

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

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

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

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

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week.


Now Available at Renewed Heart Ministries!

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

Here is just a taste of what people are saying:

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

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

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

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

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

Get your copy today at renewedheartministries.com


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Breaking With the Way Things Are

sunset road

Herb Montgomery | January 6, 2022

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

that the mountains would tremble before you!

  As when fire sets twigs ablaze

and causes water to boil,

come down to make your name known to your enemies

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

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

The kings of the earth rise up

and the rulers band together

against the LORD and against his anointed, saying,

I will proclaim the LORDS decree:

  He said to me, You are my son;

today I have become your father.

Therefore, you kings, be wise;

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

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

  Here is my servant, whom I uphold,

my chosen one in whom I delight;

I will put my Spirit on him,

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

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

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

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

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

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

How does this relate to us today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What should we do then?” the crowd asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HeartGroup Application

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

2. What hopes do you have for change in this new year? Discuss with your group.

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

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

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

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week.


Now Available at Renewed Heart Ministries!

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

Here is just a taste of what people are saying:

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

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

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

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

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

Get your copy today at renewedheartministries.com


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A Special Christmas Message

Herb Montgomery | December 23, 2022

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


“This Christmas, let’s celebrate in the form of a life lived every day in harmony with the belief that when it comes to those pushed to the undersides and edges of our society, this baby lying in a manger grows up to be an advocate for them.”


wFrom all of us here at Renewed Heart Ministries, Merry Christmas!

Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone went to their own town to register.)

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Most High appeared to them, and the glory of God shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; who is the Messiah, the Sovereign One. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, Lets go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Most High has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen the child, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about him, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2:1-20)

This reading of Jesus’s birth story begins with one of Luke’s unique narrative elements. In Matthew, Jesus was born under Herod’s reign. Herod died in 4 B.C.E., and the census referred to in our passage this week took place under Quirinius in 6 C.E., ten years after Herod’s death.

Remember, Matthew’s version of the Jesus story is based in Galilee, as seen in its closing chapter. Luke’s version of the Jesus story is Judean-based, and more specifically Jerusalem-based, as seen in both the closing chapters of Luke and the book of Acts. In Acts, the Jesus movement doesn’t return to Galilee but instead takes root in Jerusalem and grows from there. Luke’s burden is to tell a version of the Jesus story that takes on the oppression of the Roman empire, contrasts Jesus with Caesar, and raises up the imperial rule of Jesus’ YHWH (the basileia that is translated as “kingdom”) against the imperial rule of Rome.

From the very beginning of Luke, Jesus’s story is brought into conflict with Rome.

In Matthew, Jesus is from Nazareth (Galilee). In Luke, Jesus is from Bethlehem (Judea), the city of David. This detail would have brought to the minds of Luke’s audience Micah’s words:

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,

though you are small among the clans of Judah,

out of you will come for me

one who will be ruler over Israel,

whose origins are from of old,

from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)

All of this, again, would have served the purpose of contrasting the imperial reign of the God of the Torah, which David’s kingship symbolized for many Jewish members of Luke’s audience, over and against the imperial rule of Rome.

In the first few chapters of Luke, Jesus’ movement isn’t characterized as the start of a new religion competing with or replacing Judaism, but rather it’s a Jewish renewal movement anticipating the liberation of Judea and surrounding Jewish regions from Rome.

The angel doesn’t appear to the ruling class or Jewish representatives of the empire in Jerusalem, but to rural shepherds, who we’d call “blue collar,” in the fields of Bethlehem.

Economically and socially, rural Judeans and Galileans living in agricultural villages were the people most negatively impacted by Roman imperialism. Families had to make hard decisions and often sacrificed their community bonds to survive. In these communities, indentured farmers and shepherds cultivated their own versions of the Israelite liberation traditions that had long inspired hope for liberation from oppressive rulers and renewed the Hebrew prophets’ calls for justice. (For more details on the social climate these shepherds lived in, see Richard A. Horsley’s Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder.)

Luke’s angelic announcement to shepherds has many layers to it. Not only did it narratively serve to link Jesus’ liberation with those most harmfully impacted by Roman imperialism, it also fits nicely with the language this week’s passage draws from Micah. Micah’s liberator would be a “shepherd-king”:

“Therefore Israel will be abandoned

until the time when she who is in labor bears a son,

and the rest of his brothers return

to join the Israelites.

  He will stand and shepherd his flock

in the strength of the Most High,

in the majesty of the name of the Sovereign God.

And they will live securely, for then his greatness

will reach to the ends of the earth.

  He will be our peace . . . he will rule . . . he will deliver . . .” (Micah 5:3-6, emphasis added.)

All of this associated Jesus with God’s imperial reign, which was symbolized by the restoration of David’s Kingdom. David was also a shepherd-king: his pre- coronation occupation was a shepherd.

Luke aligns Jesus and his liberation not with the centered and powerful, but with the marginalized and powerless rural communities being harmed most by the imperial rule of Rome.

There are so many similar layers to Luke’s version of the birth and infancy narratives of Jesus that it really is a narrative masterpiece when read through the lens of social justice.

There is no room for Jesus to be born that night in an inn or a bed. Instead he’s born in the marginalized stable out back. From that point forward, the story of this child marks a dramatic shift and hope for those marginalized in their society, including those marginalized and disenfranchised today.

Some of our more contemporary Christmas carols echo this theme. One example is “O Holy Night,” a carol whose lyrics Placide Cappeau wrote in 1843:

“Truly He taught us to love one another;

His law is love and His gospel is peace.

Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;

And in His name all oppression shall cease.”

I know that many expressions of Christianity today have been and continue to be complicit with oppression. Others are not. But we have not always lived out the lyrics of this carol. Too often, Christians have been at the center of oppressions for vulnerable people: women, indigenous populations, slaves, the poor, and our LGBTQ friends and family.

This Christmas my heart longs for us to do better. Can we, today, find ways of following Jesus that genuinely do end oppression and come alongside others also working to end it. What does my Christianity need to look like to be life-giving to those presently being harmed? What differences do I need to choose for my Jesus-following to aid and help, to contribute rather than become an obstacle to the work of ending injustice, violence, and dehumanizing violations of everyone’s human rights? Will that carol ever ring true, that in Jesus’ name, all oppression will cease?

There is much to be thankful for this Christmas season, and I’m reminded once again that, in the spirit of a baby who was born in a manger, whose birth announcements were sent to blue-collar workers who were politically, socially, and economically marginalized, we’ll still have a lot of work to do in the coming year.

Here’s to a celebration of Jesus’ birth that doesn’t last just one day a year, or even just one season during the year, but rather celebrates him in the form of a life lived every day in harmony with the belief that when it comes to those pushed to the undersides and edges of our society, this baby lying in a manger grows up to be an advocate for them.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. What does Jesus’ life, aligned with those on the undersides and margins of his society, mean 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.

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

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

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

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

I love each of you dearly,

Merry Christmas,

I’ll see you in the new year.


Now Available at Renewed Heart Ministries!

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

Here is just a taste of what people are saying:

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

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

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

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

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

Get your copy today at renewedheartministries.com


Help Us Reach our Year End Goals

Consider making a one-time donation to support our work, inspiring hope and faith-filled action toward making our world a safe, compassionate, just home for all.

Donate to RHM online or by mail at

RHM, PO Box 1211, Lewisburg, WV 24901 

Advent and the Arrival of a Safer World for Everyone

Herb Montgomery | December 16, 2022

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


“Can the ethics in the Jesus story, ethics such as the Golden Rule, neighborly love, solidarity with the marginalized, economic justice for the poor, nonviolent resistance, and more, still promise a pathway of salvation for us today? I don’t mean salvation in the sense of guaranteed post-mortem bliss, but rather salvation as shaping our present world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone large enough to hold all of our differences together.”


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

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means God with us”).

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-25)

Many scholars believe the stories about Jesus’ birth and infancy in Matthew and Luke were the last part of the Jesus story to be developed. Paul never mentions Jesus’ birth and Mark doesn’t begin his version of the story with Jesus’ birth either. Other early sources used by Matthew and Luke’s gospels don’t include any details about the birth of Jesus. These stories don’t appear until Matthew and the later expanded version found in Luke.

This week’s reading comes from Matthew, whose birth narrative for Jesus is rooted in Jewish folklore about Jewish liberation and the hope of the people had for liberation from Roman Imperialism and its destructive results on rural life in Judea and Galilee.

Let’s consider one example of that rich folklore as context for our reading this week: Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2: 1-10:

Then Hannah prayed and said:

  My heart rejoices in the Most High;

in God my horn is lifted high.

My mouth boasts over my enemies,

for I delight in your deliverance.

  There is no one holy like the Holy One of Old;

there is no one besides you;

there is no Rock like our God.

  Do not keep talking so proudly

or let your mouth speak such arrogance,

for God is a God who knows,

and by the Ancient One deeds are weighed.

  The bows of the warriors are broken,

but those who stumbled are armed with strength.

  Those who were full hire themselves out for food,

but those who were hungry are hungry no more.

She who was barren has borne seven children,

but she who has had many sons pines away.

  The Creator brings death and makes alive;

brings down to the grave and raises up.

  The Liberator sends poverty and wealth;

humbles and exalts.

  God raises the poor from the dust

and lifts the needy from the ash heap;

seats them with princes

and has them inherit a throne of honor.

“For the foundations of the earth are the Most High’s;

on them the Creator has set the world.

  Our God will guard the feet of those who are faithful

but the wicked will be silenced in the place of darkness.

“It is not by strength that one prevails;

  those who oppose God will be broken.

The Most High will thunder from heaven;

the God of justice will judge the ends of the earth.

“And will give strength to God’s ruler

and exalt the horn of the anointed one.”

An ever-repeating theme of these Jewish liberation narratives is that God is a God who stands in solidarity with the disenfranchised, marginalized, and oppressed. The late Dr. James H. Cone cautions us about what this means:

“If theological speech is based on the traditions of the Old Testament, then it must heed their unanimous testimony to Yahweh’s commitment to justice for the poor and the weak. Accordingly it cannot avoid taking sides in politics, and the side that theology must take is disclosed in the side that Yahweh has already taken. Any other side, whether it be with the oppressors or the side of neutrality (which is nothing but a camouflaged identification with the rulers), is unbiblical. If theology does not side with the poor, then it cannot speak for Yahweh who is the God of the poor.” (God of the Oppressed, p. 65)

This tradition influences how Matthew begins his version of the Jesus story. Jesus, for Matthew’s audience, continues a liberation hope that did not begin or end with him. Rev. Dr. Wilda Gafney writes of this: “God’s saving work did not begin with Jesus; we see it borne witness to throughout the scriptures as Hannah sings of it in her time and in days to come as would Mary, echoing her song. Jesus is the continuation and embodiment of that salvation, himself an annunciation, of good news.” (A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church, Year W, p. 14)

We will speak more of this in a moment. Before we do, let’s ask why does Matthew emphasize a point that the Christian tradition has come to describe as Mary’s “virginity”? Mathew is paraphrasing Isaiah 7:14:

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

It’s quite illuminating to read the entire context of Isaiah’s passage. In ancient cultures, the word translated “virgin” simply meant a young girl who had reached the age where she could become pregnant. These cultures’ desire to accurately track a person’s heritage and property rights in cultures that defined lineage in terms of the father’s line developed into closely controlled regulation of women’s sexuality as a way of reliably determining paternity. (They could have regulated men’s sexuality but choose not to.) But I don’t think property or paternity are what Matthew or Isaiah are concerned about.

To understand the narrative detail in Matthew of Jesus being born from a “virgin,” we have to understand Hellenized and Roman folklore as well as Jewish tradition. These imperial stories include many tales about the childhood of famous men or “heroes.” In each of these stories, a person’s exceptionalism is traced back to the events of their birth, and in each case the gods play a role in their conception and/or childhoods.

Just a few examples: stories of Alexander the Great (see Plutarch, Parallel Lives: Alexander, 2:1-3.5), Apollonius of Tyana (see Philostratus, Life of Apollonius, 1: 4-6), Plato (see Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, 3:1-3, 45), and Octavian who became emperor of Rome itself—”THE DIVINE AUGUSTUS CEASAR, SON OF GOD” (see Suetonius, The Deified Augustus, 94:3-4).

Remember that the original audience for Matthew viewed the world very differently than many of us do today. I believe Matthew’s version of the Jesus story sought to establish Jesus, to elevate him in the midst of others competing for people’s allegiance, including Caesar. Matthew found his way through an unrelated and remote passage in Isaiah to give Jesus a place on that stage.

Today we live in the wake of past justice movements and we are living through many others right now: climate action, the movement for Black lives, Me Too, and others. Can the ethics in the Jesus story, ethics such as the Golden Rule, neighborly love, solidarity with the marginalized, economic justice for the poor, nonviolent resistance, and more, still promise a pathway of salvation for us today? I don’t mean salvation in the sense of guaranteed post-mortem bliss, but rather salvation as shaping our present world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone large enough to hold all of our differences together, where “everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid” (Micah 4:4).

On this last weekend of Advent, what coming justice are you anticipating and working toward? As a Jesus follower today, how do the teachings of the Jesus of our stories speak into your concerns and efforts? Do they still speak to you? For me they do.

These stories continually challenge me and my Christianity not to avoid social concern and they inspire me to keep looking for ways to be life-giving, a source of healing, and a help to those our systems make vulnerable. They encourage me to reclaim my own humanity in recognizing and honoring the humanity of others.

As Advent closes the year and a new year begins in the Christian calendar, how can this season inspire you to, like Jesus, continue the work of making our world a safe home for everyone? This next year, may our efforts be intentional and effective. May love, joy, hope, peace and justice arrive more fully through the conduit of our lives and choices, too.

HeartGroup Application

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

2. How has this year’s season of Advent been meaningful 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.

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

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

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

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


Now Available at Renewed Heart Ministries!

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

Here is just a taste of what people are saying:

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

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

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

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

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

Get your copy today at renewedheartministries.com


Help Us Reach our Year End Goals

Consider making a one-time donation to support our work, inspiring hope and faith-filled action toward making our world a safe, compassionate, just home for all.

Donate to RHM online or by mail at

RHM, PO Box 1211, Lewisburg, WV 24901 

The Love and Justice of Advent

Herb Montgomery | December 9, 2022

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


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


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

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

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

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

  ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,

who will prepare your way before you.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Then will the eyes of the blind be opened

and the ears of the deaf unstopped.

  Then will the lame leap like a deer,

and the mute tongue shout for joy.

Water will gush forth in the wilderness

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

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

and out of gloom and darkness

the eyes of the blind will see.

  Once more the humble will rejoice in the LORD;

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

“But your dead will live;

their bodies will rise—

let those who dwell in the dust

wake up and shout for joy—

your dew is like the dew of the morning;

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

“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,

because the LORD has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim freedom for the captives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HeartGroup Application

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

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

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

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

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

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


Now Available at Renewed Heart Ministries!

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

Here is just a taste of what people are saying:

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

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

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

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

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

Get your copy today at renewedheartministries.com


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

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

Free Sign-Up at:

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

or Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Advent and Coming Justice

Herb Montgomery | December 2, 2022

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


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


Our reading this week comes from the gospel of Matthew:

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

A voice of one calling in the wilderness,

Prepare the way for the Lord,

make straight paths for him.”’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HeartGroup Application

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

2. What does inclusive, societal salvation look like to you? Share with your group.

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

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

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

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


Now Available at Renewed Heart Ministries!

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

Here is just a taste of what people are saying:

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

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

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

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

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

Get your copy today at renewedheartministries.com


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

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

Free Sign-Up at:

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

or Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The Beginning of Advent

advent

Herb Montgomery | November 25, 2022

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


“We can desire a future characterized not by some being left and many being destroyed but by change and reclaiming the humanity for all whether they be oppressed or oppressor. And we can anticipate a world that represents the social truth that if there is such a thing as salvation for any of us, none of us are saved until all of us are saved.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Matthew:

But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Matthew 24:36-44)

This weekend marks the beginning of the season of Advent. As most Western Christians celebrate it, Advent season commemorates both expectation and preparation: the approaching season of Christmas and Christians looking forward to the Second Coming. Advent also marks the beginning of the Western Christian liturgical year and the beginning of our winter holiday season. The word advent refers to a “coming” or “arrival” of some looked-for event. It refers to the birth of Jesus long ago, the coming of the Christmas season this year, and the Christian expectation of Jesus’ future return.

This week’s reading begins with a passage from Matthew about the coming of the “Son of Man.” This “Son of Man” figure is from the Jewish apocalyptic book of Daniel. In Daniel 7, the world’s empires are represented as violent beasts bringing destruction and harm to the vulnerable. In Daniel’s narrative, all violence, injustice, and imperial oppression is finally answered for when God’s just future breaks in for the people through this “Son of Man” (see Daniel 7).

Daniels’ imagery would have meant a lot to Matthew’s Jewish audience who were followers of Jesus and people negatively impacted by Roman imperialism. They longed for liberation.

So our reading in Matthew begins with the timing of this liberation being unknown to all but God, even though it will begin within the lifetimes of Matthew’s audience (see Matthew 24:34). Matthew references the ancient folktale of Noah and the flood: Those “taken” are destroyed and those “left” are those who remain after the destruction. This image represented a great reversal of fortune and social location. Those who are marginalized and exploited are left while those responsible for oppression, violence, and injustice are taken away.

Many Christians today interpret these passages in ways that point forward to the second coming of Jesus. The original audience would have also heard this passage as a way to make sense of the world-upending events of Rome’s destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. Reading these passages in the 21st Century, few of us can fathom the lostness that many Jewish folk including Jewish followers of Jesus must have felt as they were “left” after Rome’s devastating destruction and with the Temple being no more. They were the one’s not taken but left to pick up the pieces. For these people, a passage about Rome being taken away instead of conquering yet again would have resonated with the hope that they could piece together their own worldview and place of belonging after their loss.

This passage ends with the admonition to not lose hope but to remain watchful. I understand why that encouragement would have been included in Matthew’s version of the Jesus story given what many in Matthew’s intended audience experienced. Today, I think we need even more life-giving stories or imagery.

History has proven time and again that simply reversing social locations is not good enough. Reversals that result in today’s oppressed people becoming tomorrow’s oppressors still leave the hegemonic system in place: only the actors in that system have traded places.

What if we instead desire an egalitarian future that looks more like a shared table, one where oppressors are transformed through restitution and restoration for the harm done, and the oppressed’s humanity is recognized resulting in liberation. We can desire a future characterized not by some being left and many being destroyed but by change and reclaiming the humanity for all whether they be oppressed or oppressor. And we can anticipate a world that represents the social truth that if there is such a thing as salvation for any of us, none of us are saved until all of us are saved (see Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis’ Fierce Love, p. 14).

Again, I understand why a reversal would have resonated with the original audience of our passage, and today, we can do better.

For the past decade, I and so many others have been trying to understand and interpret the Jesus story in a more life-giving way. If you are interested in leaning more into this way of interpreting our Jesus story this Advent season, Renewed Heart Ministries is proud to announce the release of my new book, Finding Jesus: The Story of a Fundamentalist Preacher who Unexpectedly Discovered the Social, Political, and Economic Teachings of the Gospels.

We’ll release it exclusively through our website at renewedheartministries.com beginning December 1.

Here is a sample of what folks are saying about the book:

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

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

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

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

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

This week’s passage reminds us once again that elements in the Jesus story that were once life-giving for certain of Jesus followers in their context must evolve and become more life-giving so they can have non-destructive meaning for us today as we seek to follow Jesus in our own society. These new ways of reading will be in perfect harmony with the overall spirit of the message and teachings of Jesus. Reading this way often involves hard work as we wrestle with understanding its application to our time’s social needs, but this work is well worth it for those of us who believe the Jesus story still has much to offer us today.

As we begin this Advent season, may Advent this year be not only about the arrival of Jesus in Bethlehem, nor only the arrival or coming of our holiday season or the future coming of Jesus, but also the coming of more life-giving ways to follow Jesus today. That’s the kind of Advent I can get behind!

May this blessed season of Advent bring peace, joy, love, and justice to each of you.

Heart Group Application

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

2. What does the season of Advent mean 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.

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

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

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week.


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

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

Free Sign-Up at:

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

or Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Crosses and Resurrections

crosses

Herb Montgomery | November 18, 2022

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


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


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

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

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

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

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

The actions of the soldiers.

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

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

There is a lot here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HeartGroup Application

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

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

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

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

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

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

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

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


book cover

Coming Soon!

Available December 1, 2022

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

Here is just a taste of what people are saying:

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

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

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

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

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

Available December 1 at renewedheartministries.com


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