Bishop Michael Rinehart

Proper 11, Pentecost 6C – July 21, 2019

Amos 8:1-12 – God’s judgment. Listen, you who trample on the poor and cheat the needy: You will rot like a basket of summer fruit.
Genesis 18:1-10a – The Lord appears to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, in the form of three men.

Psalm 52 – Why do you boast about your evil plans you powerful?
Psalm 15 – Who can live on your holy hill? Those who do not lend money at interest, take bribes, testify against the innocent.

Colossians 1:15-28The Christ Hymn. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.

Luke 10:38-42 – Mary sits. Martha serves.



Colossians 1: The Christ Hymn


Most scholars believe that Paul is quoting a hymn here. If so, it would be one of the earliest hymns about Christ ever written. If, as Bruce Metzger suggests, Paul wrote Colossians in the 50’s from prison, this means that within 20 years of the crucifixion, people are singing songs about Jesus. 

The divinity of Christ emerges early in Christian theology. The creed derives much from this passage. Through him all things were created. Here we have one of the earliest statements of the church: that God was in Christ, who reconciled God to the world, to all things (ta panta).



Luke 10: Mary and Martha


This week’s gospel reading is five short verses: Luke 10, verses 38-42. This story, like The Good Samaritan, earlier in Luke 10, is unique to Luke’s gospel. 

Mikeal Parsons (Luke, Paideia Commentaries on the New Testament) lays the text out as follows:

  1. Martha extends hospitality to Jesus (10:38). 
  2. Mary listens to Jesus’s teachings (10:39). 
  3. Martha attends to the duties of hospitality (10:40a). 
  4. Martha complains that Mary has neglected the duties of hospitality (10:40b). 
  5. Martha asks Jesus to instruct Mary to help her (10:40c).
  6. Jesus responds that Mary has chosen the better activity (10:41–42).

He points out that travel narratives often focus on ancient Mediterranean customs of hospitality. Kindness is to be shown to strangers as a social and religious obligation. 

38 – “Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.”

A certain village: John tells us the village is Bethany (John 11:1), but Luke does not, though he does mention Bethany twice later in his gospel.

In The Jewish Annotated New Testament (JANT), Amy-Jill Levine points out that this is clearly Martha’s home: “Martha welcomed him into her home.” Martha is a householder. Jesus has a running critique of householders. Mary may have lived in the house with Martha or in another house nearby, but in either case, the text makes it clear, we’re now in Martha’s domain.

39 – “She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.”

Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to what he was saying. JANT points out this is much like the synagogue. Keep in mind most synagogues were small – a few families – and they met in homes. Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet and learning. This is remarkable. Jeffrey (Luke: Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible) says that women were not permitted to sit at the feet of a rabbi. She is a follower, a female disciple. This would not have been lost on Luke’s hearers. 

40 – “But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’”

Martha is distracted with “pollen diakonian,” literally, “much serving.” Luke’s first listeners would have understood Martha to be doing the right thing. She is tending to the duties of hospitality. Serving is a good thing. Jesus tells us to serve God (4:8). When Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law, she immediately begins to serve them (4:39). He reminds us we cannot serve both God and money (16:13). So, some tension is created in the story. 


St. Augustine says, in Sermon 103, 

Our Lord’s words teach us that though we labor among the many distractions of this world, we should have but one goal… Martha welcomed [Jesus] as travelers are welcomed… You, Martha, If I may say so, are blessed for your good service, and for your labors you seek the reward of peace. Now you are much occupied in nourishing the body, admittedly a holy one. But when you come to the heavenly homeland will you find a traveler to welcome, someone hungry to feed, or thirsty to whom you may give drink, someone ill whom you could visit, or quarreling whom you could reconcile, or dead whom you could bury? No, there will be none of these tasks there. What you will find there is what Mary chose. There we shall not feed others, we ourselves shall be fed. Thus what Mary chose in this life will be realized there in all its fullness; she was gathering fragments from that rich banquet, the Word of God. 

The anonymous author of the Cloud of Unknowing writes, “And just as Martha complained about her sister Mary, so to this very day all actives criticize contemplatives.” This text has been used to fan the flame between activists and contemplatives for centuries, but is this a false dichotomy? It is unlikely that the very active Jesus is endorsing inactivity or even monasticism. What must be embodied in an interpretation of this text is the fact that Mary and Martha a sisters. Contemplation and activism are sisters. They squabble, but need each other. Jesus may be warning us that the activist Martha’s can swallow up the contemplative Mary’s, and this will not o. 

We all know that serving, like all good works, can become an end into themselves. They can create a sense of moral superiority. They can distract us from loving the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbor as ourselves. We can create a veneer of service without loving God and neighbor a whit. But is this what Martha is doing?

Like Martha, we can become very distracted by our tasks. We can be driven by the tyranny of the urgent. Such business can drive us from love of God and others. I am reminded of a mother I knew once who coached, drove her kids around and volunteered for every school committee. She was a supermom. She loved her kids. Thing is, one of the kids, who was in our church youth group, confided in me that she hardly ever saw her mom. Her mom was so busy coaching, leading, volunteering “for her kids”, she was too busy to spend time with them.

This is a phenomenal lesson for those who are leaders in the church. We can become so obsessed with doing “God’s” work, we lose track of God. If I’m so busy working for God, I may not be able to find time to spend with God. We all too easily neglect prayer, listening, and centering. As a chronic workaholic, this passage is like a punch in the gut. You know there’s a problem when doing the work of God is destroying God’s work in you.

This is in no way to dissuade people from serving or practicing hospitality. People experience faith in different ways. There are those whose faith finds its deepest expression in serving. There are those whose faith finds its greatest expression in prayer and worship. The apostle Paul says that we should offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, for this is our spiritual worship. Those who are wired this way find sitting in a room quietly hypocritical. One can sit in a room singing Jesus songs and never be about the world-transforming ministry to which God calls us, and which Jesus modeled. Jesus didn’t sit around navel-gazing. He had a vigorous itinerary of preaching, teaching and healing. There is, however, an extreme on the other side. We can work like crazy, serving the wrong people, in the wrong way, for the wrong reasons, because we weren’t listening. But is this what Martha was doing?

What we have here, from a family systems standpoing, is a classic triangle. “Jesus! Do you not see what is happening? Isn’t it awful? Isn’t it terrible what she is doing to me? Tell my sister to help me! Send her back to the kitchen.”

No one can be in ministry long without experiencing this. “Pastor! Open your eyes! Can’t you see what’s happening? Isn’t it terrible what they are doing to me? What are you going to do about it? What kind of pastor are you? What kind of church is this that lets such things happen?” How easily we get manipulated into others’ dramas. 

John Jewell, in Lectionary Tales, has a piece on telling other people what to do:

Judith Orloff M.D. in her book, “Emotional Freedom,” writes, “People who feel out of control tend to become controllers. Deep down, they’re afraid of falling apart, so they micromanage to bind anxiety.”

Of course, some responses may be, “Have you spoken to her about this?” “What would you like me to do with this information?” “This must be difficult for you…”

41 – “But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things”

Jesus doesn’t take the bait. He responds directly to Martha, without getting pulled into the triangle. 

Repeating her name twice might be an attempt to comfort her. There, there, Martha. This sounds to me like the way one might comfort a child, though this is conjecture on my part. Parsons confirms that in this time and culture, repeating the name (conduplicatio) is a rhetorical device to convey compassion or pity. 

Distracted (thorubazay) again and this time worried (merimnas) too. Μaρθα Μaρθα, μεριμνaς καὶ θορυβάζn περὶ πολλά.

The preacher needs to turn this back on his or her listeners: What has you worried and distracted today? What has you so worried and distracted that you don’t have time to listen for God? Sit at Jesus’ feet? Perhaps listening to Jesus is a way to cope with our worries and distractions.

Paul uses the same word for “worry” in Philippians 4:6.

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Paul sees prayer as an alternative to worry, fear, and anxiety.

42 – “there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

In Luke 12, someone will attempt to triangle Jesus again. “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me!” It seems people are always tying to manipulate Jesus. He didn’t take the bait then either. “Who made me the boss of you?” (12:14)

He’s nicer to Martha. “Martha, Martha…” Don’t worry. She has made the right choice. Don’t take that away from her…

Listening to Jesus precedes serving. If we jump into action, we take on a “Ready. Fire. Aim!” approach, like Peter. Our activity can be frenetic and unfocused. Ineffective, or at the worst, counterproductive. 

It’s interesting that this story falls right on the heels of the story of the Good Samaritan, a story whose point is that the hated enemy, the Samaritan, is my neighbor whom I am called to love. This is made clear through the Samaritan’s serving the injured man. First a story of serving, and then a quick reminder about listening. Perhaps these two stories need to heard together. 

Luke recounts this story to send a message to his church, the church to which he is writing: Serve, but don’t get so caught up in your serving that you lose sight of the One whom you serve. When we don’t listen to Jesus, we just might find ourselves feeding the naked and clothing the sick.

One thing matters. And that one thing is paying attention to Jesus’ teaching.  

One last analogy. On the high seas, one could get so busy swabbing the deck, washing the nets, and trimming the sails that one might forget to check one’s bearings. Before long, the ship inches off course. The reefs approaches. The crew might get lost. The ship could wreck. They will say, “We don’t understand. We were working so hard!” We must always be keeping an eye on the horizon.


Proper 10, Pentecost 5C – July 14, 2019

Amos 7:7-17Amos’ call to prophesy. He prophesies against Israel and Jereboam.


Deuteronomy 30:9-14 – God will make you prosper if you obey. The word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.

Psalm 82Defend the poor and the orphan. Vindicate the oppressed and suffering!


Psalm 25:1-10Teach me your paths O Lord. Remember not the sins of my youth!

Colossians 1:1-14 – Paul and Timothy write to the church at Colossae, commending them for their faith, and their love, made known to them by Epaphras. They pray that the church there may bear fruit in every good work and be prepared to endure what may come with patience.

Luke 10:25-37 – The parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus: “Go and do likewise.”



The Good Samaritan

Bishop Mike and Dr. Mikeal Parsons

Check put my Connections article on a conversation with Luke scholar Mikeal Parsons at Baylor. This conversation left me intrigued with the story of the Good Samaritan, and other stories unique to Luke’s gospel. 

Wherever people are divided by race, ethnicity and religion, this story is incredibly applicable. So, basically everywhere, but especially here, and now. 

Samaria was located between Galilee, the home of Jesus, to the north, and Judea, the home of the Jerusalem Temple, to the south. Samaritan society was a racially and religiously intermixed DMZ between the two.  Jews had intermarried with indigenous folks and with those who had immigrated from surrounding nations. They were a more racially diverse society. 

Along with these other cultures came their religions. Although the Samaritans were monotheistic adherents to the law, pagan idols and temples existed alongside traditional Jewish monotheistic religion. Samaritans allowed the name of Yahweh to be pronounced, and differed in other ways from the Jews. Their religious observance was considered contaminated. They were to be avoided at all costs. They were shunned and looked down upon, which is what gives the story of the Good Samaritan its edge. Without some understanding of the Jewish relationship to Samaritans, it will be hard for our congregants to hear this as more than an injunction to help people on the road (which it is, but so much more).

Later, in Acts 8:14-17, Luke recounts the ministry to the Samaritans. This happens between the ministry to the Jews in Acts 1-7 and the ministry to the Gentiles that follows. 

Last week we heard the sending of the seventy (or seventy-two). After a short soliloquy in which Jesus give thanks that God has hidden “these things” from the wise, and revealed them to little children (shades of the Magnificat), Jesus is approached by a lawyer asking about eternal life. 

Spoiler alert: Luke 10 and 11 from this point are about love of God and neighbor. This is not just in the points made, but also built into the structure of the text. Parsons (Luke, Paideia series) points out the chiastic (A-B-B-A) structure:

A – On loving neighbors (parable of the good Samaritan, Luke 10:29–37)—example, Samaritan as Christ figure 

B – On loving the Lord (Mary and Martha, Luke 10:38–42); example, Mary 

B′ – On loving the Lord (the Lord’s Prayer, Luke 11:1–4); example, Jesus 

A′ – On loving neighbors/friends (the parable of the friend at midnight, Luke 11:5–13); example, friend seeking bread

Fortunately, we read all of these in the RCL:

July 14: Luke 10:25-37 (The Good Samaritan)
July 21: Luke 10:38-42 (Mary and Martha)
July 28: Luke 11:1-13 (Lord’s Prayer and Friend at Midnight)

A “lawyer” (νομικός) stood up to test Jesus. This kind of debate, which I will discuss in a minute, is perfectly normal. “Lawyer” refers to one who is learned in the Mosaic law, not an attorney in the modern sense. It would not be uncommon for two observant Jews to debate the application of some matter of the law.

The lawyer asks: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The lawyer doesn’t ask, “What must I do to get into heaven when I die?” though this is what most of our folks will hear. Obviously, there is an afterlife component to eternal life, but eternal life begins now. It breaks into this world as well, like the reign of God. 

In typical rabbinical fashion, Jesus answers the question with a question. He will do the same after the parable: “Which of these was a neighbor to the man who fell among robbers?” Jesus invites the lawyer answer his own question. Not only is this a rabbinic way of teaching, it is also Socratic, something Luke would likely have known about. The Socratic method used friendly debate, asking and answering questions, to stimulate critical thinking. When someone thinks through a matter, and arrives at a conclusion, they are more likely to remember it. In our society we often see debate as hostile, rather than as a dialectical way to ferret out truth. We want everyone to agree, or at least pretend to agree. This puts us in danger of engaging in superficial community. We also feel uncomfortable leaving the questions open, and feel there must be a right and wrong, orthodox and heretical answer to everything, rather than a recognition of mystery, and the humility of a knowledge that is incomplete, only made perfect in love.

Parsons names this a rhetorical device. The lawyer takes the bait and quotes the Shemah, Deuteronomy 6:5, and then Leviticus 19:18. Matthew 22 is the parallel here, however Matthew has Jesus answering the question himself. The Good Samaritan story is unique to Luke. I often marvel at what we would miss without Luke’s gospel: Zaccheus, The Prodigal Son, The Good Samaritan, the Nunc Dimittis, the Magnificat

Jesus acknowledges that this is a good answer. Love God. Love neighbor. That’s it. Go do it.

“But wanting to justify himself…” Dr. Parsons suggested to me that of the canonical evangelists, Luke has the best handle on Paul’s theology. He was referencing Luke’s stuff about Paul in Acts, but we see bits of it here. 


For those familiar with it, here is the Greek:

ὁ δὲ θέλων δικαιῶσαι ἑαυτὸν εἶπεν πρὸς τὸν Ἰησοῦν, kαὶ τίς ἐστίν μου πλησίον; 



δικαιόω means “to render righteous.” This reflects back to Abraham “being reckoned righteous” in Genesis, for believing God’s promise. There is a clear theology of justification by grace through faith here. The lawyer isn’t thinking about being reckoned righteous by trusting God. He is thinking about justifying himself, by his good work, and justifying his current bias. 

The word ἑαυτὸν means “self.” The lawyer wants to make himself righteous, or more colloquially, “justify himself.” In what way? The answer is in his question. “But who is my neighbor?” 


In the Greek:

Καὶ τίς ἐστίν μου πλησίον; 


Καὶ can mean “and,” “but” and other things. It’s fun to play with the tone of the question:

And who is my neighbor?
But who is my neighbor?
So who is my neighbor?
Then who is my neighbor?


I like “but.” Who do I have to love? Who do I not have to love? Perhaps the lawyer is trying to draw a circle encompassing those neighbors whom he must love, with those he need not love – those outside the circle. Remember, this is the Jesus who has called his followers to love even their enemies, just four chapters ago (Luke 6:27, 35). 

Today’s listeners may ask the same questions. If a family member is hungry or thirsty, playing poverty or violence, I know I have to help. But what about a stranger? Or someone from another country? Another religion? Who am I called to love? Am I called to love immigrants? Am I called to love those with whom I disagree? Must I worship with them? Am I called to love ISIS? What does that mean? How do we pray for our enemies? For their conversion from hatred and hostility? For their well-being?

Who is my neighbor? Is my neighbor  the person who lives in the house on my right or left, or the whole neighborhood? Or those in my neighborhood who share my faith, or ethnicity? Does Leviticus mean I must love my fellow Jew, or does it go beyond that? 

Jesus could give a pat answer if he wanted to, but then it would devolve to a matter of opinion. Jesus does not just want to lecture the lawyer. He wants to convert, convince, inspire, transform. 

A tangent about preaching: Do we preach for information? Inspiration? Transformation? Do we believe that if people have the right information everything will work out? Do we assume with the right information they will do the right thing? Do we assume that we as preachers have all the right information and they don’t? What information do we have? What information do they have that we need? How do we move beyond information to inspiration? How do we move beyond inspiration to transformational preaching? How are we inviting people to respond to the message? As my seminary preaching professor Paul Harms used to write at the bottom of our embryonic sermons: “So what?”

Back to the text. Jesus could answer the question. He could respond with another question. He will, eventually. But first he employs another rabbinic technique: He tells a story. 

“Once upon a time…” Our minds are wired for stories. Stories convey multiple layers of truth that cannot be conveyed through didactic statements, laws, rules, doctrines. The brain craves stories. Stories are sticky. 

“Every culture bathes their children in stories to explain how the world works and to engage and educate their emotions. Perhaps story patterns could be considered another higher layer of language. A sort of meta-grammar shaped by and shaping conventions of character types, plots, and social-rule dilemmas prevalent in our culture.” 


See also: 


I think I would be a better preacher if I used more stories and questions. Lead people to discover the obvious conclusion for themselves. Recognize that platitudes don’t stick, but stories do. The Good Samaritan is a great example. What good stories with surprise endings can you tell that invite us to see the stranger as our neighbor?

You know the story. I won’t belabor it. Should the priest obey the law against corpse defilement, or help the neighbor? Which law should prevail? Jesus seems to think everyone knows the answer. If your donkey falls in a ditch on the Sabbath, you know what to do. The answer is obvious. Compassion is at the heart of the law. 

The one who renders aid is the Samaritan, who is despised by the lawyer. Jesus’ question is the ultimate in inductive teaching. “You tell me: Who is the neighbor in this story?” The lawyer is forced to admit the Samaritan is his neighbor. I like to imagine he had trouble even responding. Whispering at first. “Um, the, uh, Sam…” Jesus, “Sorry. Didn’t get that. What did you say? A little louder. Who is your neighbor?”

Parsons points out that many scholars dismiss a christological reading of this story: C. A. Evans 1990, 178, states flatly: “The Samaritan is not Jesus.” But Lutherans know Luther interpreted everything christologically, sometimes to a fault, bending some Old Testament texts away from their original meaning. Of course Paul did this too, with his allegorical interpretations (e.g. Sarah and Hagar). Parsons points out that Luke uses “he felt compassion” only three times, and the other two are for God-figures (like the father in the Prodigal Son). Parsons is not so quick to dismiss a christological interpretation. But the beauty of it, is the text may be understood on many different levels. The story can have meaning when you are 12 and when you are 80. 

Augustine didn’t shy from allegorical interpretation of the Good Samaritan either. In Quaestiones Evangeliorum II:19, he said “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho,” is the loss of innocence in the Garden of Eden. The man is Adam, according to Augustine. Jericho signifies our mortality. The thieves are the devil and his angels. They stripped and beat him, meaning, they enticed him to fall into sin. The priest and Levite could not produce salvation by the law. The Samaritan is Christ. The oil is hope. The wine is the Spirit. The beast is Christ’s incarnate flesh. The inn is the church. The next day is the resurrection. The two coins are the commands to love God and neighbor. The innkeeper is Paul. And so on. You’ve got to love Augustine.

At the end of the story, after the lawyer admits the Samaritan is the neighbor of the story, Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.” This makes it seem like a morality play. At one level it is, but we know there are always many levels to a story. What does “do likewise” mean? Help the stranded? Yes. Love across ethnic and religious boundaries? Yes. Recognize the neighbor in the other? Yes. Jesus answers the “so what?” Now, go and live it. 

Here’s a furtive question to leave everyone squirming a little bit: First century Palestinian Jews had no dealings with Samaritans. With whom do you have no dealings? [The Word in Life Study Bible, New Testament Edition, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville; 1993), pp. 340-341]

Oh, and keep in mind, Jesus was rejected by a Samaritan village in the previous chapter, which we read two weeks ago. Could you make a hero out of those who rejected you?

Questions: Another Way to Approach the Text

I love the wonderful Godly Play question: “What do you wonder about in this story?“ It invites questions, imagination, discovery.

Try this: I have preached a couple sermons where the entire sermon consisted of questions. They were questions I had about the text, but also leading questions, that pointed people to curiosities in the text and made them think for themselves. This summer, try constructing a sermon like that and see what happens. Not answers. Questions. It is a Aristotelian, inductive way of teaching. It is the way Jesus uses in this story, by telling a story and asking questions. He allows his listeners to draw their own conclusions.

Read this coming Sunday’s gospel text, Luke 10:25-37. Off the top of my head, some of my questions might be:

• What do you wonder about this story?

• I wonder: What does lawyer mean in this context? Is this an attorney? What law are we talking about?

• What does the lawyer mean by “eternal life?“ Does he just mean unending? Or is there more to the question?

• Why does he use the word inherit? Like inheriting something from a relative who died?

• What do I have to do to inherit eternal life?

• Why does Jesus always answer a question with a question?

• Does Jesus want the lawyer to answer his own question?

• Does the lawyer’s answer to Jesus, answer my previous question about what law we are talking about, and what kind of lawyer this is?

• Why does the lawyer pick these two things as the most important: love God and love neighbor?

• Is the passage about loving the Lord your God with all your heart soul mind and strength the most important passage in the Jewish tradition? Is it true that observant Jews recited this passage daily?

• How does Jesus feel about this answer? Why is Jesus’ response so positive?

• What does Jesus tell the lawyer to do with his own answer to the question?

• When Jesus says “Do this and you will live,“ doesn’t mean after you die, or right now, or both?

• If it also includes life now, what is it mean to truly live now? What does it mean to not truly be fully alive in this life? Am I fully alive? Am I fully awake?

• Why does the lawyer need to then justify himself? What does that mean exactly? Is Luke using the word the same way Paul uses the words justify and justification?

• Why does the lawyer ask the question, “Who is my neighbor?”Why does he need to ask this particular question? He’s already said loving your neighbor is the most important thing, so is he trying to identify who is not his neighbor, and therefore who he need not love?

• Why does Jesus always respond by telling stories? Why doesn’t he just answer the question plainly?

• Why does Jesus immediately go to a story about someone who has fallen into misfortune through the fault of his own? Why does Jesus begin with a story about someone who is “half dead?” Hmm.

• Robbed, stripped and beaten nearly to death: What emotion might this kind of story immediately evoke in the lawyer, and the other people standing around? What feelings does it invoke in you?

• Why does Jesus mention specifically the road from Jerusalem to Jericho? Is this a road with which the lawyer and those listening are familiar? Might some of them have actually come upon this very experience, much like people in urban centers come across the homeless sleeping under bridges and on park benches?

• What is a Levite?

• Why might the priest in the Levite have passed by? Was there danger? Inconvenience? Apathy? Religious scruples?

• Why does Jesus use a Samaritan, a person he knows his listeners despise, as the protagonist in the story? What feelings and conflicts make this surface in those listening?

• What current events in our world does this story bring to mind? What feelings do those events evoke in you? Can you write them down? How might Jesus be suggesting we respond to those events?

• What feelings does the sight of the half dead man evoke in the Samaritan? What word does Luke use? What does it mean?

• Why does Luke describe the Samaritans feelings?

• What actions are prompted by those feelings?

• Why does the Samaritan pour oil and wine on the wounds?

• How are oil and wine used in worship today? Could there be any connection?

• When the Samaritan put the man on his animal, does that mean that the Samaritan has to walk the rest of the way?

• Why does the Samaritan take the man to an inn? What kind of inn? Are there no hospitals?

• Why does the Samaritan give the innkeeper two coins, two denarii, two days’ wages?

• What would two days’ wages be worth today? Given the average income? Given my income? Have I ever done something like this? Have I ever been this generous to an individual who had fallen into a hard place? Could I, going forward? What would this look like? Would I respond to a sudden, urgent situation like this?

• Why did the Samaritan say, to the innkeeper, “When I come back, I will repay you whatever you spend?“ Is this not a blank check? Could this not turn out to be an enormous sum? Might it have been wiser for him to set a limit on this generosity?

• “When I return… send “Where have I heard that before in the gospels?

• Why is Jesus telling this story? What was the question he was originally asked?

• How does Jesus answer the question?

• Why does Jesus ask yet another question, “Which of the three was the neighbor?“

• Which of the three was ,in fact, a neighbor? How do you answer the question?

• How did the lawyer answer the question? What do you read?

• How are we showing mercy today in our current circumstances?

• How do you understand the story? Do you read it literally or allegorically?

• Would you tend toward Saint Augustine‘s christological interpretation, in which we are the ones in the ditch, Christ is the good Samaritan who saves, the priest and Levite are the law and the prophets who do not save, the inn is the church, the innkeeper is the apostle Paul, the wine and oil, and the two coins are the sacraments, and the Samaritan/Christ says I will come again and re-pay all that is owed? Would you agree with this interpretation?

• Or is this a story about Samaritans, and who is your neighbor? Would that also not be an allegorical understanding?

• Could the story possibly have multiple leanings on multiple levels, for multiple audiences?

• What is the last thing Jesus says in this text?

• If the story is understood allegorically, Why does Jesus say “Go and do likewise?”

• What is Jesus saying to you right now?



Proper 9, Pentecost 4C – July 7, 2019

2 Kings 5:1-14 – Syrian Namaan healed by Elisha.
Isaiah 66:10-14 – As a mother nurses a child, so I will console you O Jerusalem.

Psalm 30 – God’s anger lasts a moment, God’s favor for a lifetime.
Psalm 66:1-9 – Praise the Lord, all you nations!

Galatians 6:(1-6), 7-16 – (Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.) You reap what you sow.  Do not become weary in doing good. I don’t boast in circumcision, but in the cross of Christ alone.

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 – The sending of the 70: See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.5Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near…



Luke 10: The Sending of the 70

Three years ago I drove over to Tuett Theological Seminary in Waco, Texas, and had the privilege  of sitting down with Mikeal C. Parsons, a tireless scholar of Luke and The Acts of the Apostles. This Baptist professor has taught religion at Baylor, in Waco, Texas since 1986. His wife is a professor of Italian Renaissance Art History. 

A list of his books is dizzying. Here are some:

  • Rethinking the Unity of Luke and Acts. Co-authored with Richard I. Pervo. Philadelphia: Fortress/Augsburg Press, 1993.
  • “Acts.” Pp. 1-64 in Acts and Pauline Writings. Mercer Commentary on the Bible, Volume 7. Watson E. Mills, Richard F. Wilson, et al., editors. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1997.
  • With Heidi J. Hornik. Illuminating Luke: The Infancy Narrative in Italian Renaissance Painting. Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 2003.
  • With Martin Culy. Acts: A Handbook on the Greek Text of Acts. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2003.
  • With Dennis Smith et al. Synoptic Stories About Jesus. Storyteller’s Companion to the Bible. Vol. 9. General Eds. Dennis Smith and Michael Williams. Abingdon Press, 2005.
  • With Heidi J. Hornik. Illuminating Luke: The Public Ministry of Christ in Italian Renaissance and Baroque Painting. Valley Forge, PA: T & T Clark International, 2005.
  • Body and Character in Luke and Acts: The Subversion of Physiognomy in Early Christianity. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006.
  • Luke: Storyteller, Evangelist, Interpreter. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Press, 2007.
  • With Heidi J. Hornik. Illuminating Luke: The Passion and Resurrection Narratives in Italian Renaissance and Baroque Painting. Valley Forge, PA: T & T Clark International. November 2007.
  • The Acts of the Apostles. Paideia Commentary Series. Eds. Mikeal C. Parsons and Charles H. Talbert. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008.
  • With Martin Culy and Josh Stigall. A Handbook on the Greek Text of Luke. Waco: Baylor University Press, 2010.
  • Body and Character in Luke and Acts: The Subversion of Physiognomy in Early Christianity. Reprint. Baylor University Press, 2011.
  • Luke:  Storyteller, Evangelist, Interpreter. Reprint. Baylor University Press, 2014. 
  • Gospel of Luke. Paideia Commentaries on the New Testament. Baker Academic. 2015.
  • With Heidi J. Hornik. The Acts of the Apostles Across the Centuries. Oxford: Blackwell’s. forthcoming 2016. 
  • The Triune God and the Church’s Mission in Acts. Manuscript submitted for publication.


And this doesn’t even include his articles. The book I’ve used is his Paideia Commentary on Luke. I have relied heavily on Parsons, and also Jeffrey’s Brazos Theological Commentary on Luke for today’s post. 

Here is the text for this Sunday, from Luke:

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2 He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ 6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7 Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9 cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’


 12 I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town. 13 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14 But at the judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 15 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades.


 16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”


17 The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” 18 He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19 See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

The portion above in grayscale is not part of the lectionary selection. These woes are frankly a bit of a tangent, but since Luke includes them in the text, I will too. This is a literary technique called an inclusio, where the author begins a story, moves to a different, but related story, and then returns to the original story to give us the conclusion. We see this same technique used in television dramas.





In my brief Introduction to the Gospel of Luke, I suggest an outline for Luke’s gospel. After the birth narratives, John the Baptist and Jesus’ wilderness experience, there are three bodies of material in Luke: Jesus in Galilee, Jesus Journeying to Jerusalem, and Jesus in Jerusalem. Our text is toward the very beginning of the Journey, what Parsons calls the “Travel Narrative.” 

Those of us using the Revised Common Lectionary were in Luke 8 June 23 and Luke 9 June 30, 2019. We will be in Luke 10-11 in July 2019 and Luke 12-14 in August. In other words, we have just completed Jesus’ time in Galilee and are now together on the road with Jesus. (this is the literal meaning of the word synod: “together on the way/road/journey.”) Last week was the first text in the Journey/Travel Narrative, Luke 9:51-62, Jesus’ rejection by a Samaritan village, something that will be of importance as we look at this text. 



Seventy Are Commissioned

David Lyle Jeffrey points out that a few texts, followed by the Vulgate, say 72 were sent. The difference between 70 and 72 is not critical, but Parsons points out 70 is an important symbolic number. The Septuagint (a word which means 70) is the Greek translation of the Old Testament. Luke’s gospel utilizes the Septuagint a lot. It may be that this number is symbolic of the mission to the Gentiles. 

The seventy are to go ahead of him, to towns he will visit. The word used is apestelen/ ἀπέστειλεν. This word means to send or commission. You can see the word “post” in there. It is the root from which comes the word “apostle,” those sent. Jesus commissioned 12, then 70. The mission is ramping up. There is a strategy and training to go with it.



Jesus sends the seventy out in twos. “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Jeffrey points out this commissioning is close to the October time of the Festival of Booths/Tabernacles, so the harvest references make sense. Parsons points out the eschatological judgment overtones (Joel 3, Micah 4). “I send you out like lambs in the midst of wolves.” They are not to expect a warm reception, a lesson they learned in Samaria (Luke 9). What do we expect? Accolades? Are we hoping to win a popularity contest? Perhaps it depends upon what our mission is.

The instructions for the seventy echo Jesus’ instructions to the 12 in the previous chapter, Luke 9. The instructions in Luke 10 are longer, but notice the overlap.

Luke 9: Take no staff, bag, money, tunic.
Luke 10: Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals. 

Luke 9: Whatever house you enter, stay there and leave from there.
Luke 10: Remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide. 

Luke 9: If they do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.
Luke 10: If they do not welcome you, say, “Even the dust of our feet we wipe off in protest.” 


Travel lightly.

This will preach. It is best to travel lightly in life as well. Jesus warns of the lure of materialism. What does it profit you to gain the world, but lose your soul? Parables like the man who built barns warn us that life is more than the accumulation of things. 

I keep thinking about my growing library of books which I had to pack up in boxes and move from call to call. In time, they became a burden. I began to thin out my collection, realizing many of the books were never used once read, and some were out of date.

We who have invested our lives in ministry have to remember, there’s no “stuff” that will make this work. It is the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in us that accomplishes the ministry. “Let the Spirit do the heavy lifting,” one professor said to me.

How my congregations travel more lately? If seems to me the congregations pick up programs over the years. We’re not so good at putting tired programs to bed when it’s time. We can bury our people in busy work, propping up old programs whose time has passed. What might it mean for a mission-driven congregation to travel lightly?

Luke 10 adds the comment about not talking to people along the way. Parsons sees this as a time saving measure. Oriental greetings could be quite long. The seventy were to have a clear focus and mission. Don’t lollygag. Get to work. This brings to mind the saying about not looking back once you’ve set your hand to the plow, and also the angel’s comment after the Ascension: “Why do you just stand there staring up into heaven?” Get to work.



When the seventy enter a house they are to offer peace. Parsons points out this is a common practice (Judges 6:23; 19:20). If Jesus is the Prince of Peace, his followers should embody that. Parsons also calls to mind the resurrected Jesus’ word of peace to the disciples in Luke 24.

Visitation is an important part of any ministry. We aren’t digging deep in community if we aren’t in each other’s houses. This is hard these days, because people guard their homes more than ever. Small groups meeting in homes are a sign of deeper community. When you enter someone’s home, be sure to offer a word of peace to that home, and embody that peace. Your presence will be a blessing.


Stay In One House

The seventy are to stay in the same house while they are there, rather than moving from house to house. We did this when I was on a Lutheran Youth Encounter Team in the Midwest. For a year we travelled from town to town, singing and leading youth events. It was a great year. We traveled in a van and stayed in host homes. These homes provided us with generous hospitality. This created a bond between us. 

Eat what is set before you. There are hints of Peter’s sheet of unclean foods here. Eat what is set before you, even if it violates your dietary restrictions. The mission to the Gentiles will require a different relationship to food – a new freedom based on gospel, not law. 

We followed the instructions to “eat what is set before you” when we visit the Lutheran Churches of Ethiopia, Peru and the Central African Republic. In the CAR we ate a lot of goat. Sometimes we weren’t sure what we were eating. This was a sign of respect to them. It was an acknowledgement of their great hospitality. In a society that struggles to get enough calories, they killed a goat for us.


Cure the Sick and Tell Them the Reign of God has Come Near

If you don’t have healing gifts, then it is enough to pay attention to the sick and to tend to them. The gifts of presence, smiles, and prayer, do more than we can imagine. Sickness can be isolating. Jesus’ followers are to visit the sick and those in prison, and then remind them that this new community is a sign of the reign of God breaking into our world. 



Earlier, in Luke 9, Jesus was rejected by a Samaritan village. We read this gospel text last Sunday. James and John ask if Jesus wants them to call down fire from heaven on this inhospitable village (Luke 9:54). Jesus rebukes them. How do we respond to those who do not receive the gospel? Jesus rejects a violent reaction, and instead suggests they shake the dust off their feet and move on. Parsons points out, if the hosts had been hospitable, the guests would not have dust on their feet anyway. Jesus says it will be worse for them on judgment day than for Sodom (confirming, by the way, that the Sodom and Gomorrah text is about hospitality). 

Over the years, I have encountered many who were wounded by the church, and could not return. To respond to them with anger would accomplish nothing. In fact, it might just confirm their impressions. Our response must always be one of welcome. The atheist spouse of a church member is always welcome. The Buddhist spouse of one church member came frequently and meditated during worship. He often had comments about the sermon. Whether or not they believe, the reign of God has a way of breaking in. All are welcome. 

We often feel we have done something wrong if people do not believe the gospel we preach. If the parable of the sower and the seed has anything to say, we should only expect about 25% of the seed we scatter to fall on good soil. Scatter away. Expect rejection. 

This rejection strategy causes Jesus to go into a bit of fit. He hurls woes at Chorzin and Bethsaida. Miracles were performed there, but they did not receive him apparently. Bethsaida is near the feeding of the five thousand, on the north side of the Sea of Galilee, though efforts to locate it definitively have fallen short of the mark. Chorazin (or Chorazim) is also in northern Galilee. Clearly, Jesus himself was not accepted everywhere. We should not expect we will be either. 



The Seventy Return


The seventy returned with joy. Mission trips often yield amazing results. “Even the demons submitted to us.” Jesus’ response is likely a well-preserved, if not enigmatic saying of Jesus. “I saw Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.” He goes on to say he has given them power to tread on serpents and scorpions without harm. Taking this passage literally has led some Christian sects to practice snake-handling.

Satan falling from heaven is likely an apocalyptic image. This sounds like much of Revelation. It also reflects the future as many of the Old Testament prophets did. We may be seeing a glimpse of the mysterious way that Jesus spoke, like many seers. In my view, it has to be a reference to the “spirits submitting to the seventy.” Satan is bound. This is how a first century preacher/healer would speak. 

The good news is that the reign of God, more traditionally “the kingdom of God” is not pie in the sky when you die. It is right here. It is breaking into our world.

Nevertheless, the seventy are not to rejoice in the reaction they got in healing and performing exorcisms. They are to rejoice that their names are written in heaven. We should not rejoice in the various victories of ministry, no matter how life-changing. We are only instruments of the divine, on the world stage for only the blink of an eye. 



Preaching Luke 10


This is a phenomenal text for Lectio Divina. Read the text three times, with silence afterwards, and then an opportunity for people to reflect on what they are hearing each time, the final time reflecting on how God is calling us to follow Jesus and be sent into the world today. In a small congregation this could be the sermon. 

In a traditional sermon, it would be a shame to miss this opportunity to preach the mission of the gospel. The harvest today is plentiful. The laborers today are few. Are we not also sent into the world to bring hope and healing? Reflecting on this text would provide an excellent opportunity to train people to bring hope and healing into the world, and also to invite them into deeper training, to be hospital visitors, homebound lay Eucharistic ministers, evangelists. How are you equipping the saints for ministry? How are you inviting them to hone their skills for this work? How are you preparing them, as Jesus did? 

In what ways has the reign of God come near you? In what ways has the reign of God broken into your congregation’s ministry? In what ways has it broken into your community? Tell stories. Point to the God who shows up in the everyday stuff of everyday life. 

In loving memory of Pastor Ken Ribe

(July 24, 1928-June 8, 2019)


Reverend Kenneth Harris Ribe


Reverend Kenneth Harris Ribe, age 90, went to be with his Heavenly Father on Saturday, June 8, 2019

surrounded by his family. He was born July 24, 1928 in San Antonio, Texas to Otto E. and Viola (Crowell) Ribe.

Ken received his Bachelor of Science in Physics May 1948. He also earned a Master’s Degree in Physics January

1952, both from The University of Texas. He was a member by invitation only of Sigma Pi Sigma Honorary

Society for Physics majors.

Ken married his high school sweetheart, Bernice E. Smith, on September 1, 1949. They would have been

married 70 years this September. They raised two children, Rick and Bonnie.

After college he was employed by Humble Oil and Refining Company as a Research Engineer in Houston, Texas

for eight years. He had a calling to leave this career to become a Lutheran minister. He received his Bachelor

of Divinity Cum Laude May 1963 from Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina.

Ken and his family moved to Fort Worth, Texas where he was pastor at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church for five

years. In 1968 the family moved to Lake Jackson, Texas where he served at Christ Lutheran Church for eight

years. In 1976 Ken and Bernice moved to Katy, Texas where he was the Mission Developer of Living Word

Lutheran Church which has become the largest Lutheran church in the Texas Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod,


Ken was asked to assist the Dallas/Ft.Worth Head of the Ministerial Alliance at the funeral of Lee Harvey

Oswald. He served many years on the Staff at Lutherhill Youth Camp. He was very active with the Seafarer’s

Center at the Port of Houston and served on the board for a number of years.

Ken was an avid Texas Longhorn sports fan. He and Bernice were football season ticket holders with their son

for many years. They had the privilege to attend the 1963 and 2005 National Championship games. He

enjoyed vacations with his family every summer, particularly to Creede, Colorado where he loved to fish for

Rainbow Trout. Ken and Bernice have been in every state in the USA. They also enjoyed international travel

especially to the Holy Land and to Martin Luther Country.

After retirement Ken served as interim pastor of eight churches and also did various preaching appointments.

He and Bernice always looked forward to their monthly Retired Lutheran Pastors Lunch Bunch gatherings. As a

member of Christthe Servant he has sung in the choir and assisted Pastor Jim Giannantonio as needed.

Family time was very important to Ken. He especially loved all the many times he got to spend with his

Grandkids and later his first Great-grandchild.

Preceded in death by his parents, Otto and Viola Ribe and one brother Marshall Ribe. Survived by his beloved

wife, Bernice, son Richard Ribe (Gwen), daughter Bonnie Novosad (David) and brother Fred Ribe. Six

Grandchildren; Kate Ribe Clements (Ross), Paul Ribe (Kaitlyn), Blake Novosad, Keith Ribe (Carlisle), Brooke

Novosad Sterzinger (Matthew), Benjamin Kenneth Ribe and Great-grandson Cole Sterzinger.

Memorial service with Bishop Rev. Mike Rinehart Presiding Minister, and Pastor Jim Giannantonio as Liturgist

will be held Sunday, June 23, 2019 at 3:00 PM at Christ the Servant Lutheran Church, 2400 Wilcrest, Houston,

Texas 77042. A reception to follow to meet with the family. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made in

Pastor Ken’s name to Christ the Servant Lutheran Church.

Pastor Ribe’s memorial service was held on July 23, 2019 at Christ the servant Lutheran Church. This was one day before 10 would be 91 years old. Pastor Jim Giannantonio and I presided.

Pastoral intern Jason Thomas and a battery of volunteers helped out.

John Krueger and Pam Tamburello provided musical leadership.

I am grateful for the ministry of Pastor Ken Ribe, and all

who dedicate their lives to the proclamation of the love of God as seen in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

Bachelors of Science in Physics, Masters in Physics he worked for Humble Oil Company, before deciding to go to Southern Seminary.

He served

  • St. Matthews in Fort Worth 1963-1968.
  • Christ Lake Jackson 1968-1976.
  • 1976 Mission Developer for Living Word, Katy for a decade
  • and a half before retirement.

He did many interims in retirement, and was an active

member of the retired pastors, deacons and spouses group.

Pastor Jim Giannantonio says Ken and Bernice joined Christ the Servant in August 1992. He preached at Christ the Servant once in a while. Sang in choir. Was one of the cantors.

Pastor George Brookover says Ken was a senior when George was a junior, but 10 years older than George. George says he was so loyal to UT he bled orange.

Paul Blom, our former bishop wrote to me, “Ken was one of the “solid” pastors I was privileged to serve with. He was always a strong advocate of the mission of the church. He had a heart for the those in need. His passion and compassion worked side by side. I really appreciated serving with him.”

Pastor David Roschke says Ken was an active and annual participant in Confirmation Camp at Lutherhill for the Houston week. He and other pastors would team-teach in the mornings. The kids got acquainted with other Lutheran kids from Houston. During the week, we’d generally have a pastors’ musical act in the talent shows. Ken Ribe was a fabulous tenor! He did an amazing “Danny Boy.” Ken and Bernice were/are faithful and good people who love Christ and Christ’s church.

The family remembers Rainbow Trout fishing in Colorado. Seafarer’s golf tournament every year we played in.

Bernice says she was raised Lutheran by her parents. Ken was Presbyterian when they were married. He started going with her. Ken said he wanted to become a Lutheran. They joined St. James in Oak Forest.

Then Ken came home from working at Exxon one day and out of the blue and said, “I want to go to seminary and do what Pastor Dell Dolton is doing.” They sold their house and second car and headed for Columbia South Carolina.

Rick said the kids enjoyed seminary. Made a lot of friends wherever we went.

Bernice: They were always a couple. Did everything together. She was involved in women’s groups. Suppers. A lot of hospital visits with him. Funerals or weddings. He enjoyed his work.

Rick: Dad enjoyed his work. Living Word: Dad just went out and knocked on doors. No list. No nothing. Just cold calling.

Rick: Dad told me 7-8 years ago, “I’m not afraid to die. In a strange kind of way, I’m kind of looking forward to it to see how it all works. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in a hurry. Just curious.”

Bernice: We were high school sweethearts. Knew each other 75 years. We dearly, dearly loved each other. I will miss him desperately. But he was getting weaker. It was his time.

For each of us, this day comes. And how shall we greet it? What shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? Will we trust? Will we fear?

We proclaim the good news that Ken proclaimed and to which he dedicated his life. We heard this good news in Romans 8: that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Proper 8, 3rd Sunday after Pentecost – June 30, 2019

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14 – Elijah parts the water so that Elijah and Elisha walk across the Jordan on dry ground. Elijah taken to heaven by a fiery chariot in a wind storm.
1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21 – Elisha becomes Elijah’s apprentice.

Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20 – I will remember your wondrous deeds, O Lord.
Psalm 16 – Protect me, O Lord, for I take shelter in you.

Galatians 5:1, 13-25 – For freedom Christ has set you free! Do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. The whole law is summed up in a single word: Love your neighbor as yourself. 

Luke 9:51-62 – Jesus rejected by Samaritan village. Cost of discipleship. “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”



Galatians 5: Freedom


Freedom is a good jumping off point the Sunday before the Fourth of July. Of course, we will have to define true freedom, but there is some overlap. Here is the epistle reading from Galatians 5, for this Sunday:

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.


13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. 16 Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

The entire thrust of Scripture is about freedom from slavery, both a literal, physical slavery, and also a spiritual slavery to sin, death and the Law. The central story of the Hebrew Bible is the Exodus, a story of a people fleeing a very feral slavery in their country to establish a homeland of freedom elsewhere. Stories of freedom from bondage of every kind permeate the Scriptures. Joseph is sold into slavery. Jesus sets people free from slavery to illness and evil spirits. Paul writes a letter to a slave owner, Philemon, instructing him to treat his slave Onesimus as a brother now.

In today’s epistle, Paul is talking about freedom from the Law, the Torah, which, in Galatians 3, Paul said enslaves us. We are in bondage to sin, and we are in bondage to the Law. By “The Law,” Paul usually means the Torah, with its 613 laws.

The gospel is about freedom. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Do not return to a yoke of slavery, by becoming enmeshed in a web of do’s and don’ts. Paul is not telling the Galatians to live wild, reckless lives. He is reminding them that the Spirit didn’t come by keeping the law, but by faith.

In fact, he goes on to remind them not to let their freedom become an opportunity for self-indulgence. They are not to use that freedom to hurt one another. Instead they are to be slaves to one another.





The word “law” appears about 25 times in this short six-chapter letter called Galatians. You can find the references here.

A brief, one-paragraph summary of Paul’s feeling about the law from his letter to the church in Galatia, might sound something like this:

No one can be justified by the works of the law. I, Paul, have died to the law in order that I might live for Christ. The Spirit does not come through the law, but through faith. Those who rely on the law are under a curse: Having to fulfill the whole law. Every last iota. Christ redeemed us from the law’s curse. Abraham’s covenant was based on faith, that is, Abraham believed God’s promises. Believing God’s promises was the original plan. The Law came afterwards, through Moses, 430 years later to be precise. The covenant of the Law cannot nullify the covenant of Faith ratified earlier by God. We become part of the family of God by faith, believing God’s promises, like Abraham. The law is not opposed to the promises of God; it was just our babysitter until Christ came. Now we know longer need a babysitter. Even Gentiles can become part of this family. Not by law. Through faith they are adopted into the household of God and so become heirs. If you allow yourself to be circumcised, you are “cut off” from Christ, and now must keep the entire law, which is impossible. Even the circumcised don’t keep the law. The entire law can be summed up in a single thought: love your neighbor as yourself. If you’re led by the Spirit, you don’t really need the law anymore. The law of Christ is to bear one another’s burdens.



Freedom from what? To what?


The yoke of slavery to which Paul refers are the two religious systems he has been discussing: Pagan worship and Torah observance. Both of these yokes are heavy, and actually, Paul would argue, can ultimately push us away from God. 

The yoke of Christ is the new law: loving God and neighbor. This law is not heavy. It is light, and offers freedom. Although no longer under the law, followers of Christ should not abuse their freedom. Paul believes if people truly live by the Spirit they will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 

As Christians we are free from the law, but not free to do whatever we please. We are now bound by a new law: the law of love. The law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). There is a paradox in this, one that Martin Luther picked up in what is probably his simplest writing on the gospel, On The Freedom of a Christian (De Libertate Christiana, sometimes known as the Treatise on Christian Liberty). This short treatise may be one that we should provide for every new member of our church. In it Luther explains that Christians are not compelled to keep the laws of the Bible, but are compelled to love their neighbor.

Luther’s thesis is,

A Christian is the most free lord of all, and subject to none;

A Christian is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone.

These may appear contradictory, but they are exactly what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:19,

For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. (1 Cor. 9:19)

Luther goes on to say,

Meanwhile it is to be noted, that the whole Scripture of God is divided into two parts, precepts and promises. The precepts certainly teach us what is good, but what they teach is not forthwith done. For they show us what we ought to do, but do not give us the power to do it. They were ordained, however, for the purpose of showing humans to themselves; that through them we may learn our own impotence for good, and may despair of our own strength. For this reason they are called the Old Testament, and are so.

This tract is sprinkled with quotes from Romans and Galatians, such as,

For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. (Romans 10:4)

This is an interesting passage. The Septuagint (Greek Old Testament, which dates back to before Christ) translates the Hebrew, Torah, with the Greek word for law: nomos. If we substitute Torah back in, that renders Romans 10:14, “For Christ is the end of the Torah, so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” These are strong words for Paul who was trained as a Pharisee, one set apart for the Torah.

Luther (still from On Christian Freedom):

For example: “thou shalt not covet,” is a precept by which we are all convicted of sin; since no one can help coveting, whatever efforts to the contrary we may make. In order therefore that we may fulfill the precept, and not covet, we are constrained to despair of ourselves and to seek elsewhere and through another the help which we cannot find in ourselves; as it is said: “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help.” (Hosea xiii. 9.) Now what is done by this one precept, is done by all; for all are equally impossible of fulfilment by us.

In other words, the purpose of the law is simply to drive us to the gospel. Like the prodigal son, about to eat the pig pods, we realize we cannot make it on our own, and are driven to return to the loving, forgiving embrace of the Father who has been waiting for us all along. This is true freedom.



The Three Uses of the Law


The Formula of Concord distinguished three uses, or purposes, of the Law in Article VI:

  1. that “thereby outward discipline might be maintained against the wild and disobedient,”
  2. that “people “might thereby be led to the knowledge of their sins,” and
  3. that “after they are regenerate … they might … have a fixed rule according to which they are to regulate and direct their whole life…”

The Law may not be our primary guide, and it certainly has no power to save or transform, but neither can it be discarded. It is discipline, mirror and guide (though the third use was hotly disputed amongst theologians).

Article 4 of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1531) says,

All Scripture ought to be distributed into these two principal topics, the Law and the promises. For in some places it presents the Law, and in others the promise concerning Christ, namely, either when [in the Old Testament] it promises that Christ will come, and offers, for His sake, the remission of sins, justification, and life eternal, or when, in the Gospel [in the New Testament], Christ Himself, since He has appeared, promises the remission of sins, justification, and life eternal.

The Formula of Concord says in Article V,

We believe, teach, and confess that the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is to be maintained in the Church with great diligence…

Throughout the Lutheran Age of Orthodoxy (1580–1713) this hermeneutical discipline was considered foundational and important by Lutheran theologians.





As we celebrate freedom on the Fourth of July, freedom is on the brain. People will walk to the door already contemplating the general concept of freedom. This general concept will naturally gravitate, for U.S. Americans, to freedoms of speech, press, assembly, religion, representation, and the like. Paul’s primary thrust in Galatians is, of course, not to speak about freedom from political oppression, though the Old Testament frequently does. Paul is addressing freedom from religious legalism and oppression. We can, however, use freedom as a springboard, by asking the congregation: What is true freedom? A person can be free from oppression, but a slave to addiction. A person can be free from hunger, but a slave to anger. What enslaves you today? What does true freedom look like? This is where a true story of deliverance will drive the point home. When has God delivered you from slavery to something? Or when has God delivered a parishioner or someone you know?

Then we can talk about what we do with our freedom. Okay, once you’re free from whatever enslaves you, now what? Where do you go? What do you do? Once you are free from the law, what then? Now that you don’t have be a slave to some laws in order to stay out of hell, how will you live into your freedom? Or, to put it most poignantly:

Now that you don’t have to do anything, what are you going to do?

What do we do with this freedom we have in Christ? For Paul, and for Luther, we are freed from our bondage to the law in order that we might live in love of God and neighbor. If we live in love of God and neighbor, we will not need the law, for love does no wrong to a neighbor. Luther said if you can keep the first commandment you could toss out the other nine. This is our Christian vocation. You are now free to go and love your neighbor, without constraint. Love. Serve. Do no harm. Speak ill of no person. As Abraham Lincoln said,

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Beloved, be free. Free to love with malice toward none and charity for all. Free to bear one another’s burdens, to care for the orphan and widow, to work for peace and justice.




Luke 9: Fire from Heaven


I can’t close without a few comments about our gospel text. In my Introduction to Luke’s Gospel, I offer an outline of Luke. The three main bodies of material are boldfaced below, Jesus in Galilee, Jesus Traveling, then Jesus in Jerusalem.

A rough outline of Luke’s gospel:

  1. Prologue 1:1-4
  2. The Birth and Childhood of Jesus 1:5-2:52
  3. Preparation for the Public Ministry of Jesus 3:1-4:13
  4. The Ministry of Jesus in Galilee 4:14-9:50
  5. The Journey to Jerusalem 9:51-19:48
  6. Teaching in Jerusalem 20:1-21:38
  7. The Suffering and Death of Jesus 21:1-23:56
  8. The Resurrection 24:1-5

This Sunday’s text launches the Travel Narrative. We begin at Luke 9:51:

51When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55But he turned and rebuked them. 56Then they went on to another village.


57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Jesus “set his face” to Jerusalem. He has his game face on. His ministry in Galilee has concluded. He’s now heading, methodically, to the big city. Mikeal Parsons (Luke, Paideia Series), calls this section “The Demands of the Journey.”

He sends messengers ahead. The Samaritans don’t receive him. “You want us to call down fire from heaven and obliterate them?” the disciples ask (2 Kings 1:9–12). “Uh, no thanks.” And Jesus rebukes them. Jesus reveals a God not interested in genocide. In chapters seven and ten, Jesus will tell stories about good Samaritans.

This is the second time something like this has happened. In the verses immediately preceding today’s text, we have this:

“Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us” (9: 49). Jesus responded, “Do not stop him, for whoever is not against you is for you” (9: 50). Jesus is not ours to own, or hoard. The power in faith is not to be used to exclude, demean or destroy.

57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

Oh yeah? Really? So now we get three sayings, what Parsons calls “chreiae,” about following Jesus. They respond to prepared excuses of an enthusiastic wanna-be disciple for not following.

  1. Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.
  2. Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.
  3. No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.

First, following Jesus will lead to rejection. Second, it will require radical commitment. Third it is of utmost urgency. You may end up homeless (or crucified). You may not be able to make it home for your parents’ funerals. You may not even have time to say goodbye to family. Jesus’ call to place discipleship above family is inescapable in the gospels.

This is a somber call to discipleship. Call it law if you wish. It is a stern warning that the way of love will not be all rainbows, unicorns and lollipops. The way of love sounds warm and fuzzy, but love calls us to sacrifice. Love is giving ourselves for the sake of the other. Jesus offers himself as the example of this self-sacrificial love on the cross.

Proper 7, Ordinary 12, Pentecost 2C – June 23, 2019

1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a – Ahab told Jezebel all Elijah had done. Elijah hides in a cave. He experiences a wind storm, earthquake and fire. God is not in them, but in the quiet whisper.
Isaiah 65:1-9 – Yahweh will judge, but not destroy everyone.

Psalm 42 – As the deer longs for streams of water, so my heart longs for you Lord.
and 43 – Vindicate me, O Lord, against an evil nation. Why so downcast O my soul?
Psalm 22:19-28 – Save me from the claws of the wild dog. Rescue me from the mouth of the lion.

Galatians 3:23-29 – The law was our custodian until Christ came. Now that faith is here, we are no longer under a guardian. There is no longer Jew/Greek, slave/free, male/female, for we are all one in Christ our Lord.

Luke 8:26-39  – Jesus heals the Geresene demoniac.


Note: June 19, 1865 is Junteenth, Emancipation Day in Texas. More here.




1 Kings 19: The Sound of Silence

Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.”
3 Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there. 4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.}


[5 Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. 7 The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”]


8 He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.


9 At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” 11 He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14 He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” 15 Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your
way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive,
you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram.





Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal. Queen Jezebel was hopping mad, and had sworn to execute Elijah in one day’s time. Elijah was running for his life. He made it one day into the wilderness. There he fell asleep, physically and emotionally exhausted. When he awakened, angels ministered to him with food. Strengthened by this food, he spent 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness.

Wilderness experiences abound in the Bible. They are very important. It would be hard to miss the parallel with Moses’ 40 days with the Lord (Exodus 34:28). It rained and stormed 40 days and 40 nights in the Noah story. The angel ministered to Jesus during his forty days in the wilderness. The Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness. The message is clear. This is a holy moment, like other holy moments. More to the point, it is a holy crisis. Never waste a crisis. How will God use this crisis? What will God teach us? How might it move us from where we are?

What crises have you been through? Perhaps you are in a kind of wilderness yourself right now. Can you see the crisis as a holy moment? Where is God in the midst of the crisis, the wilderness? This is a theology of cross. God is there. God may not have created the crisis, but how might God use it?





After the wilderness, Elijah headed up the mountain, Mt. Horeb, which is Mt. Sinai. He complained to God: “I’ve cast down idols and even taken lives for you. Now they’re out to get me, what are you going to do about it?” I must confess, these genocidal texts are troubling. We shouldn’t read past them too quickly. How does Jesus reframe the relationship with the enemy? Where does Jesus land in the tension between the mystical and kingly power narratives of the Old Testament?

A storm then arose, so great that it shook the mountain. Then an earthquake, followed by fire. And then, finally, the sound of silence. It is in the silence where God asked what Elijah wanted. Elijah complained again. Then God put him back to work.

Elijah’s pathway follows one that would be very familiar to the hearers of this story: The Exodus. Just as the Israelites fled Pharaoh, wandered through the wilderness and ended up on Mt. Sinai, so Elijah fled Queen Jezebel, wandered through the wilderness, and ended up on Mount Horeb (Sinai). It is at this point that the two stories diverge. In the Exodus, God was in the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night. In the Elijah story, God is in the silence.

One might see in this a sort of meta-narrative. We go through crises in life, followed by wilderness periods, after which we end up on the mountain of God. There God speaks, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, we hear, not in the thunder, but in the silence.

In what ways have you found yourself on the mountain after a wilderness period? Was there fire or smoke? Thunder or lightening? Silence? How did God speak in the wake of the storm?



Crisis leads to a time of listening


Revelation often comes after a time of crisis. As Pastor Freddie Jack, President of the 7th District of the Louisiana Missionary Baptist Association said recently, following the burning of three African American Churches in what must be described as an act of domestic terrorism, “God can use the spade of sorrow to to dig a well of joy.”

Perhaps this is because desperation drives us back to God. When our own efforts have availed us nothing, and we have nowhere else to turn, we turn to God. Most often living in the illusion of our own self-sufficiency, once in a while we are reduced to our child-like state, recognizing that most of life is beyond our control. It is then that we let go of our life-control projects and lift our eyes to the hills. Our eyes are opened to the vast complexity of the universe, and we choose to listen, rather than lecture. Desperation can do that.

The crisis may be as simple as an illness. I recently fell ill with a bug that left me fevered and flat on my back. I live most of my life doing what feels like self-sufficient, high-energy work. Then something like this comes along and you realize how dependent you are on others. At times like this I realize how much I take my health for granted. And my family, who care for me. With nothing to do, but sleep and wait out the bug, the illness forces me into a prayerful state.

For others it may be a flood that takes your house. The loss of a job. A bad diagnosis. Life can change in the blink of an eye. All our really brilliant plans suddenly seem a bit far-fetched. What was I thinking? I was living in an illusory world.

It’s at moments like this that our world gets put in proper perspective. Our place in the universe is seen closer to what it actually is. Humility restored. Priorities get reset. God is there.





One final thought about this text, thanks to former New England Synod Bishop Margaret Payne, who writes some thoughtful preaching ideas in Sundays and Seasons: Preaching Year C. We live in an overly busy culture. We work hard. We are surrounded by a cacophony of sounds: TV, radio, DVD, CD, Spotify, social media. We seem reluctant to pause, to find Sabbath for our souls. We complain that God doesn’t speak, but in truth, we aren’t listening.

Margaret Payne suggests a play on words. Paint a picture of people rushing along a busy street, “following their own devices.” I like it. With heads bowed down to our phones and hand-held devices, do we look up? Self-absorbed, do we listen? Can we be still, as the psalmist suggests (Psalm 46)? Can we lookup, to the hills (Psalm 121)? What might it be like to spend some time every day listening for the “sound of silence?”

This could be a good time to teach about prayer practices. Don’t just tell people to take time for silent prayer. Teach them some intriguing ways to get there: lectio divina, meditatio and mantric prayer. Those who use contemporary music, could subliminally plant the “sound of silence” idea in people’s heads, but playing Simon and Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence  quietly through the speakers before worship begins. Consider my devotional book on prayer, “Learning to Pray Again.”

If you follow this direction, be sure to build some times of silence into the liturgy. Perhaps no communion music. Or you could have silence after the sermon instead of a hymn. Give people an opportunity to listen to the sound of silence right there in worship.





Galatians 3:23-29


We are in Galatians for the next several weeks:

  • June 19, 2019 Galatians 3:23-29 (June 19 is Juneteenth)
  • June 26, 2019 Galatians 5:1, 13-25
  • July 3, 2019 Galatians 6:[1-6] 7-16 (July 4 is Independence Day)

I would like to point out to you a great resource that I think every pastor should have: The Jewish Annotated New Testament, edited by Jewish scholars Amy-Jill Levine (whom many of you know from Vanderbilt) and Marc Zvi Brettler. So many misunderstandings of the New Testament are based on an erroneous understanding of the cultural milieu and even more so, a misunderstanding of Jesus’ Second Temple Jewish heritage. Amy-Jill Levine has given us a tremendous gift. I’ll be hard pressed to write a sermon without consulting it after using it recently. Today’s post will have a number of references to this work.

In Galatians 1 and 2, Paul said, “through the law I died to the law in order that I might live to God.” Greek speaking Jews used nomos (law) to translate “Torah.” So when Paul said, “through the law I died to the law in order that I might live to God,” what he meant was, “through the Torah I died to the Torah in order that I might live to God.” Paul had to die to Torah in order to become right with God, or justified. The Torah taught Paul to die to the Torah.

Many of us have had this experience with the Bible. The gospel led us to see the Bible as more than a book of laws. The Bible itself calls us to put our faith in God, not a book. The book reveals the God who is revealed in Christ, who, in turn, sent the Spirit.

For Paul, “justified” means “reckoned as righteous.” The Septuagint renders tzedeqah as dikaiosune (justified), especially in Genesis 15:6. So when Paul refers to no one being justified by the “works of the law” what he means is, “no one is made righteous by the works of Torah,” a phrase that appears at Qumran.

Dogged adherence to Leviticus was actually keeping Paul from God. Could it be that we get so tied up with being righteous, that we miss the transforming relationship God seeks with us? This is a very relevant book of the Bible given the way people are tossing around parts of the Torah these days, as if it is still binding on Christians.

Paul closes this portion of his argument by saying no one will be justified, that is made righteous, by keeping Torah. For Paul, faith in Christ frees us from Torah observance.

We now pick up the argument in chapter 3.




23 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded
under the law until faith would be revealed. 24 Therefore the
law was our disciplinarian until Christ came,
so that we might be justified by faith.

A disciplinarian (pedagogue) was a “house slave that was charged with keeping the master’s son out of trouble and escorting him outside the house,” according to the Jewish Annotated New Testament. This emphasizes the temporary and remedial role of the law.

25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer
subject to a disciplinarian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.

Faith replaces the law (our disciplinarian). The law was the only way to draw close to God. Now, through faith (trust) in Christ, we all become part of God’s family, children of God.





Paul mentions the law a couple of times in this short passage. The word “law” appears a lot, about 25 times in this brief, six-chapter letter called Galatians.

A brief, one-paragraph summary of Paul’s feeling about the law, based on his letter to the church in Galatia, might go something like this:

No one can be justified by the works of the law. Paul has died to the law in order that he might live for God. The Spirit does not come through the law, but through faith. Those who rely on the law are under a curse: Having to fulfill the whole law. Christ redeemed us from the law’s curse. Abraham’s covenant was based on faith, that is, Abraham believed God’s promises and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. The law came through Moses 430 years later, so it cannot nullify the Abrahamic covenant ratified earlier by God. We become part of the family of God by faith, not by law. The law is not opposed to the promises of God; it was just our babysitter until Christ came. Now we know longer need a babysitter. Even Gentiles can become part of this family, but only through faith, not by law. Through faith Gentiles are adopted into the household of God, becoming heirs. If you allow yourself to be circumcised, you are “cut off” from Christ, and now must keep the entire law, which is impossible. Even the circumcised don’t keep the entire law. The entire law can be summed up in a single thought: love your neighbor as yourself. If you’re led by the Spirit, you don’t really need the law anymore. The law of Christ is to bear one another’s burdens.

One cannot read Romans or Galatians and not come away with a clear sense that Paul views the law in a negative light. Luther makes it clear in his treatise On Christian Liberty, which we will discuss next week, that the laws of the Hebrew Scriptures are not binding upon Christians, however we are instead bound to love our neighbor. The law simply shows us that we cannot possibly do it perfectly, and therefore are in desperate need of grace.

It is astounding to me that people still point to some archaic Old Testament laws and say, “See! You are breaking the law!” They use the Levitical Codes as a club over others’ heads. Paul says that Christ frees us from the curse of the law. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus mean followers of Christ are no longer under the law, as far as Paul is concerned.

Some view these texts as anti-Jewish, but we must remember that Paul is a Jew, trained as a Pharisee, in fact. I don’t believe he sees himself as proposing a new religion, but reforming his Jewish faith. The idea that faith in God is the way to righteousness, as opposed to fanatical adherence to the law is the heart of the Hebrew Scriptures. The Shemah, which Paul no doubt recited daily, calls us to love the Lord God with all our heart, mind and strength. Abraham is reckoned as righteous for believing God’s promises. Paul is drawing people to a mystical, messianic Judaism.



No distinction

27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Rabbis said three blessings each day: Blessed are you O Lord our God, who has not created me a Gentile, a slave or a woman. These blessings still appear in the Orthodox Jewish Prayerbook. Reformed Jews have done away with them. Paul is most certainly alluding to these prayers in this passage. Christ revealed that these distinctions were irrelevant in God’s eyes. This is a revolutionary statement, and one that even Paul himself occasionally walked back.

Verse 29 says we become children of Abraham through baptism, by being united into Christ. Since Christ is a child of Abraham, from the house of David, those who are united with him become children of Abraham by adoption (a theme he will pick up later). Baptism grafts us onto Abraham’s family tree. Paul’s logic is not as complicated here as people make it. Paul is not saying Christians are no longer Jews. Quite the opposite, he is saying all Christians are Jews (children of Abraham) by faith and because of their baptism into Christ.

Gentiles, slaves and women all had a significant problem becoming children of Abraham.

Since women could not be circumcised (in the manner of Torah), the only way a Gentile woman could become a child of Abraham was through marriage or adoption. If not, you were out of luck. Now that we are justified by faith, Paul says, the distinction between men and women disappears, as far as righteousness is concerned. Altered male genitalia doth not righteousness make. Likewise, the distinction between slaves and free citizens disappears. The difference between Gentile and Jew becomes irrelevant. These distinctions may still exist in society, but as far as getting right with God is concerned, they are irrelevant.

This is where I part company a bit with Amy-Jill Levine. She points to Paul’s other statements about the role of women (to remain silent) and slaves (to obey masters) to show Paul isn’t really imagining any real liberation existentially. She may be correct, but I have questions.

Levine doesn’t seem to distinguish between authentic Paul and deutero-Pauline literature. Is she assuming the pastoral and catholic epistles are authentically Pauline? Paul’s letter to Philemon, which all scholars agree is authentically Pauline, is a perfect example of what Paul means. He certainly takes slavery for granted in the Roman Empire, but he suggests Christians have a different orientation. Philemon is to receive Onesimus as a brother. Baptism has redefined their very real, earthly relationship. Paul is a product of his culture and upbringing. He can believe in a new relationship between men and women while still being immersed in local customs, and perhaps not seeing every implication of his own revolutionary pronouncement.

Once Paul has done away with the law, the wall creating class and gender distinctions begins to erode. As Paul considered the implications of this, it also occurred to him that abolishing the law meant that there was not even a distinction between slaves and citizens of the empire. Jesus had revealed a profound truth: equality. Love is the ultimate leveler. Jesus was forging a new humanity. One race: the human race.

It’s hard for us to imagine how radical those words must have been in the middle of the first century, to Gallic people who had been incorporated into the Roman Empire. What would it mean if the distinction between citizen and slave disappeared? What would the world look like? How would this change the economy? These were questions likely pondered by Pharaoh and Abraham Lincoln as well. This message was subversive, treasonous and threatening to Roman hegemony. It of course made the Empire… less. Less important than the kingdom of God. Problem: Empires don’t tolerate being in second place.

What about our own empire today? We belong to the most powerful empire in the world. It demands complete allegiance. Is our allegiance to the kingdom of God greater than our allegiance to the empire? What evidence can you point to that substantiates this? Do we view Americans from the U.S. as better than everyone else, or do we see the humanity in those of different cultures? Do we view others as less than ourselves, or do we believe that all people are of equal value to God?

This past week we celebrated Junteenth, Emancipation Day In Texas, June 19, 1865. For those not from Texas, Juneteenth is the day that federal troops arrived in Galveston to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation (which was issued two and a half years earlier on September 22, 1862). Standing on the balcony of the Ashton Villa in Galveston, General Gordon Granger read this pronouncement:

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

The freedom Paul is talking about in Galatians is most certainly freedom from the Jewish ritual laws, portions of Levitical codes and so forth, but it has implications for relationships in the here and now. Remember, in Galatians 3:28 Paul mentions slavery specifically:

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer
slave or free, there is no longer male and female;
for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

Paul sees freedom in Christ, as more than a theoretical concept. This is more than pie in the sky when you die. 1,800 years before the Emancipation Proclamation, a very flawed Paul saw a vision of equality. A world where slaves were not dominated by slave owners. Women were not dominated by men. A world of racial equality. Does he really mean it? One only needs to read Paul’s letter to Philemon to see that Paul means business. The cross of Jesus means nothing less than this: the slave is now your brother.

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

– From the Christmas carol O Holy Night

The First Paul


In The First Paul, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan spend some time talking about this Sunday’s epistle from Galatians 3. But they begin their book on Paul with some things that most readers of Scripture and theology know. Paul’s statement of faith, Jesus is Lord, would have been high treason in the Roman world. Paul never read the gospels, as they had not yet been penned, and would not be until after his death. Paul did not think of himself as having converted to a new religion. He died thinking of himself as a Jew, albeit a Christian Jew. Many of Paul’s statements seem to support slavery, the subjugation of women, and oppression of homosexuals.

But Borg and Crossan also point out some things that I had not considered. They call Paul a Jewish Christ mystic. Mystics speak of ecstatic experiences of God, often involving light. They base their faith on these experiences of God, often thinking of them as enlightenment. Paul had a firsthand experience of Jesus, whom he saw, and who spoke to him. Luke does not record Paul as having seen Jesus when he recounts Paul’s Damascus Road experience (no less than three times), but Paul himself, in his letters, speaks of having “seen” Jesus. Paul’s apostolic identity rests on it. Luke might not consider Paul an apostle (for Luke there are only 12 apostles, and when Judas dies, he is replaced, not by Paul), but Paul is very clear on the matter: “Am I not an apostle?” Paul also speaks of being taken up into the seventh heaven, and mentions other mystical experiences. Paul does not have a philosophy of religion, as much as a life-changing encounter with Jesus.



Three Pauls


Borg and Crossan ask us to consider three Pauls in the New Testament.

First is the Radical Paul of the seven undisputed epistles (yes, now there are only seven): Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, I Thessalonians, Philemon. These are the letters all scholars agree were actually composed by Paul himself.

Then consider the Reactionary Paul of the pastoral epistles: 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus. These are the letters most scholars agree were not written by Paul. Their language and themes clearly come from a later era.

Finally, in the middle, there is the Conservative Paul of Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians. The authorship of these letters are disputed by scholars.

Radical Paul is pure Paul. Conservative Paul is somewhat revised, perhaps in his lifetime. There is some debate about whether Paul wrote these or not, though the majority view is not. If he did write them, he clearly backed off from his original positions. More likely, they were a corrective from a more conservative pseudonymous writer. Finally, the Reactionary Paul presents viewpoints that in almost every contradict some of Paul’s most basic original positions. The language is that of the second century. No serious scholar believes these epistles to have been written by Paul.

Most of this is familiar territory for students of theology, though Borg and Crossan present the information in a clearer way than I’ve heard it in years. What made lights come on was comparing Paul’s statements about women and slaves in these very clearly defined camps.

Take slavery, for example. The Radical Paul’s position on slavery in the undisputed epistles is clear. He tells Philemon that it’s his duty to release Onesimus, and regard him now as a brother. “I could command you,” Paul says to the slaveholder, “to do your duty, but instead I’ll appeal to you, even though you owe me your very life…”

It may be an appeal, but it doesn’t stop Paul from concluding, “Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, know that you will do even more than I say.” What on earth would lead Paul to consider something like this given the structures of Roman economy and society that everyone took for granted? And of course our text that says for those baptized “into Christ” there is no longer slave or free. How could he possibly imagine something like this?

The Conservative Paul changes his tune, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything, not only while being watched and in order to please them, but wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord…” (Col. 3) “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart…” (Eph. 6) Both passages end with injunctions to masters not to treat their slaves too harshly. I’m fully aware that first century Roman slavery was significantly different than Euro-American enslavement of Africans. Nevertheless, this position is a considerable regression from the Radical Paul. The Conservative Paul considers the Radical Paul a bit too liberal with regard to the norms of Roman society. This Paul is more palatable to the elite classes.

But the Reactionary Paul of Titus 2:9 eliminates even the reciprocity of the Conservative Paul:

Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to talk back, not to pilfer, but to show complete and perfect fidelity, so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior.

There is no mutuality whatsoever. Crossan and Borg point out that there is only one single verse, and it begins, “Tell slaves…” No word to slave masters.

All this reminds me of a very Lutheran principle: All Scripture is not on an equal par. Luther was a scholar. He did not consider James and Romans to have equal weight. We do not treat law and gospel the same.

Passages about women fall very clearly into these three classes as well. The Radical Paul insists on mutuality (see 1 Corinthians 7). Husband and wife injunctions are balanced. Even the decision to abstain from sexual relations for a time must be “by agreement.” The Roman paterfamilias did not need to seek the consent of his wife for much of anything. Radical Paul is suggests a more egalitarian relationship. The Radical Paul in Romans 16 mentions several female leaders (and various slave names), and even a female apostle, confirming that Paul felt there were more than 12 apostles, all male. For 1,000 years every commentator agreed that Junia was a female name, but in the late Medieval period considerable effort was made to turn Junia into a male name for obvious reasons. They couldn’t bear Paul promoting women clergy.

In the Conservative Paul of Colossians and Ephesians, instructions to children and parents become instructions to children and their fathers. (Also instructions to slaves and owners becomes instructions to slaves and masters.) Women, children and slaves were considered inferiors. “Wives be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church…” However, there is some mutuality, in that there are some instructions for husbands, one of which says husbands should be prepared to give up their lives for their wives, as Christ gave up his life.

In the pastoral letters, the Reactionary Paul has left Timothy and Titus in charge of Ephesus and Crete, respectively. I wouldn’t want to have been there. The text is forbidding:

Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty. – 1 Timothy 2:11-15

Ouch. Crossan and Borg call this Reactionary Paul, because it is clearly a reaction to what must have been going on. No one would forbid women to teach if it wasn’t already happening. There are no decrees forbidding female senators. It wasn’t even on the radar.

Borg and Crossan ask, what about the Jesus event makes it impossible for Philemon to own Onesimus? What is this justice that Paul feels is an obvious consequence of the gospel? To get at it, Borg and Crossan take apart Galatians 3:27-29:

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female;
for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

They suggest we really shouldn’t quote verse 28 without 27 and 29. It becomes and nice sentiment, but we lose the thrust and source of the conclusion. They also point out that Paul repeats this passage in 1 Corinthians 12:13 without the third example. Notice the construction is the same:

For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body

-Jews or Greeks, slaves or free-

and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

Life “in Christ” or “in the Spirit” means no matter how you came into the community, as a male Jew or a female Gentile, you are equal to one another in the community. Hierarchical distinctions are human, and therefore have no place in the community.

But is this just in the community? Are Christian Jews to act “as if” they are equal, even though they are so clearly not in Roman society? When they return to the real world, should things go on as always?

Philemon, the authors point out, is the test case. Clearly for Paul, this is no theoretical equality. Paul “encourages” Philemon to welcome Onesimus back not as a slave, but as a brother. He uses words like “duty” and “obedience.” It seems the Radical Paul has more in mind than play acting in church. What he proposes has implications for the real world.

“On earth as it is in heaven.”

I leave you with the words of the song For Everyone Born:

For everyone born, a place at the table


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