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Bishop Michael Rinehart

Pentecost 12A, Proper 16A – August 27, 2017

Exodus 1:8 – 2:10

The Israelites increase in Egypt, so the Pharaoh oppresses them, murdering Hebrew boys. Moses is hidden in a basket and floated down Nile. Pharaoh’s daughter finds Moses. Moses’ mother ends up being his nursemaid.

OR
Isaiah 51:1-6
I will bring near my deliverance swiftly, my salvation has gone out and my arms will rule the peoples; the coastlands wait for me, and for my arm they hope.

Psalm 124
If God had not been on our side, the raging waters would have overwhelmed us. Our deliverer is the creator of heaven and earth.

OR
Psalm 138

All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O Lord, for they have heard the words of your mouth. They shall sing of the ways of the Lord, for great is the glory of the Lord. For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly; but the haughty he perceives from far away.

Romans 12:1-8
Picture1Present your bodies as a living sacrifice. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Matthew 16:13-20
Jesus: “Who do people say that I am?” Simon Peter: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”

Prayer of the Day

O God, with all your faithful followers of every age, we praise you, the rock of our life. Be our strong foundation and form us into the body of your Son, that we may gladly minister to all the world, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Gospel Acclamation

Alleluia. You are | the Messiah, the Son of the | living God. Alleluia. (Matt. 16:16)

A Rocky Foundation

Isaiah 51:1-6

This text lays a foundation for both Romans and Matthew.

Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.     Look to Abraham your father. And to Sarah who bore you…

Remember your roots. Abraham is the father of Judaism. The Israelites are the children of Abraham.

Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many.

Here there are echoes of the call of Abraham in Genesis 12:

I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you;  I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.

In verses 4 and 5, “the peoples” are rendered in the Septuagint as ἐθνῶν and ἔθνη; the Gentiles; the non-Jews.  The key is being a blessing to all people – inclusion, not exclusion. This is in keeping with God’s covenant with Abraham and Israel’s deepest heritage.

Romans 12:1-8

We have now left Paul’s agonizing of Romans 9-11, and moved into the section of Romans, chapters 12-16, where Paul deals with the unity of Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. The letter is written from Corinth sometime in the mid-50s, and there had been an expulsion of Jews – and therefore also Jewish Christians – from Rome during the reign of Claudius (41-54 AD). There had also been an expulsion under Tiberius (14-37 AD).

The Jews had been allowed to come back to Rome during the reign of Nero (54-68 AD), about the time Paul is writing. One can imagine the tensions that this may have caused – Jewish Christians returning to their communities only to find that Gentile Christians were now “in charge.” It’s a bit like some congregations were “newcomers” trying to take over too quickly! (And, IMHO, I suspect that the Gentile Christians were always considered newcomers by the Jewish Christians.)

One can sense Paul’s desire to reconcile these differences as he uses the same “body” analogy that he used to bring unity to the community at Corinth. Prior to that he writes,

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-what is good and acceptable and perfect.

The Greek word for perfect is telion, which means “complete.” Telion is that which brings about the perfect result or goal. The transformation (metamorphosis) is from being conformed to the way that the world and the structures of the world work to how the body of Christ functions. It is in sync with what Paul says when he writes, “In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.” All of those were categories of social caste and structure in Roman society; castes and structures that had no place in the Christian community.

In other words, the apostle Paul understands Christianity to be reordering societal structures. This is no mere philosophy. This is a world-altering reality.

Consider this piece on “Pauline Ethics” by Dr. David Fredrickson at Luther Seminary, 

The community of believers is a speaking place, where the future of the community is determined through unhindered conversation. To grasp the radical openness of the Christian congregation, it is important to note who was not granted freedom of speech in ancient democracies: women, slaves, foreigners, and children. Paul tore down the barriers to full participation through his conviction that the Spirit grants free speech to all who belong to Christ.  For the church to be the church, the voices of all must be heard.

Many of these tensions and issues still exist within our congregations and communities today. The hardest barriers for a congregation to break down are the socio-economic castes. It is something that we would do well to examine.

Matthew 16:13-20

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This Sunday, a large section of the gospel comes to a close with our text, Matthew 16:13-20. At 16:21 we begin a new section of the gospel with Matthew’s formulaic, “From that time…” Verse 20 will start with a prediction of Jesus’ death. Today’s section has the confession of Peter.

Jesus has come down from Tyre in modern day Lebanon. He is considerably out of his comfort zone. Now he goes to Caesarea Philippi, due east of Tyre, in present day Syria, just north of the Golan Heights. In the Hellenistic era, Caesarea Philippi was “Paneas,” for a spring located there, dedicated to the god Pan. Today Caesarea Philippi is an uninhabited archaeological dig known as Banias.

In Jesus’ day, Caesarea Philippi had been annexed to Judea during the reign of Herod the Great. In honor of his patron, Herod built a temple to Augustus alongside the existing Temple of Pan. In fact, Josephus refers to the city as “Caesarea Paneas” in his Antiquities. In 14 A.D. Herod’s son, Philip, changed its name to Caesarea in honor of Augustus. Following Philip, Agrippa II made it the administrative capital and built an extensive palace there. During Nero’s reign (62-28 A.D.) the name of the city was changed to Neronias. Colonial power is the power to name something. Vespasian rested and quartered his troops there prior to the siege of Jerusalem. Agrippa II sent some of his own troops to aid in the siege.

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Note, in the above painting of the Sanctuary of Pan, the Temple of Augustus (the Augusteum) on the left, with Pan’s grotto right behind it. Then there is the Court of Pan, the platform just to the right of the Augusteum. Then the Temple of Zeus in the middle. Further right is the Temple of Nemesis, and then finally, on the bottom right, the Temple of Pan and the Dancing Goats. This was a very religious society, and that religion was tied to immense political power. (http://www.bible-history.com/biblestudy/caesarea-philippi.html)

Caesarea Philippi was not a politically neutral venue for Jesus to ask, “Who do people say that I am?” And it was certainly not a neutral atmosphere for Peter to respond, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Those were imperial titles. Caesar, and only Caesar, was the son of the god.

“Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man. In Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary, David E. Garland, points out the many times Jesus has used the ambiguous phrase “Son of Man” (8:20; 9:6; 10:23; 11:19; 12:3, 32, 40; 13:37, 41). In fact, a quick search reveals thirty times “Son of Man” appears in Matthew, as compared to only seven times for the “Son of God.”

Son of Man in the Hebrew Bible just means “mortal.” Or as my Hebrew professor used to say, “When YHWH calls Ezekiel, ‘son of man,’ God is just saying, “Hey you there, with the arms and the legs, listen up…” But in Daniel 7:13-14) we have this apocalyptic phrase:

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

Jesus calls himself “Son of Man” a lot more than “Son of God” in the gospels. The “Son of Man” in Daniel is an apocalyptic figure who announces the new age. All people, of all languages and nations, worship him. His kingdom will never pass away.

“Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

The disciples offer four answers:

  1. John the Baptist
  2. Elijah
  3. Jeremiah
  4. One of the prophets

Then Jesus turns the question on them: “But who do you say that I am?” Impetuous Peter immediate pipes up, “You are the Christ the Son of the living God.”

The astute reader will remember that Peter and the disciples already confessed Jesus as the Son of God. Remember two weeks ago, when we read about Jesus walking on the water? Once Jesus got into the boat, the wind and the waves ceased. Then the disciples said, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

This confession would be considered treasonous. It was at the same time both a political and religious statement. This cannot be overstated. Caesar is the son of god. Not a peasant from Galilee.

Caesar is not just a powerful ruler. He doesn’t command a household, a city or even a nation. He commands life and death in an ever-expanding Empire that has unimaginable wealth and power. All mortals must obey, or they can, with a blink and a nod, have everything taken away. You will be stripped of everything, even your clothes, and be nailed naked to a tree by a myriad of Roman soldiers who are obedient to the empire. Your children will be crucified before your eyes. You don’t defy Rome. You don’t dare even mention the idea.

So to say, Jesus is Lord, the Son of God, (or even Son of Man) is to say that Jesus is historically and cosmically more important than Caesar. To say that his kingdom is greater than Rome, and that it will last longer is inconceivable. It is to say Jesus is where ones allegiance should be. It is to say Jesus, a poor peasant preacher, is greater than Caesar. This confession of Peter is unthinkable, but it is the confession on which the church will ultimately be built. And here I will argue it is on Peter’s confession that the church is built, not Peter himself.

In Mark, which Matthew has before him as he writes, Peter’s confession – coming halfway through Mark’s gospel – serves as a “hinge”.  It is the turning point. Prior to that are miracle stories, healings, exorcisms, power over nature, and even a raising from the dead. Then, in the face of all that, the question is asked, “Who do people say I am?” After Peter’s confession, the rest of Mark’s gospel deals with the fact that Jesus will be crucified at Jerusalem – and what that means for his disciples and discipleship. Mark’s intra-Jewish theological argument is, “What does it mean to follow a crucified Messiah?” In the wake of the thousands that died and/or were crucified in the siege of Jerusalem, what does it mean to follow someone who also wound up crucified outside the city’s walls?

blog pic 4How then does the confession function in Matthew’s narrative? Certainly Mark’s theology of the cross, the via crucis, still holds; as Jesus says a few verses later

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world, but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

Matthew, however, inserts something Mark does not:

Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

It is not an insignificant insertion. Jesus praises “Simon bar Jonah” for this answer, and gives him a nickname: Petros. Peter. The Rock. Rocky. And Peter is petrified. In a lovely play on words, Matthew’s Jesus says, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”

This does give Peter preeminence among the disciples and in the early church. The “you” is second person singular. (The question of Petrine succession is another issue; and there is the Paul/Peter confrontation in Galatians.) But then there is also the question, “What does preeminence look like among disciples who are called to follow the way of the cross, where the last are first and servants of all?” Certainly the mother of James and John doesn’t quite get it in chapter 20. (In Mark, James and John ask the question for themselves.) Peter doesn’t even get it in the following verses. “Peter, get behind me. Get back in line. I lead; you follow.”

“I give you the keys to the kingdom. What you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and what you release on earth will be released in heaven.” And then Jesus instructs them to keep this on the down low.

Luther in his Small Catechism understands the keys to be a power or authority that Christ gives to the church to forgive and/or bind, not a pope or a priestly caste. Maybe so, but even Luther’s interpretation smacks of a type of imperialism when understood apart from a discipleship via crucis; instances of abuse abound.

An interpretation more attuned to Matthew – where Jesus is the “new Moses” reinterpreting the law; creating a new Torah for Jewish Christians – is that it is a caution, a warning, that “what goes around, comes around”. It goes back to Jesus first sermon – teaching section – in Matthew 7.  In short, “Be careful what you bind up, because you will also be bound by the same.” As noted in Matthew 7: “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.”

On earth as it is in heaven. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

What does it mean for people of the cross to have authority? How will we as the body of Christ loose the bound? How will we be about the task of forgiveness and reconciliation in a culture that is becoming increasingly polarized? The church must keep eyes fixed on Christ, a rocky foundation.

Way back in Matthew 7, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said those who hear his words and act on them are like a wise person, who builds his house on the rock. Those who don’t act on Jesus’ words are like foolish people who build their house on the sand. In today’s gospel reading, Jesus talks about building the foundation of the church on rock.

One sermon possibility is asking people where their allegiance is? To what have you given your life? This will lead to a conversation about ultimate things, what is really important in life.

Another direction is asking people who they say Jesus is? We know what the church’s confession is, but who do you say that I am? Or, more poignantly, who do y’all say that I am. The “you” is plural in the original.

How do we as followers of Christ relate to the empire in which we live? How do we balance faith and patriotism, especially when we disagree with the things our government is doing?

Where is your focus in life? Where are you looking, and putting most of your time and energy?

“Look to the rock from which you were hewn,” Isaiah says. For us, this is Christ.

The Fam

G. K. Chesterton

“Christendom has had a series of revolutions and in each one of them Christianity has died. Christianity has died many times and risen again; for it had a God who knew the way out of the grave.”

—G.K. Chesterton

A profound experience in Atlanta


Yesterday, walking back from the King Center, in Atlanta, I was approached by a man on the street. I cringed inwardly. Another panhandler, I guessed. 

The man said he was in trouble. He needed help. He was having ragin suicidal thoughts and didn’t know what to do. He asked me to dial 911. So I did. 

While we waited for first responders, we sat and talked. He had scars from previous suicide attempts going up his arm. I had seen this many time before as a pastor. I learned that his name was Bill. He had done two tours in Iraq. He had lost his job and was off his meds. Statistics of daily suicides by veterans flashed through my mind. Funerals If suicide victims over which I had presided flooded my thoughts. My father died one month ago yesterday. And I have friends and family who have struggled with self-harm. So, my own feelings were very close to the surface. 

The first person to show up was an officer. I worried about how he would respond to this gentleman. The officer immediately read the situation. I was so impressed and grateful. Thank you Officer Lencrerot. You rock. He described his own PTSD. You have to talk it out with a therapist. They talked about the resources at the VA. 

Then Medical First Responders arrived from Grady Hospital. They were on the ball. They sent a social worker who knew her stuff, understood the situation, and handled things very well. An efficient ten-minute sidewalk intake ensued. 

As they prepared to leave. The officer and I hugged Bill.  I told him God was with him. He would get through this. He was doing all the right stuff. He reached out for help. I then thanks the officer and the first responders and praised them for doing such a good job. Every day. 

It’s interesting: The most important events of the day often aren’t on the schedule. 

August 20, 2017 is Pentecost 11A

Isaiah 56:1, 6-8 – And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord… these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer… for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.

Psalm 67
 – The earth has yielded its increase;
God, our God, has blessed us.
May God continue to bless us;
let all the ends of the earth revere God.

Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
 – For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that God may be merciful to all.

Matthew 15:[10-20] 21-28
 – What defiles a person and the faith of the Canaanite woman.

Isaiah

The theme that ties all three texts together this week is the welcoming of outsiders. This is an important topic in the world today, and for the church. The most read post on my blog in the last ten years was an article entitled Insiders and Outsiders.

In Isaiah 56, Yahweh says that even the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord will be welcome on the holy mountain. Romans 9-11, and to some extent all of Romans and much of Paul’s other letters, deal with the spread of the gospel to the Gentiles, begging the question of who is “in” and who is “out.” And who decides… Finally, in Matthew it is a Canaanite woman who shows faith. Faith is the key, not ancestry, ethnicity or even religious affiliation.

Isaiah 56 begins Trito-Isaiah and the assumed context is that some remnant has returned to Jerusalem from Babylon. It makes perfect sense that the question of “insiders” and “outsiders” is a post-exilic question or concern. There had been some “benefits” to the exile and, while not being “home”, the Jews were well-treated and some became quite wealthy. Being with foreigners had not been a complete disaster. Nevertheless, many interpreted the exile as punishment for their infidelity to Yahweh, an infidelity that was linked to foreigners and foreign deities.

So Trito-Isaiah begins with affirming and accepting references to foreigners. “Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will surely separate me from the people’; and do not let the eunuch say, ‘I am just a dry tree.’” As we heard in last week’s lesson from Romans, “All that call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” So it is from the beginning to the end of the Scriptures. Bottom line, “us-ness” ought to be defined by Yahweh and one’s relationship to Yahweh, not by one’s ethnicity or nationality.

One should also note that this is the portion of scripture that Jesus quotes while cleaning the temple in Matthew 21: “My house shall be called a house of prayer…” Mark’s gospel completes the line from Isaiah: “…a house of prayer for all people.” The temple, which was supposed to be a welcome place of prayer for all people, has become a place of exclusion to foreigners, eunuchs, handicapped, and others. People are being ripped off, an especially egregious lack of hospitality to foreigners that had traveled long distances.

Romans 11

As with last week’s reading, this too is from the unity of Christians and Jews section of Romans; Chapters 9-11. And, here again, Paul underscores – in much the same way he did pointing to the unity shared by Jews and Gentiles in the 3rd Chapter – the fact that in Jesus Christ, God’s mercy includes all: “For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that God may be merciful to all.” All means all, y’all. This could be a worthy sermon title. All of the world’s categories for who are insiders and outsiders – which usually involve categories of “righteousness” or “rightness” – count for nothing!

And yet, when people start yammering on about “America getting back to being a Christian nation” once again (assuming for a moment that it ever was), they are usually talking about categories of righteousness/rightness. They are usually talking about who ought be in and who ought be out. They may even be talking about foreigners and foreign religions. They are seldom talking about a God that is merciful to all.

One may recall Portia’s soliloquy from The Merchant of Venice.

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest. It becomes
The thronèd monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings,
But mercy is above this sceptered sway.
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings.
It is an attribute to God himself.
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this—
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy,
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy

One may also recall a line from the hymn “Lead On, O King Eternal:“

For not with swords loud clashing,
nor roll of stirring drums;
with deeds of love and mercy
the heavenly kingdom comes.

Matthew

Artistic renderings of Biblical stories can be curious; and one of the more bemusing is by Sebastiano Ricci, where the woman has one breast seductively exposed and is holding her little dog in her arms. It may say more about Ricci than about the encounter of Jesus with the Canaanite woman. However, we must recognize how very different are the people who come to Christ across the world. They bring their cultural, familial, and religious sensibilities with them.

It is important to read the optional verses, 10-28, and not just verses 21-28. Verses 10-20 set up the story. The encounter with the Canaanite woman “acts out” exactly what is “spelled out” in Jesus’ interaction with the Scribes and Pharisees.

Righteousness or cleanliness is not about “outside-in”; it’s about “inside-out;” and that’s what gets recognized and approved in Jesus granting her request. Her status as a Gentile counts for nothing. What’s critical is her faith. It’s all inside-out.

Jesus now moves to the area of Tyre and Sidon at this point in Matthew’s narrative. He is way up in Lebanon. Ezekiel predicts the destruction of Tyre and Sidon in chapters 26 and 28, respectively. 

Tyre (Romanized as “Sour”) was originally an island. Alexander the Great built a causeway to the mainland, that eventually built up with more and more deposits. The 1873 map below shows this. It shows after in 322 BC and then in 1873 AD. http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2010/01/26/The-Biblical-Cities-Of-Tyre-And-Sidon.aspx 


Tyre has been used as a quarry, a living t stamens to the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy. The former great harbors can been seen on the north and south sides of the peninsula. It is, today, Lebanon’s fourth largest city, with a population of 60,000, 174,000 metro. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tyre,_Lebanon 

Sidon, or Saïda, to the North of Tyre, is also a port city. This ancient Phoenician city is older than Tyre. Some estimate it was inhabited as early as 4,000 BC. In Genesis, Sidon is Noah’s grandson. The word means “fishery” in Arabic (صيدا).

The sarcophagus of King Eshmun’azar II was discovered in 1855. It had a Phoenician inscription on its lid: “king of the Sidonians,” about 5th century BC, and that his mother was a priestess of ‘Ashtart, “the goddess of the Sidonians.” https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sidon

If the fort looks a bit like a castle, that’s because it is. It was built by the Crusaders in the 13th century. It is connected by a narrow road, a tad smaller than a football field. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sidon_Sea_Castle


That Jesus and his disciples are in this place is amazing. This humble carpenter turned healer/preacher has moved out of his comfort zone. This is a witness to the emerging missionary outreach of Jesus and his followers. 

The word “fair” in verse 27, “it is not fair to take the children’s food,” is not the best translation.  The King James Version got closest when it translated kalon as “meet.”  “For it is not meet to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Today we would say, “It is not appropriate…” But then, what does it mean?

The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman is a 1971 novel by Ernest J. Gains. Made into a movie in 1974 starring Cicely Tyson, it is the story of an African-American woman, born into slavery, who lives to be about 100. In the closing scene, and with everyone watching (including the local sheriff), she does the one thing she has to do before she dies: slow and stooped with age, she makes her way up the sidewalk to the courthouse and drinks from the fountain marked “White.” Whether what she did was “meet” or not would depend upon whom you asked.

Driving Miss Daisy is a 1989 film starring Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman. Based on the play of the same name, the story is of an aging, white woman who cannot drive and so she has a black man – a long time “friend” of the family – as her chauffer. The movie is a study of how in some ways they got very close over the years; and yet, in some ways they always had to keep their emotional distance. It simply would not have been “meet.”

Pastor Don Carlson, who did a lot of the research and prep for these notes, recalls being a Bible camp counselor. After camp was over one summer, a few of the Minnesota counselors went south for a week to stay with fellow counselors and get a taste of Texas. One day at the home of Colonel George and his wife in San Angelo, Jennifer had to pull her Minnesota friends aside and tell them that, if they wanted to make a good impression, they had better start using “Ma’am” or “Sir” when they addressed an adult. Their speech wasn’t “meet.”

So, you have the sense. “Meet” as an adjective means: proper or acceptable. Or to use a good Southernism: “fittin’,” as in: “It ain’t kalos!” – “It ain’t fittin’.”

But note that what is “meet” or not is often a social construct. It depends upon whom you ask.  Is it “kalon” to drink from the fountain? Is it “meet” to befriend Miss Daisy  Is it “fittin’” to not use Ma’am or Sir? Social patterns differ from time-to-time, place-to-place, person-to-person, and people-to-people.

In this story, Jesus is way out of bounds. He’s not coloring “inside the lines” in Galilee. He’s way up around Tyre in Phoenicia, modern day Lebanon. And he’s talking to a woman – a woman who is Canaanite. Jesus is bending social convention.

Of course, the Pharisees had said to Jesus, “Your disciples don’t follow the traditions of the elders, for they eat with defiled (ritually unwashed) hands.  It ain’t fittin’!  That ain’t right!” In response to them, Jesus had said that it wasn’t what went into people that made them unclean; but what came out of them from their heart.

Of course, the issue never was unclean hands or food. The issue was unclean people! Not following the rules, the social/religious constructs, those things, they had agreed, made people unclean! Unacceptable! Unfit! Foul!

Jesus said,

It ain’t fittin’ to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs is it?

Jesus, you got that right. In fact, you shouldn’t even be there. You shouldn’t be there talking to her!  And, for God’s sake, you shouldn’t be doing anything for her! It wouldn’t be kalon; meet!

Yes, Jesus, but even the dogs under the table get the children’s crumbs! Even the dogs know when something’s fit to eat, even if the children are unwilling to eat it! 

Jesus said,

For speaking this truth it shall be as you have said!”

James wrote,

If you say to the one who is poor, ‘Stand there,’ or to the person in dirty clothes, ‘Sit at my feet,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves?

Well, duh! Of course we’ve made distinctions! That’s how the game is played! Life is about distinctions; otherwise, how would we know where the lines are? How will we know who’s distinguished if we don’t make distinctions? It is meet, right, and salutary!

But, as usual, it depends upon whom you ask. 

Do you, with your acts of favoritism, really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?

We live in a culture, nation, and world where the lines are being ever more clearly drawn – polarization. It doesn’t matter if it’s nations, religions, gender identities, political parties, races, orientations, nationalities, classes, or whatever. Someone is always saying to or about someone else, “It ain’t right to take the bread and throw it to the likes of them.” Some people even say the words in Jesus’ name.

But those words weren’t Jesus’ last word. “For this, go – what you ask is yours.” He broke the rules.  But then, maybe not.  After all, Lords can do that.  Rulers make new rules. “Do we, with our acts of favoritism, really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?”

Do we believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? Maybe the answer depends upon whom we ask, and how we treat those around us.

We have a God who does not make distinctions. Human divisions are irrelevant. All who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Luther and Language

Books on Luther so often spend most of their time on his theology, and then mention the topic of language only incidentally. And then, when language comes up, it refers to his German Bible, and other writings, which codified modern German. This is no small feat. It deserves more attention than it gets, but there is more to the story. 

Last week I had the privilege of attending the Association of Teaching Theologians. Among the participants and presenters was Vítor Westhelle, of the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. His presence and comments inspired me to get his book Transfiguring Luther: The Planetary Primise of Luther’s Theology. Like many of the most recent interpreters of Luther, Westhelle seeks to move beyond the debate of whether Luther is thoroughly medieval or a beacon of modernity. He seems to consider the question irrelevant in light of the many non-European, non-Renaissance cultures that are reading Luther in the midst of the expansion of the Lutheran movement in the Global South. What does Luther mean for them, today, in this context?

In light of this question, language arises as an important matter. In the first of our parts of his book, Westhelle explores language as a tool of domination. When one group dominates another, they often do so by silencing the dominated and imposing a new language paradigm. Westhelle also points out that demonic possession in the New Testament often rendered the victim deaf and mute, silencing the victim or supplant by the victim’s voice with a demonic voice. 

If the church is a creature of the Word, as Luther suggested, this had implications for the use of language then, and perhaps now. At the dawn of the Middle Ages a battle raged between the vernacular of popular national languages and the official language of Medieval Latin. Ironically the revival of classical languages by Renaissance humanism unveiled the inadequacy of Medieval Latin, which had ceased to give voice to the people. Simplistic, deformed, watered down Latin was hardly the language of Cicero. A movement was afoot to allow for heteroglossy, which some saw as liberating and other saw as destructive of European unity. One is reminded of the Soviet insistence on Russian in the former Soviet states as a means to express power, empire and domination. 

It is well known that Luther wrote in Latin for academic audiences. Even the 95 theses were written in Latin for the small academic community. As the heat increased on Luther, the miner’s son,  wrote more and more in German, the language of the people. Thus he won the literary battle, and the hearts of the people. 

If the church was a creature of the Word, then that Word must be proclaimed, heard and understood. It could not be controlled by an elite class of academics, educated in what Latin had become. 

Of course, some will argue, along with heteroglossy came heterodoxy, and nationalism, sometimes with devastating results. These critics are not entirely incorrect. Heteroglossy allowed for alternative ideas to find voice. It allowed debate to take place at all levels of society. And while it led to nationalism, some would also say it led ultimately to democracy, the voice of the people. The voice of the people took on a life of its own, in shape in the peasants’ revolt, a yearning for hunting and fishing rights on ancestral lands, and even Luther was surprised and terrified. 

Luther’s Flugschriften (short, vernacular pamphlets) and sermons broke down the hegemony of the aristocracy. Andrew Pettifree’s book Brand Luther, chronicles the explosion of literature that made Luther the bestselling author for a century, long after his death. 

Luther did not want the demise of Latin. He wanted people to learn many languages. He advocated for education of the masses at every level of society, including women and girls. Language has power. Therefore, education has power. 

Hence, Luther’s translation of the Bible into the vernacular, was simply the next logical step in a larger trajectory. He also understood that words were fungible and language always adapting. He felt it was every pastor’s job to be constantly translating. Evidence how differently one says something today, conpared to how one would say the same thing old English, in order to be understood. I doubt that Luther knew he was shaping the German language. He was simply trying to make the fullness of the gospel heard in his context. He was freeeing the Word from its Babylonian Captivity to the aristocracy. 

Luther did not point us to a new world. He knew about America, and seemed uninterested. European interest in the New World was about colonialism, domination, controlling natural resources and commerce. 

He did not even point to a new empire or church. He simply embodied the contradictions of his time: the collision of the cultures, high and low, old and new: “A world divided between the official pomp of the instituted language of the church and the grotesque humor of the lower strata of society…” (Westhelle, location 768 of 8598) Whether one intends it or not, langauage is insurrection. 
So, what does this mean?

Among other things, we transform Luther “by identifying with the marginalized and oppressed” and “deconstructing hegemonic ideologies” as Rafael Malpica said to the Association of Teaching Theologians last week. Luther denounced indulgences because he recognized the indulgence system as the rich using superstition to bilk the poor. Samuel Torvend, in Luther and the Hungry Poor, enlightens us with the economic forces at work in the Reformation.  For many today, to be Lutheran is to denounce oppressive and exploitative economic practices, whether instituted by churches or governments. 

To be true to the Lutheran movement is to insist on contextualizarion and indigenization. It is the opposite of importing nationalistic or linguistic customs into other cultures. It is post-colonial. It is the proclamation of the gospel in the vernacular and watching to see how the gospel takes expression in each local context, each life. It is the gospel in the language of the people. 

One might even say to be true to the Lutheran movement, one can’t even indoctrinate others into Lutheranism per se, for to do so is to colonize. We are inviting people to follow Christ, not Luther, who famously asked people not to name their churches after him. We encourage people to follow Christ, wherever that leads, not to become part of this or that religious club. For to be Lutheran, is to invite people into the liberating power of the gospel, which transcends all human institutions. 

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