Matthew 24: 32-52 Three Parables on Living in Readiness

Mountain Fig Tree in Zibad, By Maahmaah – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21625760

Matthew 24: 32-52

Parallel: Mark 13: 28-32; Luke 21: 29-33, 17:26-36, 12:39-40

32 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that heis near, at the very gates. 34 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

36 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

45 “Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. 47 Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. 48 But if that wicked slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ 49 and he begins to beat his fellow slaves, and eats and drinks with drunkards, 50 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know. 51 He will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

These three parables, which Mark only shares the first and Luke has the remaining two scattered throughout the gospel, show Matthew’s careful organization of material in a memorable format using his typical pattern of three. These three parables prepare us for the final three parables in chapter twenty-five. Yet, most English readers wouldn’t think of these small images as parable. It is helpful to know that the original Greek of the opening verse of this section begins “But from the fig tree learn the parable (parabole).” We have already encountered a fig tree as an object lesson in Matthew 21: 18-22, and Jesus again uses a familiar image which is associated with Israel to make a point about living a life ready for the coming of the kingdom of heaven and the return of the Son of Man. Like much of Matthew, these phrases are exceptionally packed with meaning. Previously the fig tree did not produce fruit at the appointed time, but now the fig tree’s preparation for summer provides a metaphor for the nearness of the Son of Man, his presence at the door.[1] There is perhaps a double sense of fulfillment in these images, both at the crucifixion/resurrection and at the expected arrival of God’s kingdom, and perhaps the first sense is the fulfillment that this generation will experience.

Matthew’s weaving in of Jesus as ‘Emmanuel’ continues to appear throughout the gospel in unexpected ways. Even though both Mark and Luke share the sentence, Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away the boldness of this statement should cause us to ask who could make a statement like this and have it be true? The sense is heightened when one hears the echo from Isaiah:

The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass, The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40: 7-8)

As Richard B. Hays can insightfully state:

Christian interpreters lulled by familiarity with Matthew’s Gospel may not fully appreciate the theological boldness of the Christological assertations made at every turn by Matthew. But there can be no doubt that the word spoken by Jesus in Matthew 24:35 can be true only if it really is “the word of God,” only if the speaker who says “my words will not pass away” is in fact the God of Israel, God with us. (Hays 2016, 169-170)

Matthew has used a large number of titles, metaphors, narratives and teachings to help us discern with the eyes of faith who is near, at the very door, and whose words we are holding onto as we watch the seasons turn. Even in the midst of the impermanence of the individual disciples and the incompleteness of their faith stands the unending faithfulness of the words of the God who is ‘with them’ in Jesus.

Yet, even with being able to discern the nearness of the coming[2] Son of Man, the discernment of a day or hour remains not only outside the purview of the disciples but also the celestial beings that serve the heavenly Father and even Jesus does not know the time when the kingdom of heaven will arrive in its fullness. In contrast to many Christian groups throughout history who have attempted to divine from piecing together portions of scripture to provide a roadmap for the coming of the Son of Man and the advent of God’s kingdom, the second parable points to the sign of Noah.  The flood[3] had no signs of its coming which anyone, other than Noah and his family, had received. As David Garland can rightly state, “Unlike the ample warnings portending the destruction of Jerusalem, the final cataclysm will be as sudden and unforeseen as the one that overtook the generation of Noah.” (Garland 2001, 245) It is perhaps ironic that one of the verses taken out of context in many who expect a rapture comes in the midst of this parable where two are in a field or grinding meal and one is taken and one is left where, as mentioned earlier, in that theology to be ‘taken’ is a good things and to be ‘left’ is bad. The word for ‘taken’ [4] can have the connotation of taking into custody or arresting especially when contrasted with the word translated ‘left’[5] has the connotation of letting go or forgiving. Within both the imagery of the flood of Noah’s time and the image of the advancing kingdom of God and the imagery of a military advance the hope for any bystander would be to not be apprehended and imprisoned as an enemy of the new kingdom.

Within each of these three parables (the fig tree, the flood/cataclysm, and the slave put in charge by the house master) there is the theme of delay, and this theme will carry over into the upcoming parables of Matthew 25. Ultimately the followers of Christ in both Matthew’s time and our own have to navigate living between the times and between competing kingdoms. Their life in the present is to reflect their hope for the future. They trust that the Herods and the Caesars will not reign forever. There is a common tale about Martin Luther’s response when asked what he would do if Christ returned tomorrow, Luther in this story reportedly responded, “I would plant a tree.” Although it is likely that Luther never said this, it points to an orientation towards living life the right way today with the probability that Christ will not return tomorrow but the hope that Christ does.

I think the NRSV and other translations miss the proper breaks of these parables, and there is a sense that they flow one from another, but I believe that it makes sense to group verses 43-51 as the final parable dealing with the ‘housemaster’[6] and his slave put in charge of the household. Admittedly the metaphor changes from a thief breaking into he ‘housemaster’s’ property to the master returning to find the slave responsible for overseeing the household abusing the property, but the central focus on the household remains consistent. Just as the ‘housemaster’ does not know the time[7] the thief is coming, nor do the disciples or the slave in the parable know[8] the hour or day of the coming of the Son of Man. Those hearing this parable are to choose the path of the wise and faithful slave who manage ‘the household’[9] rather than the path of the wicked slave who ‘says to himself’[10]my master is delayed and then abuses the household and abides with drunkards. Matthew is not afraid to use the threat of punishment and the loss of one’s position as a motivation for ethical behavior.

Sometimes fiction can help illuminate a parable. Professor Alan Jacobs in an August 13, 2020 Trinity Forum Conversation proposed an illustration using the character of Gandalf from the Lord of the Rings as the “Gandalf option” for thinking about one’s role as a follower of Christ. He points to a scene in The Return of the King where Gandalf confronts Denethor, the steward of Gondor. Denethor, thinking in terms of control, believe Gandalf is coming to claim power from him, and Gandalf after much patience responds:

Denethor, my lord steward, you need to understand something. The rule of no realm is mine, neither Gondor nor anywhere else. It’s not what I do. I’m not here to rule. I am here to try to nourish and to care for all the good things I find in the world…When I come across something that is alive and capable of bearing beauty, then I want to nurture that, and that is my call…If anything survives that can flower and bear fruit in the days after, then my work will not have been in vain. For I am also a steward.

I searched the Lord of the Rings for this, and although Gandalf does touch on some of these points this may be like the Luther quote above, illustrative even if not from the source mentioned. Like Alan Jacobs, I l find these insightful to the slave’s role when they are placed in charge of the household awaiting the master’s return. They are not to rule over, but to serve, to nurture beauty and life and try to keep the household fruitful to hand over to the rightful king. They pay attention to the season they work in, but they go about their work waiting for their master’s return but not being discouraged when the master is delayed. They are too busy caring for the master’s household in the interim.


[1] The Greek thura, it is helpful to translate this door or opening, especially since its other use in Matthew will be at the tomb (27:60)

[2] Greek parousia

[3] Literally cataclysm, Greek kataklusmos

[4] Greek paralambano

[5] Greek aphimi

[6] This is the Greek oikodespotes which links us to the parables in 20:1-16 and 21:33-46, also used in 10:25

[7] Literally which watch in the night (phulake)

[8] The disciples in 44 find the Son of Man coming at an hour ‘that they are not thinking’ (ou dokeite) while the slave’s master returns ‘in a day which they did not look for (prosdoka-same verb with preposition pros added to the front)

[9] Translating this ‘other slaves’ as many translations do misses the connection to the housemaster and the larger responsibility than merely caring for the other ‘slaves.’ This ‘slave’ is charged with caring for the property, the animals, and perhaps even children in the ‘housemasters’ absence.

[10] Literally ‘being in the heart of him’ the heart in Hebrew thought is the organ of will

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Digital Worship Service, January 17, 2021

Both the contemporary digital service and extracted sermon are at the bottom of the page

Second Sunday after Epiphany
January 17, 2021 Traditional Worship Service

Confession and Forgiveness

We are gathered in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Amen

Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Most merciful God, we confess that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Amen.

In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us, and for his sake God forgives us all our sins. As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ, and by his authority, I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Amen

Greeting:

L: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

C: And also with you.

Prayer of the Day

Thanks be to you, Lord Jesus Christ, most merciful redeemer, for the countless blessings and benefits you give. May we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day praising you, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

First Reading: Jonah 1

1Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, 2Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me. 3But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD. 4But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and such a mighty storm came upon the sea that the ship threatened to break up. 5Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried to his god. They threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten it for them. Jonah, meanwhile, had gone down into the hold of the ship and had lain down, and was fast asleep. 6The captain came and said to him, “What are you doing sound asleep? Get up, call on your god! Perhaps the god will spare us a thought so that we do not perish.”

7The sailors said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, so that we may know on whose account this calamity has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. 8Then they said to him, “Tell us why this calamity has come upon us. What is your occupation? Where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” 9I am a Hebrew, he replied. “I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” 10Then the men were even more afraid, and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them so.

11Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea was growing more and more tempestuous. 12He said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you.” 13Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring the ship back to land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more stormy against them. 14Then they cried out to the LORD, “Please, O LORD, we pray, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life. Do not make us guilty of innocent blood; for you, O LORD, have done as it pleased you.” 15So they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased from its raging. 16Then the men feared the LORD even more, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.

17 But the LORD provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Psalm: Psalm 139: 1-6, 13-18

1O LORD, you have searched me and known me. 2You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. 3You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. 4Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely. 5You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. 6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it. 13For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. 15My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. 17How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! 18I try to count them — they are more than the sand; I come to the end — I am still with you.!

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 6: 12-20

12All things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. 13Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. 15Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, “The two shall be one flesh.” 17But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. 19Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body. The word of the

Gospel: John 1: 43-51

Glory to you, O Lord. 43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Sermon: Pastor Neil White

Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Prayers of Intercession

Let us pray:
Loving God, we lift up this world that you love. Renew your creation and give wisdom to all your people who share in your responsibility to care for the world. Give wisdom to the leaders of nations, states, and cities to care for your people and the world. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

God of peace, where there is conflict bring a just peace where all people can flourish. Protect and bless those whose calling involves protecting and guarding our freedoms, including: Ben, Cal, Christian, Clayton, Daniel, Dillan, Haden, Lindsey, Luke, Michael, Mike, Spencer, Steve, Sydney, Tyler B. and Tyler G. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Healing God, give us your strength as we care for those in need. We lift up before you today: Alex M., Alex W., Becca, Betsy, Bob D., Bob S., Brenda, Carol, Cathy, Christa, Christi, Cliff, Craig, Darryl, Dave, Debra, Doug, Gary, Jamie, Jan, Jason, Jeff, Jerry, Jim, Judy, Pastor Kenneth, Marie, Matt, Maureen, Michele, Mike S., Patrick, Pete, Renee, Sal, Scott, Shirley, Vicky, Vim, Spring Wright medical and emergency workers and the friends and family of David Schmitz, Faith Hoffman and Mike Bowers
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lord, we pray for the ministries of the ELCA and the Northern Texas – Northern Louisiana Synod, we also lift up in prayer today: First Salem Lutheran Church, Roscoe, St. Stephen Lutheran Church, Shreveport and NT-NL New Start Table. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Leader: In trust and hope, we commend to you, O Lord, all for whom we pray. Amen.

Highlights/Sharing of the Peace

Offering (offering can either be mailed to Rejoice (12000 Independence Pkwy, Frisco TX 75035 or there is the opportunity for electronic giving on the website http://www.rejoicefrisco.com)

Instructions for Communion

Words of Institution

Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

Post Communion Prayer

A: Let us pray. Lord Jesus, in this sacrament you strengthen us with the saving power of your death and resurrection. May these gifts of your body and blood create in us the fruits of your redemption and grace in our lives, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Blessing

DiscipleLife

L: As God has claimed us as his own in Christ,
we seek to follow Christ with these marks of DiscipleLife:
▪Praying Daily
▪Worshiping Weekly
▪Studying the Bible
▪Serving Others
▪Building Spiritual Friendships
▪Giving to God and our Neighbors in Need
▪Engaging God’s Mission

Dismissal: “Go in peace, serve the Lord. Thanks be to God” Alleluia!

Contemporary Service
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Mathew 24: 29-31 Learning to Read Scripture and the Times

By Les Chatfield from Brighton, England – Total eclipse of the sun 1999 1, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69457874

Matthew 24: 29-31 Learning to Read Scriptures and the Times

Parallel Mark 13: 24-27; Luke 21: 25-28

29 “Immediately after the suffering of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken. 30 Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see ‘the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven’ with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

Through suffering comes a new hope, and through the time of affliction a way of understanding scripture emerges. This brief passage brings together imagery from the prophets to help sustain the community in the midst of the troubling events for the community and the troubling signs in the cosmos. Throughout the gospel of Matthew, the community has been warned that following Christ will not lead to a life free of suffering, rather it is a community that learns to find God’s blessing in the midst of persecution. Suffering and glory are bound together. This may run against the cultural version of Christianity in the United States which in H. Richard Niebuhr’s famously described as:

A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of Christ without a cross. (Niebuhr 1937, 150)

These initial disciples of Jesus believed in a God who would judge the world of sinful men and women, and that the only Christ they would know would be the crucified and resurrected one. In a culture where there are numerous churches which claim to be Christian who proclaim a gospel of prosperity based on faith and belonging, these passages seem out of place and may be ignored in some and recast in terms of glory by others. But Matthew wants us to learn how to read scriptures in a way that can hold suffering and salvation together. Christine McSpadden reflections on the actions of Herod in Matthew 2 are helpful here:

We may be disappointed that the gospel does not at this point remove the scandal of innocent suffering, on which so many would-be believers have stumbled. No, what the gospel does instead point to how inextricably the mystery of salvation is bound up with the mystery of human evil. (McSpadden 2003, 139)

Human evil and the devilish resistance to the kingdom of God’s coming bring about suffering for the disciples. Yet, the events that the community of Christ followers are participating in is a cosmic struggle reflected not only in the suffering of these disciples but in the very movements of the sun, moon, and stars. Yet, for the hearer familiar with the language of scripture, Matthew weaves in three images from the prophets. From Joel:

The sun and moon are darkened and the stars withdraw their shining (Joel 2:10, 3: 15)

From Daniel:

I saw one like a human being (Son of Man) coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. (Daniel 7: 13-14)

And from Isaiah:

And on that day, a great trumpet will be blown, and those lost in the land of Assyria and those who were driven out of the lang of Egypt will come and worship the LORD on the holy mountain of Jerusalem. (Isaiah 27: 13)

Each of these allusions point to the regathering of God’s people and the revealing of God’s action and the ending of the time of judgment for the faithful ones. The ‘oppression’[1] of those days and the signs in the heavens which affect the heavenly bodies can be read by these faithful ones as signs to continue to endure. As the parables immediately following this will highlight, all these things are signs to be ready but they do not give a time or day to look for. Yet, they live in trust that when the Son of Man is finally revealed to the nations then the tribes of the earth will mourn that they could not see where God approached them. But for the faithful it will be a time when they are gathered from their dispersion among the nations to worship their God.


[1] This again is Greek word thlipsis which occurs frequently in this chapter

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Digital Worship Service, January 10, 2021

Contemporary Worship Service and Sermon are at the bottom of the page

Baptism of Our Lord
January 10, 2021 Traditional Worship Service

Confession and Forgiveness

We are gathered in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Amen

Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Most merciful God, we confess that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Amen.

In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us, and for his sake God forgives us all our sins. As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ, and by his authority, I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Amen

Greeting:

L: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
C: And also with you.

Prayer of the Day

Holy God, creator of light and giver of goodness, your voice moves over the waters. Immerse us in your grace, and transform us by your Spirit, that we may follow after your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

First Reading: Genesis 1:1-5

1In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Psalm: Psalm 29

1Ascribe to the LORD, you gods, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. 2Ascribe to the LORD the glory due God’s name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness. 3The voice of the LORD is upon the waters; the God of glory thunders; the LORD is upon the mighty waters. 4The voice of the LORD is a powerful voice; the voice of the LORD is a voice of splendor. 5The voice of the LORD breaks the cedar trees; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon; 6the LORD makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Mount Hermon like a young wild ox. 7The voice of the LORD bursts forth in lightning flashes. 8The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. 9The voice of the LORD makes the oak trees writhe and strips the forests bare. And in the temple of the LORD all are crying, “Glory!” 10The LORD sits enthroned above the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forevermore. 11O LORD, give strength to your people; give them, O LORD, the blessings of peace. Praise the LORD!

Second Reading: Acts 19:1-7

1While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. 2He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” 4Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied—7altogether there were about twelve of them.

Gospel: Mark 1:4-11

4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” 9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Sermon: Pastor Adam Stockton

Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Prayers of Intercession

Let us pray:
Loving God, we lift up this world that you love. Renew your creation and give wisdom to all your people who share in your responsibility to care for the world. Give wisdom to the leaders of nations, states, and cities to care for your people and the world. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

God of peace, where there is conflict bring a just peace where all people can flourish. Protect and bless those whose calling involves protecting and guarding our freedoms, including: Ben, Cal, Christian, Clayton, Dillan, Haden, Lindsey, Luke, Michael, Mike, Spencer, Steve, Sydney, Tyler B. and Tyler G. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Healing God, give us your strength as we care for those in need. We lift up before you today: Alex M., Alex W., Becca, Betsy, Bob D., Bob S., Carol, Cathy, Christa, Christi, Cliff, Craig, Darryl, Dave, Debra, Doug, Gary, Jamie, Jan, Jason, Jeff, Jerry, Jim, Judy, Pastor Kenneth, Marie, Matt, Maureen, Michele, Mike B., Mike S., Patrick, Pete, Renee, Sal, Scott, Shirley, Vim, Spring Wright medical and emergency workers and the friends and family of David Schmitz and Faith Hoffman. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lord, we pray for the ministries of the ELCA and the Northern Texas – Northern Louisiana Synod, we also lift up in prayer today: St. John Lutheran Church, Coryell City, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, Clifton (Norse) and Indigenous / Native Peoples. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Leader: In trust and hope, we commend to you, O Lord, all for whom we pray. Amen.

Highlights/Sharing of the Peace
Offering
(offering can either be mailed to Rejoice (12000 Independence Pkwy, Frisco TX 75035 or there is the opportunity for electronic giving on the website http://www.rejoicefrisco.com)

Instructions for Communion

Words of Institution

Lord’s Prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

Post Communion Prayer

A: Let us pray. Lord Jesus, in this sacrament you strengthen us with the saving power of your death and resurrection. May these gifts of your body and blood create in us the fruits of your redemption and grace in our lives, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Blessing

DiscipleLife

L: As God has claimed us as his own in Christ,
we seek to follow Christ with these marks of DiscipleLife:
▪Praying Daily
▪Worshiping Weekly
▪Studying the Bible
▪Serving Others
▪Building Spiritual Friendships
▪Giving to God and our Neighbors in Need
▪Engaging God’s Mission

Dismissal: “Go in peace, serve the Lord. Thanks be to God” Alleluia!

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January 6, 2021

I am heartbroken, but not surprised that this will be the legacy of the Trump presidency. I was saddened when he was elected, and I voiced several of those concerns on that day with the prayer and hope that I was wrong. I have prayed for him to grow into the role of President, to understand the magnitude of the responsibility he carried on his shoulders, that those around him would be able to give him good counsel that he may steward the responsibility of the office. Yet, throughout his four years in office he has maintained his belligerent tone when addressing the nation enhancing the polarization already present in our political discourse.

January 6 in the Christian calendar is Epiphany, the day when traditionally the magi arrive to honor the child Jesus after the revelation of his birth by a star. But the word epiphany can also mean:

3 a (1)A usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something

                (2) an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking

                (3) an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure

                3b. a revealing scene or moment. From Miriam-Webster.com

This is, I believe, a revealing scene or moment in the life of our country and about the danger of continuing to allow there to be no consequences for those who have impeded the transition of power from President Trump to President Elect Biden. The narrative of election fraud which is spoken on media from new programs to talk shows to social media pages by public officials and those who are associated with them without demonstrated proof of that election fraud needs to stop. It may make for good fundraising or for good ‘entertainment’ which exploits peoples’ fears and anxieties but we need to state honestly that this is radicalizing a portion of our population in the same way that Islamic extremists have radicalized people to become terrorists. This is strong language and I own that, but when we look at the actions at the capital today it moves well beyond the boundaries of protest. The people who entered the capital building are at least rioters and at worst domestic terrorists.

It has been common to wrap religious language around our secular symbols: the flag becomes sacred when people feel that it is dishonored for example. If we want to use religious symbolism as a metaphor to talk about our national symbols, then we need to also be willing to state that what happened today was (to use the language of Daniel, Mark, Matthew, and Luke) a desolating sacrilege or blasphemy of the central symbols and actions of our democracy. The breaking into the capital building and the disruption of the certification of the election by a mob incited by a president in his last two weeks in office should be viewed as an attack on one of our three primary branches of government fulfilling its constitutional duty. The dishonoring and in some cases looting that went on in the capital building was a jarring symbol of disrespect towards the symbolic building and the government it represents.

I know that we have not seen the dying gasp of ‘Trumpism’ or of right-wing conspiracies, but I do believe that the United States is better than this. I hope this can be a revealing moment where we see the essential nature or meaning of what this type of politics and rhetoric leads to. For those who have lifted up Trump as the savior of Christianity, or in some cases using explicitly ‘messianic’ language, may we have the realization that what we have is a false Christ/messiah propped up by false prophets.

This should never have happened. This is the reason that in previous elections there is a concession speech, even in a contested election like the 2000 election which was decided at the supreme court Vice President Al Gore conceded so that the country could move on and president elect George W. Bush could begin transition and ultimately governing. I have always advocated that the words and actions of leaders have power and because they have power they should also bear consequences when they undermine the symbols, structures and ultimately the good of the nation they swear an oath to serve.

Posted in Healing the Broken Republic | 2 Comments

Matthew 24: 1-28 Hope in the Midst of Suffering

Section of the Arch of Titus showing the Spoils of Jerusalem

Matthew 24: 1-28

Parallel Mark 13:1-28; Luke 17:5-24,37b

As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 2 Then he asked them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” 4 Jesus answered them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah!and they will lead many astray. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be faminesand earthquakes in various places: 8 all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

9 “Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. 10 Then many will fall away,and they will betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this good newsof the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come.

15 “So when you see the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place, as was spoken of by the prophet Daniel (let the reader understand), 16 then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; 17 the one on the housetop must not go down to take what is in the house; 18 the one in the field must not turn back to get a coat. 19 Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a sabbath. 21 For at that time there will be great suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22 And if those days had not been cut short, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. 23 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’or ‘There he is!’ — do not believe it. 24 For false messiahsand false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 Take note, I have told you beforehand. 26 So, if they say to you, ‘Look! He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look! He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

Among Christians in the United States, this chapter which is sometimes called the ‘little apocalypse’ has become difficult to hear for two opposing reasons. The first reason is the way this, and other texts in both the New Testament and Hebrew Scriptures often labeled apocalyptic have been used and obsessed over in various Christian theologies and groups which focus on the return or coming (Greek parousia) of Christ and the advent of God’s kingdom almost like a script out of a horror movie where a vengeful God inflicts God’s wrath on all who oppose God’s will. While there is a grain of truth in this perspective when it comes to God’s judgment, it is helpful to remember that the grain of truth has often been overwhelmed by a barn full of chaff laid upon it in many modern Christian theologies. The second struggle is that the enlightenment has regarded the apocalyptic as an embarrassment and has often attempted to distance itself from the concept of God’s intervention in the world. It is important to realize that what we often transform into fear was the hope of the early followers of Jesus, they longed for Christ’s return and expected it and were willing to endure the struggles of their time to proclaim what they felt was a gospel of hope. This message also helped the early church endure the loss of several key symbols to the Jewish worldview and to see the suffering of the present as the painful but ultimately life-giving birth pangs of God’s new kingdom emerging in the midst of the world.

The temple was a focal point of the Jewish people in Judea and beyond. The temple in Jerusalem takes up a large amount of the city’s overall footprint and as N.T. Wright can state helpfully,

Jerusalem was not, like Corinth for example, a large city with lots of little temples dotted here and there. It was not so much a city with a temple in it; more like a temple with a small city round it. (Wright 1992, 225)

Matthew is not explicit that with Jesus departing the temple that the presence of God has left the temple, but with Matthew’s Emmanuel theology which permeates the gospel it may be implied in this scene. The temple, for all the grandeur of its reconstruction, will soon for not only the Christians but also for the rest of the Jewish people, will be displaced as a central symbol of their faith with its destruction. The coming destruction of the temple and Jerusalem, which occurs in the Jewish War of 66-70 CE, will cause a crisis which forces both the Jewish people and the early followers of Jesus, both Jew and Gentile, to reexamine their faith in terms of a new central place where God will meet them. For the followers of Jesus, one greater than the temple is currently among them and for Matthew’s community they await his return.

One of the consistent struggles of the disciples throughout the gospel is attempting to understand Jesus’ message in light of the traditional symbols and paradigms the learned. They are still ‘little faith ones’ which see in part, trust in part but still are struggling to let go of the beliefs and practices they learned over a lifetime. They see the temple primarily as a structure dedicated to God’s service, and so the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem seem like the opposite of what to expect after the coming of the long-awaited Messiah. Just like Jeremiah’s message which often fell on deaf ears before the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem by Babylon, only to be remembered as the people reconstructed their identity in exile, these words of Jesus which at the time seemed strange, provided meaning, and hope in a future where the followers of Jesus are scattered among the nations. At a time when the Roman empire seems to be consumed by struggles for power, and when the early Christians themselves may be beginning to experience exclusion from their identity with the Jewish people and persecution among the nations these words encourage them to persevere.

Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of heaven has prepared his followers to expect God’s intervention in the world, and there are others in Judaism of the time who also expected God’s intervention in various ways. We know the Essenes and the Pharisees expected God to intervene in history to deliver Israel from its enslavement to foreign powers and (in the Essenes case) unfaithful shepherds leading in the temple. Jewish hope was not for an ending of the world, as is present in popular culture and several late Christian movements, but rather for a reordering of the world around God’s reign through Israel. When the disciples ask about Jesus’ coming (parousia) at the end of the eon (suntelias tou aionos)[1] they are not asking about the end of the world but the advent of God’s kingdom which will replace the kingdoms of Herod or the empire of Caesar. The idea of Christ’s return is probably imagined in imagery similar to a celebration after one of King David’s victories. The other source of imagery would be the celebrations of imperial might by Caesar, but these would be considered only a parody of the expected victorious celebration of the advent of the kingdom of heaven on earth. Yet, Jesus does not answer the disciples with signs of his coming to inaugurate the kingdom of heaven but instead gives warnings about events, false prophets and false messiahs/Christs which will lead people to trust in the wrong things.

Jesus warns his disciples “See (blepete) that no one leads you astray.” While the NRSV’s use of beware does capture the sense of warning, the disciples are to take an active role in ensuring that they do not follow false prophets and false Christs. It is helpful to remember that Christ and Messiah are the same term, ultimately meaning anointed king, in Greek and Hebrew respectively rather than a part of Jesus’ name. Others will come claiming the same title that Peter has previously applied to Jesus, and they will gather followers. It is helpful to know that in the decades after Jesus’ death there would be those making the claim to be the ‘king of the Jews’ who would lead the people of Judea in multiple uprisings against Rome (not only the Jewish War of 66-70 which resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem, but also the 115-117 Jewish revolts in Egypt, Cyrene and Cyprus and the 133-135 rebellion of Bar-Kochba). This was a violent time for the Jewish people, and these followers of Jesus were not to follow these claimants who are attempting to establish God’s kingdom by force. Jesus’ followers are not to look for certain events which herald the advent of God’s kingdom on earth but to continue in their mission of teaching and proclamation to all nations. As Richard B. Hays can state, “The reality of the final judgment is crucial for Matthew, but not its timing.” (Hays 1996, 104) If these followers of Christ seek meaning in the midst of the struggle that is coming it can be read in the feminine imagery of ‘birth pangs’ that must occur before the advent of the new kingdom, or new creation in Paul’s language[2].

The suffering of these followers of Jesus in the midst of wars and rumors of wars, famines, and earthquakes in to be expected. As Jesus could tell them in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (5:10) now they are told they will face ‘oppression’[3] and some will be killed. Matthew, unlike Mark and Luke, indicates that this oppression will come from the nations[4] instead of perhaps their own people which may be assumed in Mark and Luke and this may reflect the situation of Matthew’s community being away from Judea and experiencing persecution primarily from sources outside the Jewish people. Even among the community of Jesus followers some may be ‘caused to stumble,’[5] and others will ‘hand over,’[6] and hate will enter into these communities formed around loving God and one’s neighbor. In addition to false Christs there will be false prophets who tell people a message that did not come from God. The identity of the community is at stake here. Anna Case-Winters helpfully illustrates:

Lawlessness will afflict them and “the love of many will grow cold (v.12). This latter is perhaps the most serious threat for Matthew. Lawlessness (Greek anomia) is the ultimate crisis for a community centered around Torah. For love to “grow cold” signifies the loss of the very heart of Torah, which is love of God and neighbor. (Case-Winters 2015, 271)

The crisis of oppression, death, stumbling, betrayal, and hate threaten to extinguish[7] the love that the community is grounded in. But those who endure to the completion[8] will not be left on their own. This scene anticipates the great commission with its promise of both the authority and presence of Christ as well as the commission to take this gospel to all nations. As David Garland can helpfully state,

the church is not to circle the wagons until the danger passes but is to engage in active mission. In spite of the trauma, the community’s responsibility to love and proclaim the gospel of the kingdom remains in force. (Garland 2001, 242)

Matthew, who has been intent throughout the gospel in helping the reader understand scripture, adds the citation of Daniel to the comment about the ‘blasphemy’[9] standing in the holy place so the reader might find:

Forces sent by him shall occupy and profane the temple and fortress. They shall abolish the regular burnt offering and set up the abomination that makes desolate. Daniel 11:31

Daniel, which most scholars would say is pointing to Antiochus IV Epiphanes a Seleucid king who persecuted the Jewish people leading to the Maccabean revolt, is now read in light of the actions of the Romans conquering the temple and removing the holy items for their victory parade in Rome. Instead of being drawn into this conflict with the empire of Rome, those followers of Christ in Judea are to flee. The war, which will continue beyond 70 as the imperial forces continue to quell their rebellious Jewish province, will indeed bring great suffering for the people of Judea. Ironically, these warnings to flee throughout this chapter are misread drastically by some later Christians into talking about a ‘rapture’ where the hope is to be the one taken but to the original hearers they would understand this as a warning to prepare to flee on short notice. They may need to flee without packing, without re-entering the house or taking additional garments.[10] Into this time of great affliction (thlipsis) those claiming authority as leaders, or those who claim the authority to interpret God’s will as prophets will come claiming to create meaning out of the suffering, but they are telling a false story. These false prophets and false Christs, who most likely portrayed themselves as being the saviors of Israel from her oppressors, were probably an attractive alternative to the message of Matthew’s community and the gospel they proclaimed. Yet, they are warned not to go out seeking these leaders and prophets.

To the early community of Jesus followers these warnings probably were intended to keep them away from the revolutionary movements gaining strength in Judea, Galilee and beyond. Matthew’s closing line that Wherever the corpse is, there the eagles[11]will gather may refer to the massing of Roman standards (eagles) gathered around Jerusalem. Although I believe Warren Carter rightly discerns the echo of Rome in this verse, I believe he misinterprets the direction of the verse. Carter indicates that the verse indicates a judgment on Rome and the corpse is the Roman army, (Carter 2001, 87-88) but I believe the plainer reading in the context is to avoid Judea and Jerusalem in revolt where the legions assemble to wage war against the revolt. The corpse may refer to the crucifixion, to the temple (especially in the context of this chapter) or to Jerusalem, but the geographical location would be understood.

In a passage like this one, especially where I have covered a lot of historical ground, it is perhaps more difficult to allow it to speak to the church today, yet I believe there is no way to separate Christianity from the apocalyptic portions of its scriptures.  Every time one prays the Lord’s Prayer asking for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, one is praying for God’s intervention to bring about God’s promised new eon. Yet, throughout the gospel and throughout history there have been forces which are opposed to God’s reign and the changes that will bring. What may be perceived as a blessing to the poor in spirit, the meek, those hungering and thirsting for righteousness and the others mentioned in the beatitudes may be experienced as a woe to those who have become invested in the maintaining of the current order or who may want to bring about God’s order in their own terms. This chapter, even as it has been frequently misused in modern times, holds a key insight for the way of Christ: it is a way of hope even as one endures suffering. The Christians were not zealots who attempted to bring about God’s order by driving out the Gentiles from the promised land, rather they were those sent into the nations bearing witness to the gospel of peace. They meet violence by turning the other cheek, the learn to find blessing even when they are oppressed, and they find meaning amidst the times of affliction and tribulation by trusting in God’s hearing of their prayers and acting on them. This is a hope that would be at home in the psalms and the prophets and has sustained Christians for millennia. It is a hope that has sustained non-violent groups through the years and as I write this the lyrics of “We Shall Overcome,” used in the civil rights movement but has its origins in Charles Tindley’s adaptation of the 19th Century Spiritual “No More Auction Block for Me.” Oh deep in my heart, I do believe, that we shall overcome one day, and that overcoming comes when God changes the world bringing down the mighty and lifting up the lowly.  Until that day we work, and we wait, and we suffer, and we hope. We hold fast to what we have received and are alert for false prophets and false messiahs which proclaim cheap and easy paths to claiming God’s kingdom


[1] We again encounter the common Matthew word telos, here with the prefix sun attached to it, meaning completion, consummation, end. I think the older word eon is helpful, since it is both a direct transliteration of the Greek aion but also does not have some of the baggage of ‘the end of the age’ in Christian parlance.

[2] Paul can also use the imagery of labor pains of the creation giving birth to something new in Romans 8:18-25

[3] This is the Greek word thlipsis which occurs twice in this passage meaning ‘oppression, affliction, or tribulation’

[4] Ethnos can also be translated Gentiles.

[5] This is a passive form Scandalizo, where we get the English scandalize from, which has the connotation of stumbling. Has been used frequently in Matthew.

[6] Paradidomi is an important word in all the gospels which means both betray, but more literally to hand over (presumably into another’s custody)

[7] The Greek Psucho can mean grow cold or extinguish. I think the future indicative tense leads to the more absolute reading, especially when paired with lawlessness.

[8] Telos again used as a term of completion in verses 13 and 14.

[9] Bdelugma-blasphemy, abomination, detestable thing. NRSV ‘desolating sacrilege’

[10] Imation, which is translated a coat by the NRSV, means garments or clothing in general.

[11] Aetoi can be translated vultures, as the NRSV does, but it often refers to eagles

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Review of Reading With The Grain of Scripture by Richard B. Hays

READING WITH THE GRAIN OF SCRIPTURE, by Richard B. Hays. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2020. 467pp. $55.00

Richard B. Hays is a phenomenal interpreter of scriptures and a provocative thinker whose writing and teaching over the past thirty-five years demonstrate a deep passion for a close and careful reading of scripture. Professor Hays’ writing has broken new ground and unearthed often overlooked treasures for decades and his persistent and careful work has helped reshape the discipline of biblical studies. This collection of essays which span a wide range of topics from the past twenty-five years of his writing and speaking, collected after his retirement from Duke Divinity School, reflect the efforts of the author who in his own words has:

“For the past forty years I have been seeking to learn how to read closely and faithfully the testimonies of the early authors who wrote about these world-shaking events. The essays gathered here are the fruit of my effort to listen carefully to their testimony-bearing texts.” (2)

The collection covers topics including: interpretation of scripture, dialogues between Hays’ canonical approach to Jesus and the quest for the historical Jesus, the writings of the apostle Paul and their theological importance to our faith, and how the New Testament might shape the theology of its hearers. Hays lists six unifying themes among the diverse articles which make up the collection:

  1. The importance of narrative as the “glue” that holds the Bible together.
  2. The retrospectively discerned figural coherence between the Old Testament and the New.
  3. The centrality of the resurrection of Jesus.
  4. The hope for new creation and God’s eschatological transformation of the world.
  5. The importance of standing in trust and humility before the text.
  6. The importance of reading Scripture within and for the community of faith: the ἐκκλησίᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ. (3)

Richard B. Hays’ career began looking at the apostle Paul’s writing through both a narrative and as an interpreter of Israel’s scriptures. His classic works The Faith of Jesus Christ: An Investigation of the Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1-4:11 and Echoes of Scriptures in the Letters of Paul began his career of illuminating the importance of narrative and refining his retrospectively discerned figural coherence between the Old and New Testament. For those who have followed Hay’s writing through the years, many familiar themes will emerge in these essays on interpretation including the narrative and figural coherence mentioned above as well as the importance of reading from the perspective of faith using what Hays’ has coined a “hermeneutic of trust” and the centrality of the resurrection for understanding the scriptures.

Hays’ essays in the historical Jesus engage a diverse set of dialogue partners, from the Jesus Seminar to Joseph Ratzinger and N.T. Wright and concludes with his own modest sketch of what can be known about Jesus of Nazareth. Hays evaluation of the Jesus presented by the Jesus Seminar is summarized when he states:

Does the passive, politically correct, laconic sage who speaks in the red type of The Five Gospels have the capacity to remake our imaginative world and provde a new fiction within which millions might find meaning for their lives? Surely not. (102)

While Hays’ views their method of this entrepreneurial scholarship which provides easy sound bites is decidedly negative and their arrival at a non-Jewish Jesus is “one particularly pernicious side effect of the Jesus Seminar’s methodology.” (99) His response to N. T. Wright is far more favorable as they have been dialogue partners in New Testament scholarship for decades, but even in a paper where he appreciatively but critically engages the work of N. T. Wright he can bring his critical insights to refine and improve the work of his colleague and friend. His engagement with Joseph Ratzinger’s Jesus of Nazareth can demonstrate both respect for the author and his perspective while pointing out that most of Ratzinger’s dialogue partners are scholars of a previous generation and that much of New Testament scholarship has revised its methods and opinions as well as highlighting Ratzinger’s “pervasive tendency to treat the texts as transparent to the historical facts about Jesus.” (128) Hays’ conclusion of this section with his own modest proposal on what can be known about Jesus illustrates his careful approach which seeks coherence with first century Judaism, some relation of continuity with the church that would come after Jesus, a narrative that can explain both the emergence of the church as well as the crucifixion and which aims to include within its description of the canonical gospels including, as much as possible, John’s gospel.

Continuing his long career engaging with Paul’s writings continues with essays delivered at various times dealing with major topics of Christology, Soteriology, Pneumatology, Israel as well as his engagement with Stanley Stower’s A Rereading of Romans and engaging the relationship between the Pauline letters and Acts. Hays’ essay on Paul’s Christology is constructed around narrative identity of Jesus presented in the letters of Paul from Christ’s preexisting glory to his cruciform abasement, transformative exaltation and finally will conclude with Christ’s eschatological consummation. Hays’ brief examination of Paul’s narrative soteriology focuses on two texts: 1 Corinthians 15:1-28 and Romans 5:6-11 in response to Francis Watson claim the Paul’s is essentially a non-narratable vertical incursion of God’s grace. (178) The essay on the apocalyptic reviews themes in Galatians which highlight Paul’s insistence on divine initiative to bring about the conclusion of the present evil age and the genesis of the new creation. Hays returns to Romans to examine how Paul envisions the Spirit of God which gives life, leads God’s adopted children and groans and intercedes for us. His dialogue with Stanley Stowers Rereading of Romans and N.T. Wright’s reading of Romans 11: 25-27 in Paul and the Faithfulness of God to argue that Paul’s gospel is for both the Jewish people and the Gentiles. The final article in this section demonstrates some overlaps between Luke and Paul in explicit citations of the Old Testament to begin seeking an intertextual common ground of theological themes and convictions shared by Paul and Luke’s portrayal of Paul’s gospel in Acts.

The final section on New Testament theology brings together a diverse set of articles dealing with the portrayal of Jesus in the book of Revelation, examination on the idea of covenant in the book of Hebrews, and engagement with the Rudolf Bultmann’s reduction of Pauline theology to anthropology in his classic Theology of the New Testament, a lecture on what Christian theology could offer the world of law, an essay examining the Holy Spirit in light of Paul’s letter to the Romans and the Nicene Creed, and an essay which examines various perspectives on eschatology to discern how Christians may continue to engage the in light of the eschatological witness of the New Testament. The conclusion lifts up Hays’ recommended hermeneutic of trust, rather than the dominant hermeneutic of suspicion that is prevalent in biblical studies.

This collection of essays is a gift to the broader church after years of labor. I have read everything I could find of Professor Hays for the past sixteen years of my ministry and every piece is tightly written and brings new insights into whatever text or topic he presents. If you have followed Richard B. Hays work this work will bring forward both familiar themes and engagement with topics that may not have figured as strongly in his other works. For those unfamiliar with Hays’ work these essays could form an entryway into the major themes of his thought and writing. Like all of his previous works it will force you to think critically and enrich your appreciation of the treasures, new and old, that can be brought out by a faithful student of the scriptures.

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Reflections on A Dance to the Music of Time: 1st Movement by Anthony Powell (1951, 1952, 1955)

Time Magazine Top 100 Novels

Book 25: Anthony Powell, A Dance to the Music of Time: 1st Movement (1951, 1952, 1955)

This is a series of reflections reading through Time Magazine’s top 100 novels as selected by Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo published since 1923 (when Time magazine was founded). For me this is an attempt to broaden my exposure to authors I may not encounter otherwise, especially as a person who was not a liberal arts major in college. Time’s list is alphabetical, so I decided to read through in a random order, and I plan to write a short reflection on each novel.

A Dance to the Music of Time is a massive twelve-part reflection on the social life of the wealthier class of citizens in England between the first and second world wars, the first movement contains the first three of these novels: A Question of Upbringing, A Buyer’s Market, and The Acceptance World. Many people have found Anthony Powell’s work both entertaining and compelling, and I can understand why it was a part of the Time magazine list, yet these first three novels were an incredibly slow read for me. In fairness this is not a time period or a genre I normally find compelling.

The protagonist and narrator, Nicholas, is a part of the portion of English society that has access to travel, college, and some amount of wealth and it portrays the overlapping social circles he encounters in education, art, and society. His perspective points out the vanity and formality of a society that is unraveling and while the book can look at many of the interactions (and rejections) within this society in a humorous light, Nicholas still tries to live in this nexus of the business and art world. The portrayal of the world that Nicholas encounters seems a dry and while the various characters may navigate it with different degrees of success there is very little joy in the characters. I’m guessing that the remaining volumes continue to observe the unravelling of the society and morals of the previous Victorian and Edwardian Ages in this Interwar period of economic, political, and societal upheaval but the first movement was enough for me. Again, others have found this work incredible powerful so please make your own judgments, these brief reflections are merely my consolidation of my thoughts on each work.

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Hearing the Monsters’ Fears

Some desire a dance with their demons

awakening the monsters that lie within

Embracing their deepest darkness

Drinking away the inhibitions

Silencing their consciences

Entering the darkest night

Without the searching of the soul

I’d rather sing a lullaby for my demons

To listen to monsters’ fears by candlelight

Hearing their stories and regrets

Learning what they were afraid to see

Tending the scars of the soul

Walking through the darkest valley

Into the morning beyond the mourning

Monsters of the Mind, by Tirby@deviantart.com
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Matthew 23: 37-39 Lament over Jerusalem

Image from http://www.thiscontemplativelife.org/2018/03/lament-over-jerusalem-free-prayer.html

Matthew 23: 37-39

Parallel Luke 13: 34-35

 37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38 See, your house is left to you, desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

The focus shifts from the religious leaders to the city of Jerusalem in this brief lament for the city. This passage has received renewed attention from feminist readers who have pointed out that here the traditional image of being sheltered under God’s wings is now set within a female metaphor for Jesus doing a traditionally feminine task of mourning. This brief, poignant image which mourns for a people and city which have been led astray and have rejected the messengers of God and have resisted God’s continual desire to gather the people together only to find themselves lost in the wilderness and homeless. The loss of Jerusalem, the loss of the temple and the loss of the land have occurred before in Israel’s story (under the Babylonian empire for Judah, under the Assyrians for the northern kingdom of Israel) and these focal portions of their identity were shattered. If Matthew’s community is hearing this in the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by Rome, they (and other Jewish communities) are probably trying to make sense of the destruction while they seek the peace of the city they find themselves within.

The image of God’s wings as a refuge is used frequently in the Hebrew Scripture[1] but the image of God is frequently described using masculine metaphors. That Jesus uses a feminine metaphor to describe his desire to gather together the people of Jerusalem is not unique, but it is noteworthy. Instead of an eagle or hawk, a bird often associated with strength, now Jesus casts himself as the anxious mother hen trying to gather her young birds together and shelter them. The Apocryphal work 4 Esdras 1:30 also uses an identical image when referencing the Lord Almighty, and although 4 Esdras may be later than Matthew’s gospel they both capture the desire of God or Jesus to shelter God’s people. From the beginning of Matthew’s gospel part of Jesus’ vocation has been to save his people from their sins (1:20) but here the very people he desires to rescue resist that saving.

The house becomes a wilderness[2] and in the aftermath of the Jewish War many people who considered Jerusalem either their physical or spiritual home find themselves homeless and having to make their peace in whatever city they now make their life. The previous exile was a time where the people of Israel had to rediscover what it meant to be the people of God without the promised land, a Davidic king, the city of Jerusalem and the temple. In the previous exile the written scriptures became central to their new identity. For these followers of Jesus, they have now centered their identity on Jesus as the writing of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry become attempts to reorient their identity around a new center in a new land. Jesus is the awaited Davidic king, but he is a crucified messiah, Jesus is greater than the temple and will be with these disciples where two or three are gathered, and this people who may be homeless now await for the day when they can proclaim with all creation “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” at the arrival of their new home when the kingdom of heaven comes. They live oriented towards a hope that can move them beyond their lament because even in their desolation their Lord desires to gather them together like a mother gathers her children or a hen gathers her brood.


[1] Exodus 19:4, Ruth 2:12, Psalm 17:8, 36:7, 57:1, 61:4, 63:7, 91:4

[2] The Greek eremos means wilderness, desert and can have the connotation of being abandoned/desolate as most translations render.

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