Welcome to the Gospel Reverb podcast. Gospel Reverb is an audio gathering for preachers, teachers, and Bible thrill seekers. Each month, our host, Anthony Mullins, will interview a new guest to gain insights and preaching nuggets mined from select passages of scripture, and that month’s Revised Common Lectionary.
The podcast’s passion is to proclaim and boast in Jesus Christ, the one who reveals the heart of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And now onto the episode.
Anthony: Hello, friends and welcome to the latest episode of Gospel Reverb. Gospel Reverb is a podcast devoted to bringing you insights from Scripture found in the Revised Common Lectionary and sharing commentary from a Christ-centered and Trinitarian view.
I’m your host Anthony Mullins, and it’s my joy and delight to welcome this month’s guest, Pastor Chris Breslin. Chris is the pastor of Oak Church in Durham, North Carolina, which is just a few blocks from my house. And we were introduced to each other through mutual friends, Jeff and Susan McSwain.
Chris is somebody who’s very involved in the neighborhood. He’s involved in field education and precepting for Duke Divinity. He sits on the Board of Housing for New Hope and has an upcoming podcast project in partnership with Christianity Today, which features Bob Crawford and Liz vice. He’s also a little league baseball coach and they have a big game tonight for first place. And on top of that, this brings up the question of Chris’s discernment. He’s a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan, but there’s grace for that too.
Chris, welcome to the podcast. And for those in our listening audience, who may not know you, your family, your work, we’d love to know your story. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Chris: Oh, it’s so good to be with you and to be part of this ministry and to be connected initially through the McSwains and now through Oak Church. So, thanks for having me.
Let’s see. I don’t think you can really know me apart from my people. I am married to Rachel, and I am the dad of four awesome kids: Noah, Titus, Emmitt, and Simeon.
And so that is what a lot of my time and attention is taken up with. And also ministering among neighbors here in the Lakewood neighborhood of Durham, North Carolina. By the time this podcast gets out, I think I’ll be a couple months deep in a sabbatical that I’m right now, just a couple days away from.
If my brain is a little scattered, it’s because I’m doing all of the you know, setting the thermostat and passing off the duties to be away for a little while. But I’m really excited about that time.
Anthony: We’re excited for you. I had a chance to listen to Rachel talk about the gift of sabbatical from the church to your family and how beautiful that is. I, for one, am in prayer for you, that it would be a time of rich renewal for you and your family.
Before we dive into the four Bible passages for this month, I want to ask you a stacked question. This is my way of trying to shoehorn a lot into one question. Chris, what music are you enjoying these days?
What book are you reading or maybe what book has had the greatest impact on you recently? And then, what drew you into planting a new church? Oak church was a church plant. I think it’s been in existence for about seven years now. What prompted that?
Chris: Oh, that is a stacked question. And I love every part of that question independently, and I love it all together.
Oh man, music. Currently I’m listening a lot to a new album by Arcade Fire. It’s really great. They have an album called “We”, and I’ve been a fan of that band for a long time. And if you don’t know them, Google and search for their recent SNL performance, and they did their song, “Unconditional.” They have those crazy — at car dealerships, the guys that kind of blow all over the place and are jellyfish as part of their SNL show. It’s the coolest lo-fi stage setup I’ve ever seen. So, I’m really enjoying that.
I’m really enjoying a record by the Branchettes, which is this gospel group out of Long Branch, North Carolina in Johnson County. And some Durham friends actually went out and were their house band and recorded an album called “Stay Prayed Up” and made a documentary that is just premiering this month. And it’s like old school, North Carolina gospel music, “Stay Prayed Up” by the Branchettes. That’s where I’m at right now. It’s awesome.
I could go on and on. A friend from Charlottesville, Paul Zach, came out with an album called “Sorrow’s Got a Hold on Me.” I think he self-describes it as sad church songs, which is a great genre of music. So that’s what I’m listening to.
And then I just finished a couple days ago, just a whole of 2022 deep-dive into this series of books by Andy Root. I don’t know if you know Andy. He is a professor in St. Paul, Minnesota. I think he’s at Luther Seminary and has done a lot with youth ministry and Bonhoeffer. But in this year, I’ve read through all four of his Ministry in a Secular Age books, just consecutively back-to-back. And he’s dealing a lot with Charles Taylor and his secular age thesis and what it means for ministry, for faith formation and pastors and congregations.
And the most recent one was Churches in the Crisis of Decline. And he does a lot of stuff with Barth’s biography and his work. And it’s wonderful and inspiring, and I’m not sure I’ve—especially the last book, the orange book—I’m not sure I’ve really read someone doing theology in a narrative way that he’s doing it. It’s really exciting and dense and challenging.
Anthony: Andy was interviewed by Grace Communion International for “You’re Included” video podcast, insights on theology. And he dives into Bonhoeffer and Barth quite a bit. And I took a master levels course called Trinitarian Youth Ministry and revisiting relational youth ministry was a sweet spot for him. I haven’t read his latest work, which you’re referring to, but I cannot wait. He’s a fabulous theologian.
Chris: Yeah, I’ve been talking about it nonstop to anyone that’ll listen and some that won’t.
So about seven and a half years ago, we started a church and that was a vocation that I hadn’t really anticipated. I grew up Roman Catholic, so starting churches isn’t really something you do. But I think the rootedness and the located-ness of the Catholic parish has really played a big part in my imagination for how to do church in this place, over a long period of time with a wide array of people.
And that was part of the imagination and part of the calling. And we’ve really been motivated by scripture from Isaiah 61. That’s where we get our name Oak Church—oaks of righteousness for the display of God’s beauty. And we were doing some of the things that you do when you start an institution, try to hammer out mission and vision statements and all that.
And those things felt too small. If you’ve seen Jaws, it’s like as they say, “we’re gonna need a bigger boat.” Like that. That’s how it felt. And so, we stumbled across that scripture, and it really gave us a vision. And of course, it was also Jesus’ inaugural sermon vision of good news to the poor and binding up the brokenhearted, et cetera.
And that has been such a lively imagination for us to embrace in this place. Lakewood is really diverse neighborhood of Durham. Really, Durham is in general, but by starting in one neighborhood in one place, I think it’s given us an imagination for what ministry could be like.
And it’s really helped us focus on learning how to become neighbors and doing that, over a period of time where you’re encountering things like massive change and new people coming to our area and gentrification and violence. Especially all of the things of the last five years with politics and COVID and all of these things, we have plenty of work to do just in the little corner of Durham that we’re tucked into, so we don’t need to spread out too much. And we’ve also been given exactly what we need for this work, by God in this place. And that’s people resources, that’s financial resources, that’s emotional and spiritual resources.
So that’s the work that we’ve been doing that we hope to be doing for a long time.
Anthony: I’m grateful for what the Spirit has led you to. And as you talk about place, Chris, I hear echoes of Eugene Peterson and Wendell Berry, just the sacredness of the place where God has called you, that dirt matters. And the people that occupy that space matter. So good on you, man!
It’s time. Let’s get onto the four passages we’re going to unpack together:
Luke 12:32-40 “Fear Not, Little Flock” Proper 14 (August 7)
Luke 12:39-56 “Be Ready” Proper 15 (August 14)
Luke 13:10-17 “Missing the Point” Proper 16 (August 21)
Luke 14:1, 7-14 “Humble Hospitality” Proper 17 (August 28)
Let me read the first pericope, chapter 12:32 – 40. This month, we’re going to focus on the New Living Translation. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 14, August 7.
“So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom. 33 “Sell your possessions and give to those in need. This will store up treasure for you in heaven! And the purses of heaven never get old or develop holes. Your treasure will be safe; no thief can steal it and no moth can destroy it. 34 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. 35 “Be dressed for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 as though you were waiting for your master to return from the wedding feast. Then you will be ready to open the door and let him in the moment he arrives and knocks. 37 The servants who are ready and waiting for his return will be rewarded. I tell you the truth, he himself will seat them, put on an apron, and serve them as they sit and eat! 38 He may come in the middle of the night or just before dawn. But whenever he comes, he will reward the servants who are ready. “Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would not permit his house to be broken into. 40 You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.”
Verse 32, Chris, says it gives your Father great happiness to give us the kingdom. So how are you, how can we experience this inaugurated kingdom, which is so joy provoking for the Father to give to us.
Chris: I think first and foremost, that is the origin and destination. That is the baseline of reality, is God’s delight. That God fundamentally desires to give us the kingdom and that it gives God great happiness or delight. I think we forget that all too often, that is the most real thing there is. And that is where our joy can come from, that we don’t need to muster it or that we don’t have to have the right techniques to mine it.
It’s just right there. That’s who, and that’s how God is. It really makes a difference. And we alluded to it earlier. My ministry is in the neighborhood. And starting with that baseline, I think makes you a different sort of neighbor makes you a different sort of minister.
For one, this is a long game that we’re engaged in. And so if I’m not starting and ending with God’s joy, if I’m starting with some sort of displeasure or an idea that things can be better or must be better rather than just the delight in (you mentioned Eugene Peterson) in the “is-ness” of the place and of the people, that I think that’s where burnout comes and that’s where, kinds of ministry that wind up being violent or being depersonalized happen.
And so, I think starting and ending with joy that originates in God is important. Like again, I’ve been immersed in Barth for the last couple weeks in that book. And like Barth is a joy theologian. He says, actually a theologian that labors, without joy, isn’t even a theologian at all.
Yeah. I think just recognizing and reorienting to God’s joy makes all the difference. Yeah.
Anthony: I don’t know if it was Bart, but I remember somebody writing joy is the serious business of heaven. Yeah, that’s right. And it’s the serious business of earth, is it not? The thing is, it’s like you said, this is who God is out of the overflow of Father, Son, and Spirit. Joy is not something we create. It’s his idea, and it’s good.
Chris: And it’s not even like the byproduct, it is the raw ingredient. It’s on both sides of the equation. I think if we only make it into the byproduct, we start to feel really uneasy or upset when things don’t seem joyful, or we feel pressure to make it that way.
Anthony: Yeah. Let me ask you a personal question, Chris, have you sold all your possessions? Are you taking the Bible literally? I just want to give you a chance to riff on this. It’s easy just to go ahead and say, “Jesus didn’t mean that, so there’s nothing really to say,” but that’s not true.
So, give us a Christological, gospel-shaped orthodoxy as it comes to this passage.
Chris: Yeah. My congregation gives me a hard time because I often use the Common English Bible translation and that shares my initials. And they’re like, is this is what he’s saying or is this the serious work of Bible translators?
But the CEB talks about wallets that don’t wear out. And I kind of like that turn of phrase. I don’t know. I think it’s interesting that the kind of hoarding impulse and fearfulness and attachment are connected to joy, that sit in contrast to God’s joy. That generosity and open-handedness are connected to joy. It’s almost as if closing down or holding tight has become our natural state.
And really, I think this is trying to say that is an unnatural state for us to be in.
Anthony: Yeah, that’s well said. Generosity begets generosity. And it’s originally, God’s generous generosity toward us. He’s the generous one. And so, it only makes sense as human beings that this is what life should look like.
And I love what you said that it actually is the work of joy. We know it’s better to give than to receive, but in God’s good economy, we get both. We have received so much. Yeah. Why wouldn’t we share?
Chris: Yeah. There’s great irony that among Western Christians, we’ve fallen into the trap of making Christmas the main time that we give and receive gifts and so it’s really fun. (And we participate in that, and we do some version of Santa and St. Nick and all this stuff.)
But that should be so normal for us, that world of giving and receiving that Christmas is just like one of many days of that feeling and that joy of giving something to someone and the thoughtfulness that went into that and the resources that went into that.
And what would it look like? And I think this parable is challenging us. What would our lives look like if we reorganize them to be pass-through lives, lives where things pass through from God to the world?
Anthony: Speaking of that, what (and this may feel like a loaded question because it can take so much shape,) but what does it look like to be ready for the Son of Man’s appearance? Does all of this work together, based on what we’ve already said, or is there something more to it, Chris?
Chris: When you say, the Son of Man’s appearance, it has such baggage for so many people. So, it takes a lot of imaginative juice to reform a question like that, to do some positive work.
We get a lot of folks at the church that come from evangelical or fundamentalist backgrounds that have heard that question that you just asked, (what does it look like to be ready for the Son of Man to appear?) that gets mobilized towards the decision? It gets weaponized.
And so yeah, to try to re-ask that question in a way that is expectant and prepared and open to God showing up. The Message paraphrase says, “Keep your shirts on and keep the lights on.”
Anthony: We’re like Motel 6. We’ll keep the light on for you when you show up, Jesus.
Chris: Yeah, that’s right. The passage has two images: a wedding and a thief. It’s so fascinating to use a really (maybe) stressful, but generally positive thing, like a wedding, and learning to prepare well, to do all of the inviting and the gathering for a celebratory event, but also to prepare well to be secure to greet God’s arrival as a thief in the night.
And I don’t know, in there’s some difference between alert and alarm. I think we can only survive in a state of alarm for so long. That this passage, and Jesus in it, are calling us to just a state of being alert, a state of being ready and open and expectant both for the good and the bad of what it might mean for God to arrive in our lives, for the ways that we have them currently arranged.
Anthony: Yeah, I appreciate the way you said it, the expectancy or anticipation of his appearance. It’s like when a dear friend or loved one comes to your home. You’re excited. And you prepare for them. You want to care well.
And I think part of your good work in ministry, Chris, I think what we’re trying to accomplish denominationally through a Trinitarian perspective is to invert the way we’ve thought about these passages. [Not] “we’ve got to be afraid,” when we can just rest in his assurance and be about his business as we go. And all will be well, and all will be well, and all manners of things will be well.
Let’s move on to our next passage, which is Luke 12:39 – 56. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 15 in Ordinary Time, which is August the 14th.
Chris, would you read that for us, please?
“But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into. 40 You too, be ready; because the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not think He will.” 41 Peter said, “Lord, are You telling this parable to us, or to everyone else as well?” 42 And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? 43 Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. 44 Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 45 But if that slave says in his heart, ‘My master will take a long time to come,’ and he begins to beat the other slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk; 46 then the master of that slave will come on a day that he does not expect, and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in two, and assign him a place with the unbelievers. 47 And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accordance with his will, will receive many blows, 48 but the one who did not know it, and committed acts deserving of a beating, will receive only a few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more. 49 “I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished! 51 Do you think that I came to provide peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division; 52 for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, Father against Son and Son against Father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” 54 And He was also saying to the crowds, “Whenever you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘A shower is coming,’ and so it turns out. 55 And whenever you feel a south wind blowing, you say, ‘It will be a hot day,’ and it turns out that way. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to analyze the appearance of the earth and the sky, but how is it that you do not know how to analyze this present time?
Anthony: Wow, that’s a mouthful. A big pericope, and what is going on, Chris? Jesus just told us not to be afraid. And yet we’re reading about unfaithful servants being cut into pieces, banished, and punished severely. Whereas faithful servants will be rewarded. It’s easy in our fallen imaginations to go to this place of, “Oh man, am I out? Am I getting beaten or not?”
What’s really going on here?
Chris: First, I love Peter’s question. And I think it’s notable that he says he calls Jesus Lord because every time in Luke’s Gospel, Lord is an identity for Jesus that kind of shifts and changes in terms of their understanding of what that actually entails.
But Peter asked Jesus is this parable for us or for everyone. And Jesus is like a method actor here and stays in character. I always think of Daniel Day Lewis, when I think about method actor and answers him like, (and I’ll spare y’all the “there will be blood” voice), but he says that you must be wise, faithful, and that you must serve food, which is, really fascinating. Robert Farrar Capon, who is one of my favorite commentators, especially for the parables, because he makes sense of these really kooky parables and sometimes violent and disturbing ones. He applies those three things to the preacher saying that in addition to becoming faithful people, like people cultivating faith and fidelity, and in addition to also not just acquiring info, but wisdom, he says Jesus expects preachers in their congregations to be nothing more than faithful household cooks. He says, not gourmet chefs, not banquet managers, not caterers to thousands, just he says, gospel pot rattlers, who can turn out a decent nourishing meal once a week, not even a whole meal, perhaps only the right food at the right time.
So, if you come on this passage, you’ve been working through Luke and you can’t skip to the other lectionary passage, just be a gospel pot rattler, and turn out a decent nourishing meal.
Anthon: Capon’s the best.
Chris: Yeah. Oh, he is the best. Yeah, to answer your question though, man, I think when whenever I feel disturbed or stuck, I try not to move through that too fast because that might actually be part of the point.
I think parables are meant for play. And I think that also means that they should be interpreted with more than one person present. So, what do you think, Anthony?
No, I’m just kidding. No, but so especially passages like this and in these parables if you’re just sitting in your study just churning over and over, it’s like bouncing a ball off of a wall instead of like the kind of sparks that happen when you’re interpreting with others and coming at it from a different angle or even experiencing different triggers and problems or seeing different images as operative.
And I think that’s a helpful hermeneutic tool is reading with others. We do this a lot. We have midweek morning prayer on the front steps, and we chew over these passages and it’s amazing the sort of group insight you get to a passage like this.
I think here though, I think Jesus is channeling Flannery, O’Connor telling serious and grotesque stories to wake us up and remind us of the weight of things. It takes different things to wake different people up. I have four kids and my eight-year-old is awake at 5:50 asking to watch baseball highlights. And my six-year-old needs me to turn on the lights and rip her sheet off and maybe even pour cold water on her to get up.
So, it takes different things. So that’s not to say Jesus doesn’t mean it or that we can just dismiss it as hot rhetoric, but Jesus is saying serious stuff in a serious way and in doing so I think he’s probably channeling the prophets. the prophets aren’t just like purely future fortune tellers; they’re not like crystal ball-type people telling determined features, but they are like truth telling go-betweens. They are calling people back to God and making plain consequences for actions that may happen. And so, like in a prophetic imagination there’s almost always time to change. The best prophets really hope they’re wrong.
And so, I wonder too, if that’s maybe a little bit of what’s going on here, that Jesus is putting it in stark terms. So, they have time to recalibrate and repent and return, like his goal is not necessarily to scare them but to bother them. So, I think you can be bothered inside of “be not afraid.” Yeah.
Anthony: I appreciated what you said about the community coming together around scripture to read it and how enriching that is, because that’s how it was done. It was read in community. And so, there’s that safeguard. And also, I think Jesus himself on the road to Emmaus said to the brothers, that what you’re talking about, that’s about me.
When we come to a passage like this, at least I have found it helpful, when I don’t always understand is, “Okay Spirit, remind me who God is, who is the Father? Who is the Son?” And we’re included, humanity is included in that Father-Son relationship in the Spirit.
And so, he’s not opposed to us, but just like a good parent, like you would do with your own kids, you’ll warn them if they’re about to do something that’s going to cause harm to themselves or others. You’re going to shout out. And then that may feel pretty rough when it comes. But we know his heart because it’s been revealed in Jesus Christ.
And so, this will feel like a silly question after just stating that, but my question is this is: is Jesus the great divider? He’s the Prince of Peace, full embodiment of peace, but daughter-in-law against mother-in-law. What’s going on here?
Chris: Again, I think this is Jesus with this prophetic voice and office. And I think of the prophet Jeremiah saying, decrying the people that cry, “Peace, peace, where there is no peace” so maybe Jesus’ identity in this instance is the Prince of, not the Prince of Peace, where there is no peace.
I don’t have a great answer here, but I know my own impulses. I’m a 9 in the Enneagram, which I guess is like a very sympathetic person. And so, I have these impulses towards peacemaking and non-confrontation, and even those things can get weaponized. And yeah, I think trust Jesus when he is dividing or setting people on different sides of the room to look at this from different directions.
I also, again I think it’s really important to hear echoes from other parts of scripture. I think he’s definitely using language—I’m pretty convinced he’s using language from Micah 7: that says, “The day that God visits you has come. The day your watchman sounds the alarm, now is the time of your confusion.” And then further down in that chapter, he says, “A son dishonors his Father, a daughter rises up against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, a man’s enemies are the members of his own household.”
And so, he’s talking to and about a divided group in his midst, and I’m not even necessarily sure he’s the one doing the dividing. He’s just revealing the divisions that are already there.
Anthony: Nobody wants to be called a fool, especially by Mr. T or Jesus, in this case.
Chris: And yeah, I think again, it’s always important that Jesus is our rubric here for someone who—even though in this passage, he is dividing—in his very body he’s putting the world back together.
He’s making it whole. And in doing so, he’s repelled. Not a few people—he disappoints a lot of people. He meets opposition. Ultimately, they kill Jesus. This is a reminder that every time we gather around the table and share in communion—which is a whole-making meal that remembers us, that puts us back together and draws us into God’s shalom—it has come through the taking, blessing, breaking, and gift of Jesus’ body that was broken apart and puts us back together, every time where we’re gathered around him.
So, we should, in some ways, have a level of understanding and comfort whenever there is this breaking apart because Jesus has shown us how a breaking apart is involved in a putting back together in a rending for a mending.
Anthony: A rending for a mending; that’s well said. And I love the way that you said the communion table, the Lord’s table, it’s a re-membering of all of us together. And I’ve heard it said a recognition, a re-cognition, a reminding of who he is and who we are in him. It’s a, oh, what a beautiful thing.
Let’s move on to our next passage, which is Luke 13:10 – 17. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 16 in Ordinary Time, which is August 21.
Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11 And there was a woman who for eighteen years had had a sickness caused by a Spirit; and she was bent over double, and could not straighten up at all. 12 When Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your sickness.” 13 And He laid His hands on her; and immediately she stood up straight again, and began glorifying God. 14 But the synagogue leader, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, began saying to the crowd in response, “There are six days during which work should be done; so come during them and get healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” 15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites, does each of you on the Sabbath not untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it away to water it? 16 And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this restraint on the Sabbath day?” 17 And as He said this, all His opponents were being humiliated; and the entire crowd was rejoicing over all the glorious things being done by Him.
In his effort to be right, lawfully, it seems—it doesn’t just seem—the synagogue leader is getting it all wrong, Chris.
So, my question for you is this, is there something for us to think about? Any parallels to maybe how believers are acting today? How might we, in an effort to be right, be getting it wrong?
Chris: This is only an hour-long podcast.
Anthony: Loaded question, sir.
Chris: Reading this, I thought about a poem by a Jewish poet. Yehuda Amichai wrote a poem called, “The Place Where We Are Right.” He says, “From the place where we are right, flowers will never grow in the spring. The place where we are right is hard and trampled like a yard. But doubts and loves dig up the world like a mole, a plow. And a whisper will be heard in the place where the ruined house once stood.”
And so, I just love that poem, and I love that poem how it sparks off of this passage, because in your question you ask how they are trying to be right.
And in some ways, that’s really commendable to try to be right. I think Pharisees, synagogue leaders, the people who often directly encounter and serve as foils to Jesus, I think most church people have way more in common with them than Jesus in our impulses and practices.
So first off, maybe that’s one thing we should get used to being in that role of the story and being encountered by Jesus in a way that reminds us that we’re not just not always right, but often not right.
But I love that poem because it reminds us that where we are right, where we circle the wagons, where we just stay in one place, we trample the ground so much that nothing can ever grow—no flowers in the spring. That is hard and trampled like a yard instead of churned up and verdant like a garden.
I think that this is our camel / needle for American Christians—to be that sort of people, that it’s really hard for us to be, not just right, but righteous, to be just, to be true.
Whenever I read to be right, I think of the etymology of righteousness in the Bible, dikaiosunē in the Greek. I think to get a fuller picture, or a more rounded version of what that means, it’s not just like some sort of static rightness, but it is this really dynamic deliverance.
When God is righteous, it is fundamentally liberative. This is Paul’s, “You are now free to be free.” Like, you are free for freedom. You are righteous for the sake of something. And so, in this passage, they have good concerns about being righteous and being right about the Sabbath. Sabbath is so important. Ceasing to be with God is really important. It’s one of the things that constitutes a whole people.
But in their ceasing, they’ve lost an imagination for how that they can still take up and embrace. They can cease and embrace all in the same space and at the same time. Their righteousness and our righteousness have to be more concerned and bound up with God’s liberative work than our rightness. We need to find freedom in that.
Anthony: Yeah, I’ve heard you use the word imagination three or four times. And in thinking about this pericope and sacred prophetic imagination, I think one of the things that stunts our imagination is dualism, where it’s just either/or. It’s this or that. And you see it all over American society right now.
You’re either on this side or that side, and it doesn’t give us the space to humbly learn and to move more rightly into liberation by the Spirit. I just think in asking that question, how we may we be right, but all wrong—boy, you’re right! We could spend days talking through that, don’t you think?
Chris: Yeah. And to go back to the poem and he says, “But doubts and loves, dig up the world, like a mole, a plow.” The doubts and loves.
So, something that finds us that we don’t necessarily welcome, like doubt, and something so basic to us, like our loves or desires, the way that we are oriented to the world, dig up the world, like a mole, or like a plow, like a pest, or like something that we set our hands to and intend.
And the way out of this sort of hardness of heart, (I think of like Pharaoh or name your local politician, right?) that an antidote to that is, doubts and loves that dig up the world, like a mole, a plow.
Anthony: So, this woman that has been identified had been living with an infliction for 18 years, and Jesus spoke words of life.
He was the embodiment of life. He touched her with a healing embrace that ultimately would change her life. I’m curious, in what ways can we actively participate in that healing ministry of Jesus by the Spirit?
Chris: I mentioned how, when we started the church, how we embraced and were named by the Isaiah’s 61 text, and to put some handles and watch words around that, we came up with [and] we extracted: hope, healing, and hospitality in Christ. And those seemed to sum up some of the prophetic vision of Isaiah and in the words of Jesus.
And I think the middle one—healing—was the most kind of uncanny thing for us to try to get our heads around, because what do you mean you are a healing church? Not that kind of church, right? But over the years (and this hasn’t happened automatically and sometimes it happens in spite of us), but we live in a really transient area that a lot of people come here for a little time for grad school and then leave.
And you’ll touch base with people, or they’ll send you an email, or around church homecomings and anniversaries, you make contact with people you hadn’t heard from in a while or who have some distance from you. And we’re getting a lot of people saying, being at Oak Church was really healing for me, and people using that language.
And it’s been interesting that has happened and is happening. And we’re trying to figure out how God is doing that. And so, I think part of that is making space and being responsive, and trying to cultivate a church culture where things can be different.
Like this lady comes to Jesus, probably not with a whole lot of an imagination, maybe just a little spark of an imagination for how an 18-year-old sickness can be changed. She had enough of an imagination to come to Jesus, but I’m not even sure she knew how her life could be different. If something has been happening in your life for 18 years, that is like deeply woven into who you are.
And so having a little bit of an imagination, even if it’s a really open-ended imagination for how God is going to work and then having a patience and an urgency to bring about that newness.
In the passage, I think it’s significant that Jesus spoke freedom to her, and then he touched her. There was a word and a deed happening there, and it brought about her worship and her health.
You have word and flesh; there’s a declaration and there’s a follow-through. And it happens in a mode of direct presence and intimacy. I think our encounters with Jesus still happen this way, through an encounter with the word and through really regular hands and feet—that we recognize sometimes they’re even our own hands and feet for others.
Anthony: Yeah. Proximity begets compassion. Doesn’t it? There’s something about seeing the need and being present to witness it that is so powerful. And I really appreciated your insight about her imagination and probably it not being vivid to what could happen.
And isn’t that the way it is? It’s like music. I have heard somebody say, it’s the one thing that can get to your heart without your permission. It just does.
Chris: We don’t have ear lids; we have eyelids, but we don’t have ear lids.
Anthony: Yeah. And I think healing can show up in surprising ways like that. And we know he is Jehovah-Rapha; he’s the healer. Yet we don’t dehumanize ourselves to think that we can’t participate in some very tangible way.
I think it was Bart talked about how theology should always lead to doxology. In other words, if we’re doing the good work of theology and we don’t end up praising God, we’re doing something wrong.
I’m struck by the church people of the day missing the miracle if they’re not praising God in their desire to be right. Maybe I’m reworking the same question, but is there anything else you want to touch on and what this can teach us?
Chris: Yeah, I think awareness of God’s work comes via testimony, and I think that’s a hard thing for sophisticated modern people like us to learn how to do—to talk about unwieldy and mysterious things of God with passion and gratefulness without sounding like lunatics, and sometimes you can’t help it.
But I’ve learned a lot about this with my kids in the last decade—swimming against this disenchanting tide in order to re-enchant the world. Not that we’re doing anything, but rather we’re learning to notice and expect and narrate what God is already doing. I want them to have a vivid imagination for how God is working without leaning on tired religious speech that’s empty. I’ve been trying to really discipline myself with a certain way of talking, with a certain expectation. So, when they come to me with a paper cut, we talk about how God will heal them; we ask God to heal them.
Less we forget in our forgetfulness that that healing is somehow natural or that it’s not a gift from God, no matter how minute or how normal it seems. How can we expect God to arrive, to act, to intervene in big ways (God forbid, if we want someone to be healed of cancer or after a car accident), if God hasn’t been the healer all along of rug burns and paper cuts and scrapes and bruises from learning how to ride our bikes and from self-imposed, damage we’ve done to ourselves? That’s one thing is re-enchanting our normal speech to create an expectation.
In terms of the passages, that “humiliated opponents,” I don’t know, maybe that’s not such a bad thing. It feels bad, in the midst of it when you are being brought down, humbled, subverted, surprised, but what if that is actually a gift? I think about the rich young ruler who came to Jesus, and it says that he went away sad because he had so much, but it leaves it really open-ended. He still might have embraced that as a gift and a calling and just did an accurate accounting of his life.
What if instead of when we find out we’re wrong or when we find out we actually missed out on what God has been doing all along, what if instead of doubling down or powering up or circling wagons or defending, what if there was an expectation that God was also working in us being wrong? And then there’s time and space to change our minds. There’s not a whole lot of value in that. It’ll be interesting if Elon Musk gives Twitter an edit button because we’re so used to our whole lives becoming un-editable hot takes that we can’t take back. So, we just double down and trench.
I don’t know. What if that is also a gift from God, proving us wrong and not in a vicious way, but in a gracious way? It’s not like divine gas lighting, but a way that can make us people able to ask forgiveness because we realize that we are often wrong.
Anthony: Well, it seems to me it ties back into being ready, right? As the Spirit woos us into greater maturity into the head, Jesus, it looks like that. And humiliation is painful, but it’s like our mutual friend, Jeff McSwain—I’ve heard him say often, “Life is just ongoing repentance.” Every day, it’s oh, I got that wrong! But we have one who knows what it looks like to condescend. And thanks be to God for that.
We have one more passage, which is Luke 14: 1, 7 – 14. It’s a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 17 in Ordinary Time, which is August 28. Chris, read that one for us, please.
It happened that when He went into the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees on the Sabbath to eat bread, they were watching Him closely. Now He began telling a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them, 8 “Whenever you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, 9 and the one who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then in disgrace you will proceed to occupy the last place. 10 But whenever you are invited, go and take the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are dining at the table with you. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” 12 Now He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, “Whenever you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor wealthy neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you to a meal in return, and that will be your repayment. 13 But whenever you give a banquet, invite people who are poor, who have disabilities, who are limping, and people who are blind; 14 and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Anthony: The upside-down kingdom. Not the way we anticipate it. This passage tells us that our Lord is sharing a meal with the leader of the Pharisees, and I just think it’s one of the most profound aspects of Jesus’ ministry. And that is his meal-sharing ministry, the intimacy of it to be face to face with another.
What are your thoughts, Chris? And what does a church have to learn?
Chris: The church that we came from that sent us to plant [Oak Church] had over the years done a lot of meal sharing together. In the early days, we had weekly potluck and then that shifted to biweekly and then monthly, and then periodically.
So, when we started Oak Church, the intent was to do weekly potluck meals and to create a culture around that. And that has been such a journey of learning. And again, predicated on: Jesus does this, so let’s figure out how to do it. But it’s been really interesting because eating that much together and we’ve tried to do it without a safety net.
At the other church, one of the reasons why it became less frequent is because people get tired, and you wouldn’t bring that much. And then, there was always like the potluck brigade that would like, oh no, we don’t have enough food. Let’s call on some Dominos or go get some stuff from Costco. And there is a lot of hospitality around that impulse, but we’ve not done that at all.
And we’ve found that it’s really self-regulating the potluck meal, because if you have a bad week, you are reminded, oh shoot, I need to participate. If you don’t bring it, we don’t eat. We always say that we are less without you, and that is mathematically true, but it is no more obvious than at the table. You learn how to accent, and you learn how to account for others’ gifts.
You learn that person always brings mac and cheese, so I probably don’t need to do that. It’s a really beautiful, dynamic life that happens around the table. I think I would love to know more detail about Jesus’ meals, not just who he ate with but what he ate and how those meals went and who provided the food.
I think for the local church, a life around the table as an extension of the communion table is a really beautiful like culture-maker. And so, you get the chance (we do each week) to come forward to the communion table with empty, open hands, ready to receive from God’s grace. You don’t bring anything to that table. And then 10 minutes later or so, you arrive with plenty of stuff in hand. You arrive with a full instant pot to add to an armada of instant pots to try to feed friends and neighbors and show off your new recipe or figure that stuff out.
Life around the table also makes you, in Paul language, think of others more than yourself. Especially if you have friends that have to navigate food allergies. Or we’ve had to navigate, as a very potluck-centric church that is so core to our culture, two plus years of that not being a safe thing to do—sitting across from each other in a fellowship hall. We’ve done that with outdoor meals, with prepackaged things and all these different arrangements, but it’s always a negotiation and an improvisation, trying to figure out how to be together.
I really love a friend here in Durham, Kendall Vanderslice, who’s a Dukey also, has a ministry called Edible Theology. And she’s a trained baker, also has a degree in food studies and theological studies. And so, she’s really putting these things together, specifically about bread and dinner church, and talks really beautifully about how these things interact.
Anthony: it’s a good resource. We’ll put it in the show notes, and it makes me think of somebody you’ve already referenced, Robert Capon, who loved food and loved Jesus and loved the combination. And I think he shared a cookbook
Chris: Yeah, that’s right, The Supper of the Lamb.
I will say that again an early ministry experience was that the table also became a site of discipleship. Again, being in a place with a bunch of grad students and people passing through, and also being in the South, we would have people come to the church and they would be so game and so equipped and so expectant, to sit in a folding chair (at the time) and drink deeply of a 40-minute sermon and take detailed notes. And then you’d ask them, or expect, invite them, “Hey, you guys are staying for potluck, right?”
And they would demur [show reluctance] because it was so awkward for them to sit across from someone they didn’t know or to eat something they weren’t sure that they liked. It was a place of deep discipleship to become the sort of people that could do that, and that could be at a table possibly with someone that you have nothing else in common, other than Jesus and the Spirit that is connecting you. I don’t discount that power of the table either. And I think that’s also why some of Jesus’ tables are so controversial because he is putting people at a table that don’t have any reason to be together apart from him.
Anthony: The potluck brigade. I have a feeling we need to design a t-shirt and I’ve got a few people in mind to share that with.
Chris: Yeah, we’re trying to get sponsored by instant pot. That’s key.
Anthony: Jesus instructs the listeners to sit at the lowly place during a feast. And of course, later in scripture, we see in John 13, Jesus doing this very thing, embodying it when he gets up quietly from dinner and washes the disciples’ feet in the upper room.
Why do you think it matters that we have a God, revealed in Jesus, who practices this? Who practices what he preaches?
Chris: I don’t think it’s just that Jesus somehow needs to be like logical and coherent or even like non-hypocritical. I think in these stories of Jesus being with people in normal places, that Jesus is saving us in these stories.
This is before the cross, this is after the incarnation, but Jesus is saving all humanity, all creation when he feasts and when he washes feet and when he brushes by the shoulders of someone in the crowd or is touched, when Jesus is walking around Galilee or when Jesus is a boy growing up in Nazareth.
I’m looking over my shoulder here at my desk at this icon called “Hidden life in Nazareth” by this Ukrainian icon writer [Artist, iconographer Ivanka Demchuk]. And it’s Mary and Joseph, and Jesus is taking his first steps as a boy. And there’s a clothesline in the background. I think when Jesus is filling up diapers in Mary’s home, and all of these hidden moments, that Jesus is saving us because he is bolting divinity and humanity together and creating a new humanity.
So, I don’t think it’s just that Jesus is practicing what he’s preaching, but he’s becoming familiar to us. He’s coming close enough to people that they know what he smells like and what his hands feel like and what his voice sounds like. That’s how close God is to us in Jesus.
That’s how sensible God is, that it is not any longer a mystery of what God is like. God is like Mary’s boy. For the disciples, God is like their fishing buddy. God is like a journeying storyteller who loves a good party. God is like a guy who isn’t afraid to stick his nose in an unfair fight.
God is like someone who’s been put through the ringer or is the victim of state violence or who has been lynched. God has become one of us. And I think that means we stand a chance to become like God, that we’re forever bolted in Christ to God. So, when we read these stories, we just can’t forget what God looks like and smells like and acts like and sounds like.
Anthony: There’s a great documentary. It’s just a short film (maybe 18 minutes) called Godspeed. [Godspeed: the Pace of Being Known]
Chris: I love it.
Anthony: Yeah. Is it Brian Canlis? Is that his name?
Chris: Yeah, that’s right. Brian and Julie in Vancouver.
Anthony: And one of the things I was struck by, they were interviewing one of the folks in Scotland. And he was talking about God’s speed being the speed of three miles an hour, the speed of walking.
And he was saying, that’s when he became a believer, when he realized Jesus couldn’t hide, the people knew him, the villagers knew him. That’s Joe and Mary’s boy. And that’s powerful for us, that we can’t just parachute into people’s lives, but it’s meant to be lived face to face because we were made in the image of a God who is in face-to-face unity, the Father and the Son.
And I think meal-sharing and all the things you’re discussing here, as far as taking the lowly place, that just lives into what reality is, this is reality. This is what it looks like. It looks like Jesus.
Chris: Yeah. I live in walking distance to where we minister at the church and that I’m learning that in my ministry.
My across the street neighbor, Jim, is not super church interested, but he thinks it’s hilarious that he knows a pastor and probably hears me yell at my kids. And he thinks it’s hilarious that I’ll drink a beer with him. So, I’ll get these little offerings from Jim: a magazine that his daughter who’s way too old for them now still subscribes to and he leaves for our girls and a Belgian beer, because that’s what he likes.
I think it’s just that presence that has connected to Jim. And again, I’m not trying to stand in for Jesus here, but it helps me imagine that both the incredibility and the credibility of Jesus’ life in Nazareth, because he was known because, he was there.
Anthony: Yeah. Amen. Chris, this has been fun. And I’m so grateful. I’m so grateful you’re willing to do it, especially as the countdown is on toward your sabbatical. So, thank you for your time.
And it’s our tradition here on Gospel Reverb that our guests share prayer for our listening audience, for those who are out there ministering in the neighborhood, as you just described. Would you be willing to do that for us, please?
Chris: I’d love to.
Lord Jesus, help us be awake and attentive to your presence in our midst. Help us be receptive and generous to all the gifts that you give us. Help us be invitational and expectant as you show up in the midst of the least, the last, the lost, the littlest, and the closest to death. And help us feast with you and look forward to feasting with you for eternity. We pray all this to the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
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