The Losers Who Write History

Jeremiah 26.16-19 (quoting Micah 3.12)
Then the officials and all the people said to the priests and the prophets, “This man should not be sentenced to death! He has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God.”

Some of the elders of the land stepped forward and said to the entire assembly of people, “Micah of Moresheth prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah. He told all the people of Judah, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says:

“‘Zion will be plowed like a field,
Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble,
the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets.’

“Did Hezekiah king of Judah or anyone else in Judah put him to death? Did not Hezekiah fear the Lord and seek his favor? And did not the Lord relent, so that he did not bring the disaster he pronounced against them? We are about to bring a terrible disaster on ourselves!”

Reflection: The Losers Who Write History
By John Tillman

In our passage today we read a prophecy from Micah that was quoted as precedent in defense of the prophet Jeremiah at least 80 years later.

Micah prophesied during the time of Hezekiah, one of the few kings of Judah who obeyed God and lived righteously. Yet even under a “good” king Micah spoke of the leaders of Judah when he said, “Therefore because of you, Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets.”

Micah, it seems, lived in a time when dissent was not considered unpatriotic disloyalty. Hezekiah, listened, repented, and the prophesied disaster was, seemingly, averted. In reality it was only delayed, like Hezekiah’s prophesied death.

Jeremiah, by contrast, lived during the last gasps of a failing kingdom, amidst an evil generation and a corrupt government. There were still some who stood up to prevent the silencing of dissenting voices. But eventually, Jeremiah was killed in exile for his continued “unpatriotic” messages.

It has been said that winners write history books, but in the case of the Bible, that is decidedly not true. Scripture, especially when it comes to the prophets, passes the microphone to the losers of history.

There were prophets other than the ones in the canon of scripture. Micah mentions them in his writing. They sided with powerful kings, predicted good things to get a financial benefit, and spread the king’s vision of the country’s future instead of God’s.

From the standpoint of the time, these powerful, wealthy prophets were the winners. Yet, not one of those glowingly positive, king-praising prophets’ writings are in our Bible. Instead we have the writings of the losers. The cries of the oppressed. The letters from those imprisoned in the Concord jails, and Birmingham jails of Judah and Israel and often letters from those killed.

The same Jesus who wept over “Jerusalem, who kills the prophets” was also not afraid to utilize biting sarcasm on the topic, saying, “surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!”

Jesus also condemned the religious leaders who decorated the prophet’s tombs. He recognized that when we venerate prophets, we are often just venerating ourselves by proxy—envisioning ourselves in their role.

May we learn to listen to “losers” and learn what God may say through them.
May we learn to recognize ourselves as the audience of the prophets, not the prophets themselves.
May we learn from dissenting voices, testing every “prophecy” against scripture

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I will bear witness that the Lord is righteous; I will praise the Name of the Lord Most High  — Psalm 7:18

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Micah 3 (Listen – 1:51)
Luke 12 (Listen – 7:42)

Additional Reading
Read More about How to Read Prophetic Judgment :: Readers’ Choice
The best way to read prophecy is to imagine yourself not as the speaker, but as the spoken to.

Read More about Decorating the Tombs of the Prophets
The most difficult thing about following a risen and reigning prophet, priest, and king, is that he will not leave us alone. He will keep bugging us.

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The Gospel is an Uprising

Micah 2.13
The One who breaks open the way will go up before them;
they will break through the gate and go out.
Their King will pass through before them,
the Lord at their head.”

Luke 11.20-22
But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up his plunder.

Reflection: The Gospel is an Uprising
By John Tillman

The word translated “resurrection” is anastasis. It is a common term. It is used for individual resurrection events, such as the resurrections of Jairus’s daughter, of Lazarus, and of Jesus himself. It also refers to the ultimate resurrection event to come at the end of time.

The depictions of Christ in today’s readings relate strongly to a traditionally Eastern Christian visualization of this ultimate resurrection that translates anastasis more literally as “Uprising.”

These artworks depicting Christ’s resurrection step outside of time and geography to show Christ exiting the doors of Hell itself, literally breaking open the gates. He is often depicted stepping upon Death, as he leads by the hand Adam, Eve, and others of the faithful dead.

The Anastasis—the Uprising—is the great jailbreak of God.

The Uprising is a visualization of Christ’s resurrection gleaned less from gospel accounts than from multiple sources throughout scripture, including our passage today in Micah, where Christ is “the One who breaks open the way,” gathering captives together and smashing through the gates holding them back, and our passage from Luke, where Christ portrays himself as a violent thief, breaking in to the house of the strong man, Satan, destroying his defenses, and plundering his possessions.

The Anastasis can be interpreted as an Eighth Day occurance, an event occurring outside of time. But it can also be understood as “already and not yet.” It is both completed in the past, coming in the future, and happening now, in our midst.

Our ultimate freedom may be in the future, but Christ is still the strong man, standing ready to liberate us today as he did the many demoniacs in scripture. We may not suffer in the same way they did but aren’t we still impaired as many of them were?

Aren’t we at times mute when we should speak truth into the lives around us?
Don’t we at times throw ourselves into the fires of judgement rather than accept Christ’s grace?
Don’t we at times harm others and ourselves in our rage?

What sins are you blind to? What cries for help are you deaf to? What injustice leaves you mute, unwilling to speak?

May Jesus, the strong man, the liberator, free us to see, to hear, and to speak.
May he kick open the gates of what paralyzes us and lead us out to do his work in the world.

May we join the Uprising.

Prayer: The Call to Prayer
God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of the ram’s horn.  — Psalm 47:5

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Micah 2 (Listen – 2:11)
Luke 11 (Listen – 7:33)

Additional Reading
Read More about The Eighth Day
Peter encourages his readers about Christ’s second coming with thoughts that closely relate to the Jewish concept of the eighth day that was influential on early Christian belief and practice.

Read More about Freedom for Prisoners :: Epiphany
The Gospel is a jailbreak. Jesus is a thief in the night, robbing the possessions of the strong man, Satan—stealing away with captives who foolishly, yet willingly sold themselves to the debtor’s prison of sin.

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*Image By © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro /, CC BY-SA 3.0

One Thing Needed

Luke 10.42
Few things are needed—or indeed only one.

Everybody I know says they need just one thing. Really what they mean is they need just one thing more. — Rich Mullins

Reflection: One Thing Needed
By John Tillman

The Church’s anticipatory season of Advent doesn’t officially begin until December 2nd this year, but our cultural and commercial anticipation of Christmas is in full swing. Parties are being planned. Trees are going up. Lights are being strung.

Christmas is coming.

For some, Christmas seems more ominous than celebratory—like a massive to-do list with an inflexible deadline. With all of the cultural expectations of Christmas, it’s no wonder people push “starting Christmas” earlier and earlier in the year.

If Christmas is about having the perfect meal, with the perfect side-dishes, the perfect guests, the perfect gifts, the perfect decor, the perfect tree, and the perfect decorations, increasing the production timeline makes a lot of sense. But even starting in October, as some do, that’s a lot of perfection for imperfect people to manage in a broken world. It’s a perfect mix for holiday depression and anxiety rather than the peace, comfort, and joy that should be experienced at Christmas.

Martha, the detail oriented disciple, often gets a hard time from preachers who focus on jokes about how uptight she is. We often preach on Martha’s scolding of Jesus about her sister and too rarely preach about Martha’s open declaration that Jesus was the Messiah.

If Martha, in today’s passage is scattered and distracted, the Martha who greets Jesus after her brother’s death is focused with clarity on the “one thing” needed. Martha’s declaration was no trivial thing. Nearby were those who were already plotting Christ’s death and would next be plotting the death of her soon-to-be resurrected brother. Her confession was at the risk of her life.

The one thing that is needed, the better portion that Mary chose and Martha learned to choose under pain of death, is to place ourselves at all costs in the presence of Jesus, our Lord.

Mary and Martha aren’t stereotypes for us to sort ourselves into and excuse our tendencies. We can’t say, “Well, I’m a Mary,” and ignore details. We can’t say, “Well, I’m a Martha,” and ignore relationships. To do so is to dehumanize these women into parables to make us feel better about ourselves.

These female disciples each are immature in their own way when we first meet them. But in their final appearances in scripture, they abandon all for Christ, risking financial security, risking reputation, risking their lives to honor him. They show us, perhaps more clearly than other disciples, what it means to find in Christ, our “one thing.”

Prayer: Request for Presence
Protect me, O God for I take refuge in you. I have said to the Lord, “You are my Lord, my good above all other,”  — Psalm 16:1

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Micah 1 (Listen – 2:46)
Luke 10 (Listen – 8:05)

Additional Reading
Read More about Confessing Christ, Full Grown
It is more difficult to stand before a man who, by inaction, allowed your brother to die and call that man the Messiah, as Martha did.

Read More about The Fragrance of Faith :: Readers’ Choice
Mary of Bethany’s anointing of Christ on his last trip to Jerusalem is intimately connected to the gospel—Christ said that it would be.

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Restful Meditations :: Advent’s Hope

Focusing our hearts on Christ, the hope of Advent, expands the holiday experience beyond mere merriness. In the gospel our hearts find rest from pain and hope for renewal.

“Jesus, my feet are dirty,” prayed Origen in the third century. “Come even as a slave to me, pour water into your bowl, come and wash my feet. In asking such a thing I know I am overbold, but I dread what was threatened when you said to me, ‘If I do not wash your feet I have no fellowship with you.’ Wash my feet then, because I long for your companionship.”

Origen’s prayer captures the spirit of Advent: looking back at Christ’s work on our behalf, looking forward at the completion of his fellowship, and longing for his presence and power today.

Another third century prayer, an anonymous Syriac Christmas liturgy, gives words to this hope:

The radiance of the Father’s splendor, the Father’s visible image, Jesus Christ our God, peerless among counselors, Prince of Peace, Father of the world to come, the model after which Adam was formed, for our sakes became like a slave: in the womb of Mary the virgin, without assistance from any man, he took flesh.

Enable us, Lord, to reach the end of this luminous feast in peace, forsaking all idle words, acting virtuously, shunning our passions, and raising ourselves above the things of this world.

Bless your church, which you brought into being long ago and attached to yourself through your own life-giving blood…

Bless your servants, whose trust is all in you; bless all Christian souls, the sick, those tormented by evil spirits, and those who have asked us to pray for them.

Show yourself as merciful as you are rich in grace; save and preserve us; enable us to obtain those good things to come which will never know an end.

May we celebrate your glorious birth, and the Father who sent you to redeem us, and your Spirit, the Giver of life, now and forever, age after age. Amen.

Christ, may our hearts find their rest in you, the hope of Advent.

Listen: Greensleves by Vince Guaraldi Trio.

Today’s Reading
Micah 7 (Listen – 3:36)
Luke 16 (Listen – 4:27)

 

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel :: Advent’s Hope

“Caesar is Lord,” the people would shout as his chariot traversed the streets. Rome’s elite culture—from philosophy to viaducts, engineering to economics—was unsurpassed and almost universally recognized as the hope of the world. It was stunning when the empire fell into decline.

In the end, Caesar proved not only unable to save his kingdom, but even himself. The fall of Rome plunged civilization into what historians have long-called the Dark Ages. For hundreds of years battles raged endlessly, pestilence and plague spread freely, and chaos seemed to gain the upper hand all too regularly.

The period isn’t significantly brighter in church history. Scripture was largely inaccessible, starving the Church of sound doctrine and increasing the growth of folk religion, superstition, and far worse. (The devastating interpretations of Scripture that lead to the crusades fomented during this time.)

“O come, Thou Wisdom, from on high, and order all things far and nigh,” wrote an anonymous monk sometime before 800 C.E. The words to “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” cry out from the depths of the Dark Ages—longing for God’s presence, Emmanuel, to rescue humankind.

In some ways the unknown author behind this song is an outlier to his or her world; the lyrics demonstrate intimate knowledge of Scripture in a time of illiteracy. In other ways the lyricist was shaped firmly by the Dark Ages—depravity writ large—and its revelations of humanity’s limits. Even had there been a vision for restoration present, no one on earth would have been sufficient to breathe it to life.

O come, Desire of the nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid every strife and quarrel cease
and fill the world with heaven’s peace.

“Jesus is Lord,” is a revolutionary claim. It not only upends global empires, but whatever we would enthrone on our hearts to save ourselves from the insufficiency of our world.

In Advent we await the coming of the all-sufficient King; he is the wisdom we yearn for and the power we need. He is God, and his presence brings healing to our world and restoration to our hearts.

Listen: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel by Francesca Battistelli (4:20)

Today’s Reading
Micah 6 (Listen – 2:28)
Luke 15 (Listen – 4:19)