What does it mean to call Jesus “the Son of Man”?
I am doing a summer sermon series where people had a chance to write in questions that would form all the sermons this summer. Some are theological questions, some are about particular biblical texts, and some are about our own sense of discernment and spirituality. The above question was one that was asked but I was not able to shoe-horn into the sermon series itself and instead thought I would write an “answer” to it in blog form. And that is what you are reading right now!
I’m going to answer this question in two ways: first I will write up a new engagement in brief form, and then I will paste in a paper I wrote in 2009 for a doctoral class on the Book of Daniel which is lengthy, dry, and detailed but completely on point to this question and… what else does one do with old papers they wrote once upon a time??? 😉
The term “Son of Man” is used extensively in the Gospels and in Acts of the Apostles and Revelation, though the term in its Koine Greek (the language of the New Testament) form is found nowhere else. This has led to a lack of consensus in the scholarship of its origin and exact meaning. It is often understood loosely as being a counter-point to “Son of God” where one focuses on the divinity of Christ and one on the humanity of Christ.
I adhere to the belief that the trail to understand the meaning behind “Son of Man”, walked backward, leads to the Book of Daniel and its use of the language “one like a son of man” in the apocalyptic vision of Daniel 7. This figure, less a savior figure and more an inheritor and representative figure, is seen as weak and lowly, and yet given “dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:14) This kingdom is eternal, given by God, and lead by those who have remained faithful after the “Ancient of Days” sat in judgment on the throne and struck dead the four beasts whose kingdoms all failed making way for the eternal kingdom of God.
The contrasts set up here are that the beasts were strong, violent, and fed (devoured) the world around them, whereas the “one like a son of man” (or even pitiable human) is seen as a corporate/representative figure of a remnant of those who stayed faithful when it was hard to do so, one whose faith is strong but not his stature, more enduring than powerful, more wise than “flashy”… namely, he isn’t typically one we would expect to gain dominion. In fact, he doesn’t gain it, earn it, or win it… he is given it. The Kingdom then, is God’s, and any dominion that is to be had is only ever a gift from God for God’s people.
The Gospels’ use of this figure would seem then to place Jesus in the line of this thinking. Jesus is not a warrior. Jesus is not flashy, charismatic, or traditionally powerful. Jesus is, rather, pitiable, all-to-human, and unassuming. And yet, Jesus is possessed of great reserves of patient endurance, resistance to being tempted out of faithfulness, and deep recesses of wisdom which lead us as a caretaker of all people and not for his own gain. Jesus is not – then – a singular messianic figure of a particular people, but a representative of all humanity living as the image of God to foster the goodness of all creation for all people. This, I believe, is what the Gospels claim when they have Jesus self-reference as the Son of Man. And this, I believe, is the way of life that Jesus demonstrates for us to follow him in living. That we are, quite literally, the Body of Christ living as “one like a son of man” – that is to say: a corporate inter-related being whose strength lies in faithfulness to God and one another and a calling to live for, and with, each other accountable to the “way of Jesus Christ” in God’s Kingdom.
I hope that is helpful. It is a right answer, not the right answer.
Want to dive deeper? Keep reading, but you have been warned. 😉
The paper I have included here (the footnotes didn’t import so if you want to know what any of them are just ask) is old so there are things I would change today, there are a couple of scholarly errors but I will again leave the errors because – hey – I’m human and make mistakes and will let those mistakes stand, and it could have read tighter at times – but then, that is true of EVERYTHING I write… so I would probably only make it worse. 🙂
Rev. Andrew Kukla
In the nearly two thousand years since the last canonical book of the Bible was written much of Christian writing has been spent in apologetics. Particularly it has been spent in the area of Christians attempting to convince non-Christians of the existence of God and the “rightness” of Christian faith. Strangely this apparently captivating agenda is not a predominate agenda of the Bible. It is almost non-existent with a few minor Pauline exceptions. Jews did not attempt to convert Pharaoh, or the Assyrians, or even their Canaanite neighbors in the “promised land”. The New Testament is perhaps more complex in establishing such agendas. We know at least that Jesus struggles to even comprehend an agenda outside of those already “of the faith”. Outside of Paul and Barnabas, the vast majority of the first Christians are equally interested in staying inside the faith tradition. Paul’s own mission to the Gentiles may have stayed on the borders of those who were already believers, rather than moving to Christian apologetics to those completely outside the tradition. We do of course have stories of Paul like that of the unknown God, and so I do not entirely discount such Christian apologetics within canonical scripture. However, I believe that much of our time and energy has been spent in a direction in which biblical writers were just not interested. Regardless of the truth of that claim what is equally convicting to me is that one of the main agendas of scripture goes largely ignored, or greatly reduced, in our own conversations: that of examining our own faithfulness and our Christian discipleship.
There are always exceptions, prophet voices that continue to call our attention to God and our neglect of keeping our lives turned toward God. One such person who did not ignore the task, and was largely ridiculed, mocked, and ignored for it, was Soren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard boldly said of himself that he endeavored to convince the cultural Christians of nineteenth century Denmark that they were not in fact Christian. Only having recognized that their assumed Christianity was not in fact true Christianity would they be able to engage life-transforming faith with greater intentionality and, in fact, follow Christ. Other voices over the centuries have also continued the long established prophetic tradition of calling us to faithfulness. As the audience of such prophetic voices who are interested in learning and following the ways of God revealed in Jesus Christ we become disciples: those who place ourselves at the feet of truth to learn how to live in accordance with that truth. Amidst the multitude of biblical voices of discipling prophets one that goes largely ignored is that of Daniel. Daniel sits in the confused mix of wisdom tradition, prophet, and early apocalyptic. As a historical apocalypse, the book provides stories one can resonate with, but then moves to grand visions rich with mythological imagery that confuse and leave the reader curious as to what is being said or intended on our behalf. Skeptical of the apocalyptic, and with a wealth of other places to go, mainline Christianity largely turns a deaf ear to the wisdom of Daniel.
This trend in our reading, study, and preaching is, unfortunately, a big loss. Daniel has much to say to our own practice of discipleship and much in common with our contemporary ministry context. Written in the midst of Hellenization, post-exilic Diaspora, and empire, the book of Daniel is a call to identity awareness and assurance of the sovereignty of God, as well as a call to faithfulness in the “way” – God’s way. Thus Daniel, in story, vision, and prayer, serves as a call to faithfulness and a rich foundation for Christian discipleship two centuries later. The community of Daniel shapes the theological groundwork for first-century Jewish-Christians whose major struggle will also be counter-cultural identity formation and assurance of the presence and power of God in their lives. Daniel’s call to second century B.C.E. Jews is a fertile ground for understanding Christ’s call to Peter and Andrew, James and John, you and me. I intend to develop this foundation of discipleship in the book of Daniel by looking at three features within the book: the figure of the “one like a son of man” in the vision of Daniel 7, the role of the hasidim and maskilim, and the central and grounding function of Daniel’s prayer of confession in Daniel 9.
The One like a Son of Man
“As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him.” (Dan 7:13, NRSV)
Daniel 7 is the first, most important and influential of Daniel’s apocalyptic visions. It also provides us with one of the most used (and abused?) phrases in the entire book. The appearance of the “one like a human being”, or more often referred to as the “one like a son of man”, is open to varied interpretation and is quickly grabbed up by some Christian readers and interpreters to be a prophecy of Jesus Christ. In the vision of Dan 7 following the introduction of the four beasts representing four kingdoms we have a heavenly court scene and the “Ancient of Days” pronounces judgment and removes dominion from the beasts. While not of prime importance for this study it should be noted that there is never a need for actual battle in this judgment scene. Simply sitting on the thrown and pronouncing judgment ends the reign of the beasts. As well the “one like a son of man” who shall shortly make an appearance is not here shown as the savior. This figure didn’t win or even fight a battle against the beasts. Rather the figure appears to sit in judgment before the “Ancient of Days” just as the beasts did, only this one will be reckoned righteous and given dominion over an eternal kingdom of God. The fallen “beastly” kingdoms replaced by eternal “human” kingdom. This is still God’s kingdom, but that kingdom has also been given over to “human” stewardship.
There are many better places to trace the various interpretations of this particular line and the continued use of it in the remainder of Dan 7, particularly the references to the “holy ones” in Dan 7:18, 22, 25 and the “people of the holy ones” in Dan 7:27. J.J. Collins provides a good analysis in his article, The Son of Man and the Saints of the Most High in the Book of Daniel. There he argues that the best interpretation is, “that the ‘one like a son of man’ in Daniel 7 symbolizes primarily the angelic host and its leader but also the faithful Jews in so far as they are associated with the heavenly host in the eschatological era”. Such an interpretation fits with reading “one like a son of man” as one who stands as a single figure representing a larger corporate identity. This figure thus understood is less a single messianic figure as it is the host of faithful ones who will inherit dominion from the “Ancient of Days”. While Collins stresses that it seems to make sense that the “holy ones” are angelic beings, he also allows that they are identified through Dan 7:27 with the faithful remnant of Israel. I push further than Collins and say that rather than angelic hosts it is primarily faithful Israel as led by the wise, the remnant, that Daniel understands to be represented by the “one like a son of man”. Even Collins notes that the language of Dan 12 pushes us to a fair reading in this direction because, “we have seen in Dan 12 that the just would be elevated to join the stars after the final judgment, either interpretation may appear appropriate. In either case, the people share in the kingdom of the angels, and so the interpretation in Dan 7:27 is merely a spelling out of the human dimension of the more complete reality mentioned in the vision in verse 22 and in the interpretation in verse 18.”
Furthermore, as I will continue to develop, I think Daniel is intending a prophetic call to faithfulness. As the “one like a son of man” stands before God’s throne, Israel stands in judgment before God. As this figure is given dominion, reckoned righteous before God, so will Israel, or her faithful remnant, be given dominion. Here the very language of Genesis is repeated as humanity, mixed in with a fair bit of Danielic heavenly host, again becomes steward of God’s kingdom. Of prime importance, however, is that this text reads as a call to make sure that the reader is on the path of righteousness. In a world of beasts: be human. In fact, the very humanized imagery of angels throughout Daniel seems to be a glorification of humanity, in so far as humanity aspires to truly be human. One is reminded of Nebuchadnezzar.
While the words were still in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven: “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: The kingdom has departed from you! You shall be driven away from human society, and your dwelling shall be with the animals of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like oxen, and seven times shall pass over you, until you have learned that the Most High has sovereignty over the kingdom of mortals and gives it to whom he will. (Dan 4:31-32)
Nebuchadnezzar aspires to be more than human and so is struck down and becomes less than human. To take this argument a step further for those who stress the angelic nature of this “one like a son of man” I would note that if this is in fact the intended reading this figure is a rather plain angelic figure for Daniel. Contrast the descriptive language of angelic visitor in Dan 10, “I looked up and saw a man clothed in linen, with a belt of gold from Uphaz around his waist. His body was like beryl, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and the sound of his words like the roar of a multitude.” (Dan 10:5-6)
On this point Eugene E. Lemcio notes that in the old Greek language of Daniel a proper translation gives us more a sense of “frail human” then simply human being. “Rather, it is an idiom of choice for conveying the specialized meaning of ‘frail human’ or ‘vulnerable human’. Although some have argued that ‘son of man’ in 7:13 refers to an angel, this is definitely not the case in 8:17. However, even if the former is an angelic figure, the question remains, what kind of human features did he have?” Lemcio’s argument has a flavor of authenticity in that it is, as he notes, “the theological point that it is to people in such circumstances that God grants political power and prophetic insight.” The theological point made is that this figure does not get dominion because of person strength, but through righteousness and because “God gives”.
The “one like a son of man” comes into the court, stands before the throne on behalf of Israel, and as Israel inherits God’s kingdom. This one is now the one to whom God gives, only now it is eternal kingdom. Daniel calls out to his people to not simply take heart that God is Most High and Sovereign God of all creation, but also to take heart and live accordingly so that they worthy of representation in the “one like a son of man”. Compare for instance the language of Zechariah and the high priest Joshua coming before the throne for judgment and being cleansed of his “dirty clothes” and reckoned righteous in the eyes of God. He is then told, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: If you will walk in my ways and keep my requirements, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here”. (Zech 3:7 NRSV) Daniel’s scene takes a similar role but now the call to “walk in my ways” is for the whole remnant of Israel who shall share in the dominion of the “one like a son of man”. Daniel speaks out to his people amidst a succession of human empires and now with social, financial, and political pressure to conform to pluralistic Hellenized society Daniel offers a different testimony. He offers a figure of righteousness that advocates for, and represents, Israel. As such Daniel encourages his fellow Jews not to turn away from their essential identity as people of God – “people of the holy ones of the Most High”.
Hasidim and Maskilim
“He shall seduce with intrigue those who violate the covenant; but the people who are loyal to their God shall stand firm and take action. The wise among the people shall give understanding to many.” (Dan 11:32-33a)
If Daniel is speaking most directly to the Jews under the Seleucid Empire under the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, than he is not only speaking to a context of Hellenization. He also speaks to Hellenizing efforts that involve violent attempts to convert the Jews away from their Jewish identity. Daniel speaks to outright contest of faith, to a people witnessing yet another desecration of the temple, and some of the first religious persecution as Antiochus seems to desire to get Jews to stop being Jewish. In response to this dilemma C.L. Seow notes that two particular responses emerged for faithful Jews were practiced. One is that of the hasidim. This group of people are linked to a group within the Maccabean revolt and are likely the referent of Daniel 11:32 as those who “stand firm and take action.” The hasidim are mentioned three time in 1 and 2 Maccabees and were likely “a party of scribes (1 Macc 7:12-42) whose motivation was strict fidelity to the law (1 Macc 2:42). They were prepared to fight for the law, when necessary and when permitted by the law itself… they were prepared to lay down arms at the prospect of a legitimate high-priest who could remove the religious abuses of the Hellenizers.” Thus the hasidim, while a part of the Maccabean revolt, are a party that seems to take up arms only in the face of true identity crisis and were quick to lay down arms when identity was no longer at stake.
An alternate approach, and the group for which Daniel likely speaks, is the maskilim, the “wise among the people”. This group appears to offer counsel for fidelity to God, and takes strength in God’s sovereign presence, but stops short of violent response. This is noted by Seow who concludes “insufficient evidence is available to conclude that these people were strictly pacifists, but they did seem to respond to the crisis not with force but with quiet manifestations of faithfulness.” And of them Collins notes:
The mythological symbolism of the visions of Daniel is designed to inspire active but non-militant resistance. The maskilim are not said to fight. The warfare is left to Michael and to God. The maskilim play their part by their suffering and teaching. In ch. 7 the entire conflict is resolved by judgment. The symbolism of the visions does not encourage zealotry. Rather, it provides a framework within which the wise man does not need to fight, but can express his resistance to the power of the king by non-compliance with his orders, and endurance of whatever suffering results. The mythic patterns assure the wise man that there is a meaning in life even in the darkest crisis.
Thus the hasidim and the maskilim prove to be two groups whose focus is on fidelity to God and God’s way – the way of wisdom. They differ in that the hasidim appear willing, in moments permitted by the law, to take up arms. The idea of the wise as faithful Jewish remnant figures prominently throughout the book of Daniel. The first six chapters of historical court stories serve almost as a prelude to establish the wisdom of Daniel. In Daniel is found one who is the epitome of the wise. In Dan 1 he stays true to his Jewish identity. In Dan 2 he is wiser than wise, through the power of the Most High, as he reveals both dream and interpretation. In Dan 3 his friends show willingness to die for their faithfulness. In Dan 4 Nebuchadnezzar relates his own experience and while we see Daniel as agent of wisdom here Nebuchadnezzar is also offered as counter-point to wisdom – the folly of hubris. In Dan 5 again Daniel is praised for wisdom but even more to our point Daniel is not only able to interpret but willing to give damning interpretation in the very court of the King whose demise he reveals. In Dan 6 it is now Daniel who is willing to put life and limb on the line for his fidelity to God.
Wisdom is the key attribute for Daniel. The emerging character trait of wisdom is a recognition that in God alone should trust and faith be placed. This is true even, and especially, in a world in which such trust leads at best to ridicule in the courts and at worst to a sentence of death. Furthermore in a world of competing voices, of temptations from the Emperor himself, the wise give understanding and point the way to turn to, and back to, God. And so in the culminating eschatological event of Dan 12 it is the wise that again get mention as, “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” (Dan 12:3) The wise are prized for their role in leading others to wisdom and righteousness. However the dilemma remains, do the wise actually risk faithfulness?
On this point the best work I have encountered and find as an essential insight to reading Daniel is Richard Horsley’s book Revolt of the Scribes. Horsley’s approach and thesis is that “apocalyptic” is a scribal resistance to imperial power complicated by their status as “in the middle” between a priestly aristocracy and the masses to whom the scribes bear responsibility as holders of the traditions and covenantal faithfulness. “Prominent priestly aristocrats had not only acquired a desire to participate in the broader Hellenistic imperial culture, but they had learned how to maneuver in imperial politics for position and power.” In this system a middle class of scribes found themselves financially dependent to the priestly aristocrats. These scribes were very learned “wise men” of the Jews, but torn between their responsibility for covenantal faithfulness and the well being of their lives and status of living. Horsley contends that in such an environment a way of faithfulness became the development and use of apocalyptic voice. That apocalyptic literature is in fact these scribes speaking to one another, and their fellow Jews, in texts like the book of Daniel exhorting each other to faithfulness. There are many convincing ways to understand Daniel as operating in this way. I will digress for a moment to note an example of how such a reading works with the book of Daniel.
In the history section of Dan 1-6 a reading in line with Horsley’s thesis appears to be very authentic to the voice of the text in these continuing court dramas. While kings play roles in the six encounters experienced by Daniel and his three friends, equally prominent is the consistent antagonistic presence of the Babylonian wise men: the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans. The audience of Daniel is not one of Babylonian exiles, and the court intrigue of those exilic times is not what is at stake. If we read this with Horsley’s thesis in mind – that these are stories to promote faithfulness in the tension of covenant identity in opposition to prosperous imperial life – it would be an easy jump to imagine that a scribal reader could see in these court contests illusions to their own situation and tensions. This seems clear in Dan 1 and his resistance to eating the food of the Babylonian court. Daniel is willing to undergo Babylonian education, receives a Babylonian name, and yet says that there is a line that he and his friends, out of faithfulness, cannot cross. I immediately read this and imagine the scribes of second century Jerusalem being asked to consider where that line is. Furthermore later court intrigue stories will offer encouragement that standing one’s ground on the “right” side of the line offers support from God and even triumph over the opposition.
As well if we look at Dan 5 and the interpretation of the writing on the wall we can ask the question do the wise men of Babylon know the meaning of the writing or not? There is nothing particularly cryptic to the translation as presented in the vision. The jump from the meaning of the words and Daniel’s resulting interpretation is large, but not I would imagine insurmountable for this collection of Imperial wise men. If we take the opinion that they may have known the meaning, why does no one but Daniel speak? Again the reality of personal well being rears its head. Speaking means telling the king that he is unjust and his kingdom is about to come to an end. Speaking likely means losing favor with the king and quite possibly worse. However, Daniel is rewarded as was promised, despite his protest earlier not to receive reward. Daniel the humble, the wise, and the faithful wins yet another court contest. The message is delivered to the wise – seek not your own well being but the well being of Israel and covenantal faithfulness to our God.
Read thus we can see that a strong and constant agenda for Daniel is calling the very teachers of wisdom to faithfulness. The lifting up of the wise and their righteousness is as much a point of rhetoric saying in almost Pauline fashion, “if we will stay true to God and give faithful voice to God in our counsel and the day-to-day living of our lives then we shall lead others to righteousness with us, and we will inherit God’s kingdom being raised up even from death as angel’s in God’s eschatological kingdom.” In such a reading the ambivalence of Daniel to the way of the hasidim versus the way of the maskilim makes sense. Both ways are ways of wisdom and we are not in an argument about non-violence, but an argument and exhortation to faithfulness. It is as if Daniel speaks to the other wise men of the Babylonian court (and as such I mean his fellow Jews) saying, ‘when you see the writing on the wall you have to interpret its meaning for the world, even when such an act leads to suffering or death.’
Prayer and Confession in Daniel 9
“We did not entreat the favor of the LORD our God, turning from our iniquities and reflecting on God’s fidelity.” (Daniel 9:13b, NRSV)
In Dan 9 the prayer sits at the heart of the book, and Dan 9:13 sits at the heart of the prayer. This prayer is our window into what truly troubles Daniel. However scholars have long debated the authenticity of the prayer. Daniel’s prayer is found in Dan 9 in the second half of the book which is commonly understood to be the apocalyptic half following the court stories. This half contains visions and dreams and now Daniel, the interpreter of such events in the first half, requires heavenly interpreters for his own visionary and dream encounters. The ninth chapter sits between the first two revelations and the final revelation unit contained in Dan 10-12. Within Dan 9 the prayer sits bookmarked between two events. Prior to the prayer is a recounting of Daniel reading of Jeremiah’s prophesy for the restoration of Israel in the seventieth year while he is himself located in the reign of Darius (more likely Cyrus of Persia) the Mede. Following the prayer is a visitation with the angel Gabriel who brings a word of interpretation about the seventy years. This locates Daniel still in exile for while it is no longer the oppressive exile of Babylon it is nevertheless not home, and in the court of a foreign power and it was at a time that would have been either near, or passed, the date of the predicted restoration of the temple.
Many scholars have long said that this is prayer is a departure of form within the larger book. We have no vision, dream, or heavenly journey as would be expected of apocalyptic literature but rather we have a lengthy prayer of confession followed by a revelatory interpretation. The style of the Hebrew is more regular and pure than that of the surrounding material in Daniel, the Hebrew of Daniel has many “aramaisms” that denote either an author equally conversant in both languages whose Hebrew has adopted Aramaic ways, or that the material might even be Aramaic originals translated back into Hebrew.
Without going into too many details C. L. Seow makes some excellent arguments that while the quality of the Hebrew is different the wording and thematic movement of the prayer, Dan 9:3-19/20, are consistent with the material of Dan 9 surrounding it Dan 9:1-2, 21-27 in ways that are unique to this chapter of Daniel. The actual naming of Jerusalem, the use of the words for supplication, desolation, the admissions of iniquities and promised atonement, and finally the oath and decree of being “poured out” all exists in both the prayer and non-prayer sections of Dan 9, but not in other places in Daniel. This suggests either originality of a whole, or that the prayer was clearly in the mind of the author while writing Dan 9.
In a separate way of addressing the issue, and even more convicting in my opinion W. Sibley Towner says of the debate on the prayer’s originality.
This, in fact, a number of scholars have done. (Made the case that the prayer is not original to the text.) Von Gall was the first to argue the case against the authenticity of the prayer, and he has been followed by, among others, Baumgartner, Heaton, Bentzen, Charles, and Ginsberg. Although I tend to agree with the formal arguments of Plöger and the rhetorical and stylistic observations of B. W. Jones on behalf of the originality of the prayer, it is not necessary that I take a position on the question because I am interested primarily in the internal dynamics of the canonical biblical text as it now stands. The fact is that someone (whether the writer of Dan. 7-12 himself or a later editor) saw a significant relationship between the penitential prayer of Daniel and the eschatological midrash on Jer. 25:1 which occupies the rest of ch. 9.
Lastly, the whole coherence of the book of Daniel as one literary unit is under question. Since it is not determinable that any of these chapters are original to each other the whole idea that Dan 9 would be an addition, and that this would be a unique problem, is of strange concern to an informed reader of Daniel.
With questions of authenticity aside it becomes even more important to address the complaint that this is the wrong prayer. That if Daniel is confused or dismayed by what he has read in the first part of the chapter he ought to pray for illumination, not a prayer of confession. I always find it interesting when we decide biblical writers, or even redactors, did something wrong. Do we presume to know God better, them better, or their context better than they did? Sitting in Daniel myself I am struck that in a book entirely about the sovereignty of God juxtaposed to the false pride of empires and kings confession is the natural and right environment not only of every prayer, but of every act and state of being.
Elaborating on this trajectory it has been noted that the prayer is largely ignored by the angel and the theology of the prayer denied both by the response in the later part of nine and throughout the book of Daniel. The idea that the prayer is ignored seems unfounded. If Daniel was formulaically apocalyptic it would be imagined that it would be ignored as irrelevant to a fixed course of history. However I do not find that this is what the text suggests,
He (Gabriel) came and said to me, “Daniel, I have now come out to give you wisdom and understanding. 23 At the beginning of your supplications a word went out, and I have come to declare it, for you are greatly beloved. So consider the word and understand the vision: 24 “Seventy weeks are decreed for your people and your holy city: to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. (Dan 9:22-24)
The angel has heard the prayer, and while the response predates the hearing, Daniel’s penitence is noted and loved, and God is clearly addressing transgression, sin, and righteousness as well as the turning of God’s face to the temple. Elsewhere in Daniel while the focus is on God, the faithfulness of the “people of the Holy Ones of Israel” is, as I have already noted, not a forgotten element. Particularly looking back to the vision of Dan 7 with its vision of the heavenly court and the figures of the beasts, the “one like a son of man”, the “Holy Ones of the Most High”, and the “people of the Holy Ones of the Most High” all of whom either directly (or by association) stand in judgment before the “Ancient of Days”. As well, faithfulness is relevant in the vision of Dan 11:32-35 with its talk of those who are seduced to iniquity in contrast to the hasidim and maskilim. And lastly in Dan 12:1-3 we get a sense of judgment with an evaluation of the “righteousness” of humanity which would seem then to greatly encourage, not just Daniel to pray confession before the Most High, but all peoples.
In Dan 7 we spoke of the “one like a son of man” as representational for the faithful of Israel. In this prayer it seems it is now Daniel that serves as exemplary figure. Daniel demonstrates the position of the wise and the righteous. Rodney Werline notes that the prayer is not in fact very clear about what sins have been committed, with one particular exception. “In the confession in v. 13, the author lists a specific failure: the people do not “ponder” God’s truth… “to ponder” is a key term in Daniel. Other passages in Daniel employ the noun form of this word in order to identify the Danielic apocalyptic circle; the member function in the role of maskilim.” At prayer Daniel models faithful response to contested sovereignty, turning to God and pondering God’s truth. And just as the “one like a son of man” stood in place for all of Israel in Daniel’s prayer it is Daniel who stands in our place. Here is what we are to be, and are to do. In open and honest reflection Daniel bears his heart before God, he bears the heart of Israel before God. “Incline your ear, O my God, and hear. Open your eyes and look at our desolation and the city that bears your name. We do not present our supplication before you on the ground of our righteousness, but on the ground of your great mercies.” (Dan 9:18)
Walter Brueggemann makes two additional and important claims of the text. The first is that the prayer turns in the second half to ask God’s mercy since we will always fail to keep covenant. Thus even in the prayer of confession there is not the sense that we make ourselves right through confession but an entreaty to a sovereign God to make it right for us, since we cannot. So rather than wait for us to turn back to God, God is asked to turn back to us. And it is done so in bold hope. “Thus the prayer proposes that for Israel to have a future, YHWH must be willing to relinquish the past that is such an affront to YHWH. Daniel prayed in daring faith, but of course he did not know of the divine response he would receive, because YHWH is not an automaton. YWHW is a free agent, and so Israel prays always in hope.”
In a book of grand cosmic vision the prayer brings us back to the ground, and in it we cannot help but be placed “in the thick of things”. This is not simply cosmic battle, but people’s lives. This is not simply priestly theological dilemma but the stuff of the lives of everyone from king to priest to merchant to farmer to slave. Placed “on the ground” apocalyptic fervor doesn’t simply become about “the kingdom that is coming” but the “kingdom that is here”. As Sibley Towner puts it:
focused not on judgment but upon the nearness of the Kingdom of God. My treatment of the status of the concept of divine retribution in Dan. 7-12 suggests the possible existence in first century Judaism of a line of thought which, though full of eschatological enthusiasm, rejoiced less in the judgmental aspect of the eschaton than in the conviction of its (God’s Kingdom’s) nearness and greatness.
I have growing conviction that when you read this text in light of the passages mentioned earlier (the court scene of Dan 7, and Dan 11; 12 with its talk of the workings of the hasidim and maskilim) this prayer sits very naturally in an agenda of Daniel to exhort his people to faithfulness. If the “one like a son of man” stands in judgment as representative of the people of Israel to be judged as fitting or not to have a dominion without end then the people, “people of the Holy Ones of the Most High”, must “turn back” to their God. This is the call of the prayer, it is the answer of the purpose of the 70 years (weeks of years) that Gabriel brings to Daniel, and it is the exhortation of Daniel over and over, through court stories, kingly humiliations, and final declarations of Israel’s patron angel Michael, “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” (Dan 12:3)
“I heard but could not understand; so I said, “My lord, what shall be the outcome of these things?” He said, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are to remain secret and sealed until the time of the end. Many shall be purified, cleansed, and refined, but the wicked shall continue to act wickedly. None of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand.” (Dan 12:8-10)
The book of Daniel’s later half gives us grand and confusing images, impossible and yet intriguing numbers, and dire portents and predictions. Daniel, the utmost of the wise, is left unable to understand what he has seen. Daniel, the figure of faithful strength is sent not simply to his knees but lying face to the ground. “Then I heard the sound of his words, I fell into a trance, face to the ground. But then a hand touched me and roused me to my hands and knees.” (Dan 10:9-10) God picks Daniel up, God gives Daniel strength and vision and interpretation. God gives. This is the two fold window into the world the book of Daniel offers. That God gives and God is sovereign over all creation. But also that God’s gift is received by those who are attending to the presence of God in their lives, to those like Daniel who “ponder God’s truth”. From the heart of the prayer in Dan 9 and moving out in revelatory circles we see the wisdom of God’s way, of God’s Kingdom, come to the forefront of a book that is not ultimately about eschatological kingdom, but the faithfulness of God’s people for their stewardship (dominion) of God’s Kingdom.
The way of the wise then becomes the way of discipleship, forever pondering God’s truth and God’s presence. When the angel responds to Daniel’s question by saying, “Go your way”, the angel is saying forget all these numbers. Forget everything. Remember only that God is in control and the end of evil and human brokenness is set in God’s time just as the fully revealed establishment of God’s Kingdom is not in doubt. But for Daniel, this is too much. For Daniel the angel simply says, “Go your way.” And we know Daniel’s way. Daniel’s way is a way of penitential prayer. Daniel’s way is the way of wisdom, of standing true to God when the world around seeks to entice you to turn away. Daniel’s way is way of Israel as God’s people, God’s holy ones who have been set apart as a witness and testimony of God’s power and might, and God’s mercy and love. So it is no surprise that Luke and other Gospel’s will follow Qumran traditions and begin to read the “one like a son of man” as a messianic figure, and for their own confessions and proclamations, as Jesus Christ. I hardly have to note the dominant trend in current scholarship that now understands that what Daniel meant generically to say “human being” in this line “one like a son of man” was used in later apocalyptic and near-apocalyptic texts as title for a role, Son of Man. This title becomes picked up by the Gospel writers. In the Gospels the savior, the messiah, is the Son of Man. But this savior is also one who represents true humanity; one who neither attempts to ascend to heaven in God’s place nor descend to the “animal” as less than God has created us to be.
Maurice Casey provides us work that would make it quite reasonable to claim that even as the Son of Man has become messianic title, there is still a working understanding of the corporate identify of the “one like a son of man” in Jewish circles at the time of Jesus. So even as we note the way Jesus will inherit a title of the Son of Man that has altered the Daniel phrase from its original intent, it also still makes sense to think that early Christians could draw on the idea of Jesus as standing in judgment as representative man on behalf of all humanity, or at the least faithful believers. So the move then to understanding the faithful as the Body of Christ has theological foundations available to it in Daniel’s vision, just as the concept of dominion in God’s eternal kingdom in the book of Daniel provides ground for Jesus sayings about the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven. Israel is represented in “the one like a son of man” and so too are Christians represented in Jesus. And just as God is known by those who “bear your name” and God’s kingdom is ruled by “people of the holy ones of the Most High” so is Christ known by those who make up his body, who bear his name: Christians. I do not here make a claim that Daniel serves as predictive prophesy. I do not think it is, and I do not read Dan 7:13 as talking about Christ. It does however provide fertile soil for understanding Christ in the faith tradition of the first Jewish-Christians. It also provides us an important resource for understanding our own discipleship to Christ.
Daniel has pointed us to the way of faithfulness in exile. And the similarities of our own contemporary context of discipleship and Daniel’s day are many. Kierkegaard believed that his fellow Danish Christians, and all of Christendom, were living a lie. He believed that their lie need to be unveiled and revealed from within in order that they might be able to see their lack of faith and turn back to God. Kierkegaard follows, in his own way, the footsteps of Daniel. He ponders God’s word, he reveals our “empires” for the fallen kingdoms that they are, and removes the masks from our own lives. Then like Daniel, in his own way, he endeavors to similarly unveil God’s kingdom, God’s way, that we might faithfully turn and follow it. Like Daniel, and Kierkegaard, and the progression of prophets whose tradition they belong to, we also have some unveiling to do.
We too are exiles, not from Jerusalem but from God’s kingdom. We are those who long to be at home in God. In Daniel we are offered a way to just such a home. God’s kingdom which isn’t only eschatological but exists in contested ways even now is available to those who ponder it, follow it, dare to live it. And while it is without a doubt that doing actually doing this is beyond our ability, it is also true that for those who endeavor to faithfully attempt it, God gives.
We too live in a time of empire. Here our situation is reversed, for the vast majority of us are not mere participants in Empire, but we are the Empire. This presents us with a challenge. There is nothing necessarily anything inherently evil with empires. The Bible never says all kingdoms are bad. In fact in Daniel we are given witness to a kingdom that is good – God’s kingdom. The problem is that all our current empires, time after time in the biblical narrative, end up that being oppressive and turning from God’s way. Empire’s end up being less than human as they take away from human dignity and covenantal faithfulness. This is even true of the kingdom of Israel. However, Daniel does not invite us to cast down empires. He participates in Babylonian empire. He follows in the advice of Jeremiah, “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jer 29:7) But he also reminds us that we must take care not to do this in ways that comprise our identity as God’s people. In our lives social, economic, and political advancement places us “in the middle” in just the same way as second temple scribes. On a daily, even hourly, basis we are tested with choices of identity – shall we eat the food of the Babylonian court? We are tested with fidelity – shall we trust in God rather than our own strength to secure tomorrow? We are tested with truth – are we willing to proclaim the writing on the wall? Not at church, mind you, but at home, at work, at school, on the football field, at the city council, in foreign policy, and at play with our friends in the backyard. Pondering God’s truth is hard enough; living by it is beyond us. And once again we are reminded, God gives.
We too are subject to forces beyond our control. Human sin, evil, broken creation, all of these rain down suffering and pain on our lives. We know what it is to be reduced to lying prostate face to the ground before the horrors of this world. We know the struggle of proclaiming good news, God’s sovereignty and God’s love when the overwhelming testimony of the world is to darkness and despair. In such times affirming that God is in control, pondering God’s truth, feels hollow, dangerous, and hurtful. It is beyond us. And yet, we are reminded, God gives.
This is the message of Daniel. God is in control. God is loving and powerful. And God has called us to faithfulness; God has called us to inherit stewardship and dominion of God’s kingdom. We, like Daniel before, must answer that call. We must ponder God’s truth. In very practical ways this means we must sit at the feet of truth, sit at the feet of God’s word, sit at the feet of Christ. In pondering these things, in living in the text, in deep conversation with God, in following in ways of Christ, being Christ we live into our identity as God’s good creations and God’s holy children. When we live in, and out of, our true identify in this way many of the hard choices of our lives disappear. The way forward becomes clear. We have no choice but to say no to the food of our own Babylonian courts. We have no choice but to speak truth with Daniel to the powers that be. We have no choice but to stop with the Samaritan and love our neighbor – even when our neighbor looks conspicuously like those we have chosen as enemies. For this reason Daniel sits, at the heart of his message, in fasting and sackcloth and having pondered God’s words and perceived a truth, moves to deep conversation with God. And it is in these deep conversations with God that Daniel discovers, time and again, that God gives. And as Daniel has done before us, we must turn to God, ponder God’s truth, attend to God presence and power, discover God’s gifts, and then “go your way”, God’s way, the way of the wise, the way of Danielic discipleship.
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Brueggemann, Walter. Great Prayers of the Old Testament. Louisville: Westminster John Knox
Casey, Maurice. 1976. “Corporate interpretation of “one like a son of man” (Dan 7:13) at the
time of Jesus.” Novum testamentum, 18 no 3 Jl, p 167-180.
Clements, Ronald. In Spirit and in Truth: Insights from Biblical Prayers. Atlanta: J. Knox Press,
Collins, John Joseph. 1974. “Son of Man and the saints of the Most High in the Book of Daniel.”
Journal of Biblical Literature 93, no. 1: 50-66.
_____. The Apocalyptic Vision of the Book of Daniel. Missoula: Scholars Press, 1977.
Horsley, Richard. Revolt of the Scribes. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010.
Jones, Bruce William . 1968. “Prayer in Daniel 9.” Vetus testamentum, 18 no 4 O, p 488-493.
Kee, Min Suc. 2007. “The heavenly council and its type-scene” Journal for the Study of the
Old Testament, 31 no 3 Mar, p 259-273.
Kuhn, Karl A. 2007. “The “one like a son of man” becomes the “son of God”.” Catholic
Biblical Quarterly, 69 no 1 Jan, p 22-42.
Lacocque, André . 1976. “Liturgical prayer in Daniel 9.” Hebrew Union College Annual, 47,
Lemcio, Eugene E. 2005. “’Son of man’, ‘pitiable man’, ‘rejected man’: equivalent expressions in
the Old Greek of Daniel.” Tyndale Bulletin, 56 no 1, p 43-60.
Miller, Patrick. They Cried to the Lord. Minneapolis : Fortress Press, 1994.
Redditt, Paul L. 2000. “Daniel 9 : Its Structure and Meaning.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 62
no 2, p 236-249.
Rhodes, Arnold B. 1961. “Kingdoms of men and the Kingdom of God : a study of Daniel
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Rosscup, James E. 1992. “Prayer relating to prophecy in Daniel 9.” Master’s Seminary Journal
3 no 1 Spr, p 47-71.
Seow, C.L. Daniel. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003.
Towner, W Sibley. 1971. “Retributional theology in the apocalyptic setting.” Union Seminary
Quarterly Review, Vol. XXVI No. 3 Spring, p. 203-214.
_____. Daniel. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1984.
Walker, William O. 1985. “Daniel 7:13-14.” Interpretation, 39 no 2 Ap, p 176-181.
Werline, Rodney. Penitential Prayer in Second Temple Judaism. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1998.
Wilson, Gerald H. 1990. “The prayer of Daniel 9 : reflection on Jeremiah 29.” Journal for the
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 Collins, J.J. “The Son of Man and Saints of the Most High in the Book of Daniel,” JBL 93, 1 (1974): 66.
 Collins, “Son of Man”, 62
 Lemcio, Eugene E. “’Son of man’, ‘pitiable man’, ‘rejected man’: equivalent expressions in the Old Greek of Daniel.” TynBul, 56 no 1, (2005.): 44.
 Lemcio, “Son of man”, 43.
 Seow, C.L. Daniel. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003): 180.
 Collins, J.J. The Apocalyptic Vision of the Book of Daniel. (Missoula: Scholars Press, 1977): 203.
 Seow, Daniel, 180-81.
 Collins, Apocalyptic Vision, 208.
 Horsley, Richard. Revolt of the Scribes. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010): 27.
 Seow, Daniel, 136-137.
 Towner, W Sibley. “Retributional theology in the apocalyptic setting.” USQR, Vol. XXVI No. 3 Spring, (1971): 208.
 Werline, Rodney. Penitential Prayer in Second Temple Judaism. (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1998): 73.
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 Towner, “Retributional”, 214.
 Casey, Maurice. 1976. “Corporate interpretation of “one like a son of man” (Dan 7:13) at the time of Jesus.” NovT, 18 no 3 Jl, p 167-180.
Psalm 22: “God, You gave me more than I can handle.”
#Ibroketherules #sodidGod #forsaken
Psalm 23: “Stop! Lie down! Rest! You’re welcome.”
Psalm 24: “We don’t own, we gratefully steward.”
Psalm 25: “Don’t forget yourself, God – be love.”
Psalm 26: “My only companion is my self-righteousness.”
#thisPsalmdoesntworkforme #stillspeakstohumanexperience #elderbrother
Psalm 27: “God overcomes fear… ‘God, …overcome fear?!?!'”
Psalm 28: “God perpetuates reform, breaking and building.”
Psalm 29: “God speaks more powerfully than calamity.”
Psalm 30: “Hell is God’s favorite fishing hole.”
Psalm 31: “Literally, nothing goes right. But love.”
Psalm 32: “Silence is fertile soil for sin.”
Continuing my morning devotional idea of putting in my own words a thread from a Psalm each morning in a short six-word phrase, here are Psalms 11-21. If you missed the first ten you can find them here.
Psalm 11: “God examines the heart for violence.”
Psalm 12: “We follow vileness and it proliferates.”
Psalm 13: “My soul bleeds unbandaged… how long???”
Psalm 14: “We are consumers of each other.”
Psalm 15: “Deeply root in self-giving not blaming.”
Psalm 16: “What god are you following today?”
Psalm 17: “Save us from hearts without pity.”
Psalm 18: “God does as you do… infinite-fold.”
Psalm 19: “Wherever there is, God is. Wonderful.”
Psalm 20: “Personal strength and independence inevitably fail.”
Psalm 21: “God’s strength inspires praise AND fear.”
“We Encounter the Empty Tomb”
Easter Sunday Sermon
By Rev. Dr. Andrew Kukla
(You can find a video of the sermon here.)
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
Its been a long week.
The Sanctuary we now sit in may look very much like it did last week but an entire story, that captures the story of all life, has played out here through the week and we have set, re-set, torn down, and set again the stage of that drama from Palm Sunday’s resistance crowds ready to crown a King to contest with Rome… to that same King getting on his hands and knees to wash our feet, break our bread, and weep over our fickle allegiance as he became forsaken, betrayed, denied, beaten, mocked, crucified, and dead, dead, dead….. laid away in a tomb and sealed off where no hope might come, walled away with the promises of abundant life sadly lacking.
And we had to sit and wait in that moment. We had to sit and wait in that despair. We had to sit and wonder “what next?” but with no one of whom to ask the question.
And as that reality was sinking in… just when a pair of sleepless nights yielded an excruciatingly early morning trip to the tomb that we might, at the very least, properly lay his body to rest… the whole world shakes and is turned on its head: because death – that one thing as sure and certain (and taxes of course – don’t forget to mail yours in by Tuesday) death that certainty to life was no longer a binding reality. A tomb unsealed… a given conclusion unreached… a hell traversed and emptied… a life sprung up a SECOND time. The rules are broken and God is on loose.
He is risen. He IS risen. HE IS RISEN!!
He is risen, indeed.
And now…. We take a nice picture with those deadly pungent but glamourous lilies all decked out in our Easter best… and we trudge home back to our daily grind. It is good, Palm Sunday was spot on after all, we just hit the reset button on the week and we are situation normal and all is well? That’s what this is about, right?
I’m a bit of a Star Wars fan. Ok… I’m not convention nut level of fan, but I’m a bit more than just a fan. After all how many people have a life-sized Yoda statue in their house? Trust me if you are going to do life-sized character statue Yoda is a way better call than Chewbacca. But if you remember the first movie… you know, the one that is now the fourth movie. Star Wars: A New Hope. Where it all because… until we went further back and re-began it.
Anyway, a scene comes to mind just now when they are in the Death Star trying to rescue Princess Leia. And they storm the detention block (fancy word for jail) and having shot or knocked out all the guards Han Solo sends Luke to get the princess while he deals with the alarm that is going off and speaking into the microphone he says:
“Ah, ah, everythings under control, situation normal.”
“Ah, we had a slight weapons malfunction but everything is fine here now, we’re fine, we’re all fine here now, thank you. How are you?”
“We’re sending a squad up.”
“Negative. Negative. We have a reactor leak here now. Give us a few minutes to lock it down. Ah, large leak, very dangerous.”
“Who is this? What is your operating number.”
Han blows up the microphone: “Boring conversation anyway. LUKE! We’re gonna have company.”
Luke! We’re going to have company. You can say that again!
So here are these women… standing next to the guards, and an earthquake occurs, the stone rolls away, the body is gone, the guards go catatonic, and an angel pops in and sits on the tomb and says: yah, ah, don’t be afraid, everything is normal. We’re fine here now, thank you. And then a moment later, “now go tell Luke y’all are gonna have some company. (The y’all is on account of everyone knows that angels have southern accents… also no idea why Luke didn’t include this Star Wars encounter in his Gospel.)
As awesome as this news is you have to imagine in the hasty rush of all that happens after that earthquake NOTHING is normal. Nothing will seem normal ever again. And they have to feel a little bit like their scrambling now to make sense of it even as they immediately run off to make sense of it for other people… for ALL people.
But really… what just happened? What IS going on? And just how bad – or good – is this reactor leak after all.
I do love the week we just went through. I like it fully, darkly, and in its full height, depth, and width. I don’t love it because it feels good. I don’t love it because it’s easy. I love it because most of the time we are all supposed to act like everything is “just fine”. And in this week we get painfully, brutally, and vulnerably honest. Honest about disappointment. Honest about self-giving service. Honest about the consequences of playing with rules of love rather than war. Honest about death and fear among us. Honest heartache and despair. And God leads us into that honesty, demonstrates the extent God is willing to go for the sake of love and gives us the greatest gift of all… the life of the Son and Savior of the World… broken and poured out for us.
Jewish writer Etty Hillesum wrote a diary much like Anne Frank but she was in her late 20s and it chronicled her two years in Aushwitz before being killed in 1943. In her diaries, named An Interrupted Life, she writes about the power of integrating death into life.
“The eventuality (or possibility) of death, has been integrated into my life. I can now look at death in its face and accept its a part of my life, and in that way, I enlarge life. On the opposite to sacrifice today to fear of death, to sacrifice a bit of life because of this fear and with refusal to accept it, it’s the best way of just holding on to a tiny bit little bit of life which hardly merits the name of life. That seems paradoxical, to exclude death from life is to sacrifice a complete life, and yet to welcome it is to enlarge and enrich life.” (Etty Hillesum, The Interrupted Life: Diaries from Auschwitz 1941-1943)
A have a deep affinity for this reflection, as I heard these words this week it grabbed me: to enlarge life we need to stop excluding death from it. We need to listen to the angels tell us, again and again, to not be afraid. To embrace the risk and consequences of living boldly because it’s ok to be sacrificed, killed even, for the sake of life… but never to sacrifice life for the sake of death. Etty learns that in the concentration camp and hearing her words I see them in the story of God whose interrupted life became an interrupted death.
A God who is hurt, and who hurts for us. A God who gets frustrated, tired, lost, angry – a God who turns over tables and who goes to bat for criminals, heretics, and ostracized unclean nameless women. A God who offensively won’t compromise the grandness of the Kingdom vision founded on non-violence, love, self-giving service, and forgiveness… and yet whose humility will ensure that the only one who pays the price for that high standard is God’s self alone. A God who dared infancy, adolescence, scorn, disbelief and betrayal, and then the very depth of hell itself. A God who never allowed death to make sure God settled for so small a piece of life that it doesn’t merit the name. A God who was broken, and whose heart breaks for the world…. But who did not stay that way.
He is risen! He is risen, indeed.
In Jesus Christ we meet God willing to pay all the consequences of living a way of idealism that “doesn’t work”, of being intentionally naive, a way of turning the other cheek because a life founded in Kingdom-vision of humble, steadfast love born on the back of a million fallible servants unsure if they are doing it right can actually work, as foolish as it sounds. It does work – this week attests to – and it is worth dying for! In resurrection, THIS God puts the world on notice: that the Empires of our world who insist that scarcity is real, death is all-powerful, and military might and production dominance is the only way to secure life is a false god… a tiny bit of life hardly meriting the name of life. And it is not worth dying for.
There is an ancient tradition of the harrowing of hell. I’m acquainted with it because often people ask me, “why do Presbyterians add that Jesus descended into hell?” And I tell them actually we are the one that didn’t remove that tradition – it is ancient. The belief is that once dead Jesus descended into hell – the place of God-forsakenness. And that descending to that final pit God and God’s grace manifested in the very place defined by God-forsakenness… and thus now NO PLACE is without the love and mercy of God. When Jesus rises, then, he does not rise alone… but all of hell is cleansed and emptied and hell itself rises to abundant life.
The tomb isn’t empty because Jesus isn’t in it. The tomb is emptied because Jesus demonstrates that the powers of death and fear are defeated and hollowed out… and in its place we find life – abundant life – love and justice overflowing. And this is not news to take a selfie with… this is not news to sit on and figure out… this is news to get out and share. God is on the loose… life is rising in the place of death… get on board and spread the word.
So what are you going to do tomorrow? What Galilee is God calling you to? How are you sharing life, growing the Kingdom and meeting God at work in the world? Because nothing is normal. Nothing is the same. And everything is pregnant with the awe and wonder of Divine love.
Friends, he isn’t risen alone. We are risen – go, tell, live that story this day, and forevermore.
Thanks be to God.
I started a short morning devotional idea of putting to my own words a thread from a Psalm each morning in a short six word phrase. Obviously they capture only a part of the voice but it makes me listen for what thread feels “most important” to me this day. I could do the same Psalms over and over again with a new phrase because they are infinite threads in the tapestry… and so could you. I started at 1 (a very good place to start) and so far I am up to 10. You can follow them on FB with the hashtag #Psalmsin6words because I forget to to tweet… ever, or I will do a retrospective every 10 days or so here to keep them somewhat together. Here are the last 10 days:
Psalm 1: “Roots mirror their soil; plant wisely”
Psalm 2: “Nations seek greatness; steadfast love endures.”
Psalm 3: “God’s dead, they say… Alternative facts.”
Psalm 4: “When all is deception; seek silence.”
Psalm 5: “Sigh! Cry! Plead! Marinate in Love.”
Psalm 6: “Dry-heaving tears without end… God?”
Psalm 7: “Not just what, but how, matters.”
Psalm 8: “Everything is awesome; keep it so.”
Psalm 9: “Be a herald of steadfast love.”
Psalm 10: “God, you need to adult today!”
**Each week we are following up the sermon theme for our lenten series, Hitchhiking with Jesus, with a devotional that continues the thought of the sermon. They will make sense without the sermon but if you missed it and wish to watch you can always catch them on our YouTube page here along with anthems and next week’s sermon teaser.****
Years ago, I read a thought on forgiveness from John Patton (formerly a pastoral care professor at Columbia Theological Seminary) that used the metaphor of a being an air traffic controller. All the things we are carrying with us: the worries, the slights, grievances, shame, guilt… all if it, they are all like airplanes circling our brain. The more “junk” that is circling the more energy we are investing just keeping it all from colliding and crashing. It becomes a full-time job just to maintain it all… energy that would better be served elsewhere creating, fostering, and celebrating life.
In this scenario forgiving someone, forgiving yourself, and allowing grace into the equation, is the equivalent of landing an airplane so we don’t have to keep it going and can let it rest in peace. The regular practice of such forgiveness and grace allows us to stop living life backward in maintaining a set of things to which we are beholden and which suck the life from our present and future. Thus forgiveness, in this understanding, isn’t simply about what we owe (or should do) for the other. It’s something we owe ourselves: an unburdening of self. Remember, Jesus said, “I come to give you life, and life abundantly.”
As we are hitchhiking with Jesus we are invited to drop go our nets and follow. We are invited to sell off possessions, drop oppressive labels and expectations, and yes – even traditions and ‘ways of being’ that may once have been helpful but have become masters of our daily routines. We are called to drop them all. Land the planes… and move into the future with the freedom Christ offers us.
What are you carrying? What weighs you down? What anchors you to death? What planes are you keeping aloft at the cost of people around you… and your own sanity?
What do you need to leave behind?
The reflective thinker that I am is a product of my mother. A reader, a student, and a leader because she expected me to be those things… not that she told me so, but she lived those so core to her being that I could not help but follow in her footsteps. Thank you, Lynda Kukla.
I grew up with 3 sisters and no brothers. Which was a lot like having 4 moms. Because of their strong, talented, creative way of being in the world I never imagined they weren’t my equals (except when they were my betters). I grew up sharing a bathroom in such a way that I never expected to have warm water left for my shower, I was well acquainted with feminine products and can discuss their various functions as naturally as football and I have always put the toilet seat down. Our basement had a full sized balanced beam in it (when it wasn’t in our living room) and I played with dolls as much as with matchbox cars. I had very little sense of socialized gender roles. Thank you, Robin, Karen, and Sally
I had many great professors but the one who likely made the most difference in my life was my fourth-grade teacher who believed I had a depth of talent no-one else had seen and pushed me to find it. She encouraged me to skip two reading levels and forever altered the trajectory of my academic career. Thank you, Mrs. Mullholland.
I can still recall being in the 7th-grade concert choir which was about 30 people, 28 of whom were girls. I was too awkward a boy to do anything with that great ratio when it came to dating but it was fundamentally ok for me to love doing something that was apparently perceived as a “girl thing.” Thank you, Ms. Kennedy and fellow choral members.
The most random professionally altering encounter I ever had was when a classmate of my eldest sister (9 years older than me), now an English teacher at my high school where I had just started my freshman year, wrote me a note saying I should come to the informational meeting about Speech Team. I was an awkward introverted kid who had no business going to such a place but her individual effort on my behalf felt good so I did… and it has made all the difference in my life. Thank you, Miss Heck, (edit: correction from my sister actually – go figure, now Mrs. Martin).
The better two-thirds of me is my wife, for whom I am daily grateful. I would say more but it would take volumes. Thank you, Caroline.
My favorite supervisor ever (I have had many good ones – but the one most dear to my heart) was in chaplaincy and she is a feisty, resilient, wise, American Baptist, African-American, female clergywoman and Head of Chaplaincy in an inner-city southern hospital. I hear her voice in my head at least once a week. And if life had gone a different direction I would love to be working for her still this day. Thank you, Robin.
I have had several great pastor mentors but when I’m unsure how to be pastoral in a situation it is the Senior Associate Pastor from my first call whose voice and example I look to in order to be lead through the tangle I find myself in. I loved popping in her office to bounce ideas off of her or vent and receive care and guidance and make it through the day. Thank you, Carol.
I have worked on staff with 3 co-worker associate pastors and 2 associate pastors who have worked alongside me. They were all females. They all made me a better pastor. They all taught me lessons I didn’t want to learn. Thank you, Carol, Laurie, Katie, Joanna, and Katey.
I always wanted a daughter. I love my son and I’m grateful for him but I had a special desire to raise a daughter. I get to do it times three. And as I have been surrounded by awesome women my whole life it just makes sense that this would be so. They rock. Period. Thank you, Elizabeth, Meredith, and Danielle.
I could go on forever because it doesn’t stop there. Neighbors, friends, students, co-workers, church members… everywhere I look there are two or three women for every man, often more. That’s no joke. The world without women would not exist. And a world where women didn’t shape me would be sad indeed. I’m wearing red today because in a world that still struggles to value you – I love you and I’m grateful that you have shaped me at more than a fair cost to yourselves… because it’s what you do and its who you are. In the words of a friend, “I’m thankful you were born.”
Each week through Lent I will provide one or two devotional reflections to continue the thoughts of that week’s theme. This week as the first part of our Hitchhiking with Jesus series we reflected on the Call to Discipleship as dropping nets (Matthew 5) and Jesus’ redefinition of who was his mother and brothers / his rejection by his hometown (Matthew 12:46-50 and 13:54-59) and consider the question, “Who do we leave behind?”
(If you missed the sermon and wish to watch it you can do so here.)
“What a relief it must have been when the stone was rolled across the entrance to the tomb, sealing everything shut so they could go back to being fishermen, which they knew how to do, rather than fishers of men, which they didn’t.” — Richard Russo, Empire Falls
(quote compliments of Jill Reardon who texted it to me after Sunday’s sermon)
I remember being asked once about discomfort, was it necessary to move outside of our comfort zones in the journey of discipleship. My answer? Yes. Of course, there is more I’d say than just yes. Jesus rarely is reducible to simple answers. Jesus relieves us of anxiety born of shame and guilt. Jesus forgives sin and builds up (sometimes literally lifts up) those who have been cast aside. In this sense, Jesus brings comfort to those who lack it.
But Jesus also unsettles us. Jesus breaks us out of routines that normalize injustice, he questions systems of power that dehumanize some on behalf of others and generally invites us to “pick up our cross” as a perpetuate journey in not becoming passive and comfortable to a status quo that is “less than” the Kingdom of God.
As we think of last week’s texts about Jesus leaving his family and his struggles to be a prophet in his hometown that could not get over him being “the carpenter’s son” we are confronted with our own need to name what we need to leave behind in our journey of discipleship. If we are going to hitchhike with Jesus what fears, comforts, and habits keep us from being able to do that?
The answers may be hard, and the commitment to imagine life beyond those “ways” that have always worked for us is discomforting… but they also lead us to new life – because this is the way of the cross. This is the way of sealed tombs that become empty. This is the way of Jesus Christ.
We leave our self behind (both our own distorted self and the image of self the world has forced us to carry) to find our new self in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Who are you leaving behind?
Note to email subscribers: you are getting this a second time. My apologies. I deleted the initial post thinking I shouldn’t actually post it. Then I triple-guessed myself and remembered that I swore a long time ago to live more transparently (despite my discomfort with it) and decided to repost it.
First: I don’t like sharing articles like this (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2017/03/01/happens-pastor-people-leave-church). As a pastor, it feels passive-aggressive and a backward cry for help/attention.
Second: I’m sharing this because I almost wrote it earlier thinking, sometimes it’s okay to cry for help… or, more accurately, cry for understanding.
Third: What I would add is that I have started way too many conversations lately with:
“I’m running on empty…”
“I’m stressed out…”
I’d like to just flip a switch with regards to that but this is not how physical/mental/emotional health works. And it’s not how you stop the world from dumping more on your plate either.
Fourth: I’m not wanting this to be an excuse. And frankly, I don’t want attention as strange as that may sound given I’m publicly posting this. I do want to keep finding appropriate space, support, and help to weather the storm to the other side. (Fear not: I’m getting help… my hypocrisy knows some boundaries.) But more than that I want you to know that this isn’t about me. This is about everyone. Because this isn’t a pastor story – it’s a people living in community story. It’s a family story. It is EVERYONE’s story.
And with that said… my own thoughts to add to that article linked above (you will want to read it at some point, whatever point you choose, now/already/or after what follows but now is probably an appropriate time if you haven’t already):
I agree with everything this article says and more. I’d add that there is an even harder process to go through, people who leave for celebratory reasons weigh on a pastor, in fact sometimes even more. A new job, a new relationship, a life transition. All good reasons people leave and you are happy for them… but not happy for the loss of them as part of your community. Like postpartum depression or an empty-nest syndrome. A good thing can still cause grief.
It’s harder because the grief is selfish. But the grief is still real. The community of faith we foster is our family. It is, for many of us (not pastors alone), our first, second, and third place/home. And when things outside of our control stress it, tear it, or send part of it off on another journey (which is constantly happening) we carry an emotional toll for it.
When people in that place are stressed, torn, absent… we bear these stresses too. Because for all our deficiencies, and for all our struggle to show it as much as we might wish to, pastors do what we do because we genuinely hope for a better life for the people around us. We hope for a better life BECAUSE of the people around us. And while we struggle sometimes with our own messiah complexes we still know we cannot do that – it doesn’t depend on us and imagining it does is harmful to everyone. But you still try, our hearts are not rational. And you yearn for well-being and wholeness, and you lament it when you are reminded again and again that it there are many roadblocks beyond our control.
So yes. There are seasons of growth and seasons of splendor and seasons of stagnation and seasons of death. It has always been so and it will always be. And coping with that takes community and self-care. And coping with that isn’t necessarily any easier for knowing it’s no-one’s fault. I share this with a hope that we will all remember that we all carry such burdens… and it’s why we all need grace. forgiveness. mercy. healing. hope.
Now back to the part where sharing this as a pastor is complicated and probably shouldn’t be done. Some of you are reading this feeling like it’s your fault I’m stressed – please don’t. I’m grateful you have trusted me to be a part of your life. Some of you MAY from some misplaced sense of care decide not to burden me with anything else. (It’s what I would do, I have a lifelong fear of being a burden to people that I cannot shake.) And I expressly forbid that line of reasoning!!! (Like you listen to me anyway…. *wink*) Burden me, just as I’m burdening you with all this right now. Because we cannot carry burdens alone. That’s why we are so invested in other’s lives. But also, seek understanding, empathy, and grace. Not to me. To everyone. That is the reason I write things here. Even self-revealing things like reaching my own finiteness and limits. So, that I might learn from them how to see them in others. So, that you might see in my story, your story… and your neighbor’s story. And vice-versa.
Someday I will drop kids off at college. I will watch them marry and leave. I will watch tragedy strike them if I’m lucky enough to stay tragedy free myself. These burdens will happen. They are not a reason not to experience the joy. They are not a reason not to fully invest in sharing and living our life together. I welcome the grief because I love love… and the two go hand in hand. And I love all the seasons because death is part of life, and rebirth and I’m a child of resurrection. I just want you to know what season I’m in… and I want to know what season you’re in too… and that I wouldn’t have it any other way. Though I wouldn’t mind a break right now.
love you! – andrew
I was just asked about the history of my benediction. And yes I’m amazed how many people talk to me about it being “my” benediction. And there was even a great moment once when the youth here on Youth Sunday made a point to all say the words of my benediction together in unison while barely containing their laughter. They were very proud of themselves (and we were pretty proud of them too because they rock).
Anyway… here it is. When I started my first ordained call the benediction was always paired with the preacher of the day. (A tradition I carry with me, the charge and benediction should flow from the sermon and the totality of our Word in worship.) I preached rarely and I could never remember the words to the “normal” benediction… I was always in my head saying “does grace go with God, or with Jesus? I’m pretty sure fellowship is the Holy Spirit but you got me on what order it all comes in…”
Basically, it just didn’t work for me.
So I harkened (that word needs to be used more* check down below for a further word study comment for those interested) back to words a pastor in my internship used to use regularly about being the object of the greatest love. Words that always resonated with me. So I took those words and used them and over the years have added some nuance that evolved into the benediction I use every single week woven into the charge as we go out in worship to the world.
“Go forth and (fill in the nugget of the focus and function of the sermon here) knowing that we do not go alone. But we go together, and God goes with us and before us. And you are the object of the greatest love that ever was, is, and every shall be, so go in peace. Amen.”
And that benediction – which came about because I couldn’t remember the one I was trying to use – has always surprised me in how profoundly people experience it. It has saved me from many a bad sermon as people regularly remark how much those ending words mean to them as they leave worship.
So here is what that all means for me.
They aren’t my words. It isn’t my benediction.
The are our good news that we bear out in the world, for our sake, for each other’s sake, and for the sake of all creation.
Know that you are loved my friends, and bear that love to one another.
*a note about “harkened back”
I promised a neat side story of word etymology, my paraphrase of a comment from the Grammarist (http://grammarist.com/spelling/hark-harken-hearken/) so they get credit if it’s true and the fault if its wrong but really, with such a snappy name like that how could they be wrong (after all, if it’s on the internet it must be true….).
In usage “hark back”, “hearken”, and “harken back” all mean the same thing and can be used interchangeably though the first is the most common (that surprised me). The first is also the one with the good origin story. It was a hunting term. When the hunting dogs had lost the scent of the prey the hunting party would hark back (because the hounds are barking and moving back along the trail) until they picked up the old scent and could follow it forward again.
I love that. Going to use that in a sermon someday!