It’s been a very long time since I’ve shared a personal update on this blog–or really, anything other than sermons and links to publications. I suppose I have been so busy living life–surviving, if not always flourishing–that I have not always had time to process and share. Academic writing and preaching is a big part of how I process and share these days–and I have been doing plenty of that.
But it seems an appropriate time to share some important news, and what the past few months have looked like, and what we’re looking ahead to in the months to come.
Our passage for today is one that has been rattling around in my head for the last two years, and I’m finally collecting my thoughts to say something about it. It’s kind of like an expose, a bit of “hidden camera footage” that shows what the religious leaders of Israel were doing in secret, in the Jerusalem temple, in its last days before it was destroyed. They thought that they could use their power to do whatever they wanted, and that no one would see—including God. We will see from this passage that God does act to stop those in power from abusing their power in secret. And there is a message for us who don’t always have “inside access”: how are we supposed to react to corruption? And, how can we look to Jesus as an example of how to live faithfully in a sinful world?
Rhetorical functions of media are outlined in the Platonic and Biblical traditions and applied to 2019ʹs “Pachamama” YouTube iconoclepsis (“image-stealing”) controversy. Where post-Enlightenment theory brackets or dismisses spiritual communication, pre-modern frames offer clear heuristics and vocabulary for interpreting mediated religious protest. In reaction to a culture of sophistic manipulation, Plato envisioned ideals approached via cooperative dialectic. Psychogogy, leading souls, requires artists and orators adapting true, beautiful, and good ideals for people in their care. Plato uses a pharmacological metaphor to show how art and public discourse can harm and diminish, or heal and restore, spiritual wellbeing, and social eudaimonia. In contrast to Plato, the Biblical tradition cedes invention to God, whose message is shared with passion and urgency to guide people away from evil toward flourishing. The culmination of prophetic communication is the Incarnation: Jesus gives humanity direct contact with divine truth and light, and upon His resurrection the Holy Spirit inspires missionary outreach. Today YouTube activists engage power dynamics within sacred space and imagery to attempt Church reforms.
This is the audio (30:08, 26.9 MB) of a sermon preached at Klaipėda Free Christian Church, on April 3, 2022, by one of my students, Sage Gibson. The main text is Mark 5:25-34.
Sage completed a course on the Book of Isaiah with me in Fall 2021. We continued to work together on an article based an idea in a paper she wrote for that course. The article is under review with a journal; we decided to preach sermons based on our studies for the article, which is about the use of Isaiah 63-66 in Mark 5.
I’m enormously proud of Sage for all the work she did for her paper, our article, and her sermon! She gave me permission to share the audio in my podcast feed. My sermons are available here and here.
Have you ever had an experience with a toddler that you knelt down, held out your arms, and waited for the child to run to you to be hugged—and instead the child runs past you to someone else? (This can also happen with dogs!) No one really takes this personally when it happens, because—children are children! But if, let’s say, you’re an uncle or an aunt, and a child ignores you like this, multiple times in a row—maybe you feel a bit hurt. Well, God felt this way with Israel. He didn’t just want them to conform to some rule or standard; he wanted to be close to them. He made himself available to them, he held out his arms all day long to them (65:2) but most ignored him….
In the Gospels, we see that Jesus’s arms were open wide, to those who would answer his call and take hold of him in faith. At the cross, with his arms stretched out all day long, in excruciating pain, he looked out at a rebellious and disobedient people—Jews and Gentiles—and took upon himself the punishment for their sins, the sins of anyone who would repent.
This is the video (22:16, 145 MB) of a sermon preached at Klaipėda Free Christian Church, on March 13, 2022. The main text is Isaiah 15:8–16:5. The sermon follows on my report of a trip to Western Ukraine, to bring supplies to fellow Christians from Zaporizhzhia, and to bring back refugees to Lithuania. An excerpt:
The church is Jesus’s household, his kingdom on earth. We should absolutely be a place of refuge for refugees and those fleeing for their lives—just as the Davidic kings of ancient Judah could be a safe place for Moabites and others from all over the world.
The prayer in Isaiah 63–64 is a great example because the faithful prophet knows what his people need: they need God to change their hearts, and they need God to be near to them. It is passionate, and thoughtful, and based on God’s promises to his people. It’s also beautiful for us to think about how God answered this prayer: including in ways that his people did not expect.
This presentation explores the concept of the “image of God” found in the Hebrew Scriptures, and its value for understanding the task of the healing and caregiving professions. Against the backdrop of other ancient Near Eastern conceptions of cultic images—their fashioning, care and feeding, and function to mediate the deities’ presence—the Bible describes only human beings as adequate images to mediate the presence of YHWH, Israel’s deity, into the world. Treating human beings with care and dignity, and participating in their healing, is an act that allows both patient and caregiver to mediate the presence of God to one another and into the world.
It is typically argued that in Ezek 20:5–26 YHWH thrice proposes or purposes to “pour out his wrath” on Israel, but then instead “acts on account of his name” – relenting from or deferring judgment. This paper argues instead, based on grammatical structure and intertextuality with the Pentateuch, that in at least one of these instances (and possibly two), Ezek 20 describes YHWH actually “pouring out wrath” and “exhausting anger” on some Israelites. This reading offers a new dimension for understanding intergenerational responsibility in Ezekiel.
Benjamin D. Giffone, “‘Anger Exhausted’ for the Sake of YHWH’s Name in Ezekiel 20: Did YHWH Really Relent from Wrath Poured Out on Israel?” Biblische Zeitschrift 66.1 (2022): 1–15. DOI: 10.30965/25890468-06601001.
The article is currently behind the paywall (as are most academic articles). If you do not have access through your institution and want to read it, please message me privately, and I will send you an e-offprint.
Throughout the Old Testament, there is an important theme: people from outside Israel, God’s people, recognizing the greatness of Israel’s God—often seeing it even more clearly than Israel does! For example, Jethro, Moses’s father-in-law, gives glory to YHWH after he saves Israel from slavery in Egypt. Rahab, the Canaanite prostitute, throws all of her trust on YHWH God when the Israelites come to attack her city, Jericho. Ruth has more faith than her mother-in-law, Naomi, in the faithfulness of YHWH God to his people. This was YHWH God’s purpose all along in calling Israel to be his people: that his glory would be shown in their midst, and the nations would see and be attracted to it. Very often, Israel failed to live up to God’s glory—as we all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. None of us is worthy to carry forth God’s glory into the world. In Isaiah 60, despite all that Israel, Judah and Jerusalem had done to bring shame on God’s name: God still displayed his glory through them. In Matthew 2: despite all that the Jews, and all that humanity, had done to dishonor God: God still chose to be born a Jewish baby, a human baby, and to show his glory in the world through Jesus Christ.