Gone Fishing! w/ Kenneth Tanner
Welcome to the Gospel Reverb podcast. Gospel Reverb is an audio gathering for preachers, teachers, and Bible thrill seekers. Each month, our host, Anthony Mullins, will interview a new guest to gain insights and preaching nuggets mined from select passages of scripture, and that month’s Revised Common Lectionary.
The podcast’s passion is to proclaim and boast in Jesus Christ, the one who reveals the heart of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And now onto the episode.
Anthony: Hello friends, and welcome to the latest episode of Gospel Reverb. Gospel Reverb is a podcast devoted to bringing you insights from scripture, found in the Revised Common Lectionary and sharing commentary from a Christ-centered and Trinitarian view.
I’m your host Anthony Mullins, and I’m really excited to welcome this month’s guest, Father Kenneth Tanner. Kenneth is a pastor of Holy Redeemer Church in Rochester, Michigan. He’s been a contributor to the Huffington Post and the Clarion Journal with Brad Jersak. And he’s a teacher at the Open Table conferences along with several other Gospel Reverb friends, and in my opinion, is a much-needed voice in our national discourse on matters of faith.
Kenneth, thank you for joining us today and welcome to the podcast.
Kenneth: Hey Anthony. It’s great to be with you. I’ve been excited to meet people from your church and the movement surrounding the Trinitarian rediscovery that occurred in your movement.
And it’s one of the great stories of the last hundred years in the Church. So, it’s a beautiful thing, and I’m glad to be in friendship with several of you, including Ted Johnson.
Anthony: As a recovering legalist, it is good news, brother! Thank you for that. For those in our listening audience, who may not be familiar with you and your work, would you mind sharing a bit about yourself?
Kenneth: Yeah. I’m I was born and raised in the South by Southerners. And so, all the cultural good, which is deep and beautiful, and all the cultural bad, as it were. And as a Pentecostal from multi-generational Pentecostal families on both sides. Both sides of the family have been in North America from the British Isles for a long time.
My father was killed in Vietnam when I was four. My mother, about five years later, remarried a youth pastor in the Church of God, which is in Cleveland, Tennessee, the Pentecostal denomination I was a part of growing up. And her father was a pastor in that movement as well. And he eventually, he took us to south Florida from Orlando, but then moved us to California.
So, I spent 20 years, I went to high school, college, got married, we had six of our seven kids in California. We went to Oral Roberts University. That’s where I met my wife was at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa. First charismatic university of the world, which had an amazing faculty because people retired from Missouri and Brown and other places, and went to teach [there], from Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist backgrounds. So, the faculty were wonderful. The spiritual experience, there was – it has many stories, but in the nineties (I got married in 1988) and throughout the nineties, I was working in newspapers and for companies as a writer, mostly, and I was also training for ministry. And I was ordained in 1992 as a deacon, and then in 1996 as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church, which is an Anglican adjacent denomination. Many former Pentecostals, third way evangelicals, Wesleyans, people who are raised in free churches who discovered the sacraments, and the liturgies, and the scriptural exegesis, and the priority for the poor that is encapsulated in the first Christians, and we (while remaining Pentecostal) embrace those things.
And I’ve been fortunate in my mentors over the years. I spent six years in Chicago with my family. We had one of our children there. I worked for a magazine called Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity. And then I was called to be the pastor of Holy Redeemer, which is just north of Detroit, almost 17 years ago.
And I’ve been the pastor here since. So that’s maybe too long, but a pretty brief introduction.
Anthony: Thanks, that works. And one of the things I’ve admired about you as I’ve followed your work and teachings and writings is just the high ecclesiology. You love the church and it seems to me…
Kenneth: I do! The whole church.
Anthony: The whole church, and it’s still the epicenter of God’s redemptive work on the earth. And I’m grateful.
Before we get into the four Bible passages this month, I’d like to ask a couple of questions. I’ve heard you talk a lot about the early church fathers, the patristics. And I’m just curious why in 2022, should we bother to listen to the ancient voices of Irenaeus, and Athanasius, and Gregory of Nazianzus, Origen, or Tertullian and the list goes on and on.
Why should we bother here today?
Kenneth: Yeah, without doubt their vision of Jesus. This is the first thing. These people’s imaginations and lives are just radiant with the human who’s God and his person fills their heart and mind. And whether they’re in the Greek-speaking or the Latin-speaking, ancient near east, or Europe, and in north Africa, these are people who are absolutely captivated and astonished by the person of Jesus. That’s the first thing.
The second thing is their fascination with Christ flows from their reading of scripture. By that, the Old Testament and then (of course, the New, but primarily the Old Testament) and how they “see Christ on every page” as Luther said.
It’s the way they read the scriptures that’s also really important. And they’re not perfect, but they’re comprehensive, their vision is, I feel. And the closer I get and the more conversations I have, I realized that in a lot of (and I can only speak about the American church) but in the American church, our understanding of Christ is very shallow. I hate to say it, but (I don’t like to condemn; one of our scriptures talks about this today) there is a real shallowness to way too much Christianity in America. And I think the fathers help ground us, take us into the deep water. I’m mixing metaphors there, but yeah, they give us a fullness of apprehension of the person of Jesus that I think is sorely lacking.
Anthony: Yes. I was listening to Brian Zahn last week, and he mentioned that even how the early church fathers, doctors, theologians teach us to pray because our prayer life tends to be shallow too. And I just think there’s so much to gain there.
You talked about their desire to point to Jesus, the way that he captivated them. And I want to go a little deeper there. I was listening to your podcast this week with the guys from Crackers and Grape Juice, and you were talking about your experience being present to the grieving families in the aftermath of the murders there at Oxford High School, which I think is in your parish. I won’t ask you about the specifics of that day, because I know that’s hallowed ground, sacred territory.
But what I want to ask you is, would you share with our listeners how the humanity, the incarnation of Jesus informs how you respond, serve, and be present to people who are experiencing horrific trauma and sorrow?
Kenneth: Yeah, so the high school is about 12 miles from my house. And I serve, besides being the pastor at Redeemer, I do volunteer service as the chaplain for the Oakland County Sheriff’s office, which the sheriff had jurisdiction of Oxford and the town that I live in and probably half of our county there. We have some city police agencies, but the Sheriff’s office covers most of the county.
And I was texted, would I go to this Meijer grocery store where they were reuniting parents with the students from the school, which was about half a mile from the grocery store. I wasn’t the only chaplain that was there from our chaplain Corps from the Sheriff’s office, but there were other clergy that came. And we were walking around, just trying to be observant about students or teachers or parents or grocery store workers or first responders that looked like they needed some presence and standing next to in this kind of thing.
I think in all of these kinds of situations, it is a benefit to us that the God who is human has experienced and participated in everything that it means to be human. And I think John 11 in particular helps us, the death of Lazarus. And what we see Jesus, both as God and man, experiencing and the anguish of God in the flesh of Jesus and the anger of God in the humanity of our Lord at death. So, there’s weeping. But there’s also, he’s deeply troubled because this is his friend and he’s not just weeping for Lazarus. He’s weeping for everyone. And he’s weeping for all of his human brothers and sisters who have been subjected to this enemy.
And of course, from the context of suffering, he is resurrection and life. And from the context of being troubled deeply and from weeping, he is the voice, “Lazarus come forth.” So yes, his life and that story (and many others), help us, as we try to traverse these great sadnesses, and traumas that we experience as humans.
Anthony: Yeah, I’m just grateful for a God who enters into the madness and is present to us. He continues to be Emmanuel. We’re praying for you, brother, as you continue to minister to people who are grieving right now.
It’s that time! We’re here to look at four Bible passages that we’re going to unpack together.
The first one’s going to be Luke 5:1-11, “Gone Fishing.” It’s for 5th Sunday after the Epiphany on February 6th. Luke 6:17-26 “Blessed Are You,” the 6th Sunday after the Epiphany, February 13th. Then Luke 6:27-38 “Love Your Enemies,” the 7th Sunday after the Epiphany on February 20th. And Luke 9:28-36, this is for Transfiguration Sunday, “Listen to Him.”
I’m going to read our first pericope, Luke 5:1-11. It comes from the NRSV. It’s a Revised Common Lectionary passage for February the 6th. It reads:
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
As an aside, I couldn’t help, but think of Lionel Richie when I said, “all night long,” but that’s an 80’s music reference. So, my first question: Simon Peter’s response was “yet, if you say so I will,” and that seems remarkable to me considering the fact that they’d been fishing all night and had no luck. What can we take away from this?
Kenneth: I actually got really emotional reading this morning, and I am now too. I think, it’s just beautifully set. I love the detail of the lake and that Jesus has come down and the boats and the nets. It’s just so vivid.
Jesus is a walking, talking tree of life, and Peter has seen. He’s healing the sick. He’s casting, he’s setting the oppressed free. This is the one who says, “Where are we to go? You’re the one who has the words of life.”
And he’s a professional fisherman. He and the Zebedee’s are not poor people. These are businesses that have thrived. The father of John and James has made a good living fishing. But, when you can’t catch any fish, it’s not just that you can’t make any money, but there’s people who are desperately hungry that need you to catch the fish, so they have food. And so, it’s a real crisis. It’s not just about running the business. It’s about, these are families dedicated to the feeding of the people around Galilee.
And so, it’s a crisis, that they haven’t caught any fish. He is willing because of the character and what he has seen of this human, that if he asked him. Even though he knows he’s not a fisherman, he’s a carpenter and a teacher, rabbi. He knows him as a rabbi. If you tell me, I’ll go. And that’s beautiful.
Anthony: Yeah. I know a lot of people right now who probably feel like their nets are coming up empty. And I’m curious, Kenneth what encouragement can we share with those who frankly are feeling let down by God?
Kenneth: Yeah. I do think that sometimes what we need are people in our life who see the abundance that is everywhere, even though we might be experiencing scarcity and who can point out where our nets are full in areas that we’re not paying attention to, because the need of not having a particular net full is so pressing in on us, as it can be in small and large ways. And so, it’s helpful to have companions in the journey who point to the abundances in the world that always outpace the lacks and the scarcities.
And of course, raised around a charismatic setting, sometimes there were a kind of denial of lacks, and it’s just about recognizing the abundance and you just need to tap into this or that, or the other thing. You don’t have enough faith or there’s something that you’re not doing. It’s always on you, this lack, the scarcity is your fault.
So, I’m not talking about that sort of thing. I’m talking about within a clear-eyed view of the situation, of lack and not a denial of it, people who point us to trust that God has what it is we need.
And the timing of that may not be what we are expecting. But it is God who is the source of life and light, and he’s infinite. And sometimes, it’s also about sharing our abundance. This is what God is inviting us into. His abundance is sharing our abundance with those who have lack.
Anthony: I think I’m the evil one speaks fluent scarcity. And it seems to me, the Christian walk by the Spirit is having (to use Pauline language) the eyes of our heart open to see the abundance that is ours in Christ.
So, Kenneth, I’ve heard a lot of sermons, too many sermons frankly, from this pericope that give me sort of like the seven step process of evangelism, catching people and here’s the bait you need to use and that sort of thing. Please tell us there’s a holistic Christological way of thinking and acting toward people who don’t know Jesus.
Kenneth: Yeah. He says set out into the deep, and that they’re going to catch people. And the participle there is catch them alive, from the tumult, from the storm, from the deep. And I do think that the disposition of a lot of Christians towards people who don’t share our faith, fails to recognize that Jesus has already related himself to every person we ever meet in two fundamental ways before we share anything about the good news with them. And that is that he’s the creator of every individual that we come into contact with, as he is the Word by which, all things were spoken into being and the hand by which God creates. And there’s that but also, he’s become the human brother by entering the womb of the virgin and by walking and living among us as a human being, he’s also the human brother of every person that we encounter. Again, before anything about the gospel is either witnessed by the way we live or heard by the way we talk about him.
So what can happen is that we think of these people as somehow unrelated to Christ, and we need to bring about relationships. They are related to Christ. Of course, God wants to have an intimate connection with them and for them to understand the fullness of this relationship. Hopefully by the way that we live and hopefully by the way that we speak we can participate in what God is doing, but remember God is the one who fills the nets. God is the one who saves. God is the one who causes us to catch people alive. So, we are just participants and (silly to say, just participants) but yes, we are participants in the work of God. I think there’s also sometimes this idea that we’re the one; if we don’t do X, Y, and Z, people are not going to be caught alive. And I just think, if all the human beings who God loves and wants to be in relationship with them are going to be redeemed, it’s got to be God’s work.
Anthony: Amen, brother. Even though it was well-intended, I can remember being on short-term mission trips, where the conversation went something like this: be prayed up because we’re going to take Jesus to these people we’re going to go serve. And I think about that now, and I just cringe because Jesus, he’s already there at work, wherever we go, in the community, in our neighborhood, with our neighbors, he’s there by his Spirit. And that’s such good news! That takes the burden off of me that he’s the Savior of the world not me.
Kenneth: And just quickly, it’s a little bit deeper. In Matthew 25, he says he is the poor. He is the prisoner. He is the hungry, he is the naked. He is the foreigner or the immigrant and so forth. So, we’re going to meet Jesus, I think is maybe perhaps a better way of framing it.
Anthony: Yeah. And what you just said is going to be an important identifier as we talk in other passages about blessing those who are poor, those are hungry because Jesus is there.
Kenneth, our next passage is Luke 6:17 – 26. It’s the Revised Common Lectionary passage for February the 13th. Would you read it for us please?
He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
Anthony: Kenneth, if you were preaching this text, what would be your focus?
Kenneth: I probably would contrast – blessing and woes are very common in the scriptures. And there are precedents for announcing these blessings and these woes in other parts of the Old Testament. And I would go through some of those and talk about how they similarly tend to pronounce an announced blessing on those who have not and woes on those who have, and how the foundation of those two things, the blessings on the have-nots come from their condition of dependence on God.
The poor are dependent on God. And the rich can be – don’t necessarily have to be (it’s the same with the poor, but most often the poor are dependent and recognize their dependence on God) too often, the rich assume and presume that they’re independent from God. And this is the foundation of the state these folks find themselves in and what God’s announcing to them in this moment.
Anthony: Let’s keep scratching that itch. What do you make of those who are blessed? You’ve touched on it, but the poor? In some paradigms, that’s not God’s blessing. The hungry? Those who weep? Those who have been rejected? What do we take away from this?
Kenneth: Yeah, for those who may have been raised even in Christian circles with a teaching that people who are favored, wealthy, secure, and so forth, have found favor, are that way because they have done things or because God is pleased with them. And encountering people who are unwell or under-resourced or who are destitute, that they somehow have angered God or have not done the things they were supposed to do, and this is a punishment for what they have done, or their ancestors have done and so forth and so on. And I don’t think that’s either the wisdom of the scriptures or of the gospel or of the Apostolic teaching.
There are people who are desperately poor who are in deep covenantal relationship and connection with God. And there are people who are quite resourced and wealthy, who also enjoy that same connection with God. And there are folks who are struggling who – there’s this kind of Mesopotamian, ancient understanding of the gods where you better behave in this way or you better sacrifice in this way and so forth. Or you’re in trouble or going to be in trouble or the reason you’re in trouble is, you haven’t.
But if you do all the right things and you make all the right sacrifices and so forth, God will be pleased with you, and then you’ll have everything you need. That is not the gospel. That is not the character of the God that we worship. And so, we have to identify that sort of striving and that sort of attitude and disposition where we’re jockeying for position and favor with God as a false understanding of the relationship between God and human beings.
And we have to do that all the time. We have to do it in the church first because it’s amazing how many people go to church and have a Mesopotamian view of God, rather than the view of God that comes from the revelation of the prophets, and the stories of the patriarchs, and the Psalms of David, and the apostolic witness.
Anthony: And all you have to do is look at the life of the apostles. By any measure, that doesn’t look like human flourishing, even though it is. It absolutely is. As I was looking back over these woes, as you’re reading them, the rich, those who are full now, those who are laughing now, I couldn’t help but think of America.
Are we in trouble? What do we take away from these woes?
Kenneth: Yeah, I think that’s how they are precisely intended to be read and understood, as a warning from love to the object of love. It is love telling us, “I love you. Be careful.” Because this is addressed to us, the woes.
We should see the words addressed to us and addressed because God wants us to thrive and be alive and to be well. And recognizing our dependence upon God in humility is so vital to thriving. And it is the nature of the world, the fallen world, to make us dichotomize poor and rich in the way I was talking about earlier. And to lean on all of these things instead of the wisdom of God and the abundance of God. We can be deceived that everything is well with us because we’re using these things as measures of how we’re doing or how we’re doing with God.
And it’s not just Christians that do this, of course. Everyone, every human has this tendency. And I think this is, “Wake up. Watch yourself because I love you.” It’s like a child approaching a hot stove or getting too close to the street. It’s that voice that says, “Yes, come back to me. Stop moving in that direction.”
Anthony: That’s such an important thing you’ve said because there are several warning passages in the New Testament, but God can only speak and act out of who he is. And he is love; that’s all he can do. Go ahead.
Kenneth: This is the same one who is going to go on to say, “Love your enemies.” And this is the same one who says, “Don’t judge.” This is the one who says, “Forgive.” This is the one who is described as mercy and forgiveness, and so he can only be announcing these woes from that position, his core disposition, which is to save.
Our next pericope is going to be in Luke 6:27 – 38 from the NRSV. It is the revised common lectionary passage for February the 20th, which is the final Sunday of epiphany.
“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
Alright Kenneth, was God making a suggestion when he said, “Love your enemies”?
We have this thing that some have called the disappearing middle in America because we’re choosing sides. It’s the donkeys and the elephants, the red states, blue states, vaccinated, unvaccinated, rich, poor. And of course, the list just goes on and on to the glee of the evil one. So-called enemies are everywhere.
So, what’s the way forward?
Kenneth: Yeah. Polarization is – I think the pandemic, the plague reveals. Plagues reveal the ways in which we’ve brought judgment upon ourselves, and the plagues have revealed that we’re deeply divided. Whether it’s the pandemic of COVID or school shootings or whatever it is, we other each other. I think the first place to start (if I start to sound like a broken record, it’s intentional) the place we start with thinking about what it means to be human is with Jesus. And what it means to be God is Jesus.
And this is someone who from the cross, as he is actively being murdered, spat on, mocked, abused, who is forgiving those who are harming him and causing him pain. And this is the one who tells us, love your enemies. He does this. This is the very nature of what it means to be human.
This is the image in which you were made, is to be a forgiver. The image in which the human is made is to love the enemy. And so, surrender to this capacity in which we were made in that image, is vital for every human being.
And this is the God who doesn’t have enemies from his side of the equation. From our side of the equation, he does have enemies in us sometimes, and in others. But from his side, he sets a table in the presence of our enemies and invites everyone, invites our enemy to that table.
We’re talking about an infinite God, so we could talk about this for a while, but I do think that is the heart of it. We put these labels; we love labels. And God says, instead, by the Spirit in the church, there’s neither male nor female, neither slave nor free, neither Jew nor Greek, neither vaccinated nor unvaccinated, neither Democrat or Republican, neither liberal or conservative. It’s just a different way of thinking and just a different way of embodying what it means to be human and a different disposition and heart.
And I loved what you said. You didn’t say the media is the one who’s fomenting this, you didn’t say political parties are the ones that were fomenting this division. You said the enemy of our soul is the one who’s delighted by these divisions. And so that’s what’s behind all of this and he is the one who accuses. He is the one who divides.
Anthony: Yeah, labels are lazy from my standpoint. It starts with the second thing about a person, not the first thing, the second thing. Oh, they’re rich, they’re poor, they’re Democrat or Republican, instead of, they are a beloved child of God. And it’s the way we see.
I love what you said, because what you’re encouraging us to do is to be who we are, truly in him. Like Paul’s telling us to be reconciled because you are reconciled to God in Jesus Christ, right?
Kenneth: We’re made in the image of humility. You are made in the image of forgiveness. What did it say? It said, he’s kind to the ungodly. We’re made in the image of kindness.
Anthony: Jesus tells us to give to those who beg, to lend without expectation of a return.
But it seems to me, brother, that we’re spending way too much time judging those we’re seeking to give to or not seeking to give to. Why do we struggle so mightily not to judge people who are in need?
Kenneth: This is a classical problem. Chrysostom, the golden mouth preacher, said, “Your coffers, your bank, your treasure is in the bellies of the poor.”
If you really want to invest what you have, it belongs to them. I think first of all, it’s the idea that our possessing it is first. No, what we have belongs, not just to God, it belongs to our neighbor. This goes mightily against our education and the grain of our culture and our society to think that what I have belongs to others. Private ownership and whatever that means in law and philosophy and so forth and so on, in the gospel those boundaries are raised.
And it is about calling people into a voluntary participation. There’s no point in coercing people or forcing people into participating in their creative nature and in the Trinitarian life, in the abundance and generosity of God. Political systems and so forth that are based on coercing sharing are just as destructive to the human person as anything else. But a voluntary participation in the generosity of God.
And the practical question that you’re asking is, why do I see someone in need and just not want to just meet the need rather than wondering how they got there, what was the thing that made this happen to them, and so forth and so on. Which according to the gospel, is absolutely irrelevant.
You hear these things, like you shouldn’t give something to someone who’s going to waste the resource or whatever. That’s none of our business. We’re just to meet the needs as they come into our purview and as we have the resources and to share. And we’re not to take inventory of the persons that we are helping,
Anthony: It says give, and it will be given to you. And I know the Lord has given to you Kenneth. For a moment, I’d just like to ask you to make it personal. How have you experienced the extravagant generosity of God in your life?
Kenneth: I hope it doesn’t sound too simple, but what I’m most grateful for is the (to the extent that it’s been granted to me) is to be astonished with the person of Jesus and to constantly be amazed by something I haven’t seen before, like the four and living creatures are always seeing something of God they haven’t seen before and lavishing praise.
That’s how I feel a lot of the time. And I delight in nothing more than sharing what I’ve seen. Of course, you can’t give what you haven’t received, and you recognize that you’re receiving it from somewhere outside of yourself and that you get to give that. The apostle says, “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have,” here.
And I don’t want to be cliche, but the greatest thing that we can offer to another human being is our vision of Christ. And yes, which is not to say, don’t give somebody five. Yes, give them $5 or a shirt or whatever. Jesus, he literally means give him the coat.
Not to spiritualize it, but also with the coat, I can share my astonishment with the person of Jesus. And I do it in a nonjudgmental way, without consideration of their position or my position, because no matter how poor someone is you encounter, there’s an area where you’re poor, and so forth and so on.
Anthony: Yeah, I appreciate what you said about not over spiritualizing it, because all we have to do is look at the true human Jesus and how frequently he met the felt need of people first. Like, I think of the leper that he touched; the dignity that must have been experienced in his bones to be touched before he was even healed is remarkable. And it shows us the way.
Kenneth: Recently the Pope (I don’t know if you saw the story) Francis – a leprous man was presented to him, and he just walked straight up to him and embraced him, with this (from what I understand) massive growth on his neck area. And he was bearing witness to the feeling of love and inclusion and grace and healing that occurred just because he didn’t judge him, wasn’t holding anything back from being connected to this man.
Anthony: “You will be my witnesses.” That’s what it looks like.
Kenneth, our final pericope is Luke 9: 28 – 36. It is the passage and reading for transfiguration Sunday. Would you read it please?
Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
Anthony: For whatever it’s worth, I really enjoy listening to you read. So, what’s the big deal about transfiguration Sunday and why do so many Christians choose to celebrate the day every year, you think?
Kenneth: You’re asking the wrong person because I will keep you for an hour. The chapter on transfiguration in my book that’s coming out is about 5,500 words. There’s so much here. And of course, Peter remembers this. That’s really interesting to me that Peter knows he’s going to be executed.
And the church is in a terrible state of persecution, and everyone’s suffering. And he says to them (this is in 1 Peter) he said, “I want you to remember something.” And he doesn’t go to the cross (where Peter wasn’t – remember John and the women were the only ones that were there) but he goes to someplace he was, and he goes to the transfiguration, to Tabor, and to this vision.
And he says, we didn’t devise a myth when we bore witness to what we saw on the mountain. In other words, we didn’t take these great figures from our history, as a people and weave them together with Christ to make up a beautiful story that elevates Jesus. No, we saw this happen in the real world. And then the conversation, what was the conversation about? The conversation was about the cross, because the conversation the human God is always having with the law and the prophets is about self-giving love. It is about the God who loves the world and who lays down his life for love of the world.
And of course, they’re on the mountain and the cloud descends, the Spirit of God, and they hear the voice of the Father, a Trinitarian moment. This is my Son, my chosen. Listen to him. And then Moses and Elijah are gone and it’s just Jesus, which I think is also trying to tell us something. There’s the preeminence of Christ, the law and the prophets have been taken up into him and transfigured in his flesh, inscripturated flesh of Jesus.
Anyway, like I said, I can talk about it for a long time.
Anthony: As we think about this theophany, and you’ve already touched on it, maybe there’s some more that you want to say, but just as I’ve looked at the Greek in this, it’s almost like Moses and Elijah and Jesus have had an ongoing conversation, but here are the patriarchs just showing up on the scene.
That seems a little abnormal, so what do we take away?
Kenneth: One of the ways that I think about it is time bending. I think the transfiguration is about the resurrection. I’m the God of the living, not the dead.
So, Moses and Elijah are here embodied again in the world long after their deaths. This isn’t telepathy that’s going on here. They’re speaking, you have tongues. You have to have a tongue to speak.
This is a revelation that death doesn’t have anything to do with Moses and Elijah anymore. Or of anyone who is in connection and relationship with Christ and want to inhabit this conversation of self-sacrificial love. And so, one could think about it as this moment is Christ and Moses on Sinai, Christ and Elijah on Sinai and so forth and so on.
And it’s converging on this, because here we’re dealing with the eternal one who, every moment when he shares time with us, he’s bringing his eternity to you with him. So, we have to get out of the chronological space with it.
And obviously, Elijah and Moses are the law and the prophets. And it goes to say that all that is in the law and all that’s in the prophets is taken up into our Lord. And so, we don’t leave them behind when we follow Jesus, but recognize that he’s their fulfillment. Including of course, what he’s just said earlier in the gospel, the priority about the poor and loving your neighbor and loving your enemy, which is what it means to be God.
Anthony: Yeah. As we wrap up our time in this particular reading, it says, “They saw his glory.” And glory is, though it’s a small word, it’s big. It’s weighty. We see it in the Old and the New [Testaments.] What are we really talking about when we talk about the glory of God revealed in Jesus?
Kenneth: Yeah. Isaiah’s writes, “It filled the temple, the train of his robe.” [Isaiah 6] And then, the seraphim and the cherubim flying around, it’s indescribable. I mean, the light that is coming from Jesus in the transfiguration is not a reflection. He is radiating.
In fact, I’m sitting across from an icon of the transfiguration right now. These rays that are coming up from, coming from inside the reality of who he is and the uncreated light of heaven. Not the light of the star, not the light of the sun, or the light that reflects from the sun on the moon, but THE light, the source of light.
The light of the transfiguration that shines from Jesus is not like the light that helps us to see color and shape and texture and so forth. The uncreated light is the light, the glory that enables to see truly the nature of the things that we behold and, reveals to us, if we were in the midst of it, the things that we cannot see of the glory of the world. There’s a lot of the glory of God that’s hidden in this fallen world.
And in everything that is, exists, is somewhat fallen from the fullness of what it was in creation. And the glory of God is to the revealing of the true nature of everything that God creates. And so, the uncreated light helps us to see what normally we cannot see: the verity, and the goodness, and the beauty, (verity just meaning truth) the goodness, and beauty of things and people.
And so, the resurrection, which we can live now – the Orthodox, “let us love our enemies and forgive all by the resurrection” – it just gives us a different perspective. That light, that glory gives us a different perspective on reality than we normally would have.
Anthony: You mentioned that you have a forthcoming book that has a chapter about the transfiguration. For those who are interested, when is it coming out? What’s it called?
Kenneth: Well, this is a long – I’ll make a short story of it. I’ve been working on this for about 12 years. And in the last several years, people [have said], “You have got to do this, you’ve got to do this.” And I spend a lot of time in pastoral work, and so writing is always something I’m doing on the side. But as it happens, I’m any day now, getting ready to sign a two-book contract with Baker Books. The first book is called Vulnerable God.
It’s about Jesus. And it takes the transfiguration as a feast of the first Christians, of the church for a long time, it takes all of the (you wouldn’t really know this, if you weren’t a liturgical, sacramental Christian), but it takes all of the moments of the life of Christ that the church calendar elevates, the sacred year elevates, and where we worship specific events: Ascension Transfiguration, Easter, Temptation, and so forth, presentation at the temple and so forth, Christmas, the Incarnation. And I use those to try to illustrate the vulnerability and humility of God in becoming human. And how this humility is the essence of what it means to be human, but also humility is the essence of what it means to be God.
And so, it’s a journey through all of those feasts, which are commemorations of realities from the life of Jesus as a human, including the Ascension where he remains human forever and eternity, and just tries to disclose what we have seen of his glory in these events.
And then there’s a follow-up book called Beautiful Faith, which is an expedition of the Apostle’s creed. But it’s actually going to take a moment for these books to come out the way we’re planning it. But anyway in 2023, Vulnerable God is supposed to appear with Baker Books.
Anthony: I’m anticipating it. As someone who is new to liturgical faith and experiencing the sacredness of the calendar and how beautiful it is, the rhythms of the Christian life through the calendar has been eye opening. Advent has taken on new life for me. I am reading Fleming Rutledge’s book on Advent. And it’s just wow! It’s staggering.
Kenneth: You’re reading the right person.
Anthony: Brother, I thank you for being a part of this conversation. You have been a blessing to me. And so, it was a great joy to invite you onto this podcast and for you to say yes. So, thank you for being a part of it.
Kenneth: Yeah, my privilege. I’m so grateful to be with you.
Anthony: And as we typically end, I’d like to ask for you to say a prayer over our listeners, especially those, as we talked about earlier, who are grieving, maybe feeling like their nets are coming up empty, just in a place of sorrow would you specifically pray for them?
Christ our God, we, all of us, acknowledge our poverty. We thank you that you became poor as we are poor in order to endow us with all the fullness and richness that you share and have shared from before time and forever with your Father and Spirit.
We ask that you would come and meet us in our poverty as the one who is poor in spirit, who is blessed because he’s poor in spirit. We ask that you would come to us in the storms of this life and be our anchor. And we thank you for entering the desert of our hunger and feeding us. We thank you for being the one who goes willingly into the pain and suffering of the cross to be in solidarity with us in death and to rescue us from the grave, raising us back up into the life you share forever with the Father and the Spirit, raising our human nature, and all of us together with you into the very life of God.
Help us to remember and have many reminders of the resurrection in this world that is deceptive and divisive and challenging. Give us, as I bless Tate’s father, many reminders of the resurrection in the days and weeks and months and years that lie ahead.
Help us to see abundance where it feels like there’s only a lack. Help us to see you in all the pages of the scriptures. Especially these texts that we were privileged to meditate on today. Help us always to find you there and in the bread and wine on the table that you set in the presence of our enemies, where we are surrounded by all of the heavenly hosts and all who are not dead but alive in you for you send us into the world to catch men alive. And that’s a participation in your work.
In the name of the father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, we pray. Amen.
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