Sunday, September 17, 2023

 Are you on the 7 Mountains path of goats or 7 Matthew sheep 

situated by Jesus' sermon?

Rev. Douglas Olds

17 September 2023

I. Mark 6:39 and Ps 23:2--the seekers are seated by the messiah in green pastures.  In Matt 5:1 Jesus goes up the mountain to find a crowd. He sits down to deliver his Sermon on the Mount, modeling, instructing, and habituating how these mountain seekers may become his sheep by returning meekly to the sheepfold, through the sheep's gate (Matt  7:13-14), and the green pasturelands prepared by his Father.

II. Goats ignore this sermon to keep climbing the (“7”) Mountains to win the high places. Where they learn the gait of demons: 2 Chronicles 11:15; Isa. 13:21. Goats render and activate (march for) the state (Prov. 30: 29-31). Goats serve the state--a coercive and hegemonic social order--not the people individually and severally in civilizing caregiving.

III. The activated essence of OT beauty is the hair of the loved one which resembles goats streaming down Mount Gilead (Song 4.1; 6:5) to where there are good pasturelands (Nu. 32.1;26) and healing balm (Jer 8:22; 46:11)—where the people are restored (Jer 50:19; Zech 10:10).

IV. The kinesthetics of beauty are the goats leaving their upwards chases of transcendence where are found only demons, to return to earth where they find and serve grace and learn new, gentling and virtuous ways.

V. Those presented with the Sermon on the Mount are posed with a choice: to keep climbing, marching toward a pipe dream of transcendence or, like the prodigal son, to return to the plains and pastures prepared by the Father and tended by the immanent Christ.

V.  At the Father-determined terminus of the age there is a fixation of moral essence--a Christological judgement: one is separated from the other (Ezek 34:17; Matt 25:31–46).

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Who for Plato’s sacked harbor intend

Who for Plato’s sacked harbor intend
cicada-sanded and vinegar air expect,
Against grace’s headwinds vainly beat
Who by red morning vapors from a box to box, note this:
The lily dances with eagles while dandelions denude golden borders
like choral blizzards
Relentless, embracing the voided sediment
with nonpareils, the sap sparking new eras
That melt into eternity bearing nuggeted angelic settlement,
Poetry a people’s scar
shoveling from the paths of children
drifts of slave-fueled sentiment.

~Douglas Olds, September 5, 2023

Thursday, September 7, 2023

 September 7, 2023 A Poem

Douglas Olds

Image a man—and a people that prepares and follows

—eyes that have wept —

ears that have heard murder in the howls of a hungry child —

a mouth that’s thirsted because her cistern has been capped

and her family’s olive trees chopped and burned

—with scars from suffering,

a heart that’s been whipped,

a back that’s bled.

Whips and thorns of luxuriating scorn drinking blood,

the vinegar merchant’s vampiric therapy.

But living for new wine

Is blood that heals, drinking its true and joy.

By this inward blood we image outward.

A farmer thirsts for a different spring.

Digging beyond the blood-soaked dirt ever unslaked

A gullet that trusts a bellied destiny that Easter belies,

Gunlets windbeaten ever backward into the past.

The summons OF Blood surely taps a fountain never failing.

To grow ever deeper and higher,

Spying not the splaying order of root

Or some leafs’ mystic coding

or the mass of stalk or ironed gates of bark,

but discerning the sap in the dance of hummingbirds,

breath invisibly

dipping ever farther into the fountains of life--

A tiny pebble thrown toward the looming sunset is a poem we write that skips into the concentric hues of dawn, vortices expanding melodies of horizons at our aors' points of entry, caresses launching us further into serving the scarred not the scarring: a universe, a garden, a symphony we ourselves part bequeathe. 

Sunday, August 27, 2023

 A sermon by Rev. Douglas Olds

Point Reyes (CA) Community Presbyterian Church

August 27, 2023

Readings: Genesis 4:1-16

                Luke 8: 42b-48

Three English translations of Gen. 4:11:

Gen 4:11 (NASB,  NRSV) Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.


Gen 4:11 (NIV) Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand.


Gen 4:11 (NJPS) Therefore, you shall be more cursed than the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.

 The chiasm in Genesis 4:10-11:

pattern A-B-X-b-A featuring repetition of the A members and recurrent vocal patterns amidst the B and b members, with the central pivot at “curse”













For more information on the Hebrew structure and meaning of Gen. 4:11:

Olds, Rev Douglas. “Crying in the Wilderness of Mammon: Expect Something New: Messianic Predictions and Advent in 1st C Judea.” Crying in the Wilderness of Mammon (blog), December 13, 2014.

Reprinted as Appendix V in Olds, Douglas. Architectures of Grace in Pastoral Care: Virtue as the Craft of Theology beyond Strategic and Authoritative Biblicism (2023)

Wednesday, August 16, 2023


Two Contrasting Structures of “The Two Meanings of Liberty:”

An Essay on Political Theology

Douglas B. Olds

August 2023

The civilization of care rather than the politics of thymic and hegemonic authority recognizes the qualities, needs, and particularities of citizens—especially those most vulnerable—in order to create conditions for their flourishing. Thymic politics expressed in rhetorical allegories of “heroic” rage, contention, control, and status seeking construct a false metaphysics of human transcendence (Fame, Fortune, Peace though strength, Security through Order,[1] [“good guys with a gun”]) rather than discover it in the aspirational folk poetics of common people pursuing loving means. It instead proposes a positive program of interventions for creating a "natural" order (often framed as negatively engaging [controlling] ever-loosely identified threats of chaos). In contrast, the civilization of care begins with people severally and individually to equip the capacities of all to live fully in their God-graced character and potentiality. Positive liberty—the ability to choose and enable constructive and liberative projects that responsibly fulfill one’s gifts and calling (including to duty and responsibility)—is one such condition. A problem of politics arises when the conditions for care and flourishing become abstracted by hegemonic epistemologies from concrete, existential needs. For example, by abstracting positive liberty into “freedom” absent obligation to liberate others. Valorizing negative liberty as to be left alone to do anything one wishes. Abstractions such as this displace the caring impulse and change the civilizing social contract of politics and the collective peoples from seeking the common good of flourishing to that of enabling and empowering highly individualized and facultative, centrifugal self-interest that erupts in acute or chronic deprivation and trauma. In these cases, the political margins of wolfish reactionaries invade the sheepfold’s core consensus of Christian caring, blighting some churches with thymos, adversarial culture warriors, and self-aggrandizing and transactional personalities. By this, the neurosis of agon manifests, lamentable in its false witness to the Gospel of love, peace, renewal, and restoration.

The dichotomization of liberty into “negative” and “positive” captivated the thought of Isaiah Berlin’s acolytes, including many libertarians. Berlin proposed a definition of this dichotomy that inverts the metaphysical locus of ultimate agency (in the isolative creature rather than the relationally Trinitarian Creator) but nevertheless are two overlapping aspects of negative responsibility to--failure of--the duty to care:

The 'negative' sense [of freedom], is involved in the answer to the question 'What is the area within which the subject–a person or group of persons–is or should be left to do or be what he is able to do or be, without interference by other persons?' The second, which I shall call the 'positive' sense, is involved in the answer to the question 'What, or who, is the source of control or interference that can determine someone to do, or be, this rather than that?[2]

 Berlin’s identifying outside controls and interference (negative, limiting warrants) are labeled the “positive” (as in determinant “positivism”) for a person’s self-chosen projects. A similar grammar of inversion—a double negative (“without interference”)-- characterizes Berlin’s “negative liberty” that seeks existential warrant or clarity for discerning personal spaces absent limitation of self-chosen projects. As such, these limits are “negative” social spaces and constructs. Positivistic liberty is determining that which limits or interferes (a single negative). Berlin’s “negative liberty” is the domain of permissiveness--having a sense of allowance and toleration. Such terminological irony results from Berlin’s system’s proximities to the conservative rage (thymos) for collective(!) order realized in Carl Schmitt’s “political theology:” the coercive exercise of the sovereign’s monopoly on violence because violence precedes legal structures, and the sovereign’s identity is his agreement with the ontological principle of violence ordering chaos.[3] From this may be derived the hegemonic principle that the only duty is to be ruled, rather than to care (give charity in extremis and in routine, grace-spreading virtues that establish and maintain community shalom in the historical processes of generational change and attendent new precarities.)

Like his “negative liberty,” Berlin’s “positive liberty” sustains the kind of egoism expressed in “heroic rage” that both by its limiting virtus and refusal to care are grounded in an anthropology of radical and agonistic false self-determination out of harmony with the metaphysical conation of grace that creates and sustains. The Christian, in contrast, understands freedom as bounded by the law of love: the positive Golden Rule and its own negative constructs in the Decalogue (Exodus 20: 1-21) which Calvin (Institutes II, vii, 12) recognizes as the “third use of the [moral] law.” Bounded freedom is structured solely by the positive duty to care, which includes the training to recognize and respond to precarity (Olds in prep.). Thus, Christological liberty has a positive aspect in the duty to care (positive because the locus of liberation and material sustenance is realized by the enabling of agency of others first) and a negative aspect that prohibits the infliction of harms by individual practice of sin that violates the Decalogue’s moral law.

Berlin must be aware of some relational dimension to liberty (as, for example in its negotiations and political settlements by means of deliberative virtues) but primarily presents its structure in terms of individualized (re)cognition of vectors of power qua negative influence arising from social orders. Any constructive power of liberty is expressed by a creature acting individually with “rational self-interest.” In this, an ideology of power generates a self’s false sense of unboundedness from caring for others with their own intrinsic value and claims to moral and material goods both private and public.

In contrast, the Christological power is the laying down of all expressions of hegemony as “false consciousness and praxis” of power.[4] Christological power is constructive as it is supremely other-directed rather than self-interested. In the constructive duty of the Golden Rule is the power of grace structured, shared, and recognized. Only in a civilization of care is agency allowed to flourish. Selfishness pursued as “negative freedom to be left alone” actually binds the practitioner to the limiting powers (divine justice) he attempts to flee.[5] Giving up any expressions of coercion is a ceding of the ensnaring false power (Matthew 13:41). Only in a re-definition of the power of freedom and caring absent hegemonic control is Christological power realized. Positive power is caring. Negative (ineffectual, creation-opposing) power is controlling. Positive freedom is the allowance to choose one’s ideology and expression of power. Negative freedom is the responsibility to choose wisely and live with the consequences—to live by the sword is to die by the sword (Matthew 26:52; cf. 7:2).

Berlin’s existential confusion about the metaphysics of power revealed by his ironical inversion of negative and positive spaces of agency reveals that these two proposals (Berlin’s and Christological) of freedom’s structure can themselves have these considerations of agency applied to them. Berlin’s systematics of freedom is “negative” in a multiplicity of senses. The very confusion of terms and the misunderstanding of metaphysical duty and allowance ensnare personal agency rather than liberate.

Again in contrast, Christology reveals a “positive” systematics of freedom. It induces allegiance to the reign of God expressed in the Christological virtues free from the necessity of strategizing and control. Freed indeed from the vain practices of hegemony-seeking selfish advantage that will only return the geometric wages of self-limiting justice coercing responsibility for the hegemon and his sins and the return to freedom for his captives (Luke 4:18-19). Liberty for Pharaoh has no sustaining power. It looks into its own mirror, frozen in the hegemon's self-regard sublimating the terror at inexorably slipping control.

But what makes others alive will truly make you alive too. Join in, freely, ceding control to the flow of metaphysical grace. In this--in Christ's virtues--is liberty truly found. This system of bounded liberty (bonded to the creation and its limitless goodness) is profoundly different than the structure of liberty that defines itself negatively by unbondedness from a limiting world.

[POSTSCRIPT: I submitted this essay to the evaluation of ChatGPT 4.0 on August 16-17, 2023. In the process it came up with its own  alternative structure, "conditional liberty," machine monitoring of social conditions ("metrics"), constantly adjusting the operation of liberty to a predetermined (by system stakeholders) end and overseen by oligarchic cadres of human circuit breakers. In short, hegemony. It also proposed another structure for liberty, "Evolutionary Liberty," where the operationalization and definitions of freedom are tethered to a teleological principle, presumably as derived in the TESCREAL complex.

Of course the effect on liberty from the virtue ethical approach is how it dispenses with the need to structure or predefine an "ends" for liberty. This is another distinction of the two structures of liberty's meaning proposed by this essay, and another dimension that poses a significant humanistic challenge to ideals of machined liberties of "conditionals" and "evolved:" Because of generational change and different stages of historical and epistemological development, including historicist epistemologies, the application of a predetermined end to these systems of distributing liberty as a public good inevitably involves coercion. Virtue ethics in its Christology is free of concerns with coerced ends.]

[1]Herder, Johann Gottfried. Adrastea II.8 (Continuation)(1801-02): Imagery (Bilder), Allegories (Allegorien), and Personifications. English translation.

[2] Berlin, Isaiah. “Two Concepts of Liberty.” In Liberty: Incorporating Four Essays on Liberty, 166–217 (169). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. First published 1958.

[3] Schmitt, Carl. Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty. Translated by George Schwab. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005, chap. 1.

For a repudiation of putatively Christian warrants of sovereignty and “dominion” through ontological violence and religious ideologies of “chaoskampf"  (violent struggle with chaos) and theomachy (divine battling), see Douglas B. Olds, Architectures of Grace in Pastoral Care: Virtue as the Craft of Theology beyond Strategic and Authoritative Biblicism (Wipf and Stock, 2023), 72-80.

[4] Matthew Winthrop Barzun, The Power of Giving Away Power: How the Best Leaders Learn to Let Go (New York: Optimism Press, 2021). See also empirical studies on leadership power structured on hierarchy and control, e.g.  “In his study of brain stimulation, neuroscientist Sukhvinder Obhi found that powerful people exhibited an impairment in ‘mirroring.’ Mirroring is a neural process that causes us to subconsciously mimic another person's non-verbal behavior.” Jerry Useem, “Power Causes Brain Damage,” The Atlantic, June 18, 2017,

Also: mp2201 [author], “Power Damages Our Capacity for Compassion and Empathy." The Disability Inclusion Challenge.

[5] The Golden Rule/duty to care has negative (the Rich man in hell: Luke 16:19f) and positive (the Good Samaritan Luke 10:14f) exemplars. The negative is radically cautionary.

This duty is illustrated in the contexts of individuals in proximity and not of a political or sociological discourse. However, there is a sociological dimension to the duty to care, part of the developmental process of eschatology. The Greek version of Matthew 7:12 has Jesus address the plural of "you" in his imperative, similarly plural in the return flow of grace. It would be coherent for a directive to the individual would not be changed in a collective or historical context. 

Finally, these illustration involve no considerations or claims of reciprocity. Proximity of precarity triggers the awareness of sociological or humanistic responsibility carried out in the duty of the individual to provide care.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

[The Kinesthetics of Dance as an Allegory of Immanence:] 

 Johann Gottfried Herder's Adrastea, II.9 [Introduction] (1801-02)

[translated from the German by ChatGPT 4.0 according to instructions, with brief annotations, by Douglas B. Olds]

Issue II. Früchte aus den sogenannt goldnen Zeiten des achtzehnten Jahrhunderts ["Fruits from the so-called golden times of the eighteenth century"]

#9. Dance. Melodrama.

The most expressive allegory (Allegorie [qua imaging of immanence]) we know is humanity. The forces, inclinations, thoughts, and passions of the soul are not merely hinted at by their exterior, the body, but are revealed to the discerning (Verständigen) observer. Constantly, individuals bear the visible expression of what they are inside or wish to be, i.e., their character (Charakter), with them; but in every, especially passionate and unexpected moment, they also temporarily reveal what stirs within them. They are a walking painting of themselves, a mirror in which their spiritual form inadvertently appears. Since feelings, drives, and affections are the more active part of our nature, which are only silently accompanied or guided by thoughts, and the former express themselves most powerfully through gestures, while language essentially only denotes thoughts and barely comments on feelings: thus, especially in passionate instances, the gesture disdainfully dismisses the word as alien and useless; an exclamation, an interjection is preferred. Nothing dilutes the emotion more than talking about it; with pretenders and deceivers, i.e., with posers and dissemblers, words often say the exact opposite of what the gaze conveys; or even if the gaze is deceitful, the whole heart often betrays itself – through a gesture.

One should indeed trust the natural mirror that eternal truth itself has set up for us! It cannot lie. Only look into it with a clear mind and an unbiased heart, not fleetingly, but attentively.

How powerful a gesture is! Convincing, stirring, lasting. When we think of someone absent, a [danced] gesture of theirs is the first thing that comes to mind, or rather they themselves characteristically in their gestures. Thus, moments of trust and love as well as revulsion and disgust are immortalized in us. Think of a person: as their image first comes to mind in gesture, so they are inscribed in your heart.

In both tender and fiery emotions, everything hinges on the gesture; often we even escape the word of the lips, as if it weakened or desecrated that inner expression. "Don't speak," we say; "give me your gaze, your hint, for the soul itself is inexpressible." In the most soulful expressions of theater, we hang on a gesture and gladly overlook the word. "Why," we ask, "is it necessary when the gesture says everything?"

But if the gesture dismisses words of emotion, won't it have another friend in nature to accompany it? It's music; tones naturally support the gesture. Not only do both rely on timing, on modulation; in gestures, in gait, in the eyes, in expression and action, movement and the measure of movement speak the most. Nothing, for example, disturbs us more than an uneven gait, a faltering false voice, etc., they throw us completely out of the rhythm of our soul.

But not just movement, tones are to one sense what gestures are to another, expression of the mobile nature, elastic oscillations, a direct language of the heart.

Like attracts like, one calls the other and takes it along. With the recurring gesture of the absent one, often even without words, the sound of their voice returns to us. In an enchanting posture, we wish it would turn into a tone. When, on the speaking stage, noble or gentle emotions rise to their highest, i.e., simplest height, they either lift themselves to tone or we painfully miss and lack the analogous tones that nature itself linked to them according to our feeling.

Among all the peoples of the earth, tones and gestures have been paired. The dances of the so-called savages are mimetic, whether they are war or peace, joy, mockery or love dances. Joy and love, the sweetest emotions of the human heart, are however the soul of the dance; even hate and mockery must, in it (e.g., in the war and mockery dances of the savages), if they are to be danceable, turn to joy.

And how the dance captures all natural humans! How it displays the inner and outer elasticity, the character! Hence the vast differences in national dances, which all aim at a single purpose and show a human figure. Under favorable climates, well-organized nations live and weave in these pleasures, in which the soul and body, rejoicing together, become one. Individuals forget burdens and whips when they jump on festival days. The future life to these natural humans is an ever-changing chain of dances of love and joy.

Have you ever seen human nature more alive than in a soulful dance? Does one of the so-called fine arts act more vividly, often dangerously vividly, on the heart of youth? There is grace in language, magic in tones and gestures.

It was, therefore, inevitable that every nation formed for joy and love would turn the spiritual bond between sounds and gestures into a kind of fine art, each in its own way. [S. Cahusac's "History of Dance Art," translated in the "Collection of Miscellaneous Writings" (Berlin, by Nicolai), in which Lucian's essay "On Dance", Vossius' "De poet. Graec.", the 23rd chapter of Meiners' "History of the Origins of Fine Arts in Greece", where one can also find further particulars on this subject.] 

The more mature and original a nation, the more its dances will be related to its language and customs; however, with modern commercial nations, i.e., nations that are no longer original but only a copy of others, the dances will be universal.

However, not all individuals are formed for joy and love; many are rough, cold, and joyless, to which the spirit of the dance must seem as a new element. Even the most spiritual of all, the Greeks, were not entirely susceptible to it, because with them everything concentrated itself on the mind, and the heart was left too much out.

Therefore, the dance of love could only have originated in the east, where tenderness and gentleness sprout from every bush. It was invented by the more intelligent Hindus, which, as spiritualized as they were, could not long retain it. They had to pass it on to the Persians, and these, in turn, to the Greeks. One should read what has been written about it, especially in Plutarch's piece on music, and on the effects and powers of melodies contained in the work titled "On the Education of Children."

 The Romans had no spiritual dance art. Not that they couldn't dance, on the contrary, they were enthusiastic dancers, but it was only a hopping and twisting around without inner sensation, without the proper combination of sounds and gestures, without a spirit. The refinement, the development of the spirit, was the work of the Greeks, who also, without a doubt, introduced the dance art of the Greeks and Egyptians into Rome, the elegant part of which was called pantomime by the Romans, while the clumsy, crude part of the dance was called chorus.

However, how significant is the difference between the Greek chorus and the Roman pantomime! As is the case with everything Roman, the latter was only a rough caricature of the former. In Greece, dance art never became a separate thing; in Rome, on the other hand, it became a specific art, because every art has its childhood, its growth age, and its decay, and the pantomime is the age of growth of the Greek chorus, the final art of an over-ripe, decaying nation. Hence it also had its heyday under the Empire, where it even seems to have become the leading art.

However, just as this art, which was based on the connection of sounds and gestures, arose in the East, developed with the Greeks and reached its climax with the Romans, it then disappeared in the West for a long time, to reappear but differently.

If the dance of love is the beginning of every melodrama, if it originated in the East, if people from the Orient, especially those from the Hindu and Persian cultures, first made the spiritual bond of sounds and gestures into a fine art, then the Italians, who were in connection with the Romans, are to be thanked for having again given it to us, to all of Europe, but in a form that only modern nations can use.

Indeed, one cannot read Italian poetry without simultaneously hearing singing, playing, and acting. I believe that the first opera performers did nothing other than what every passionate Italian naturally does: they sang, played, and acted their roles at the same time. All Italians are natural singers, players, and actors; only the restrained North lacks all of this. When we hear Italian poetry, the gesturing, acting Italian also stands before our eyes.

Therefore, it was natural that the tones and gestures combined again, i.e., the melodrama, reappeared in Italy. It seems to have been the famous Ruggieri who, in 1600, reintroduced the ancient dance of love, the final element of all melodramas, in Rome, from which it spread throughout Italy.

However, even today, this dance art is not in its maturity but in its childhood; and Italy, Germany, France, and all modern nations are still busy with its first elements, with shaping it according to the spirit of the times. Only the English seem to have the true sense of it, and Shakespeare was the first modern poet. Not everything (Alles) can be expressed by dance, nor can every silent gesture, even if accompanied by music (Musik). Music (Musik), when paired with language and then supported by gestures, opens a new field for poetry (Dichtkunst). If dance can be introduced to this, well and good! But then let it work either by itself or led by singing choirs; song (Gesang) and dance in one person hinder each other...


German Source: Adrastea, J. G. Herder

Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck

86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9


ISBN: 9783849627638

Monday, July 3, 2023


Called Back to the Plow[sermon]

Rev. Dr. Douglas B. Olds

Point Reyes (CA) Community Presbyterian Church

July 2, 2023

"A person's unhappiness never lies in his lack of control over external conditions, since this would only make him completely unhappy."


"The gospel proclaims an imminent revolution, when nothing will remain as it is: 'And see the last shall be first, and the first, last.'” --Jacob Taubes, Occidental Eschatology, 67.

OT Reading: 1 Kings 19:15–21 

15 Then the LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. 16 Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. 17 Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. 18 Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”

19 So he set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. 20 He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” Then Elijah said to him, “Go back again; for what have I done to you?” 21 He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant. 

NT Reading: Luke 9:51–62

 51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But he turned and rebuked   them. 56 Then they went on to another village.

57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” 

While the party line of our denomination is that Sunday lectionary readings do not constitute a “fit,” meaning a unified message, there are quite often thematic linkages between the OT and NT readings.

The necessity to find these links is to have a well-worked out interpretive framework of the Bible, which in my recently published book is the metaphysical architecture of grace.

Grace’s architecture is what the Bible reveals: God’s program for justice, historical progress, and the ethical call to virtue and human “immanence”— the human imaging of God by actively dispensing God’s transcendent grace to neighbors.

    This divine will of grace that created life and then continues to sustain and redeem it from human sin is the metaphysical and central interpretive framework to interpret historical examples of both rebuke and redemption in the Bible.

The thematic and symbolic link in this morning’s OT and NT readings is the yoked plow.

 In the OT, it is laid down.

In the NT, it is picked up.

In the OT there is a material, agricultural sense for the plow, while in the NT it has a spiritual sense in working seed into the kingdom soil, which is the spirit of grace.

A marked spiritual and historical transformation proceeds through the plow laid down in the field by the hands of the national prophets Elijah and Elisha, and then spiritualized by the messiah who not only restores but focuses disciples’ attention on diligence and “not looking back” taking up the plow anew, one transformed in the Spirit.

This strong transition of direction and spirit suggests not only an historical change in Israel’s national destiny, but also a strong ethical redirection and focus for disciples.

This redirection is crucial to understand as Christians are continually lured to consider that their role in history is to recapitulate Israel’s violent, nationhood story.

That story of national accountability is realized in the historical boomerang of the sword: the swords of Elijah and Elisha. Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall  kill. That sword ever boomerangs. Violence begins a cycle of violence: even the pagan Greeks recognized that. National Israel becomes hammered into fragmented vassal communities well before the end of the prophetic age.

We know this by how Jesus applies the symbols of yoke and plowing in contrast with that of Elisha. There are strong directional verbs which pick up this transformation of national symbols.

Israel moves into another historical phase with Elisha around the 9th C BCE—

to promote other nations to wage war on Israel’s behalf.

That phase is ended when the OT prophetic age culminates with Malachi around 400 B.C.

At that point, Judea as national Israel’s successors becomes stuck inside the imperial dominance of the Seleucid Greeks then the Romans.

But in the earlier national phase of the prophets, Elijah passes by Elisha plowing his fields with a team of oxen.

Elisha represents the agricultural phase of Israel’s history,

but now Elijah is going to pass to him the prophet’s mantle over a new phase of Israel’s history:

its Machiavellian struggle with the idolators surrounding it.

Elijah lays upon Elisha his cloak—mantle—and calls him to promote armed struggle.

Elisha as prophetic representative of the Israelite people lays down his plow, slaughters his oxen, and by this new military careerism will try to feed and secure his people from the flesh of conquest.

Elisha asks that Elijah permit him to first go and take leave of his family, a nostalgia for tradition and blood lines that Elijah allows but Jesus later will not.

In the New Testament, Jesus recalls his disciples as the new people of spiritual Israel, which the Apostle Paul calls the “Israel of God,” to return to the plow .  

To take up the plow is to reconstitute the spiritual industry that brings forth the kingdom of God.

This is a highly marked contrast, so that we know (especially in the context of the Sermon on the Mount) that the followers of Jesus are not constituted by him for an Elijah/Elisha mission of anointing sword-wielding kings.

Like elsewhere too numerous to note this morning, Israel has gone through transitions of nationalized vanities.

 But in our reading from Luke, taking up the yoke to plow is the messianic and conclusive phase of the now spiritually-reconstituted people.

Spiritual Israel.

The church of disciples.

Rather than following a team of oxen, the Israel of God are now yoked to Christ in union with the Holy Spirit.

They follow now not an economic or military-industrial role, but are called to “announce”-- go and give notice of the kingdom of God. 

The Greek work is διάγγελλε—“give notice of and to”--the kingdom of God. “Giving notice” is not simply proclaiming and evangelizing, but the very context of this story is the manifesting “fitness” of those who take up the yoke of Christ.

That is, their conduct indicates this fitness.

Not just voice but practice demonstrates to onlookers the arriving and fitting of the Kingdom of God.

As I ever try to distinguish from other religious factions focused on simple belief and announcement alone, the kingdom demonstration and its call to witness is active, ethical, and aesthetic/poetic.

 It speaks the language of modernity as it demonstrates by virtues the kind of transformed life that is admirable to onlookers.

Those to whom we are called by this story to “give notice of and to” the Kingdom.

It is not Elijah’s kingdom,

ours is not Elijah’s call to sell our implements and slaughter our means for feeding others by the sword,

but to take up the yoke and plow instead of the sword, planting the seeds of shalom and tending them by the virtues that make peace.

Could this be any clearer?

Not for militarized Christians, tragically.

To circle back to our OT reading:

the instrumental phase of Israel’s national destiny under Elijah was taking up a punitive role of the prophetic.

The instrumental and arrogating role of the sword, rather, that substituted for the humble and fructifying role of the plow. 

As Judea was later experiencing imperial domination, Second Temple Judaism’s book of Sirach was written to announce the expected second coming of Elijah to bring retribution in the same way as the first: recapitulating history rather than progressing it toward the conative will of God;  its theodicy indicated by the Hebrew word in Sirach used in the sense of ‘recompense’ which promotes the ugly vanity of executing vengeance against the "nations."

The question should be asked: “why would the all-knowing and eternal God require a historical do-over?”

 A doppelganger Elijah--an Elijah boomerang--to re-arm Israel’s friends?

A new emperor Cyrus to empower American Trumpians? 

The answer is, God does not need to repeat history.

The whole project of looking for OT types recurring cyclically in historical time is ignorant of the age of the messiah.

The history of grace does not and need not repeat.

History is not cyclical, though sin ever rhymes.

If we look for a repetition of history, we are looking for the power of sin that ever repeats the same ol' vanities.

So my first point is this: the history inside the metaphysics of grace does not repeat.

Israel’s history progresses from nomadic to bondage to liberation to settled peasant agriculture then to monarchy then to material and prophetic militarism and now the unfolding age of the kingdom of grace.

The Book of Sirach’s “turning back” expectation of Elijah returned—

as if God failed the first time with this figure—

suggests why Ben Sira’s writings were excluded from Christian canonization. John the Baptist is identified by Mark as the spiritual return of Elijah to reorient Israel to make God’s paths in the wilderness straight. The new Elijah was the prophet of repentence, which prepares the way for a radical historical transformation. Metaphorically, Israel is to take its eyes from the expectation of a militarized messiah announced by a return of the old type of prophetic Elijah.

Instead, Israel’s Messiah, in the Gospels, will reinterpret the OT pattern of the prophetic age situating plowing as the active imaging of grace by God’s imagers.

History is progressive in terms of the realization of grace in immanence.

My first point restated is: Recapitulating military adventurism is THE national sin.

While God ever returns with mercy and grace, God does not return with figures of violence.

The disciples calling down fire is a (recompensatory) punishment rejected by Jesus.

The work for the Kingdom is NEVER intended for the destruction or compellence of the unreceptive.

Secondly: Jesus says that the “new call” to the disciples to take up the plow that Elisha laid down requires that the plower not look back.

 To take up the plow, Jesus gives a pronouncement: 

if you look back you are not “fit” for which the kingdom is fitted,

language that points to practical crafts and conduct, not simple and static beliefs.

This passage is often preached as warning against procrastination (or regret or quitting). Even by the usually astute Eugene Peterson in The Message.

But I think this is simplistic and misses the ethical point.

This passage gives a repeated role of moral “directionalities” --turning to, looking back.

Elisha seeks the nostalgia of his family tradition, the imperial hold of the past, of jejune and unwise sentimentalities.

Yet Jesus won’t allow this nostalgia, this simplistic traditionalism.

Eccl. 7: 10 is germane here, my new "go to quote:”  

 Do not say, “Why were the former days better than these?”

    For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.

But “looking back” is to look at the plowed rows points to the danger of ethical consequentialism.

Luke is contrasting Jesus with Elijah and Elisha and OT instrumentalism concerned with compulsion and the lookout for effectiveness compared with NT ethics of freedom from consequential accountability from strategic ethics accomplished instead by bottum-up virtues.

The OT was concerned with the national destiny of Israel accomplished by compulsion and strategic instrumentalism—how the sword is ever resorted to plow through world.

The NT, on the other hand, is concerned with the Kingdom of God accomplished in forward-looking virtue and liberation in and for grace.

Do what’s right and virtously effective for what God calls us locally.

Not what is happening outside in the world.

Not by judging the effects of what happens from our discipleship plowing.

We don’t judge our activities by the plowed rows, by the Spirit rigged sail boat’s wake, which is Traditionalism.

Now, we are called keep our eyes firmly on the future and its unfolding task of progress.

Luke says twice! that “[Jesus’] face was set toward Jerusalem.”

Doubly emphatic future orientation.

Not looking back at what he had accomplished so far.

Luke makes this process explicitly, morally redirective:

 v. 54 But he turned and rebuked them [turning is a moral concept, not an instrumental], contextualized by v. 62:  Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is for the kingdom of God.”

 Fit [effective, but not by consequence, by task and goal-accomplishing ethical virtue].

That’s my second message today:

Don’t look to the immediate consequences of your kingdom task:

keep plowing neighborhoods in gentleness for spreading the virtuous seed ahead,

trusting God for the ripening and harvests of your mission and call.

Your conduct.

This is a new era that follows from  Elisha slaughtering his 12 oxen, symbolic of the workers in Isaiah’s prophecy of the vineyard.

Workers are instrumental, the slaughter oxen instrumentally feed Elisha’s community.

But this instrumentalism, this ethical and strategic consequentialism, is mooted in Jesus’ paradigm and symbolism which is ethical in the way of shalom and grace-making alone.

Jesus is not strategically constructing, absent any fox's hole or a nest.

He is not concerned with some putative human natural law of strategic security and differential protection of self or progeny.

Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

“Looking rearward” is to compare yourself to others— the least theologically and ethically effective (“FIT”) activity imaginable. Consider animals in nature.

Do they regard others competitively? Enviously? Conventionally? Comparatively? Which is “natural”—that problematic word when applied to ALL humans as God’s imagers?

Our antagonistic culture leads us to expect instant impact, our ministries going viral is the test and BRAND of someone’s potential and power.  

The temptation to let our work be branded and thus by the capitalist notion of ministry as product —marketable, consumable, and lucrative.

Of one’s ministry curated to draw a certain kind of attention (social media clicks) interpreted as cultural influence.

 Its wake, its diggings, its too-often fracking.

But this branding is all noise external to the kingdom of care itself which is quiet and companionable, humble and welcoming.

     Take shalom’s long view.

Turn down the noise.

Sail to the mark.

Regard the real and attend not to the virtual:

the algorithms and aesthetics of conventions of consequential impact that exclude in the name of competition.

Our bulletin quote this morning from Kierkegaard calls our attention to the fact that the greater and harder point of life is to change what is inside of us,

not what is outside of us, which is the development of the socially calming virtues rather than the development of what is impossible:

a consequentialist program of strategic intellect to determine the future.

While strategic rationality proposes that for every natural cause there is a natural effect, such an approach to guiding both society and mission gets bogged down in human finiteness, limitation of knowledge of future sequences and cascades of effects from emerging information,  the meaning of “natural” and the role of chance,  and, for those of us who know God, the radical redirections of salvation and grace on reshaping our human freedom:

our individual efforts and intentions redirected by repentence and spirit.

Consequentialism as a program for ethical, political, and cognitive rationality goes off the rails after a few predictions.

 That’s why so many people are rightly concerned with turning over management of complex systems to the “if then” logic and symbolic mathematics of AI algorithms lacking souls.

It took me a long time to understand that Christ’s theology is about building civilizations of care from the ground up— from the humble perspective of immanent grace— not a strategic program for designing social policy from the top down—from a transcendent view of God’s justice.

This is what taking up the plow means.

It means to be yoked to the community on earth, not peering into the councils of heaven with regards to the unfolding global future.

We leave to God the consequential operation of justice. We don’t look back to see how our plowed actions bear fruit, but continue to focus on our daily routines and tasks, entrusting that if the Holy Spirit has called us, our faithful allegiance to that task will surely bear fruit.

Rather than alerting us solely to the dangers of nostalgia or procrastination,

Luke’s text warns us against developing a consequentialist and strategic rationality as a short cut to (a short-circuit of) the time consuming and arduous practices of virtue and the ethical development of community shalom from the ground up, relying on God for the big picture organization of individual Christian callings to transform the world and its systems.

The transcendent God is calling individual disciples of Christ by the Holy Spirit to plow their own fields.

 There will be others following later (even generationally) to seed, to weed, and to harvest.

 Let’s not look back.

 Let’s keep our small teams moving forward by keeping our eyes on the captain and perfecter of our faith, Jesus Christ. May it be so for you and me. AMEN.