The Heavens and Planet X: A Layman Looks at the Planets

In July, a very cool thing is going to happen. New Horizons, launched in 2006, will arrive at Pluto. I am not an astronomer, but I have always loved the planets in the stars. I had books on space as a child, and a homemade mobile of the solar system hanging from the ceiling of my bedroom. I devoured science fiction. I guess you could say I am an amateur (literally: lover). 

 Yes, of course, my mobile included Pluto. Discovered in 1930, Pluto was considered a planet when I was a kid. In 2006, just nine years ago, we got a demotion, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

For millions of years our ancestors have stared up into the heavens with wonder and fascination. Those who are spiritually awake look at the stars, the flowers and all of creation with awe. 

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? 

—Psalm 8:3-4

  
Ancient people noticed that the stars, while shifting, always remained in the same relationship to one another. There were, however five stars that tended to wander around the sky. The Greeks called these “wandering stars” or astēr planētēs (ἀστήρ πλανήτης). Those of us who have studied biblical Greek may recognize the word for “wandering.” Jude (1:13) refers to his opponents as “ἀστήρ πλανήτης,” wandering stars. 

These wandering stars were given divine importance. We have come to know them by their Roman names: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Occasionally other wanderers would appear. Today we would call them comets. These wandering stars were held as sacred. They had special significance. They were believed to portend theborth of great leaders and point the direction to important events. 

Earth was not understood as a planet until the 16th century, and even then with considerable resistance from the church hierarchy. Many discoveries threatened the accepted order. Don’t miss this though: Copernicus was a polish priest. 

Uranus is visible to the naked eye, but because it was so faint and its movement so barely perceptible, even though it was noticed even prior to Jesus’ birth, it was taken for a star until the 1700s, the first planet discovered by telescope. 
Neptune was predicted by mathematical calculation before it was found. Anomalies in Uranus’ orbit led astronomers to believe there was gravitational pull from a larger body beyond Uranus. Neptune was found in the 1800s. 

Likewise, there were some slight anomalies in Neptune’s orbit that led astronomers to begin searching for a ninth planet. In 1906 Percival Lowell began looking for what he called “Planet X.” Pluto was discovered in 1930, but alas, Lowell died in 1916. Ironically, he had indeed seen Pluto in a 1915 image but didn’t didn’t recognize it for what it was. 

On February 18, 1930, the “planet” was discovered.many names were suggested (Zeus and Atlas, e.g.), but the final name was given by an 11-year-old girl: Pluto. 

Much lore surrounded the search for Planet X. By the 50’s War of the Worlds shocked the country. Sci-fi geeks like me may recall the 1951 film The Man from Planet X. 

 

Thing is, Pluto was one of many objects orbiting the sun in a group called the Kuiper belt. True, Pluto was the largest yet found, but there were problems. First of all Pluto is less than half the size of our moon. Second, Pluto is not much larger than one of its five known moons (Charon, discovered later). Some call Pluto-Charon a binary system, because they revolve around each other. Perhaps New Horizons will resolve this in July. 

In 1977 another minor planet , Chiron, was discovered, pretty close to Pluto’s size. Scientists knew it would only be a matter of time before a body larger than Pluto was was discovered in the Kuiper Belt. 

That time came in 2005. Eris was discovered, a body more massive than Pluto. What to do? Are they all planets then? Some said, “Yes.” How big is a planet? Must it have an atmosphere? 

In 2006, the International Astronomical Union determined a planet must be able to be rounded by its own gravity, not be so large as to cause thermonuclear fusion, and have cleared the area around it of debris. Pluto was demoted to a planetoid. Opponents of this controversial decision would favor a broader definition of planet, making Chiron and Eris planets, along with perhaps dozens of other orbiting bodies. 

There is much we don’t know about Pluto. New Horizons will teach us much. Does Pluto have an atmosphere? If so, made of what? Are there more than five moons? What is the topography like?

Since it passed Jupiter, New Horizons has been asleep. In December they woke it up without a hitch. New Horizons arrives mid-July. These are exciting times to be alive. 

  

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May 31, 2015 is Trinity

Isaiah 6:1-8 – Call of Isaiah. Six-winged seraph. Holy, holy, holy.

Psalm 29 – Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness. (Ps. 29:2)

Romans 8:12-17 – Life in the Spirit. Present suffering incomparable to the glory to be revealed. Creation eagerly waits… in labor?

John 3:1-17 – Nicodemus. Being born of the Spirit, which blows where it wills.

2 Corinthians in June

In June and July 5 my posts will all be from 2 Corinthians, the appointed epistle readings those Sundays. In addition to my regular blog posts and podcasts, I will be offering discussion questions for small groups. A daily devotional book is also available in paperback and on kindle.

Invite your people into:

  • Daily devotionsA Heart for Reconciliation, a daily devotional book is available on paperback and kindle.
  • Weekly Bible study – Discussion Qs for Small Groups. These are also in the back of th devotional book, A Heart for Reconciliation.
  • Sunday worship – Background material and sermon helps are available below. Podcasts in which I chat about the texts and the series, will also be available.

The Five Sunday Texts

Don’t Lose Heart
Pentecost 2B: June 7, 2015 – 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 – So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed daily.

New Creation
Pentecost 3B: June 14 – 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17 – If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. We walk by faith and not by sight, at home in the body and away from the Lord.

Open Heart
Pentecost 4B: June 21 – 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 – Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation. We have endured beatings, riots, hunger, imprisonment…

Eager Generosity
Pentecost 5B: June 28 – 2 Corinthians 8:7-15 – The offering for the poor in Jerusalem. Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.

Powerful Weakness
Pentecost 6B: July 5 – 2 Corinthians 12:2-10 – Paul’s out of body experience, and his thorn in the flesh. My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

Trinity

When the Father laughs at the Son
and the Son laughs back at the Father,
that laughter gives pleasure,
that pleasures gives joy,
that joy gives love,
and the love is the Holy Spirit.
—Meister Eckhardt

Trinity Sunday is the only festival of the church year dedicated to a doctrine. A full discussion of its roots can be found on Wikipedia under Trinity. There is is a lot of interesting information there, but as Pastor Don Carlson in our synod says, it’s pretty hard to preach. Preaching doctrines can be a pretty dry business. One has to ask the question from the perspective of the assembly, “So what?” Where does that touch down?

One of the ways I have found to touch down in people’s lives is to talk about experiences of God. We experience God as creator (through creation and being in our own skin). We experience God in the life, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. We experience God in the Holy Spirit, the spirit of Jesus that blows through our lives and our communities.

Pastor Carlson suggests rehearsing Luther’s Small Catechism on the Apostle’s Creed. The Small Catechism is helpfully included in the pew edition of Evangelical Lutheran Worship, page 1160. The portion on the Creed begins on page 1162. Luther focuses on “believing” not as intellectual assent to events or doctrines, but rather in trusting in God: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Consider singing “Come, Join the Dance of Trinity,” 412 ELW and “Holy God, We Praise Your Name,” 414 ELW. Another Trinitarian hymn is “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” ELW 756. God, Whose Almighty Word; Holy, Holy, Holy — There are simply too many good traditional Trinitarian hymns to list them all.

In a contemporary setting, We Believe, by The Newsboys is popular in many of our congregations. The refrain is low and singable. The theology is straightforward. David Scherer (Agape) has a creed, as do Lost and Found, Jay Beech, The David Crowder Band (“Believe”) and Hillsong (“This I Believe”).

Here is a video on YouTube that might make for a meaningful prelude/gathering or contemplative piece during the service. It is a “Ken Burns effect” on Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Trinity set to the opening of Tchaikovsky’s “Liturgy of St John Chrysostom.” The Russian Orthodox chant captures a sense of mystery.

I would not drag out the Athanasian Creed on this day. It has, in my opinion, little liturgical value. The product of 4th century polemics, it is a valuable historical document that may have important in study, requires too much interpretation of the 4th century cosmology to be helpful, especially to newcomers. Pastor Carlson says, “It nails the coffin lid on Arianism and Adoptionism, but also nails the lid on interest about halfway through; and the anathemas smack of Christendom.”

Jesus and Nicodemus

To preach the day or preach the text? That is the question. I doubt that the writer of John had Trinitarian formulations in mind in this pericope. Read Pastor Carlson’s extensive notes on John’s theology and this passage, based on the work of Dr. Ray Pickett (LSTC). . Don Carlson has several excellent posts on the Trinity on my blog, as he used to post when I’d take vacation in June. Here’s another one, that gives some historical perspective to our trinitarian creeds.

I would disagree with his premise that “born again” is unbiblical. It’s true that “ανωθεν” can mean either “again” or “from above.” It can also mean “from the top.” To say one reading is “unbiblical” seems excessive. Furthermore, Nicodemus seems to confirm “born again” when he makes the comment about returning to the womb and being born a second time. Perhaps the double meaning is intentional. Both work together. We are to be reborn from above. Translation is tricky. One could faithfully translate it, “unless one is reborn from heaven,” in my opinion.

The problem, of course is that “born again” frontier theology has co-opted this passage in the ears of most North Americans. Many will hear a very specific decision-theology message, tied to the so-called “sinners prayer” and accepting Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior. This narrow understanding is light-years from John’s early second-century theology. Furthermore, the continuous (aorist) sense of the verb “born” (γεννηθη) really means “unless a person is being born again…” or “unless a person is being regenerated…” This does not read like a one-time event, but rather a constant process of being made new. You must be in the continuous process of being born again, again, and again.

Jesus answered Nicodemus, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” Jesus has an edge here. Can a teacher of Israel not understand the need for constant repentance and renewal?

Everybody knows John 3:16 — “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

But few continue with John 3:17 — “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

What to preach?

What does it mean to be saved? Pie in the sky when you die, bye and bye? Salvation in the Hebrew Scriptures means wholeness. It conveys more than our linear sense of going to heaven when you die. One option is to explore the fullest meaning of salvation.

A few years ago (2007) Canadian author William P. Young self-published a book of fiction called The Shack, which went on to become a New York Times best-seller. After a tragedy with his daughter, “Mack” Phillips, Mack enters the shack and encounters manifestations of the three persons of the Trinity. God the Father takes the form of an African American woman who calls herself Elousia and Papa; Jesus Christ is a Middle-Eastern carpenter; and the Holy Spirit physically manifests itself as an Asian woman named Sarayu. The book provides a stimulating opportunity to consider how God is manifested, particularly through suffering.

Here’s how Rob Bell starts his 2-hour walk through Scripture, talking about the Trinity.

However you come at this, remember the words of my homiletics professor Paul Harms, “So what?” What is the Good News about the way God comes to us, even those of us sitting here today?

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May 24, 2015 is Pentecost B

Acts 2:1-21 – Day of Pentecost. Rushing wind. Tongues of flame. Multi-lingual, multicultural event. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
OR
Ezekiel 37:1-14 – Valley of the Dry Bones. I will put my spirit in you and you shall live. You shall know I am the Lord when I open your graves…

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b – Send forth your Spirit and renew the face of the earth. (Ps. 104:31)

Romans 8:22-27 – Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness… intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
OR
Acts 2:1-21 – Day of Pentecost. Rushing wind. Tongues of flame. Multi-lingual, multicultural event. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15 – When the Advocate comes, he will bear witness to me… lead you into all truth.

Video: Here’s an interesting Pentecost video from Working Preacher.

Church musician Mark Mummert helped assemble some thoughts about the Pentecost constellation of hymnody. Here are some of the standards:

  • Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord (ELW 395)
  • Spirit of God Descend Upon My Heart (ELW 800)
  • Come Gracious Spirit Heavenly Dove (ELW 404)
  • Holy Spirit Truth Divine (ELW 398)

Consider some newer hymns in ELW:

  • Veni Sancte Spiritus: This is an ostinato chant from Taizé. The refrain can be found in ELW 406. The verses can be found in the ELW accompaniment version. You can also order beautiful Taizé music at Augsburg Fortress. Get Music For Taizé, Volume 1. There is also a booklet with instrumental parts available.
  • Spirit of Gentleness: this popular, simple folk renewal song is in ELW 396.
  • Gracious Spirit, Heed Our Pleading: Why not try a least one global song? This Tanzanian song has a beautiful, simple refrain (ELW 401) that begs to be sung in parts. Have your choir look it over beforehand.
  • O Living Breath of God (ELW 407): Now here is a hymn that shows the breath of the Spirit. This hymn started out as a Swedish folk tune sung by men’s choruses yearning for good fertility in the springtime of the year, and later became a beloved tune in Latin America.. It will stick in your congregation’s ears all week long.
  • The Spirit Intercedes for Us (ELW 180): Consider using this refrain as the assembly response to the Prayers of Intercession. From the Lutheran music group, Dakota Road, this refrain is memorable and even has a built in “sigh” with the words “Oh, oh, oh.”
  • Blest Are They (ELW 728): This song by David Haas (Roman Catholic composer who also wrote “Blest Are They” and “We Are Called”) is a cry for the Spirit with hints of Psalm 104, appointed for Pentecost.

Beside these, consider Send Us Your Spirit, which is not in ELW. Here it is being sung at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church. You can order the sheet music online or find it in one of the Gather volumes. Here are the lyrics:

Send Us Your Spirit

Refrain: Come Lord Jesus. Send us your Spirit. Renew the face of the earth.

  1. Come to us, Spirit of God. Breathe in us now. We sing together.
    Spirit of hope and of light, fill our lives.
    Come to us, Spirit of God.
  2. Fill us with the fire of love. Burn in us now. Bring us together.
    Come to us; dwell in us. Change our lives, oh Lord.
    Come to us, Spirit of God.
  3. Send us the wings of new birth. Fill all the earth with the love you have taught us.
    Let all creation now be shaken with love.
    Come to us, Spirit of God.

On the folk side of things, I’m still amazed how many people (especially baby boomers) remember and love We Are One in the Spirit, which lifts up unity as the work of the Holy Spirit.

Some congregations do Handt Hanson’s Wind of the Spirit from Worship and Praise.

Blow, Spirit, Blow has a catchy refrain that sticks with people. With minor stanzas, the major key, circle of fifths chorus has a lifting feel to it.

Holy Spirit Rain Down is another popular contemporary hymn. 

The Spread of the Spirit

In Acts 2, people from all over the Roman Empire come to Jerusalem for the Jewish Feast of Pentecost. Pentecost is actually the Greek name for the festival. The Jews called it the “Feast of Harvest” or the “Feast of Weeks” (Exodus 23, Exodus 24, Leviticus 16, Numbers 28, and Deuteronomy 16).

CountriesPeopleMentionedPentecost

Pentecost has a rich tapestry of themes. Unity. Diversity. Comforter. Spirit of truth. It’s a multilingual, multicultural, multi-ethnic event, for the spread of the gospel.

In Acts 1:8, the theme verse for Acts, Jesus tells the disciples they will receive power when the Holy Spirit falls on them, and they will be witnesses in outwardly emanating circles of city, region, and world. The Spirit fills us with hope and joy so that our lives will witness to the power of faith, witness to Jesus himself. The Spirit gives us even more according to Paul: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22). We need these. The Spirit reaches down deep inside us and prays within us when we cannot find the words (Rom. 8:26).

The neglected third person of the Trinity is absolutely indispensable for the life of the community of Christ. You may need more than one Sunday to dig deeper. I once did a summer series on the Fruits of the Spirit. Nine grueling weeks, but it sparked conversation and reflection on the character of the Christian community and our need for the Spirit in order to get there.

May your celebration of Pentecost in Word and Sacrament, prayer, and song fill you with joy, love, and hope, that you might be empowered to witness to what God is doing in the world.

A Heart for Change

IMG_0283In a few weeks, the epistle texts for June and the first Sunday in July are from 2 Corinthians (chapters 4, 5, 6, 8, 12). Megan Dosher Hansen and I have prepared:

  1. A book of daily devotions
  2. Some discussion questions for small groups and
  3. Some background material for pastors and group leaders

The background information and the discussion questions are free for the taking on my blog. There’s also a link for setting up small groups.

If you want the daily devotions (and the discussion questions again for convenience), your folks can order the paperback online. The devotional book is also in a digital version at Amazon.

Recruit your small groups leaders. Start some home groups. Contact me if you have questions. 

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Quba Islamic Institute Rebuilding

As you may recall, on February 13 a fire was started at the Quba Islamic Institute in Houston.Christians and Jews rallied around leaders at Quba, who eventually asked for the charges to be dropped. 

Houston has a strong history of interfaith cooperation. We do not want to have the kinds of eruptions we have seen elsewhere. “When one person is hurt, it hurts all of us in the community,” said Rabbi Steve Morgan of Congregation Beth Yeshurun.

As a gesture of good will, religious groups have been taking offerings for the rebuilding of Quba’s cafeteria and recreation center, which will cost about $200,000. At our most recent meeting, the Gulf Coast Synod Council agreed to raise funds as a gesture of support. Interfaith Ministries’ director Elliott Gershonsen said, if each group would give $2,000 or more, it would go a long way. 

WithImamsLast week I met with a group of imams from the Houston area. General Presbyter Mike Cole and Pastor Joel Goza from Pleasant Hill Baptist joined me for a gathering with about seven Muslim leaders, to hear stories and share experiences. 

When you build bridges, walls of suspicion and hatred begin to come down. My personal take away was how much these leaders enjoyed the freedom of religion we share here in the U.S. They had few stories of religious prejudice. Some had experienced no negative treatment because of their faith. 

If you or your congregation would like to be a part of this good will offering, I would invite you to send your check to the synod office with “Quba Rebuilding” written in the memo line. You can also donate online

In a world of religious and racial persecution, let us set the example of hospitality and freedom. 

Bishop Michael Rinehart

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May 17, 2015 is Ascension B

Acts 1:1-11 – Ascension. You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth.

Psalm 47 – God has gone up with a shout. (Ps. 47:5)
or
Psalm 93 – Ever since the world began, your throne has been established. (Ps. 93:3)

Ephesians 1:15-23 – With the eyes of your heart enlightened, may you know the hope to which God has called you.

Luke 24:44-53 – I am sending what the Father promised, so stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.

A Heart for Change

IMG_0283In a few weeks, the epistle texts for June and the first Sunday in July are from 2 Corinthians (chapters 4, 5, 6, 8, 12). Some of us down here in the Gulf Coast Synod have prepared:

  1. A book of daily devotions
  2. Some discussion questions for small groups and
  3. Some background material for pastors and group leaders

The background information and the discussion questions are free for the taking on my blog. There’s also a link to setting up small groups.

If you want the daily devotions (and the discussion questions again for convenience), your folks can order the paperback online. The devotional book is also in a digital version at Amazon.

Recruit your small groups leaders. Start some home groups. Contact me if you have questions. 

Ascension

We are in the second year of our lectionary, a Markan year, with a smattering of John. We have just come through three weeks of John texts: John 10, on Good Shepherd Sunday, then John 15 the last two weeks, about being connected to the vine, bearing fruit, and loving one another. This week is Ascension Sunday, followed by Pentecost on May 24.

Ascension Day is one of the six major festivals of the church year. It falls on Thursday, however, most Lutheran, Episcopal, and Catholic congregations will celebrate it on Sunday.

If you celebrate Ascension on Thursday, and not Sunday, the lessons appointed for Sunday Easter 7B are:

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26 – The selection of the final disciple.

Psalm 1 – The righteous flourish.

1 John 5:9-13 – I write that you may know you have eternal life.

John 17:6-19 – Susan Hedahl (Gettysburg Seminary) tells us this gospel reading is the first half of Jesus’ prayer for his disciples before his crucifixion. The prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane in the Synoptic gospels does not appear in John.

The Feast of Ascension

The Feast of the Ascension marks a novena, nine days of prayer for the gift of Holy Spirit after Ascension Thursday, before the Feast of Pentecost on Sunday.

The ascension is a foreshadowing of our entrance into heaven. It is a mystical understanding of the transition from this life to the next both in body and spirit.

Several characters in the Bible are declared to be assumed into heaven: Jesus, Enoch, and Elijah. Lutherans do not subscribe to the Assumption of Mary, but in 1950 Pope Pius XII declared:

“By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” 

Other religions besides Judaism and Christianity believe in ascensions. For example, in Hinduism, Yudhishthira of the Mahabharat is believed to be the only human to cross the plane between mortals and heaven in his mortal body. In Islam, Muhammed is believed to have ascended into heaven at the site of Dome of the Rock. The Ascension, therefore, was a mystical way that ancients proclaimed the uniqueness of the human character with divine qualities.

The Ascension is professed in all three creeds. Ascension is a public holiday in some countries. It is not mentioned by Matthew, Mark, or Paul, though the author of Ephesians mentions cryptically that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God, who has placed all things “under his feet.” It is unknown if these authors are unaware of the story of the ascension or if it simply doesn’t figure prominently in their theology. It appears in Acts (Luke) and is mentioned in John.

Here is a website of some of Luther’s sermons, from an LCMS congregation in Kentucky, arranged by the liturgical year. There are five Ascension sermons here by Luther, three on Mark’s commission (the not-so-great commission) and two on John. The former tend to focus on the things that the post-resurrection Jesus said to the disciples in the 40 days between the resurrection and ascension. Two things strike me about these sermons: First, I am struck with how long these sermons are. I have been told by Luther scholars that Luther’s sermons were actually shorter than those of his contemporaries, but these particular sermons are not short by modern standards. Second, I am interested in how mission-focused these sermons are. It’s Luther the evangelism guy. The John sermons are shorter, focused on faith and gospel, as usual. None of them spend time on the actual physical act of ascension. Luther seems more interested in the implications: Jesus’ expectations for his church.

Being Witnesses

Walter Brueggeman picks this up, in a 2007 Christian Century article. The Ascension is about Jesus’ departure, instructions, and promise to return. The instructions are the church’s marching orders – its action plan. To wit:

  1. Stay here
  2. Receive the gift of power.
  3. Be witnesses.

I have always been struck with the outwardly focused nature of these instructions. You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Jerusalem was the city in which they were currently located. Judea was the wider region in which Jerusalem was located. Samaria was the area to the north, the people with whom Jews did not associate. The ends of the earth left the mission field wide open. This vision would be realized on Pentecost when people came from all over the Roman Empire to Jerusalem to experience the wind of the spirit, and then return home to spread the good news and be witnesses of what God is doing. This outward mission activity sets the structure of the rest of the Acts of the Apostles: Peter, John, Stephen, and the disciples begin in Jerusalem and Judea. By Acts 8, Philip is in Samaria. Eventually we spend the largest part of Act following Paul to the ends of the earth, in places where our synod delegation is just returning, in Turkey and Greece.

The net affect of all this mission activity was to turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6).

Would we get accused of this today? Would we be accused of having a witness so compelling that it was turning the world upside down?

Homiletical opportunities abound. What is witnessing? In North America, immersed with frontier conversion theology, the idea of witnessing leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths, but a witness simply testifies as to what he or she has seen and experienced. We are not called to convince, cajole, or arm-twist, but only to testify to our own experience, in word and deed.

The ascension looks to the future, to being clothed with power, power to go forth and be a witness to hope in Christ and to Christ’s return. “Why do you stand there gazing into heaven?” perhaps this is a warning for a hyper-spiritualized church. Getting lost in an otherworldly spirituality that doesn’t focus on the suffering of this world is not consistent with Jesus’ reality-engaging earthly ministry. Don’t stand there gazing merrily up into heaven. Engage in a gritty earthly ministry as Jesus did. Jesus’ church is called to mission. Perhaps this is a good Sunday to preach a sermon on mission, as did Luther.

Collect for the Feast of the Ascension (from the Mass of St. Pius V):

Grant, we beseech Thee, almighty God, that we who believe Thine only-begotten Son, our Redeemer, to have this day ascended into heaven, may dwell in spirit amid heavenly things. Through the same Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end.

Or, here’s one I prayed this morning as I prepared this post:

Life-giving God, before leaving, Jesus commissioned his followers to be witnesses. Grant that your church today may proclaim the love of Christ and the hope of the resurrection at home, in the community and to the ends of the earth, through Jesus Christ. Amen

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A Heart for Reconciliation

In June and the first week of July, the appointed epistle texts come from 2 Corinthians. IMG_8878

At http://bishopmike.com/2-corinthians look for:

1. Daily devotions – A Heart for Reconciliation, a daily devotional book available in paperback and Kindle.

2. Weekly Bible study – Discussion Qs for Small Groups are at  http://bishopmike.com/2-corinthians and also in the devotional book.

3. Sunday worship – Background material and sermon helps. Podcasts in which I chat about the texts and the series, will also be available.

Browse the Five Sunday Texts

Don’t Lose Heart
Pentecost 2B: June 7, 2015 – 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 – So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed daily.

New Creation
Pentecost 3B: June 14 – 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17 – If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. We walk by faith and not by sight, at home in the body and away from the Lord.

Open Heart
Pentecost 4B: June 21 – 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 – Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation. We have endured beatings, riots, hunger, imprisonment…

Eager Generosity
Pentecost 5B: June 28 – 2 Corinthians 8:7-15 – The offering for the poor in Jerusalem. Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.

Powerful Weakness
Pentecost 6B: July 5 – 2 Corinthians 12:2-10 – Paul’s out of body experience, and his thorn in the flesh. My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

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May 10, 2015 is Easter 6B – Bearing Fruit

Acts 10:44-48 – Holy Spirit falls on unbaptized Gentiles. So they baptize them.

Psalm 98 – Shout with joy to the LORD, all you lands. (Ps. 98:5)

1 John 5:1-6 – The love of God is obeying God’s commandments.

John 15:9-17 – This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you. I have said these things that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. You did not choose me; I chose you, and appointed you to bear fruit.


Bearing Fruit

In our first reading, the Holy Spirit falls on unbaptized Gentiles. They’re not Jewish. They’re not Christian, not officially, but the Spirit falls on them anyway. This is not how the apostles envision things. Could it be that the Spirit sometimes works outside of our preconceived notions of how things should go? The Spirit is clearly at work, so they just baptize them. Don’t assume that unbaptized folks don’t already have the Spirit at work in them.

The psalm picks up this image. The psalmist invited the whole earth to sing God’s praises.

In 1 John 5, loving God is keeping God’s commandments. Luther once said you couldn’t separate faith and works any more than one could separate heat and light from fire.

Our gospel comes from John 15. “As the Father has loved me, so I love you. Abide in my love.” The heart of the gospel is abiding in Christ’s love.

We all abide in something. In what do you immerse yourself? A hobby perhaps? Work? Acquisition of wealth? Music? Alcohol? Running? Consider into what you immerse yourself. What would it be like to immerse yourself in love. Specifically, what would it be like to immerse yourself in the love of Christ – to love as Christ loved?

Abide is an important word in John’s gospel. Abide (meno) appears around seventy times. Many of those are in John 15. It means to dwell, remain, last, or reside. Jesus abides in God, and his disciples are to abide or dwell in him. Jesus’ words are to abide in his followers. Jesus abides in God’s love, and his followers are to abide in his love. Read more.

How do we abide in Jesus’ love? By keeping his commandments. “If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love.” But what are Christ’s commandments? Are they not, in John’s gospel, to love one another? “This is my commandment, that you love one another.”

To love one another is what Barbara Berry-Bailey calls “The Prime Directive”. If you summarize the Ten Commandments in a word, it’s “Love God; love neighbor.” Love is the prime directive. Jesus gets the heart of the law and hones in on it with laser focus: “By this shall all people know you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

And then there is this fruit business. Lest we think abiding in love is a feeling thing, sentimentality Jesus says, “I have appointed you to bear fruit, fruit that will last” (abide).

Fruit appears:

  • 16 times in Matthew
  • 8 times in Mark
  • 15 times in Luke
  • 7 times in John

Only seven times in John, which is less than Mark. Five of those seven are right here in John 15.

Jesus is the vine. God is the vine grower. We are the branches, expected to bear fruit. We cannot do so unless we abide in the vine. God removes branches that don’t bear fruit. God prunes those that do. God is glorified when we become disciples and bear fruit. What this fruit is, is never spelled out.

We might take a cue from Paul, who wrote about bearing fruit long before John wrote his gospel: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control…” (Galatians 5:22) If we consider this interpretation of fruit, love, peace, joy and such as the fruit, then John is saying we find these by dwelling in Christ.

A different approach: St. Augustine seems to insinuate that fruits are good works. In his very Lutheran discussion of John 15 in Tractates, he points out that the branches (disciples) cannot bear fruit (good works) apart from the vine. He reminds us that even our good works come from God. And if the branch tries to bear fruit apart from the vine it will wither. Likewise perhaps doing good works apart from a life-giving relationship with God will be fruitless. Focus in abiding in Christ first, and the branch will eventually bear fruit. This is justification talk.

There are an infinite number of places one can go with a sermon on John 15, even if you preached on it last Sunday (rather than the Acts 8, Ethiopian Court Official that I proposed).

One possibility: It’s Mother’s Day. Very few will arrive thinking it’s Easter 6B. Most, however, will know it’s Mother’s Day. You can make an immediate connection with most of your congregation. Some women aren’t mothers, but everyone was born of a mother. Talking about the command to love in light of the kind of unconditional love most mothers have for their children is a great jumping off point. What does it mean to abide in a mother’s love? How do we dwell in love? What does it mean to abide in God’s love? I am reminded of Ephesians 5:2, often used as an offertory sentence in Episcopal liturgy: “Live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Another possibility:  It seems to me that in every parish I served, a number of do-gooders, who worked their fingers to the bone doing good, at some point flamed out. They weren’t connected to the vine. Rather than discerning God’s direction, they operated frenetically. Worship and prayer were secondary to helping people. I’m all for helping people, but without the spiritual food and drink, you eventually run out of gas. Our spiritual lives are the food we need for a life of ministry, a life of walking the way of the cross. These folks would dive in head first, then eventually become bitter when predictably, the rest of the congregation didn’t follow them into the deep end. They’d take on too much and eventually wither, like the seed that fell in rocky soil and then was withered by the sun because it had no depth of root. They’d get crispy and angry. They meant well.

So once or twice a year it may be important to preach a sermon on God as the source of all good works, and our efforts at justice, mercy, and compassion as being rooted in our own connection to Christ the vine and to our spiritual growth: prayer, worship, silence. This might be a good time for such a sermon, especially if groups are considering new initiatives for the fall or preparing for mission trips or servant projects.

You could title it, “Don’t Hit the Wall.” The lessons for life apply across the board. Remind people that God is the source of all good works. Don’t set out on a ministry journey and forget to take Christ along with you. For, “apart from me, you can do nothing.”

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