Search

Bishop Michael Rinehart

February 21, 2016 is Lent 2C

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 – Abram believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Righteousness by faith.

Psalm 27 – The Lord is my light and my salvation. He will hide me in his tent and set me upon a high rock.

Philippians 3:17-4:1 – I press on toward the goal: the heavenly call of God in Christ. Enemies of the cross: their god is the belly. Their end is destruction.

Luke 13:31-35 – Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how I have longed to gather you as a mother hen gathers her young under her wings. 

Lent at-a-glance

  • February 10 – Ash Wednesday: Dust. Ashes. Mortality. Repentance. Fasting. Don’t show off your piety.
  • February 14 – Lent 1C: First fruits for the Levite and alien. Jesus is tempted by Satan in the wilderness.
  • February 21 – Lent 2C: Abram’s call. Faith reckoned as righteousness. Jesus laments for Jerusalem.
  • February 28 – Lent 3C: Repent, for there is only so much time left for the fig tree to bear fruit.
  • March 6 – Lent 4C: Lost sheep. Lost sons.
  • March 13 – Lent 5C: I am about to do a new thing… Mary anoints Jesus’ feet.
  • March 20 – Palm/Passion Sunday: Jesus entry into Jerusalem as an anti-triumph.

Righteousness, I Reckon

Last week I suggested one of two Lenten series. The first was a hunger theme, as we are focusing this year on the ELCA World Hunger appeal. A second was on the story of the Prodigal Son, which only appears in a Lukan year, and it only appears Lent 4C (March 6, 2016). I suggested using Timothy Keller’s excellent book, The Prodigal God, as a guide (book and study guide). It’s not too late, if you’re scrambling.

I’ve been taking a look at the first lessons for Lent, which come from the Hebrew Bible. This Sunday’s lesson, from Genesis 15 is one of my favorites. It is also the text that Paul uses in Romans and Galatians, to show that righteousness by faith (not by the law) was God’s plan all along (Romans 4:3, 4:22, Galatians 3:6).

First of all, I must admit, I am perplexed by the verse selection here. Ending at verse 18 has us ending mid-sentence. This makes no sense to me whatsoever. If you’re going to go that far, go to the end of the chapter, verse 21, and finish the thought. I would, however, submit to you, that all you really need is verses 1-6. Verse seven takes you into new territory: the sacrificial system. This is well worth sermon time, but would probably be a different sermon than verses 1-6, on which I will now focus.

Paul’s interpretation of the Hebrew Bible is almost always allegorical. Isaiah and Ishmael, Sarah and Hagar, are all symbolic of law and gospel issues. Luther, like Paul, always seems to interpret the Hebrew Bible christologically. As followers of Christ, we must also consider this understanding of the text, but first let us try to see it in its original context.

Here is the text, well, the first six verses anyway:

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Abram has been in battle. Appropriately, this word from the Lord includes a phrase we often find coming from divine messengers in the Bible, “Do not be afraid.” Abram responds, “Well, that’s fine, but what good is that if I die childless, and my family line comes to an end?” Currenly, his heir is a servant.

God responds that Abram’s heir will come from his own loins. Sara Koenig, Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Seattle Pacific University, points out that it will be another 14 years before God makes good on this promise. In the meantime, Abram has to live on trust. Have you ever had to base your life on an illusive hope that may not pan out at all? Sometimes we are called to place our bets on promises that are hard to believe. That is called faith.

YHWH adds a very concrete part to this promise, one that is both imaginative and poetic: “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them… So shall your descendants be.” I imagine that would be a pretty hard promise to believe, if one was childless.

Sara Koenig invites us to contemplate whether Abram considered God righteous because of the promise or whether God considered Abram righteous for believing it. The subject and object are not clear in the original Hebrew: “he reckoned it to him as righteousness.” Who reckoned it to whom? Well, Paul, as we shall see, has a very clear opinion about this.

Ralph W. Klein, Christ Seminary-Seminex Professor Emeritus of Old Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, points out that verses 7-12 show that Abram is still having trouble believing the promise. And yet, Abram accepts God’s word on the matter. That is what makes this passage interesting, and it also leads us to the apostle Paul’s interpretation.

In dealing with the followers of Christ in Rome and Galatia (modern day Turkey), the apostle is battling a creeping theology, that their righteousness comes through dietary practices, ritual acts, and moral choices. Paul is no stranger to this theology, having been trained as a Pharisee. We are also no strangers to this theology. Here in the Texas and Louisiana we are surrounded by sermons telling us to be good, and a theology that teaches works-righteousness. You must be good enough for God. Paul categorically rejects this theology.

Those who push this theology in Rome and Galatia trot out the Old Testament law. They lift up the Law of Moses as the example. This is the standard. Those who do not adhere to these laws are not righteous. Today some would say they are not Christian. Paul is smart enough to know that the law contains some unattainable and even unreasonable elements. He has seen how rigid adherence to the law can actually foster self-righteousness that drives us away from God. “For the law brings wrath…” (Romans 15:15) His training has helped him realize that the Law will not get us where we need to go.

Reaching back into Genesis, Paul shows the Romans and Galatians that God declared Abram righteous, not because of the Law of Moses, which would not be given for another 500 years, but rather because of faith, which is trusting God’s promises. Abram trusted God. This is the only path to true righteousness.

Paul writes in Romans (4:20-25)

No distrust made [Abram] waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore his faith* ‘was reckoned to him as righteousness.’ Now the words, ‘it was reckoned to him’, were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.

In fact, Abram is declared righteous before he is circumcised. Circumcision, dietary laws, ritual purity, and other things do not a righteous person make. One can strive to keep the letter of the law and still be far from God. “For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse…” (Galatians 3:10) Christ became a curse for us, Paul goes on to say, by hanging on a tree.

Before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded by the law. The law was our babysitter, our disciplinarian. “But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.” (Galatians 3:25-26)

I would guess most Christians in the U.S. have never studied these words. Their idea of Christianity has come from the culture and sermons heard at sporadically attended worship services. Don’t underestimate the biblical illiteracy of your congregation. Preach this stuff. Bring it into a Bible study. It is vitally important for those who still think of Christianity like any other religion: a system of do’s and don’t’s.

Righteousness does not emerge from dogged adherence to laws, but rather from being in a loving relationship with God. Christ is our pathway to this. This provides the preacher a fanatastic opportunity to invite people into a faith-filled and loving relationship with the God who stands at the door and knocks.

I’ll leave you with Count the Stars, a thoughtful poem by Michael Coffey, a pastor in Austin, Texas:

Count the Stars

Abraham’s countless stars hover over our troubled heads
Sarah’s sky lights enlighten our skittish steps
our ancestors fill the night sky with testimony
this is not all there is, there is more to come
more than the terra and the ocean
the sky painter who flicks your future on midnight canvas
is making space for your story and song
making and guarding promises still unspoken
opening wormholes to times and places
unreachable by your linear, downward searching mind
so let that muscle in your forehead go and feel your brow drop
and your heart slow and your brain relax and the flow flowing
and rocket on through fear until faith is your Milky Way

Stardust Wednesday

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
  
With these words the ashes will be marked on your forehead in the sign of the cross. The ashes are a sign of repentance, but they are also a sober reminder for a sobering day. We were formed from the dust, and one day we shall return. 

Humility begins with recognizing our place in the universe. We acknowledge our mortality. Some may say this is depressing. We say it is true. We begin with truth. 

It strikes me as prophetically true. The book of Genesis begins with humans being formed from the dust. Today scientists have come to the same conclusion: we are made of stardust. Every atom in your body came from a star. Different parts of your body may have come from different stars. Genesis got it right. 

On Ash Wednesday we acknowledge our mortality. We are dusty finite human beings standing before the infinite mysteries of an ancient universe. Repentance begins with humility. Humility means knowing our place in the cosmos. 
When I look at the 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

Return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. 

– Joel 2
 

Why Lent? Why Fasting?

The time is upon us when Christians all over the world will join together in a communal fast for 40 days leading up to Easter. Lent is observed in one form or another by the vast majority of of Christians around the world. The disciplines of Lent are taken from Matthew 6:
1. Prayer

2. Fasting

3. Almsgiving (Acts of mercy/love)

  Most observers, however, associate Lent primarily with fasting. “What are you giving up for Lent?” they may ask. It’s an appropriate question. 

Fasting is simply going without something for a period of time. We fast every night after our last meal of the day. We break the fast with the first meal of the morning, hence the name: breakfast. Going without speaking for a time is a kind of fast. Going without alcoholmwat, or sweets for a time is a kind of fast. The Bible talks about many kinds of fasts. Almost every major biblical character fast. Fasting is mentioned so often, it is surprising that fasting is not a faith practice in every Christian tradition.

Fasting is not a method for working your way to God. It will not win you any sort of celestial brownie points. It does not make one morally superior. Practicing fasting is simply a way of recognizing that there are things that get in the way of our spiritual lives. During Lent and other times of fasting we acknowledge all the things that draw us from love of God and neighbor. We turn away from the god of the belly. We pay attention to the fact that materialism could be a hindrance to our spiritual moral development.

A spiritually centered life generally does not require more, of anything. In fact, it often requires less of a number of things. The surest course to an encounter with the divine is self-emptying. This is why Jesus immediately went into a 40-day fast in the wilderness after his baptism. This is why Paul went into Arabia. God cannot fill what is already full. To fully embrace another, we must be willing to drop what is in our hands. 

It has been en vogue recently to say something to the effect of, “I’m not going to give up anything this year. I’m going to take something on.” This can also be a helpful spiritual practice. Recommitting to a daily prayer practice,  and giving to a worthy cause are valuable disciplines. They are not, however, fasting. How will you know what to take on? Piling more on an overly cluttered life may not get you where you want to go. First empty yourself through prayer and fasting and see where the Spirit leads.

So what’s cluttering your life these days? What’s getting in the way of your fullest love of God and neighbor. Welcome to Lent. Join the fast. 

The Ordination of the Rev. Paul Zoch in Bridge City Texas

   

  
  

  
  
Paul and his brother:  
  Paul and his family: 

The Ordination of Bishop Steven Lopes

 The Co-Cathedral in Houston  
    
    
    
    
   

   
  
   

   
 

February 10, 2016 is Ash Wednesday & February 14, 2016 is Lent 1C

Ash Wednesday – February 10, 2016
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 – Blow the trumpet. Sound a fast. Return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Tear your hearts, not your garments.

Isaiah 58:1-12 – Fasting as you do will not make your voice heard on high. This is the fast I choose: loose the bonds of injustice, set the oppressed free, share your bread with the hungry, invite the homeless poor into your house.

Psalm 51:1-17 – Indeed I am guilty, a sinner from my mother’s womb. Wash me thoroughly and I shall be clean.

2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10 – Be reconciled to God. Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation! We have endured many afflictions. Dying yet alive. Punished yet not killed. Sorrowful yet rejoicing. Poor yet rich!

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21Don’t practice your piety before others ostentatiously, so that you can be seen. Direct your fasting to God. Your reward is in heaven.

Lent 1CFebruary 14, 2016 (Note: Also Valentines Day)
Deuteronomy 26:1-11 – You shall share your first fruits with the Levites (priests) and aliens as a response to God’s awesome acts of salvation, for you were once sojourners in Egypt.

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16 – Eagles’ Wings. Lest you strike your foot against a stone, which the devil quotes to Jesus in the wilderness, in the gospel, below.

Romans 10:8b-13 – Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Jew and Greek. There is no distinction. But they can’t call upon him if they haven’t heard. Blessed are those who bring good news.

Luke 4:1-13 – Jesus tempted by the devil in the wilderness. The devil quotes Scripture (Ps. 91).

February 21, 2010 is Lent 1C

Lent – Year C
Return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.
– Joel 2

Lent at-a-glance

  • February 10 – Ash Wednesday: Dust. Ashes. Mortality. Repentance. Fasting. Don’t show off your piety.
  • February 14 – Lent 1C: First fruits for the Levite and alien. Jesus is tempted by Satan in the wilderness.
  • February 21 – Lent 2C: Abram’s call. Faith reckoned as righteousness. Jesus laments for Jerusalem.
  • February 28 – Lent 3C: Repent, for there is only so much time left for the fig tree to bear fruit.
  • March 6 – Lent 4C: Lost sheep. Lost sons.
  • March 13 – Lent 5C: I am about to do a new thing… Mary anoints Jesus’ feet.
  • March 20 – Palm/Passion Sunday: Jesus entry into Jerusalem as an anti-triumph.

Two Lenten Series Suggestions

Suggestion I: Hunger

This year we are focusing on World Hunger and New Congregational Starts. Congregations are encouraged to raise money for these two, much like we did for the Malaria Campaign a couple of years ago. A number of congregations are using Lent to raise funds for World Hunger. Consider using Into the Wild: A Lenten Liturgy and Intergenerational Study on Hunger. You can get Feed the World coin boxes for free. Or these cute piggy banks for the kids. You can find bulletin inserts, action guides and more resources online.

Suggestion II: The Prodigal God

The story of the Prodigal Son comes up this year. It only appears in a Lukan year, and it only appears Lent 4C (March 6, 2016). Most readers and preachers assume this story is about forgiveness. Timothy Keller, in his book The Prodigal God, however, says the story is ultimately about the self-righteous moral disease of the older brother. At the very least, this easy read will enhance your preaching, reminding you of the cultural context most of us know, but sometimes forget.

Use Timothy Keller’s excellent book, The Prodigal God, as a guide (study guide).

Sharing 101: Deuteronomy 26:1-11

If you are looking for reflections on the Prodigal Son, click the links above or you can read reflections on Luke 4 from February 21, 2010. These reflections will be on the Deuteronomy text, printed here:

When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, you shall make this response before the Lord your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.” You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.

There is a lot to this passage.

In the second half of my life, having reflected on global conflict and the concept of Manifest Destiny we were taught as school children, I found myself more and more troubled by passages that claim God has given us this land. This kind of theology has resulted in the genocide of many native peoples throughout history.

Karankawa CampsiteI have only now begun to learn about the Native Americans in the Houston area. I have yet to learn about southern Louisiana and other areas in our synod, like the Atakapa, who lived from what is now Houston to what is now New Orleans, in several “bands”: Opelousas, Alligator, Snake, and the Akokisas. The synod office now sits on land that once belonged to the Karankawa (see the historical marker placed at Jamaica Beach on Galveston Island) or the Akokisas (a band of the aforementioned Atakapa, who lived along Galveston Bay and the lower Trinity and San Jacinto Rivers in what is now the greater Houston area). One of these (probably the Karankawa) was the first band of Native Americans reported here by Cabeza de Vaca in 1535. “The Spaniards’ journals give in-depth descriptions of life in the community—creating dugout canoes, fishing, gathering plants for food and medicine, and building different shelters to accommodate the seasons.” (“Houston’s Native American Heritage Runs Deep“). Their property was taken away from them, despite Sam Houston’s attempts to protect them. Things, as you can imagine, did not end well.

It is interesting that history is always written by the winners. This area is now called Houston. The victors even have the power to rename a place. The heavily-tatooed Karankawa people (sometimes referred to as the Kronk) lived along the coast down to Corpus Christi. They waded from the shallow waters in the bays to the deep pools with lances or bows and arrows to spear fish. They ate stone crabs, oysters, mussels, sea turtles, shellfish, clams, black drum, redfish, spotted sea trout, and the other abundant species of fish in the nutrient rich waters. During the summer months or hurricane season, when shellfish are not safe to eat, they would migrate inland. They loved dogs. When Cabeza de Vaca was shipwrecked on Galveston Island, he and his men were cared for and fed by the Karankawa. As more settlers moved in, however, settler violence ensued. When attacked for trespassing, they would inevitably fight back and were eventually labeled as vicious cannibals. The dominant culture must always demonize the subdominant culture in order to justify their violence and recruit others. The Karankawa were completely wiped out by 1858.

We only know about 100 of their words. No one ever studied them or learned their history. We have these words because a young girl named Alice Oliver hung out with them in the 1830’s. Her father owned land near the coast. He “let” the friendly Karankawa pass through and camp on “his” land, and allowed his daughter to spend much time with them. In the 1880’s, she recounted as many of their words as she could.

When I read Texas history, I sometimes wonder how the Karankawa would tell the story if they were writing our textbooks. Likewise, when I read in today’s first lesson, “When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it…” I hear the voice of the winners. I wonder how this history would read if the Canaanites were telling it.

Long digression, I know, but this has been on my mind a lot recently.

Like the Karankawa, the Canaanites were nomadic tribes. Unlike the Karankawa, the Canaanites were in the process of developing into a sophisticated urban and agricultural society. They developed an alphabet, probably the first alphabet. (Egyptians and Mesopotamians used glyphs.) The Canaanite alphabet became the basis for the Hebrew alphabet. Though each of the 22 Hebrew letters is also a glyph [aleph ( א) is the head of a bull, bet ( ב) looks like a little house], the letters were combined to represent a larger vocabulary of words and concepts.

A more complex civilization required additional laws and rituals. First of all, when you begin living in this new, Promised Land never forget your 40 years of wandering. Never forget what that felt like. Never forget how hard that was. Treat the wanderer with respect. This prime directive is built into the very fabric of Hebrew law. They even hearken back to Father Abraham, their proto-wanderer. The first of their harvest was to be taken to the priest. They were told to recount their history:

“A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.”  

It is almost a creedal statement. What happens next is most interesting. What should be done with the tithe varies from text to text. In this text, here’s what happens:

“You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.”

Did you get that? It’s marvelous. You eat it with the Levites (the priests) and the resident aliens. What if we took this passage seriously today? It would mean bringing the first fruits of your fall harvest and having the party to end all parties, in which we celebrate our freedom, remember that we were once immigrants, and have a party for our families, inviting all the priests and immigrants.

When people say they want to get back to biblical values, well, there you go. Seriously, how would you do that today? Sounds like a free barbecue at church. How will you invite the immigrants? How will you find and welcome the wanderers? How will you make them feel safe and welcome?

What if the cross is God’s way of siding with the the powerless, dispossessed, and forgotten? Who got crucified, but the powerless? Is not crucifixion a way of asserting dominance? Does Christ’s crucifixion not signify God’s identification with the powerless?

We wear crosses around our necks, but rarely think about the gruesome nature of that instrument of torture and death and what it means for followers of Jesus. To wear a cross around our necks or on our hearts, means to side with the powerless. It is to see them, to value them. It is to say, we will use our wealth, our first fruits, to bless them. It is to say, we worship the God of the gallows, the God who loves the Karankawa, the Canaanites, the wanderers, ad the refugees. It is to resist the temptation of Satan’s offers of wealth, power, and safety, as Jesus did.

I invite you, this Lent, to pay attention to power dynamics in relationships, in communities, and in the world. Who holds the power? Who does not? I invite you to see with new eyes and discover the holy joy of siding with the least, the last and the lost.

Blog at WordPress.com. | The Baskerville Theme.

Up ↑

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 363 other followers