From Conflict to Communion: Observing the 500th anniversary of the Reformation (1517-2017)

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther, a Roman Catholic priest, professor and Augustinian brother allegedly posted 95 theses, or propositions for debate on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church. They chiefly concerned what amounted to the sale of indulgences, a grant of pardon from temporal punishment of sin.

Depictions of Luther defiantly posting the theses on the Wittenberg door are certainly overblown propaganda. Most likely the theses were mailed. There was nothing unusual about having debates at the university. In fact, just months prior, one of Luther’s colleagues had also posted theses for debate of indulgences.

The posting of these theses, however, sparked a sequence of events we now call the Reformation, not just a split in the the church, but a reordering of Western society and politics. In 2017, two years from now, we will arrive at the 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting of the 95 theses – half a millennium since the start of the Reformation. How shall we commemorate this anniversary? With what spirit? Will this commemoration advance the proclamation of the gospel? Will it promote ecumenical dialog? Or will it be an opportunity to resurrect old polemics and animosities? Will it drive a wedge between and already fragmented Christianity?

I would like to share a few personal experiences, a little bit about the Lutheran–Catholic dialogs, then the vision of From Conflict to Communion, for a common commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. At the bottom of this article is a little bit of history for those who would like to read further.

My experience

While some Protestants have been known to demonize the Catholics and the Pope, and some Catholics have been known to brand Luther and Protestants as heretics, I did not grow up in that kind of environment. My dad was a Lutheran pastor who had a cordial relationship with the local Catholic priest. I had Catholic and Protestant friends. We visited each other’s churches. My parents taught a deep respect for the whole church, including the Roman Catholic Church.

The seminary I attended, Trinity Lutheran seminary in Columbus Ohio, had a relationship with both the Josephinum Pontifical College, run directly by the Vatican, and the Methodist school of theology in Ohio. We were expected to take classes at one or both of these seminaries, to broaden our theological and ecumenical minds. I actually took reformation theology that the Josephinum with Father Cooney, who helped us young Lutherans see the reformation from a Roman Catholic angle of vision. I took spiritual direction from a wise old nun while there, and traveled to Cuernavaca, Mexico with two sisters, and two men studying for the priesthood. We learned Spanish together, debated theology and threw back not a few Negra Modelos.

In my first call I worshiped occasionally and a midweek service in the local Roman Catholic Church. The young priest showed me warm hospitality.

As bishop call I have enjoyed collegial relationships with Archbishop Joe Fiorenza in Houston, and then Archbishop Daniel Cardinal DiNardo. Though I live in the Houston area, our synod also includes congregations in southern Louisiana. Archbishop Gregory Aymond has also been an open and friendly ecumenical partner. Our synod has held worship in the Roman Catholic Cathedral in New Orleans, at which Archbishop Alfred Hughes gracefully asked us not to nail anything to the doors. Last year Archbishop Aymond met with six Lutheran bishops from this region to discuss the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

I sit on the Board of Directors for Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. LIRS is the second largest resettler of refugees in the United States. Guess who is the first? The US Conference of Catholic Bishops. LIRS does it’s work through local service providers. Guess who LIRS has chosen as their local service provider here. Catholic Charities, because their work is outstanding. If we are really feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and welcoming the stranger, then we served by need not by creed. We have to stop playing denominational king of the hill.

So, you see, what the media often portrays is a huge rift between Lutherans and Catholics is not what it seems. Lutherans and Catholics have nearly identical statements on immigration, detention and family reunification. We agree on much theologically. We have no past 50 years of continuous Lutheran catholic dialogs. The Lutheran world Federation and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity have discovered remarkable agreement on baptism, Eucharist and other key issues. These agreements led to the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, signed on October 31, 1999 by both Lutheran and Catholic leaders. It states,

Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.

The bilateral dialogs revealed areas in which there is still considerable disagreement. Among these are celibacy, ordination of women, and the authority of Rome. The goal of these dialogs is not merger or institutional amalgamation. The goal is to be a witness to the underlying unity of the body of Christ in spite of our differences. As Pope John XXIII said so well,

The things that unite us are greater than those that divide us.

—Pope John XXIII

We remember how fervently Jesus prayed for the unity of the church:

I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 

—John 17:20-23

Jesus prays for the unity of the church “so that the world may believe.” That needs to be our approach. How will this broken and violent world hear Christ’s word of hope and love if Christians are spending all their energy fighting with each other?

From Conflict to Communion

From Conflict to Communion is a 93-page report, the result of work by The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU). It proposes that Catholic and Lutheran Christians look back on events that occurred 500 years earlier by putting the gospel of Jesus Christ at the center. It also suggests that Lutherans and Catholics approach this anniversary with repentance, not mutual condemnation. 

HERE is a web friendly version at the Vatican website. 

A study guide for FCC is available HERE

A joint liturgy will be published later this year. 

The first of Luther’s 95 Theses says:

When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent,” He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

This opening statement of Luther’s 95 Theses from 1517, which triggered the Reformation movement, is a worthy place to start. What if we approached the 500th anniversary of the Reformation with repentance instead of arrogance? Would this not be in keeping with Jesus’ teaching?

Lutherans can begin by confessing Luther’s racist and anti-Semitic remarks toward the end of his life. We can confess Luther’s vulgar, acerbic and unyielding rhetoric. Calling the Pope the AntiChrist doesn’t tend to foster open dialog and hopeful reconciliation. Do you see how this changes the conversation? Instead of pointing out the speck in my neighbor’s eye, I instead confess and begin working on the log in my own eye.

Historically the Reformation was commemorated by Lutherans and Catholics recounting their divergent narratives of events, and rehearsing mutual anathemas. This rarely bears fruit. A better approach begins with all of us confessing our hubris, our party-allegiances, the sins of the church and the tendency to demonize the other and talk past one another.

Retelling the history

There is only one history, and yet Lutherans and Carhokics have told that history quite differently. Have you ever had two warring parties recount events so differently that you wondered if they were describing the same events?

History can be told many ways. History is big. Our biases are reveal in which parts of the history we choose to tell and which parts we choose leave out.  

20th century scholarship has caused us to revise our understanding of the Late Medieval Period. 

It is time to abandon one-sided Protestant or Catholic historiographies. Can we tell the story of the Reformation in ways that are grounded in the most salient facts, ways that satisfy both Protestant and Catholic historians, because they don’t warp the realities?

Chapter 3 of From Conflict to Communion does just that. In 16 pages, a history of the Reformation is sketched our for us, prepared by Lutherans and Catholics together. This alone is worth the read. We must learn to tell the story of the Reformation in this way. 

5 Ecumenical Imperatives, From Conflict to Communion

1. The first imperative: Catholics and Lutherans should always begin from the perspective of unity and not from the point of view of division in order to strengthen what is held in common even though the differences are more easily seen and experienced.

2. The second imperative: Lutherans and Catholics must let themselves continuously be transformed by the encounter with the other and by the mutual witness of faith.

3. The third imperative: Catholics and Lutherans should again commit themselves to seek visible unity, to elaborate together what this means in concrete steps, and to strive repeatedly toward this goal.

4. The fourth imperative: Lutherans and Catholics should jointly rediscover the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ for our time.

5. The fifth imperative: Catholics and Lutherans should witness together to the mercy of God in proclamation and service to the world.

Some local recommendations

In keeping with the recommendations of From Conflict to Communion, Cardinal DiNardo and I have both appointed leaders to plan together our common commemoration in Houston. I propose we do the same in New Orleans. Conversations have begun around several possibilities, which I humbly offer to all Christians, not just Lutherans and Catholics.

1. Worship. I propose a joint ecumenical worship service held sometime the week before October 31. The service of the word would include confession and absolution. It might include a footwashing. Singing and praying together. I don’t propose changing our worship times for this. It’s impractical, creating more problems than it solves. Saturdays and Sundays are problematic for big Catholic Churches. I would encourage careful planning, in consultation with the bishops and church leaders here, and of course, the Saints’ schedule. This could be a signal to the press and to the world, that we have more interest in proclaiming a message of hope to the world than fighting amongst ourselves.

2. Clergy gathering. Our pastors need to become friends, to lower walls of suspicion and counter the old narratives. It starts with the leaders. Perhaps in 2016 we gather clergy around From Conflict to Communion.

3. Education. In Houston we are discussions a possible symposium at The University of St. Thomas on Lutheran-Catholic dialogs and the Reformation, with both Catholic and Protestant scholars. If we bring in these folks, it might be possible to arrange to have them come to Loyola as well. Loyola also has some fine theologians who could present.

4. Music. The B Minor mass written for the Catholic King of Saxony by a Protestant composer, J.S. Bach. The Houston Bach Society is working on this. I wonder if there are musical possibilities in Nee Orleans that lift up the music of the Reformation.

5. Youth service event. What if we did a citywide youth service day in New Orleans, Houston and other areas? Let the world see Christians serving the world together, ignoring denominational boundaries.

These are just some suggestions. We have discussed others. One possibility is a pilgrimage to Rome and Wittenberg. Catholics and Lutherans traveling together, learning together, eating together and building bridges. This could be a life changing experience. There may be other possibilities.

However we commemorate, let’s do it together, as a sign of this new atmosphere of ecumenism and global awareness. Let us commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in such a way that the world might know Jesus, and believing have life in his name.

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

—Ephesians 4:4-6


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New Life Pearland 10th Anniversary


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August 2, 2015 is Pentecost 10B

2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a – The prophet Nathan comes to David to declare God’s judgment on him for killing Uriah: “You are the man.”
Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15 – Manna from heaven.

Psalm 51:1-12 – Create in me a clean heart O God…
Psalm 78:23-29 – The LORD rained down manna upon them to eat. (Ps. 78:24)

Ephesians 4:1-16 – Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are to equip the saints for ministry until we all arrive at unity of faith and spiritual maturity.

John 6:24-35 – I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry.

John 6:24-35 

So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”

Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

Safety: Bread Is All I Need From Day to Day

Last week we began a series called Jesus, Maslow, and Bread.  

  • July 26, 2015 – John 6:1-21 – Physical needs: Bread is Bread.
  • August 2, 2015 – John 6:24-35 – Safety: Bread Is All I Need From Day to Day.
  • August 9, 2015 – John 6:35, 41-51 – Love/Belonging: Bread is Relationship.
  • August 16, 2015 – John 6:51-58 – Esteem: Bread is Hope.
  • August 23, 2015 – John 6:56-69 – Self-actualization: Bread is Living Beyond Myself.

Last week I introduced Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. We talked about bread as bread: our physical needs. Jesus reminds us, however, that we cannot live by bread alone. We need hope, love, belonging, and much more. Maslow points out that we have great difficulty meeting those higher needs until the basic needs at the base of the pyramid are met. It’s hard to think about being generous, if you don’t have enough food to feed your family. It’s hard to think about getting a college degree if you don’t have a roof over your head.

When we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we are praying for enough food for ourselves, our families, and the whole world, but we are also praying for much more.

Luther understands “bread” to be a metaphor for everything we need in life. In the explanation of the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer (Give us this day our daily bread…) in his Small Catechism, Luther says,

What is meant by daily bread?

Everything that belongs to the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, property, fields, animals, money, goods, a believing spouse, believing children, believing servants, believing and faithful magistrates, good government, good weather, peace, health, discipline, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and so on.

When we pray for bread, we are praying for good weather, obedient children, and politicians that aren’t nuts. Luther understands bread very broadly. Even good friends are considered bread. Good friends feed the soul.

What feeds your soul? Perhaps one of the sermons in this series could be named Soul Food. How do we point people beyond the god of money or the god of the belly?

In his book Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore says,

It is impossible to define precisely what the soul is. Definition is an intellectual enterprise anyway; the soul prefers to imagine. We know intuitively that soul has to do with genuineness and depth, as when we say certain music has soul or a remarkable person is soulful. When you look closely at the image of soulfulness, you see that it is tied to life in all its particulars – good food, satisfying conversation, genuine friends, and experiences that stay in the memory and touch the heart. Soul is revealed in attachment, love, and community, as well as in retreat on behalf of inner communing and intimacy.

Jesus invites us to consider not just the needs of the body, but also the needs of the soul.

This week we move up to the next level: safety. You can’t be concerned with higher things if everyone in the room is trying to kill you. Maslow understood safety to be security of body, health, family, and resources. If one does not have clean drinking water, one is not safe. If one does not have adequate health care, one is not safe. One has to have hope – hope for the future.

We know that Jesus was concerned about these things. He spent the bulk of his earthly ministry going around healing people. He was doling out free health care.

After the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus once again takes off. The crowds still find him, with his disciples, on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus tells them, “You folks aren’t looking for me because you saw signs, but because you were filled up with bread.” And then he does something he does often in John’s gospel. He moves from the physical to the spiritual. He says, in verse 27:

Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.

Here we have a hint about where this is all going. Jesus is calling us to look beyond just our basic needs to so much more. He’s calling us to live into the higher needs in Maslow’s hierarchy.

As I pointed out in last week’s post (________________), Jesus makes this shift from the material to the spiritual with Nicodemus in John 3. He does it with the woman at the well in John 4. Just when you think Jesus is talking about water, you realize he’s talking about living water, which quenches our spiritual thirst. It’s almost a bait and switch. Likewise, here, just when you think Jesus is talking about the bread in last week’s feeding text, you realize, he’s talking about spiritual food, to feed our spiritual hunger. We need more than flour and water.

Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? (Matthew 6:25)

Our kids need more than food on the table and clothes on their body. They need love and safety. They need health care and hope.

What makes you feel safe? Those who have been through severe trauma, those who have fought in wars, and those who have been deeply and painfully wounded, may find it extremely difficult to feel safe, even if they actually are. How do we comfort the afflicted? How do we create spaces where people can feel physically, emotionally, and spiritually safe?

Safety is a challenging concept. One can feel unsafe, but be quite safe. One can feel safe, but actually be unsafe. So there is the perception of safety to consider, but also the actuality of safety.

This is particularly difficult because many things in our society are trying to make us feel unsafe. Entire industries are built on making us feel unsafe: home security, the military industrial complex, the rapid expansion of private prisons, the ranting screed about the border, and the news rakes in money by making you feel unsafe. Kahlil Gibran says,

What is fear of thirst, when the well is full, but a thirst that is unquenchable?

Think about it. A shooting takes place on the other side of the country. It is caught on video, so it plays over and over again in our 24-hour news cycle. It invades our consciousness as if it happened in our own front yard. We get caught up in the drama, and so we feel unsafe in our own neighborhood.

Consider this. The things that happen in the news are actually quite rare. The news is, by definition, a recounting of rare things. If it happens everywhere every day, it’s not news, is it? The news wants to show us the worst. “If it bleeds, it leads,” the saying goes. Gore sells, so they serve it up. We watch this stuff over and over and find ourselves wanting to put up walls to keep the world out. We bolt the doors and isolate ourselves. We become suspicious of our neighbors. We see enemies in the faces of our friends.

This has happened with our perception of global violence. We see a car bombing, and we think violence is on the rise everywhere. The truth is, we are living in a time of historically declining violence. When we consider the Civil War, WWII, the Holocaust, Vietnam, the killing fields of Cambodia, and other atrocities, then compare them to what’s going on in the world today; there’s no comparison, and yet we spend an immoral amount of money on what we call “defense.”

Our response to the border situation is similar. We fear immigrants, so we only offer 5,000 worker visas a year. This is a tiny fraction of the labor force we need for agriculture, let alone construction, landscaping, and so on. Because of poverty in Central America, people have been coming. Most immigrants come in legally, while others overstay their visas because they are so hard to get. Why are we worried about this? Do we really think the gardeners and housekeepers are out to get us?

Politicians get attention by creating fear that terrorists are coming across the border. In reality, there is not one single case of a terrorist successfully coming across the border. There was one case of an attempt, but it was on the northern border, and they were apprehended. If all this fuss was really about terrorism, we would be much more concerned about the northern border. As usual, our fears are unfounded. We have been manipulated.

This is nothing new. Costa Ricans are deeply worried about all the poor Nicaraguans pouring over the border into Costa Rica. Syrians are coming across the border into Turkey and Jordan. The world is on the move. There are over 200 million migrants. Most are just people like you and me, who have been forced from their homes by war or who simply seek a better life.

What does it mean to follow Jesus who says, “I say to you, do not worry about your life”? Jesus invites us to pray for our daily bread but not obsess about it. Be safe, but don’t lock yourself in a box. The Good Samaritan took a risk in helping the man on the side of the road. A ship may be safest in the harbor, but ships weren’t meant for the harbor. Life is a risky business. None of us gets out of it alive. If we cling to our lives, trying to save them, trying to achieve an unreachable illusion of safety, we will never live, never find Life.

So what? What is the Good News for us today?

Our lives are in God’s hands. Jesus invites us to trust: trust him. Trust God. Jesus teaches us to pray for our daily bread, but to see bread as more than just food and clothing. He invites us to seek the bread that comes down from heaven that God offers free of charge: hope, life, and love. Jesus invites us to begin to see him as the Bread of Life.

Next Sunday I will be at Messiah Lutheran Church in Cypress, Texas, for Brad Otto’s ordination anniversary. We will also be celebrating the ministries of Nathan, Lynette, and Michelle while there. This make me think about our baptismal call to follow the way of Jesus above all else. Following Jesus is commitment, to be sure, but it is also a gift of simplicity. Putting Christ at the center orders life for us and puts our needs in perspective.

How will we respond to this?

Trust God to provide what we need from day to day, but work to provide real safety for others. Work on a Habitat for Humanity house so that others can experience the safety and security of a roof over their heads.

Don’t watch more than 30 or 60 minutes of television news. It’s good to know what’s going on in the world, but we don’t need to watch the same repetitive stuff over and over again, quietly traumatizing ourselves and creating an illusory sense of danger. Consider reading your news, which is often less alarmist and soul-destroying.

Take time for daily silent prayer so that you commune with the God of the universe, who transcends the ups and downs of life.

Take stock of your own safety. When did you last miss a meal or not have a place to sleep? When was the last time you were held up at gunpoint? (If you were, find a counselor, pastor, or good friend to help process the experience with you.)

Seek out those who truly are in an unsafe situation and serve them as Jesus did. This will fulfill Jesus’ expectation of his followers to serve, and it will also put our own often overblown sense of insecurity in perspective.

Plan to go on a servant trip or mission trip to serve those in need. Come to Peru with us. Engage the people in your own city at the point of their greatest needs. There is something about being with those who are struggling that helps us put our own struggles in perspective.

Don’t worry about your life too much. Look to Jesus, seek first the kingdom of God, God’s righteousness, and the rest will take care of itself.

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July 26, 2015 is Pentecost 9B

2 Samuel 11:1-15 – David and Bathsheba
2 Kings 4:42-44 – Elisha feeds the people with 20 loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain

Psalm 14 – There is no one who does good; no not one
Psalm 145:10-18 – You open wide your hand and satisfy the needs of every living creature. (Ps. 145:17)

Ephesians 3:14-21 – I pray that you may have the power to comprehend with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

John 6:1-21 – Feeding of the 5,000. Jesus walks on water.

Jesus, Maslow, and Bread

A look at the next five weeks

Okay, if you haven’t done so yet, it’s now time to decide what to do with the bread texts. Starting July 26, 2015 we have bread texts through August 23. Yes, five – count them – five weeks in John 6:

  • July 26, 2015 – John 6:1-21 – Feeding of the 5,000. Jesus walks on water.
  • August 2, 2015 – John 6:24-35 – I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry.
  • August 9, 2015 – John 6:35, 41-51 – I am the bread of life, the living bread which comes down from heaven. No one comes unless the Father draws, and I will raise you up on the last day.
  • August 16, 2015 – John 6:51-58 – Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them. The one who eats this bread will live forever.
  • August 23, 2015 – John 6:56-69 – Eat my flesh for eternal life. This is a difficult teaching; who can accept it? Does this bother you? Do you also wish to go away? Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…

For those of us who are people of the lectionary, at least most of the time, this is a gauntlet. For the first call solo pastor without an arsenal filled with years of exegetical notes, this can be a dizzying mountain too high to climb.

In my weekly lectionary notes today and in the next few weeks, I’m going to take the bread text challenge, but before I go there, if you want some other options, there are plenty:

Option 1: Ignore the texts and preach on what you want. I know, you were taught in seminary that this is heresy. Well, it’s not. Luther did it from time to time. He’d do a series on the Ten Commandments and ignore the readings. While I love the discipline of the lectionary, it’s not canon law. You never vowed to follow it. There have been many lectionaries and many churches that never use them. Talk to Brad Otto over at Messiah Lutheran in Cypress, Texas.

In fact, sometimes I worry that preachers who cleave dogmatically to the lectionary don’t reflect enough on what their congregation, in this place, at this time, desperately needs to hear. I have heard some people, who super-spiritualize the lectionary, claiming that the lectionary readings magically seem to address the current situation. Horse feathers. There is nothing magic about the lectionary. The Spirit blows when and where it wills.

So stop for a moment and think about your people. Think about your church. Think about current events. Write down five sermon titles with themes that your people seem hungry or thirsty to engage. What do they need? Don’t just preach about bread. Give them bread – the bread of life. Is your congregation in a season of growth? Is your congregation in a season of conflict? Have people in your congregation experienced tragedy? Has your community experienced tragedy? Are people choking on wealth? Are they buried in poverty? Do you have a lot of young parents, singles, or seniors? What’s going to feed them spiritually? Pray about it. Make a list. You are their spiritual leader. Build a five-week series on what you prayerfully discern they need to hear.

Option 2: Another option is to ask them what they need to hear. Make no commitments, but ask them what they’d appreciate hearing addressed. Filter the results, but be responsive. Ask online. Or do it the old-fashioned way and pass out 3×5 cards in worship. “If you could hear a sermon on any topic, what would it be?” There will be repeated themes. Take the top five answers. Save the others to prime the pump throughout the year.

Option 3: Or, if you’re a lectionary junkie like me, another option is to preach on the Old Testament readings (David and Bathsheba throughout the first four weeks) or the New Testament readings (Ephesians). The David story is narrative preaching at its finest. It encompasses sin, redemption, forgiveness, and the consequences of sin. Ephesians is about the body of Christ. It preaches justification by grace through faith, and then spends the final chapters teaching people how to live holy lives. Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another. Don’t get drunk with wine; get drunk with the Spirit. Put on the full armor of God. We could do worse.

For those who are going to take the bread texts challenge, I am with you. Let us go boldly into the yeasty dough of John 6. Are you ready? Okay, let’s get into the series.


Hierarchy of NeedsAbraham Maslow (1908-1970) was a U.S. psychologist, who was frustrated with Freud. He felt his field tended to treat people like a bag of symptoms. He believed that Freud gave us the sick side of psychology. He wanted to provide the healthy half. Maslow, whose parents were first-generation Russian Jewish immigrants, states these needs in secular psychological terms, not religious terms. But understanding this may help us speak the good news in terms that a secular society can understand.

Instead of studying mentally ill people, he studied exemplary people like Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Frederick Douglass. Rather than a model of sickness, he developed a theory of health.

His work led him to believe that one had to meet some basic foundational needs before one could aspire to higher things. For example, at the bottom of the pyramid are our physical needs. If one doesn’t have food, education is rather irrelevant. One will try to find food and water before one will start worrying about getting an education, finding a spouse, or even concerning oneself with higher morality. Does that make sense? One thing at a time.

The next level up is safety. If you’re living in a room where everyone is trying to kill you, you’re not going to have time to think about getting your MBA or starting a new business.

The top of the pyramid, level 5, Maslow called “self-actualization.” Don’t let the term worry you. He also called it “self-transcendence.” It’s reaching a level where one can be selfless, devoted to others and maybe even give ones life for someone else. It’s at this level where we find creativity, morality, and a desire to overcome bigotry. It’s about reaching one’s full potential. By his criteria, very few people found their way into this category. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The next five weeks Jesus talks about bread. When Jesus talks about bread he means a lot of different things. In today’s gospel he multiplies five loaves of bread and two fish to feed a large multitude of people. In today’s reading, bread is bread. Period.

But next week, Jesus says something interesting:

Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life…

In John’s gospel Jesus always moves from the physical to the spiritual. In John 3 Nicodemus is talking about physical birth, but Jesus is talking about spiritual rebirth. In John 4 Jesus starts talking about drawing water out of the well, then moves to talking about quenching the woman’s spiritual thirst for eternity. Later he heals a blind man, and then starts talking about spiritual blindness.

In the same way, these next few weeks Jesus moves beyond talking about physical bread to feed our physical hunger. He shifts the conversation to talk about spiritual bread to feed our spiritual hunger, because, as he says, “People cannot live by bread alone.” Jesus calls us upward in Maslow’s hierarchy. We need more than bread don’t we? We need love, belonging, community, friendship, respect, hope, joy, and self-transcendence. We are hungry to learn how to become less self-centered, more God-centered, and more other-centered.

I’m tempted to preach all five Sundays, all five sermons, all five levels of the pyramid right now, but I suspect you didn’t come prepared for a two-hour sermon. So we’re going to spread it out over the next few weeks: Jesus, Maslow, and Bread.

  • July 26, 2015 – John 6:1-21 – Bread is Bread: Physical Needs
  • August 2, 2015 – John 6:24-35 – Bread Is All I Need From Day to Day: Safety
  • August 9, 2015 – John 6:35, 41-51 –Bread is Relationship: Love/Belonging
  • August 16, 2015 – John 6:51-58 – Bread is Hope: Esteem
  • August 23, 2015 – John 6:56-69 – Bread is Living Beyond Myself: Self-actualization

Two last words of introduction: first, why not serve a different kind of bread for communion each of the five weeks of this series? Perhaps you could have people in the congregation bake different kinds of bread. Or, if this is not a good option in your context, have tortillas one week, pita bread another week, Hawaiian bread the third week, and some other kinds of bread the last two weeks. I must admit, I have a personal issue with communion wafers. They seem like a freakish byproduct of a bygone theology. In their minimalism, they don’t represent the fullness of the body of Christ or even bread. As C.S. Lewis once said, “I find it infinitely easier to believe this is the Body of Christ, than to believe it is actually bread.

Second, why not use this series as an opportunity to practice sharing like the boy in today’s story? Call the local food pantry to find out what they need. Then take an in-kind offering for a couple of weeks. Then do a love offering for ELCA World Hunger, Bread for the World, Lutheran World Relief, and/or other causes. Use this time of bread to share your bread.

Bread is Bread: Physical Needs

Here’s the text for this week:

John 6:1-21

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

In your sermon you might begin with an introduction to the series, taken from the information above. Introduce Maslow and the hierarchy of needs. Then expound on the story. Finally, bring it home. What does this mean for us today? How are we going to respond?

A few weeks ago we read about a very different kind of feeding. Herod entertained a few of the rich and powerful in a party that ended up with the execution of John the Baptist. Women entertain the men for pleasure. The leftovers from Herod’s feast of death were gruesome: John’s head on a platter. Events like this are held every day in the world.

Jesus’ feast of life is the polar opposite. Jesus’ feeding is not for the few rich and powerful, but for the masses. All are welcome, rich and poor, powerful and marginalized. The meal begins with the generosity of a young boy. (For a great video introduction, consider showing this: Two kids; one sandwich: The Sharing Experiment.)

The boy begins with a simple, selfless act of generosity: He gives up his lunch. He has more than he needs, like in the video. He shares his five loaves of barley bread and two fish. Great movements of generosity often begin with a simple act of selfless kindness. If you want to think about how you are going to be generous in the future, have you considered asking a child?

The act of kindness snowballs and over 5,000 people are fed. Whether by the miracle of multiplication or the miracle of sharing, there turned out to be quite enough. When has someone’s act of generosity made a difference in your life?

What if we considered this story a microcosm of the world? We live in a hungry world. There are 870 million undernourished people in our world today, most in developing countries. An undernourished person is someone who doesn’t get enough calories to meet their basic physical needs. Many of these undernourished folks are malnourished. This means they will be so weak they will die of things for which we go to the drug store, like diarrhea.

So What? What is the Good News for us today?

There’s lots of Good News.

God cares about hungry people. The prophets cared about hungry people. Jesus cares about hungry people. There are over 2,000 passages in the Bible about the poor. If you are starving, if your children are starving, it is very hard to care about democracy. It is very hard to think about education. Jesus casts a vision for the kingdom of God where everyone has enough to eat. Everyone has access to adequate health care.

Second, there is enough food in the world today to feed the whole world. There is more than enough food in the world for every human being to lead a healthy and productive life. People in developing countries are not hungry because they are lazy or aren’t working hard. People in developing countries are some of the hardest working people in the world. Try subsistence farming some time. They are hungry because of poor wealth distribution, because of famines, because of corrupt governments, and because of war.

Jesus has an answer for the problem of hunger. It starts with sharing, like the little boy in today’s story. And that sharing goes on and on, so that unlike Herod’s corrupt dinner in which there is plenty for the few and little for the masses, instead, there is enough for everyone. This is not socialism. It is not communism. It is “enoughism.” It is not everyone getting the same. It is everyone having enough.

How will we respond to this?

Jesus invites us to be a part of his vision in which everyone can have enough. Here’s what you can do.

  1. Pray for those who are hungry in the world.
  2. If you have enough to eat, commit to give at least 10% of your income to sharing with those who do not have enough.
  3. Bring some canned goods next week to donate to the local pantry.
  4. Come to the pantry to serve with us on August ___.
  5. Talk with your family about a gift for ELCA World Hunger that we’ll take on August __ and __.
  6. Read up on hunger, locally and globally.

These are just starting points. In your prayers, God will lead to you respond according to your gifts and resources. The good news is God is inviting you to be a part of the healing of the world. God wants to use your gifts and resources to make a difference in the world.

The feeding of the 5,000 is more than just a story. It is a parable about the world. It is a parable about what God wants to do in our world and is already doing. When we eat this bread today, we become a part of what God is doing in the world. Let’s be the little boy in the story and see what God can do with our five loaves and two fish.

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2015 ELCA Youth Gathering in Detroit

July 15-19, 2015 at Ford Field and Cobo Center.

Day 1: Wednesday, July 15, 2015 – Ford Field


Tree of Life Conroe:

St. Paul Brenham:  


Day 2: Thursday, June 16, 2015 – Practice Justice

Servant Project with St. Paul LaGrange

Service was in NW Detroit. Thousands of kids spread out over a 100-block area cleaning, weeding and working on abandoned properties.

El grupo.

Day 3: Friday, July 17, 2015 – Proclaim Story

Our synod met at the Detroit Masonic Temple. Built in 1922, it is the largest Masonic Temple in the U.S. 450 kids spent the day together studying, talking together, praying, singing and worshipping. 




Day 4: Friday, July 18, 2015 – Proclaim Community

Day 5: Sunday, July 19, 2015 – Closing Worship

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Jacob’s Porch

I enjoyed a visit today with Pastor Grant Eckhart and interns  t Jacob’s Porch, Ohio State University’s Lutheran campus ministry. Check out their comfy worship space Sundays at 7:07 PM.  


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Go Set A Watchman


To Kill A Mockingbird may be the most important novel of the 20th century. Having sold over 40 million copies, It displays the race issues that are part of our society. Harper Lee’s book won a Pulitzer Prize. Mockingbird was her only published book. Gregory Peck won an Oscar for his portrayal of Atticus Finch in the movie. 

The sequel comes out Tuesday. Harper Lee is 89 and living in a nursing home. Go Set a Watchman takes place 20 years after To Kill A Mockingbird, but it was actually written beforehand. Watchman was Harper Lee’s first manuscript. It was rediscovered last fall. The title comes from Isaiah 21:6. 

If you’re going to read it next week when it comes out, it might be good to reread To Kill A Mockingbird first:

Read the first chapter of Go Set A Watchman online for free:

Then, if you still want to read it:

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