Bishop Michael Rinehart


March 2011

3/27 is Lent 3A

Dear Gulf Coast Leaders,

For a full version, with clickable links, go here:

Would you like to visit a friendly megachurch and hear what the pastor has to say?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

10:00 a.m. at The Ark Church

450 Humble Tank Road

Conroe, TX 77304


Map and directions:

April 3, 2011 – Lent 4A

1 Samuel 16:1-13 – Humans look on the outward appearance, but God looks upon the heart.
Psalm 23 – The Lord is my Shepherd.
Ephesians 5:8-14 – Live as children of the light. Sleeper awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.
John 9:1-41 – Healing of the Man Born Blind


This story comes off as a kind of comedy. It’s long. Consider having a group read it:

Shared Reading of John 9.

For another angle on this text, read "Is the Earthquake God’s Judgment on Japan" at

There seem to be a great many points made in this multidimensional text. I’ll suggest five scenes. Any one of them could be a sermon.

1. Don’t draw a direct connection between suffering and sin.

Scene 1: "Who sinned?" It’s a quandary. If he’s blind from birth, then who sinned? Did he sin before he was born? Or did his parents sin, and he’s paying for it. What caused his blindness?

Before you laugh, consider the number of children born with AIDS. But before you judge the mother, consider the woman who has AIDS not because of their promiscuity, but because of her spouse’s indiscretions. But still,

someone sinned, right? What about the person with cancer? Must have been something they ate. The person hit by a car? Must have been walking the wrong place. We can’t seem to get past the idea of karma: if something bad happens to you, it must be something that you did.

Jesus seems to discount this explanation. Blaming the victim won’t wash. Suffering is to be met with compassion, not judgment.

Spit and mud. Jesus uses spit in Mark 7:32 and 8:23 as well. We may be seeing through a window into Jesus’ healing style. Using spit was not uncommon among ancient healers. The mud conjures for me God making Adam out of the dust in Genesis. John’s Jesus is one with the Author of life in Genesis.

There are also themes of sin and baptism. We too are sinners from our birth. We too are called to wash in the pool of Siloam, the waters of baptism.

2. Compassion trumps the law.

Scene 2. In verse 13-17 we are informed that Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath. So the religious leaders, more concerned with dogged adherence to the law than compassion for the blind man, bring the man in for interrogation.

What happened?

He put mud on my eyes, I washed, and now I see.

This man is not from God. He doesn’t observe the Sabbath.

But if he’s not from God, how can he perform such signs?

What do you say about him?

He is a prophet.

This clearly isn’t an an authorized healing. No one should break the law in such a flagrant way, right? Luke’s Jesus says, "If one of you has a child or a donkey that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on the sabbath day?" (Luke 4:5).

3. Triangulation and exclusion.

Scene 3. In verses 18-23 the Pharisees, who suspect the whole thing is a hoax, bring in the parents.

Is this your son, who was born blind?


How does he now see?

Dunno. Ask him. He is of age. He can speak for himself.

They said this because they were afraid:

Anyone who confessed Jesus as messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Well, well. Kicked out of the synagogue.

See also 12:42, "Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; "

And 16:2, "They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God."

There seems to be a theme here. Some suggest that this is an experience that John’s church was experiencing: the exclusion of Christian Jews from the Synagogue. So they resonated with Jesus’ sayings about exclusion.

The list of those who are not welcome in the Temple or Synagogue was staggering. Gentiles, women, the blind, lame, deaf, mute, lepers, anyone unclean. Exclusion became a way to cut people off from community. The law gave the privileged power over others. It is precisely toward these outcasts and sinners that Jesus directs his ministry.

4. Where does this Jesus come from?

Scene 4. In verses 24-34 the investigation continues, preparing us for the punch of the text. The man is grilled again.

This Jesus is a sinner.
I don’t know about that. I just know he healed me. I was blind, but now I see. (Seems like an obvious cue to sing Amazing Grace.)

What did he do to you.
I already told you. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to be his disciples?

You are his disciple. We are Moses’ disciples. We don’t know who this upstart comes from.
This is an amazing thing. You don’t know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. You say God doesn’t listen to sinners, so…

You were born in sin, and you would educate us?
And they drove him out.

Of course they did.

This kind of witness may be the most effective. Rather than a creedal formula, and a doctrinal response, we can say, I don’t really know about all of that, all I know is that he healed me.

5. Beware of spritual blindness.

Scene 5. Verses 35-41 deliver the punch.

Jesus heard that they drove out the man born blind. In character, Jesus seeks him out.

Do you believe in the Son of Man?
Who is he?

C’est moi.
I believe.

I came so that the blind might see, and those who see become blind.

Pharisees: Are you calling us blind?
Jesus: Well…

If you were blind, you would have no sin, but since you say, "We see" your sin remains.

In John 3 Jesus talked about being born again. Nicodemus interpreted it as a physical rebirth, but Jesus was talking about spiritual rebirth. In John 4 the woman interpreted it as physical water to be drawn, but Jesus was talking about spiritual water, living water, to quench a spiritual thirst. Here, we find this story about the man’s physical blindness gets interpreted by Jesus as really about the religious leaders’ spiritual blindness.

The real sin is self-righteousness. Hypocrisy. The blind, outcast, unwelcome man is not the sinner in Jesus’ eyes, but those who judge, who think that they know everything, judge everyone. This goes back to Matthew 7. Self-righteousness becomes the plank in our eyes that makes it impossible to take the splinter out of the other’s eye.

The irony is, the more we try to be good (not a bad thing) the greater the danger of feeling morally superior, which is perhaps the greatest sin of all. A smarter person could come up with an equation for this.

I’m not sure what the solution to the equation is. I can only turn to mercy. Grace. Forgiveness. Hope. Compassion. In practical terms, for me it comes down to doing the opposite of the world. The world says, mercy for me; judgment for you. The opposite of that is to have very, very high standards for me, and radical grace and compassion for you, and others. This seems to me to be what Jesus is doing in the gospels.

Be at peace with God and with one another,

Michael Rinehart, Bishop


Grace Houston gets a facelift with new tile, paint

No one can confidently say that he will still be living tomorrow. ~Euripides

Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.’ Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.’

James 4:13-15

Disaster and God’s judgment

I just read a Fox News poll that found 4/10 Americans believe the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster is God’s judgment on selfish Japanese culture.

We heard such things after 9/11, Katrina, Indonesia and Haiti. I got asked about God and natural disasters by News Radio 740 KTRH in an interview that will air tonight or tomorrow morning. Is God punishing Japan?

Speaking from my tradition, Lutherans don’t go there. It’s blaming the victim. Luther, who I think lost two brothers in the Plague, could just as easily see disasters as a “work of Satan.”

Jesus didn’t go there either. In the gospel reading for next week April 3 (John 9), Jesus’ disciples ask, “Who sinned that this man was born blind?” Jesus dismisses the idea. The same with the Galileans Herod massacred and people killed when the Tower of Siloam fell on them. “Do you think these people were any worse than other Galileans? No, I tell you…” Jesus taught his disciples to respond to suffering with healing and compassion, not judgment. He saved his harshest judgment for the religious establishment.

This theology is also frustratingly unsystematic. What are we saying if we buy into it? If a tornado hits a small town in Nebraska, is God wiping them out like a celestial mobster? When the midwest floods each Spring, is that God’s judgment too? Is every disaster God killing people he doesn’t like? Is that God’s work in the world? Why not more consistency? If God acts that way, why not target centers of drug trafficking or human trafficking?

Its a dangerous theology. It reveals a self-centeredness: When disaster strikes others, we say it’s God’s judgment. When disaster strikes us we ask, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

I worry this theology might also be an unconscious way of abdicating responsibility. Hey, if God wants these people to suffer, who am I to get in the way? It lets me off the hook. I don’t have to worry about getting into the mud of all this. I can sit and watch from my comfortable self-righteous perch.

A theology of the cross recognizes that the innocent all too often suffer. Te beatitudes show that God cares about those who suffer. Blessed are the poor, hungry, mourning, suffering people who have been denied justice. God loves you.

Thank goodness Jesus did not respond to:
Lepers with “this is God’s judgment on them.”
The man born blind with “this is God’s judgment on his parents.” Peter’s mother-in-law with “this is God’s judgment on her.”
The paraplegic with with “this is God’s judgment on him.”
The woman caught in adultery about to be stoned with “this is God’s judgment on her.” Lazarus with, “He had this coming.”
The cross with, “It must be something I did.”

Luther on preaching

Luther highly esteemed the place of preaching in the Reformation. At the same time, Luther very much opposed preachers ascending to the pulpit without proper authorization. He was most certainly an advocate of the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, but Luther made a distinction in connection with the office of preaching. To him all Christians were priests, but only those men were to preach who had been called by God, through the mediation of the congregation, to fill the pastoral office.

Luther was critical of those who publicly addressed the people without a regular call and yet claimed authorization for doing so on the basis of being led to speak by the Holy Spirit.

Martin Luther on Preaching

Patrick Ferry

Incivility: Mark DeMoss at Temple Beth Yeshurun

Mark DeMoss is a conservative evangelical Christian Republican from Atlanta who founded the Civility Project:

We also got a copy of his book “The Little Book of Wisdom” with chapters such as:
• A Matter of Life and Death
• Work Less. Think More
• Honesty Can Be Costly
• There are No Degrees of Integrity

He spoke to a group of clergy of various faiths this morning at Temple Beth Yeshurun in Houston. His message was alternately hopeful and chilling.

Lanny was shocked by the level of incivility during the debates over Proposition 8 In California. Mormons vilifying homosexuals. Homosexuals vandalizing Mormon buildings.

“I decided to start a website. I went online and reserved “I was surprised to find it was available.”

He developed a three-point pledge for speaking an acting with civility.

Trinity Forum:

“In contrast, a Christian conception of civility is grounded not in skepticism, but in conviction of the dignity and worth of each person, endowed by their Creator, which runs deeper than – without denying – our differences.”

I decided on what this would not be: This is no a surrender of personal beliefs. This is not a tolerance campaign. This is not an effort to define hate speech. This is not a call to unity. “I’m not promoting unity. I’m promoting civility. They’re not the same thing.”

I cannot attract people to my faith without civility. As a follower of Christ everything you do must be done in love.” Galatians lists nine fruits of the Spirit. Incivility violates at least eight of those nine.

Oz Guiness writes in “The Case for Civility:”
“How do we live with out deepest differences, especially when those differences are religious and ideological?”

“My strongest criticism has come from my fellow conservatives. My highest praise has come from liberals.”

We mailed the Civility Pledge to every Senator and Representative and Governor. We got three back. In January he dissolved the project. Officially, he wrote an Op Ed. He thanked the three. A week later was the shooting in Arizona, reigniting the debate on civility.

Five reasons DeMoss thinks civility isn’t winning.

1. It’s wrongly perceived by people as unilateral disarmament. Politicians feel it’s as disadvantage to be civil. “What if my opponent attacks me and I can’t attack back?”

2. People are afraid of being seen as compromising or selling out.

3. Our society doesn’t elevate or value civility anymore. A mean-spirited good fight on TV attracts a bigger crowd.

4. The louder the act, the more outrageous, the louder the Amen-crowd gets. The more “red meat” you throw out, the more enthusiastic the crowd gets.

5. The lines are more sharply drawn than ever: liberal/conservative, evangelical/mainline, etc.

Truly the problem is worse than it should be.

I know we’re all busy, and shooting off a nasty email while sitting at a red light might seem easy, but civility really takes no more time than incivility. In fact, incivility may take more time. There’s often a lot of clean up to do afterwards.

Some things you can do.

1. You can write a letter. Create a new friendship. Build a bridge. DeMoss devoted a chapter to the lair art of letter writing.

2. Speak, Preach and teach civility.

3. Call out those who step over the line. Politicians are the only commodities we market by trashing the opposition. Car companies and hotels don’t do this. Write: “I can’t support this kind of tactic…” Speak to those in your own ideological camp. “I don’t chastise people on the left.”

4. Build a relationship with an ideological opponent. Eat together. It’s hard to be unkind to someone you’ve had dinner with in your home.

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