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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.

First Galveston installation of Richard Rhoades, preceded by the Coastal Bay Conference Gathering

Before the installation, representatives of area churches gathered together to talk about ministry.   

Incoming Pastor Richard Rhodes an interim Director of Evangelical Mission, Chris Markert. 

    

Assistant to the Bishop Blair Lundborg and incoming First Lutheran President Seitzinger.
  

Coastal Bay Dean Brian Gigee herds the pastors.

  
    
  

  
ELCA VP and proud grandpa Carlos Peña.  
    
 

  

February 7, 2016 is Transfiguration C

Exodus 34:29-35 – Moses’ face shines when he comes down from Mt. Sinai with the 10 Commandments. He has to veil his face.

Psalm 99 – Extol the Lord our God and worship him at his holy mountain.

2 Corinthians 3:12 – 4:2 – Paul contrasts the glory of Moses with the glory of Christ. When one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.

Luke 9:28-36, (37-43) – The Transfiguration foreshadows the resurrection. God affirms Jesus’ identity again, as at Jesus’ baptism.

The Cross and the Lynching Tree

Some of us are reading The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone this Lent. It’s 166 pages, so about 30 pages a week for five weeks. Watch for an online conversation in the Gulf Coast Leaders’ Facebook Group. Here’s our reading schedule:

  • February 10: Introduction and Chapter 1
  • February 17: Chapter 2
  • February 24: Chapter 3
  • March 2: Chapter 4
  • March 9: Chapter 5 and Conclusion 

Transfiguration

It is also evident that when Peter, James and John awake to see the transfigured Christ conversing with Moses and Elijah, they are seeing, in some fundamental sense, into the kingdom of God. As much as they have been warned by Jesus that to identify with him as the Suffering Servant long announced, means that they too must suffer, so here these three are given a glimpse of that glory reserved for Jesus and to be shared by his faithful.
~David Lyle Jeffrey, Luke

The story of the Transfiguration is also recorded in Mark 9:2-10 and Matthew 17:1-9. It is an important story that some scholars have suggested is a repurposed resurrection story.

Luke’s version is shorter, but has some details that the other accounts do not. For example, only Luke tells us what Jesus, Moses, and Elijah were discussing. They were speaking of his “departure” (exodus?) – what he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Jeffrey says this and other discrepancies show that Luke is drawing from another source. I’m not so sure, but the reference connecting Moses and the crucifixion is stunning. Jesus’ transfiguration matches the transfiguration of Moses’ face on the mountain.

Exodus
Exodus, Marc Chagall

Jeffrey invites us to meditate on the painting by Jewish painter Marc Chagall, which has Christ crucified over Moses and those fleeing in the Exodus. The biblical narrative is one of exile and homecoming. Exodus, migration, slavery, and freedom.

Chagall, the most successful artist of the 20th century, uses the crucifixion as a symbol of Jewish suffering and persecution. Some say Chagall was the only Jewish artist of his generation to engage another religious tradition without betraying his own. He forged a universal message.

As I reflect on the relationship between Jews and Christians, it is hard to not despair. We should have been the closest of brothers and sisters, but instead there was enmity and persecution. That the church of the persecuted, crucified Christ could have become the persecutor and crucifier is a great sadness. The bloody history is too much to bear. It will take generations of goodwill to restore the relationship between Jews and Christians.

It may be worthwhile to read and digest the ELCA statement to the Jewish Community.

The connection of the Exodus and the Crucifixion lies in the themes of deliverance, salvation, redemption, and new life.

Interpretation of this text for our people today in this day and age requires that we are capable of identifying those enslaved and powerless today, otherwise we miss the meaning of the cross in our time. This is a point Cone makes painfully well.

Back in the story, a cloud overshadows them all on the mountain, reminiscent of the cloud that went before the Israelites in the Exodus. Jeffrey points out the cloud that covered the Tabernacle in Exodus 40, when the glory of The Lord filled the Tabernacle, hence the disciples’ suggestion that booths be built. The glory of The Lord is present on the mountain. Luke is a Gentile, but he knows his Bible.

The crucifixion is for Luke the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets. No wonder Peter, James, and John want to stay up on the mountain. Can you blame them? They’re safe on the mountain top, basking in the glory of God. Who wants to descend the mountain and deal with the poor, the blind, and the oppressed captives for whom Jesus claimed to be sent in his hometown speech (Luke 4)?

Are we not tempted in the same way? Here we are in our wealthy, safe society, cheerfully praising God in our wealthy, safe churches. Who wants to get their hands dirty with the ugly, messy problems of the world? All those hurting people out there are downright depressing and a bit of an inconvenience frankly. Let’s just camp out here on the mountain.

And yet, to follow Jesus is to serve. To follow Jesus is to deny ourselves and take up our cross. This text transitions us from Epiphany to Lent. Perhaps this is why we moved Transfiguration to this time and place in the liturgical year. We now descend the heights of the season of Epiphany, and enter into Lent, a time of repentance and reflection on the cross. Perhaps we do so with some reluctance. Let this cup pass from me… But this is where Christ calls any who would follow.

It is our confidence in the resurrection, prefigured here in the Transfiguration, that gives us the hope, and yes, even the joy to walk the way of the cross. Let is follow our Lord down the mountain and into the valley.

On to Golgatha.

Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say-“Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.
~
John 12:26-27

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