Bishop Michael Rinehart

Hurricane Harvey Flooding: A Photo Essay

LENT 2B – February 25, 2018

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 – Abraham’s covenant (age 99).

Psalm 22:23-31 – My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Romans 4:13-25 – Abraham wasn’t saved by the law. His trusting God’s promises is reckoned to him as righteousness.

Mark 8:31-38 – Peter’s confession and rebuke. Crucifixion prediction. Take up your cross and follow me.

Genesis: The Abrahamic Covenant. Last week we read the Noahic covenant. This week we hear God’s covenant with Abram now Abraham, age 99: You shall be the father of a multitude of nations. Sarai/Sarah also receives a promise, that she will bear a son and give rise to nations. Kings shall come from her. Like the rainbow in the story of the covenant with Noah last week, this covenant also has a sign: Circumcision. Throughout all generations, on the eighth day, all children shall be circumcised, even your slaves, both those born in the house and those purchased. The covenant is good for the offspring as well. It is an “everlasting” covenant.

Romans: Righteousness by faith has been God’s plan all along. Paul puts forth his classic argument, that God’s promises (salvation) came to Abraham and his offspring, because he believed and trusted God, not because he kept the law. The Mosaic Law would not come around for another half a millennium. Hoping against hope, Abram trusted God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6). Paul wants the church in Rome to understand that justification by grace through faith has been God’s modus operandi all along. The law, Paul says in Galatians, was our babysitter until Christ came.

Mark: Passion Prediction. Mark Allan Powel, at our Galveston Lenten text study, pointed out that this is a famous text. Peter’s confession and rebuke has parallels in Matthew 16 and Luke 9, but Luke does not report Peter’s rebuke. Some early writers suggest that it was precisely because of Peter’s confession (which takes place prior to this in all three synoptics) that Jesus can now reveal the mystery of the cross. The Son of Man must undergo “great suffering,” then be rejected by the elders, chief priests and the scribes, and be killed and after three days rise. Peter is shocked, and begins to rebuke Jesus (ἐπιτιμaν, epiteeman, to chide severely). Bede says Peter speaks with the voice of a man who loves… We can understand his reluctance to accept this jarring new information, that his beloved leader must suffer and die.

Here is the text:

31[Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”  

34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

And for all you New Testament geeks, here it is in the original Greek:

31Καὶ ἤρξατο διδάσκειν αὐτοὺς ὅτι δεῖ τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου πολλὰ παθεῖν καὶ ἀποδοκιμασθῆναιὑπὸ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων καὶ τῶν ἀρχιερέων καὶ τῶν γραμματέων καὶ ἀποκτανθῆναι καὶ μετὰ τρεῖς ἡμέρας ἀναστῆναι: 32καὶ παρρησίᾳ τὸνλόγον ἐλάλει. καὶ προσλαβόμενος ὁ Πέτρος αὐτὸν ἤρξατο ἐπιτιμᾶν αὐτῷ. 33ὁ δὲ ἐπιστραφεὶς καὶ ἰδὼν τοὺς μαθητὰς αὐτοῦ ἐπετίμησενΠέτρῳ καὶ λέγει, Υπαγε ὀπίσω μου, Σατανᾶ, ὅτι οὐ φρονεῖς τὰ τοῦ θεοῦ ἀλλὰ τὰ τῶν ἀνθρώπων.

34Καὶ προσκαλεσάμενος τὸν ὄχλον σὺν τοῖςμαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Εἴ τις θέλει ὀπίσω μου ἀκολουθεῖν, ἀπαρνησάσθω ἑαυτὸν καὶ ἀράτω τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀκολουθείτω μοι.35ὃς γὰρ ἐὰν θέλῃ τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ σῶσαι ἀπολέσει αὐτήν: ὃς δ’ ἂν ἀπολέσει τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ καὶ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου σώσειαὐτήν. 36τί γὰρ ὠφελεῖ ἄνθρωπον κερδῆσαι τὸν κόσμον ὅλον καὶ ζημιωθῆναι τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ; 37τί γὰρ δοῖ ἄνθρωπος ἀντάλλαγμα τῆς ψυχῆςαὐτοῦ; 38ὃς γὰρ ἐὰν ἐπαισχυνθῇ με καὶ τοὺς ἐμοὺς λόγους ἐν τῇ γενεᾷ ταύτῃ τῇ μοιχαλίδι καὶ ἁμαρτωλῷ, καὶ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπουἐπαισχυνθήσεται αὐτὸν ὅταν ἔλθῃ ἐν τῇ δόξῃ τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ μετὰ τῶν ἀγγέλων τῶν ἁγίων.

Peter's rebukePeter rebukes Jesus for saying he must suffer and die. Jesus rebukes back. “Get behind me Satan.” Jesus’ baptism means nothing less than his death, quite literally. Baptism means an awareness of death, not just for Jesus, but for us too. We ignore death. We try not to think about it. This leads to a skewed perception of life.

Jesus senses that his life and calling are hurling inexorably in the direction of the cross. He would probably love to hear a word absolving him of this destiny. “Remove this cup from me,” will be his prayer in Mark 14. He is, however, staying focused on divine things, not human things.

Powell muses that Jesus criticizes Peter, a human being, for thinking like a human being. What does he expect? Jesus insinuates that thinking in human terms is Satanic. Thinking in divine terms means moving past human ways of thinking. The law of the jungle, survival of the fittest, is not the Way. People see us as living in a dog-eat-dog world. But what if it is not so? What if power and violence do not win the day? What if love makes the world go around? What if it is love that makes life worth living? What if it is love that’s worth dying for? What if love is what leads to procreation, and life?

Neil Degrasse Tyson likes to talk about dogs. They have survived not because they have

Neil Degrasse Tyson
Neil Degrasse Tyson: Survival of the cutest

fought their way up the food chain through violence. They have survived because they love us. He calls it “survival of the cutest.” Perhaps we see evil and get too jaded. We imitate evil’s ways, Satan’s ways, human ways. We need to think in divine terms. Jesus offers an alternative in the next verses: The Way of the Cross.

What Jesus says next must be of great importance, because it’s the same, word-for-word, in all three synoptic gospels, with just a couple of unimportant variants:

‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves [Luke adds “daily”] and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

Matthew and Luke omit “and for the sake of the gospel” which Mark has in some early copies like p45. Matthew likes “will find it” over “will save it.” Matthew likes “find,” as in “seek and you shall find” and stories like finding a coin, or a treasure in a field. For Mark, nothing less than salvation is at stake.

Powell says, “The way humans think, the way you may naturally think is not the way of the cross.” The way of the cross goes against everything evolution has taught you to think. The way of the cross is not dog-eat-dog, survival of the fittest, grab all the gusto you can get, save your own skin. The way of the cross is just the opposite: putting others first.

What does it mean to deny yourself? How would you put it in a way that gets through to your people? Powell asked the group, and got some intriguing answers:

  • Mike Button: To surrender privilege.
  • Richard Rhoades: Let your life be ruled by God.

Faith is not assent to an intellectual proposition. It is trusting God, in life and in death. For Abraham, faith means trusting in God’s promises enough that he is willing to leave home and family and kindred and go wandering about to a place he does not know. It means trusting that his descendants will number like the stars, even when all hope seems lost. Faith is not theoretical, it calls us to act. It calls us to put our lives on the line. Paul understands that faith gives life and brings us into relationship with the living God in a way that the law can never do. For Paul, Abraham is the model for faith.

Faith may even call us to put our lives on the line. If the highest good is saving my skin, then my life is self-centered rather than God-centered, other-centered. If saving his own skin was the highest good, Bonhoeffer could have stayed in New York at the behest of his American colleagues, and not risked his neck returning to Nazi Germany to witness to the light. It is to have our minds set on divine things, and not just human things. It means trusting God enough to do the hard thing, and not always the easy thing.

This text drives us to the ask the question of the congregation: Upon what have we set our minds? Human things? Divine things? Truth be told we have to admit that our minds are set on acquisition of wealth. We want money, comfort, privilege. In short, we must confess in this season of Lent, our minds are set on the earthly things. What would it look like to set our minds on the things of God? What are the things of God? What are the things of the Spirit?

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good and what the Lord requires of you, but to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

For Paul, the things of the Spirit are spiritual fruits: “… the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control…” (Galatians 5:22)

The good news sounds like bad news. In order to find our lives, we must lose them. In order to save them, we must give them away. It’s a counter-intuitive gospel. God saves us, from our self-consuming gluttony. Life is found in self-denial that can only come through trusting God’s promises.


Those delving into prayer during the Lenten season probably read chapters 7-14 of Learning to Pray Again (www/ Having set aside a time to pray and a place, many find that just going to that place begins to calm them down after a week of this practice. The prayer zone represents a place to quiet the should and listen. Like Pavlov’s dog, just going to that same place automatically starts to put us in that attitude of prayer.

If you’re like me, the first thing that happens when you quiet the soul, is you begin to think of all the things to have to do. Write them down and let them go. They’ll be waiting for you after your prayer time.

Chapters 7-14 focus on some traditional patterns of Christian prayer: oratio, lectio divina, meditatio, contemplatio. To these I have included Luther’s addition of tentatio. Luther mentions this as a way of doing theology, not prayer, but his point is important. Chapters 13 and 14 focus on fasting and almsgiving. The goal of prayer is communion with God. Silence is our best tool, but many of us have trouble being silent. We are so hyperactive, we find it difficult to sit and pray without help. Our minds are abuzz. “Even at night their minds do not rest.” (Ecclesiastes 2:23)

Tools like lectio divina, prayerful reading of Scripture, help to focus the mind and allow the frenetic nature of our thoughts and activities to settle. We need to empty ourselves. At its core, prayer is a process of kenosis, emptying, so that we might be filled. As you and your folks pray, I believe you will experience a deepening of the spiritual life of your congregation. I’m convinced that individuals will experience powerful things as they make time for prayer. When this happens, I would love to hear the stories.

LENT 1B – February 18, 2018

Genesis 9:8-17 – Noahic covenant (age 600). Never again will I flood the whole earth. The bow in the clouds is a sign of the promise.

Psalm 25:1-10 – Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions.

1 Peter 3:18-22 – You are blessed if you suffer for what is right. Always be prepared to give account for the hope that is within you. Appeal to a good conscience. v. 19 is the “descended to the dead/hell” proof text. Baptism, like Noah, saves.

Mark 1:9-15 – Baptism of Jesus, Temptation, arrest of John. Then “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”


First I will offer a bird’s eye view of the Scripture readings of Lent B in the Revised Common Lectionary. Second, I will look at the lessons for this coming Sunday. Finally, for those using, Learning to Pray Again, during Lent, I will offer some thoughts on prayer.

The Hebrew readings survey the covenants in Lent B. One could do a series on the various covenants of the Old Testament if your congregation was ready for this kind of overview. This week, Lent 1, we begin with Noah’s covenant.

  • Lent 1: Noah’s covenant
  • Lent 2: Abraham’s covenant
  • Lent 3: Moses’ covenant
  • Lent 4: Moses lifts up the serpent in the wilderness, foreshadowing a new covenant
  • Lent 5: Jeremiah promises a future new covenant: “I will make a new covenant. I will write the law on their hearts.”

The second readings usually follow an epistle through. Not so during Lent B. The second readings jump around to support the Hebrew readings on the covenants. Lent 1, 1 Peter references the Noahic Covenant. Lent 2 Romans references the Abrahamic covenant, and so on.

The gospels in Lent B start with Mark’s shorter baptism.

  • Lent 1: Jesus’ baptism in Mark 1, his temptation and then the death John
  • Lent 2: Peter’s confession in Mark 8
  • Lent 3: The Cleansing of the Temple in John 2 (early, unlike the synoptics)
  • Lent 4: John 3, “As Moses lifted up the serpent… so must the Son of Man be lifted up.”
  • Lent 5: Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate [it] will keep it for eternal life.” “When I am lifted up… I will draw all people to myself.”

So let’s look at the lessons for this coming Sunday.

Noah's Ark

This Coming Sunday

Genesis: The Hebrew lessons of Lent B give us a lesson in covenantal theology. We’ll hear the Noahic Covenant, the Abrahamic Covenant, the Mosaic Covenant, and the promise of a New Covenant. The first Sunday in Lent we begin with the Noahic covenant. God chooses to deal with the problem of sin by wiping out humanity, except for a very few, Noah and his family. We ourselves live with this temptation constantly, do we not? When we consider the evil in the world (cite the most recent manifestation in the news), there is a temptation to think the military option is the only one. If we could just kill all the “evil” people… The problem is, there aren’t just two mutually exclusive categories of people: good and bad. It’s not that simple. We are all capable of evil, even if some are more prone to it than others. We are all participating in evil systems. Genocide won’t work. You can’t kill evil with evil. This may be, in part, the lesson of this passage. As if God has also repented, we get a promise, a covenant, made to Noah in the 600th year of his life: Never again will I flood the whole earth. I give you, as a sign of this promise, the bow in the clouds.

1 Peter: Noah’s salvation prefigures baptism. The epistle passage from 1 Peter picks up on Noah’s salvation. In a passage on dealing with suffering, the author contends that under normal circumstances, no one should experience persecution for seeking the common good. In the event you do suffer for doing good, you are blessed. Your persecutors will be shamed, especially if you have kept your nose clean. So, live an exemplary life, like Christ, who also suffered for doing good, in order to bring you to God. Then, after a short dissertation on Christ preaching to the “spirits in prison,” those who did not obey “in former times” (from which “descended to the dead/hell” was derived for the creed), the author states that God’s salvation through water and the ark, prefigures baptism.

Mark: Three things: Baptism. Temptation. John’s arrest.

9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Jesus' baptism by John

Let me first note that water ties all three of these texts together. In Genesis God deals with sin through the flood. In 1 Peter the flood prefigures baptism. In Mark, Jesus is baptized. An affirmation of baptism with sprinkling would be appropriate.

Here I am going to repeat, almost verbatim, some things from last week’s post, so if it feels really familiar, you’re not imagining it.

In our Lenten text study on Galveston Island, Mark Allan Powell, showed us how the message of Jesus as the “Son of God,” is the framework of Mark’s gospel. Mark Powell is a narrative critic. The beginning and the end of a story tell you what it’s about. His example was The Wizard of Oz. One might think the story is about lions, scarecrows, tin men and witches. But to understand the thrust of the story, one need only look at the beginning and end. The Wizard of Oz begins and ends on a farm in Kansas, with a central theme recapitulated at the end: “There’s no place like home.”

Mark’s gospel begins with Jesus’ baptism, and the Spirit descending on him like a dove saying:

You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased. (Mark 1:11)

Mark’s gospel ends with Jesus’ breathing his last, and a centurion acknowledging Jesus identity, the first human in Mark’s story to do so:

Truly this man was God’s Son!  (Mark 15:9)

Then smack dab in the middle of Mark comes our text, the Transfiguration, in which a voice from heaven says,

This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him! (Mark 9:9)

Adam is the son of God. The kings of Israel are the sons of God. Historically, many rulers have claimed the title, “Son of God.” The Roman emperors moved from being “like God” to be being son of their divine predecessor, to being divine. For a mere peasant to claim this divinity was seditious, and subject to crucifixion.

Powell points out the parallelism in the baptism and death stories of Mark’s gospel:

Mark 1:9                                             Mark 15:37-39

* Heavens torn                                    * Curtain torn

* Spirit descends                                 * Breath/Spirit left Jesus, he died

* You are my son, the beloved,          * Certainly this man was the Son of God.

with you I am well pleased.

Is the tearing of the heavens like the tearing of the curtain? The text says, σχιζομένους τοὺς οὐρανοὺς. He uses the word schidzo, for torn. This is not a word Mark used much. “Heaven’s torn.”

It turns out the historian Josephus says the curtain of the temple was a tapestry, with the heavens painted on it, so that to those at the temple looking upon it would seem that they were looking into the heavens. This is significant. The curtain of the heavens and the curtain of the Temple are symbolically one. In both cases, God is on the other side of the curtain. The point, according to Juel, is, God is on the loose.

In his baptism the Spirit descends and enters Jesus. In his death the Spirit departs. In both accounts, it is pointed out that Jesus is the Son of God.

Baptism is like death. Death is like baptism. When Jesus talks to the disciples who want to sit at his right and left when he comes into his kingdom, Jesus says, “Can you be baptized with the baptism with which I will be baptized?” He is talking about the baptism of his death. Baptism is about death. In baptism you die to yourself. You are not your own. You are a new creation. Death is about new life, entering into a new realm. A new being. A new way of being. A new way of seeing.

Where does Mark get this idea about baptism being a kind of death? From Paul? The author of Mark almost certainly travelled with Paul. Mark’s gospel aligns with Paul’s theology more than any of the other canonical gospels.

In all four gospels Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan. If John’s baptism is one of repentance (Mark 1:4), then why does Jesus need to be baptized? A couple of things may be said about this. First, as Mark Allan Powell pointed out, in modern Western society we tend to think of repentance in individualistic terms. “I” repent of “my” sins. But in the Bible repentance, like many other things, is a communal act. People repented of the sins of the nation, of Israel. That repentance is a turning away from corrupt systems to a new, divine, way of being. As such, Jesus could indeed repent. He was repenting of the sins of his country.

I would also add, that Jesus’ baptism is a baptism into his ministry and ultimately into his death. This baptism is a commissioning. This baptism is not fire insurance. This is not pie in the sky when you die. Jesus’ baptism is a commissioning that drives him into the wilderness for testing, into the suffering of the world, and then into his public ministry where he preaches: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.”

What to preach? What is this good news? God has called you in your baptism to be a part of what God is doing, the kingdom breaking into our world! You are invited, in baptism, to die to your self, your sins, and the sins of your country. You are invited to die to your fears, your anxieties, your addictions, your selfishness, and more.

The covenants are weighty stuff to weave into sermons during Lent. Consider if your congregation is ready to dig deeply into covenantal theology. The covenants are promises God makes, sometimes with strings attached, other times not. Luther said the sacraments were signs of God’s promises. The bow in the sky is a sign of God’s promise to Noah. My wife’s wedding ring is a sign of my promise to her. Both are outward signs of an inward grace. Baptism and communion are visible, tangible, sensory signs of God’s promises in Christ. For Luther, faith is trusting in God’s promises with our whole lives. The sacraments are signs reminding us, encouraging us and empowering us to trust those promises, freeing us to live in good trust. They are the visible Word.

Another angle of vision is to consider Christ’s preaching. It has both the indicative and the imperative. The indicative: The time is fulfilled. The kingdom of God has come near. The imperative: Repent and believe the good news. It is never enough to speak only of what God has done. We must immediately follow it up with what we are to do in response. In the gospels and epistles, the indicative is always followed by an imperative. “Take up your pallet and walk.” Or Paul, “Therefore… offer your bodies as a living sacrifice… which is your spiritual worship.”

The rainbow is an intriguing image. “When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” (Genesis 9:16) The covenant is not just with God and Noah. It is with all humanity, and even the animals (Genesis 9:9-10). God makes a covenant with the birds, and every animal that comes out of the ark. Never again… This is a comforting promise in light of the prophets of Armageddon. It can also be a jumping off point for discussing care of the earth.

Then there are the disciplines of Lent that could be preached. The first Sunday of Lent is always Jesus’ fasting and temptation in the wilderness. The shorter Markan version does not mention fasting. It mentions temptation but does not go into detail. For those who take on the spiritual disciplines of Lent: prayer, fasting, and generosity, addressing temptation is essential. Anyone who attempts to deny oneself anything in this society of abundance will encounter temptation. Engaging it in healthy ways is important. It brings comfort to know that even Jesus encountered temptation. If we cannot resist the smaller temptations to deny ourselves, how we will be prepared to resist the larger temptation to be derailed from the ministry to which God has called us?

Finally, one might preach on prayer, this Sunday or all of Lent:

Prayer 1

If on Ash Wednesday your people started reading Learning to Pray Again daily, they are through the Introduction and the first four or five chapters:

Introduction    5

  1. Some Benefits of Prayer – Strength 7
  2. Some Benefits of Prayer – Joy 9
  3. Give Thanks 11
  4. Take Stock of Your Prayer Life 13
  5. Silence 15

If you’ve encouraged fasting during Lent, from food, sweets, alcohol, TV, etc. you might invite them to jump to chapter 13 on fasting and prayer. I’m mindful of Pope Francis’ encouragement to fast from harmful words, from greed, and so on. Wise words.

These first chapters strive to broaden people’s understanding of prayer. We think of prayer as yammering on and on to God. Jesus discourages long, wordy prayers in Matthew 6. Don’t be like those who think they’ll be heard for their many words. Listening is prayer. Silence is prayer.

I intentionally chose an inviting pathway through the woods for the cover. Some think of prayer as a chore. But what if we reframe it as free time – a refreshing walk in the woods? If I had to place a bet, and choose one thing that might be most likely to spark people’s prayer lives, it would be walking an hour a day. As Mother Teresa said, “The fruit of silence is prayer.” Given enough silence, stuff happens. God shows up.

Learning to Pray Again partial book cover

I have found a key in helping people jump start their prayer life is simply getting them to set aside the time. The mechanics are secondary. Since this is behavioral, it behooves us to spend time getting people to think about the benefits of prayer. They have to want it, need it. Invite people, to take a few minutes of silence in the sermon and write a list of answers to the question, “If I took 30 minutes a day to pray, every day, what might be some of the benefits, intended and unintended?”

I have asked this question a lot. Here are some of the answers I hear.

I believe I’d have more peace.

It might calm me down.

I believe it would help me listen for God’s voice more acutely.

It would give me more time to reflect on my life and my relationships.

It would refocus me on what is important in life.

I believe it would make me more attuned to and available for others.

It would deepen my faith.

It would give me more focus and energy. 

When I pray in the morning, it sets my day on the right foot.

When I pray in the morning, I am more likely to pray during the day.

I want to grow spiritually.

Prayer lowers my anxiety.

This takes prayer out of the clouds and makes it real, relevant, hopeful, helpful. I have found that eventually, people’s own spiritual hunger will drive them to prayer. When they are ready, needy, it will happen. Then the Spirit does most of the heavy lifting.

In Philippians 4, Paul connects anxiety and prayer:

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus

This first week, just help people think about, and get excited about prayer. Make an enticing invitation. I am mindful of a statement of T. D. Jakes. Someone said to him, “Pastor, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Jakes responded, “I don’t have to make them drink. I just tell them how good it tastes.”


Ash Wednesday – February 14, 2018

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 – Blow the trumpet; sound a fast.


Isaiah 58:1-12 – The fast I choose is that you loose the bonds of injustice, share your bread with the hungry, invite the homeless poor into your house…

Psalm 51:1-17 – Create in me a clean heart O God…

2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10 – We are ambassadors for Christ. Behold, now is the day of salvation. Paul shares that they have endured great afflictions for the sake of the gospel.

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 – Beware of practicing your piety before others. Give secretly. Wash up when you fast.

Ash Weds ashes on forehead


On Ash Wednesday we will read, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them,” and then we will smear crosses on our heads for all to see!

In Matthew 6, Jesus says, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them,” but a few verses earlier, in Matthew 5 he said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Matthew 6 is the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus teaches about prayer, fasting and giving alms. These have become the disciplines of Lent.

Prayer was important to Jesus. On February 4 we read about Jesus’ healing of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. At sundown the whole town showed up at the door with their sick. After an exhausting evening, we are told:

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” (Mark 1:35-37)

Ministry is so exhausting, we need prayer to renew our strength. Isaiah 40 says those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength. They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and not faint. They shall mount up with wings like eagles. Prayer is waiting on the Lord. As the psalmist says, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46)

Jesus says, “My Father’s house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.” What does it mean to be a house of prayer for all people? Are we a house of prayer? Are all people welcome? Who is not here?

It was the job of every rabbi to teach people to pray. It is, in fact, the responsibility of every spiritual leader to teach her followers to pray. How are we doing that? How and when does teaching about prayer take place in the life of your community? Lent? New member classes? Small groups? Adult education? Confirmation? Who is teaching lectio divina? Who is teaching journaling? Prayer walking? The labyrinth? Meditation? Contemplation? How are adults invited to enjoy the fruits of prayer?

For that matter, who is teaching fasting and almsgiving? Generosity? Hospitality? People are hungry for an introduction to the spiritual life. It is our privilege to introduce them to these spiritual disciplines, and Lent is tailor-made for this endeavor.

Learning to Pray Again by Michael RinehartIf we teach our people to pray, to reflect, to listen, they will benefit, our congregations will benefit and the world will benefit. Surprising things will happen. A few years ago I offered a 40-day devotional on prayer. It may be a way to engage in waiting on the Lord.

Ash Wednesday is a great time to set the stage. Prayer is not just another task. It is the very conduit for our relationship with God. It is an invitation to come away, to get off the treadmill, and spend restful time listening. I believe our lives are chaos without this. One writer said our lives without daily prayer are like a book written without using the space bar: Canyouimagineabookwrittenwihtoutspacesbetweenthewords? This is how we live our lives in the modern world, without sufficient space, waiting, pausing, praying. Lent gives us an opportunity to realign this.

I am reminded that Marcus Borg spoke at our Theological Conference many years ago. One thing that stuck with me is what our people hear when we talk about repentance during Lent and Epiphany. “Repenting is not feeling bad about your sins.” Students of Koine Greek know this. Metanoia means changing our mind, our direction. Paul says in Romans, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” In Philippians 2 he says, “Have this mind among you that was in Christ Jesus…” Repentance is about transforming our minds, our worldviews, our priorities. It is putting on gospel glasses and seeing the world through new eyes. In Lent we are offered a gift. New sight. We are invited to meta our noia.

Here is our gospel text from Matthew 6, an instruction from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as we embark upon our Lenten disciplines:

Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you…

And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Here is powerful teaching on the spiritual life. You can see the clear teaching on prayer, fasting and almsgiving. I notice that Jesus does not tell them to do these things. He assumes they already are. It it not, “If you fast…” It is, “When you fast.” Prayer, fasting and giving were normal aspects of Jewish life and piety. Indeed, while giving was not as common in Roman society, prayer and fasting were common practices in antiquity.

The thread that runs through all of these instructions is not to skip them, but to make sure your spirituality is not a shallow attempt to show off, and seem “holier than thou.” Spiritual practices are not for self-aggrandizement. They are not to impress others. They are for our relationship with God. Although Jesus participates in public prayer life of the Synagogue and Temple, he also encourages his followers to have a vibrant personal prayer life with God “in secret.”

The middle section of chapter six, which is missing in the pericope, encourages people not to “heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think they will be heard for their many words.” I like to ask people, “If prayer is communing with God, shouldn’t it be at the very least, 50% listening?” Jesus then goes on to give them what we now call The Lord’s Prayer. Note one of the remarkable aspects of this prayer is its brevity.

Jesus’ teaching on prayer is not to be verbose. If prayer is a conversation with God, should it not be mostly listening? Prayer begins with silence.

The fruit of silence is prayer.
The fruit of prayer is faith.
The fruit of faith is love.
The fruit of love is service.
The fruit of service is peace.
– Mother Teresa

Why not invite your congregation to receive the blessings of a deeper practice of prayer this Lent? We follow a God who gives to us endlessly. Help them tap into this. Encourage them to renew their daily prayer habit, by setting aside time. Give them small group opportunities to process how their prayer lives are going. Preach weekly on various aspects of prayer. Daily prayer, weekly small groups, Sunday sermons on the topic everyone is engaging, this creates synergy. These three things form the foundation of any spiritual growth campaign:

Here is the good news for the church, a house of prayer. While ministry is exhausting, (heck, life is exhausting), God has given us a well from which to quench our spiritual thirst. When we are exhausted, Jesus invites us to come away to a quiet place and find refreshment for our souls. When we are exhausted from the ministry of the gospel to which God has called us, we are invited to wait upon the Lord. We are promised that those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength. They will run and not be weary. They will walk and not faint. They shall mount up on eagles’ wings.

Is your house the house of prayer? Our Lord invites us to come, to eat bread and drink wine and find our souls refreshed. And it will become like a well within us, springing up to eternal life.

Let us be a house of prayer for all people.



2 Kings 2:1-12 – Elisha asks Elijah for a double measure of his spirit. Elijah is taken up into heaven by a chariot of fire.

Psalm 50:1-6 – The mighty one, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.

2 Corinthians 4:3-6 – If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing.

Mark 9:2-9 – Jesus takes Peter, James and John up the mountain after six days. ELW 315.


EPIPHANY 6B – February 11, 2018

2 Kings 5:1-14 – Namaan healed.

Psalm 30 – For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 – In a race all runners compete, but only one wins the prize. Run to win.

Mark 1:40-45 – Jesus has compassion on a leper and heals him, telling him not to tell anyone.

Transfiguration art 1

 Transfiguration art 2

Blinded by the Light

In 2 Kings 2, our Old Testament text for the Transfiguration of our Lord, Elisha asks Elijah for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Then, Elijah is taken up into heaven by a whirlwind, with a chariot and horses of fire attending. Elisha takes on the mantle of Elijah, striking the waters of the Jordan and parting them as Elijah had, and, of course, Moses. The prophetic office is passed from generation to generation. What prophetic voice is being called for in this generation? Who are the prophets among you?

2 Corinthians 4 is complex. Paul is defending his apostleship in the face of some false apostles.

In 2 Corinthians 3, the chapter prior to our upcoming lesson, Paul explained that he and his colleagues are ministers of a new covenant, not written on stone (as Moses’ Ten Commandments were) but rather on hearts. We follow a gospel of grace written upon hearts, not a religion of law, written on stone.

The revelation of the Law in the Hebrew Bible came in such glory that the people could not look upon Moses’ face. It had to be veiled. If the ministry of condemnation had glory, how much more must the ministry of justification have glory! Paul concludes the reason his fellow Israelites don’t “see” Jesus as the messiah is because the veil is still there. When one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. In Christ, we see the image of God as in a mirror. One imagines an icon of Christ, as a mirror through which one views the glory of God over ones shoulder.

Then comes chapter 4, our chapter for this week. Even if our gospel is veiled, Paul says, it is veiled only to those who are perishing (presumably in their sins and condemnation by the law). The god of this world has blinded them from seeing the glory of God as reflected in the face of Christ. It is a complex argument, borne out of Paul’s grief that all Israel has not run to Christ. We have here a reference to Moses’ shining face to prepare us for the story of the Transfiguration.

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

In our text study last week, on Galveston Island, Mark Allan Powell, showed us how the message of Jesus as the “Son of God,” is the framework of Mark’s gospel. The beginning and the end of a story tell you what it’s about. His example was the Wizard of Oz. One might think it’s about lions, scarecrows, tin men and witches. But the story begins and ends on a farm in Kansas, with a central theme recapitulated at the end: “There’s no place like home.”

Mark’s gospel begins with Jesus’ baptism, and the Spirit descending on him like a dove saying:

You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased. (Mark 1:11)

Mark’s gospel ends with Jesus’ breathing his last, and a centurion acknowledging Jesus identity, the first human in Mark’s story to do so:

Truly this man was God’s Son!  (Mark 15:9)

Then, smack dab in the middle of Mark comes our text, the Transfiguration, in which a voice from heaven says,

This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him! (Mark 9:9)

Adam is the son of God. The kings of Israel are the sons of God. Historically, many rulers have claimed the title, “Son of God.” The Roman emperors moved from being “like God” to be being son of their divine predecessor, to being divine. For a mere peasant to claim this divinity was seditious, and subject to crucifixion.

The Transfiguration (η μεταμόρφωση, hay metaphorphosay) is told in all three synoptic gospels: Matthew 17, Mark 9, Luke 9.

The Transfiguration/Metamorphosis is also referenced in 2 Peter 1:17-18:

For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.

“We ourselves hear this voice,” says Peter, of James, John and himself. “We ourselves heard this voice…” Some (who propose an unlikely date of 64 A.D. for 2 Peter) suggest that this account actually predates the synoptic gospel accounts. In my view, even if the actual document is later, the memories are very possibly Peter’s. Others suggest that Peter is behind the writing of Mark’s gospel. If so, the scribe of Mark’s gospel may be penning an old man’s firsthand account of a life-changing, perspective-altering, mountain-top experience.

Mark 9 (or 2 Peter whom some think was written before Mark) is our first known written account of the Transfiguration. Origen suggested this story was a preview of the resurrection. Later scholars proposed a theory that it was a resurrection story mistakenly or intentionally misplaced. Yet, it lacks some of the characteristics of the resurrection appearances (like Jesus being gone at the beginning of the narrative).

In either case, the oral iconography is clear: Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. This was Luther’s interpretation.

The story has all the marks of a theophany. The glory of God is reflected in Jesus as it was (is) in Moses and Elijah. They are on a mountain top just as Moses and Elijah were on the mountain top. The cloud is the Shekinah of God’s glory. This event confirms Jesus as the Son of God for the inner circle of three disciples. The voice is heard as at Jesus baptism: “This is my Son…”

Once, a friend invited me to run a 200-mile race, with a team. Called the Hood-to-Coast, the race starts on Mt. Hood, the largest mountain in Oregon (11,000 feet), above the tree-line, above the clouds. The view is incredible, it inspires awe. When was the last time you felt awe? The thing about mountains is the perspective you get. You can see for miles. You see how little you are. You think about things differently when you’re on the mountaintop. It’s both exhilarating and terrifying. The mountaintop puts things in perspective.

Mount TaborMount Tabor, looming above the Jezreel Valley, is where some folks imagine the Transfiguration took place. There is a church there on the ridge, of course, called the Church of the Transfiguration. Under it, lie the remains of a very old church. We don’t know how old exactly. One writer mentions seeing three basilicas there in 570 A.D. Jezreel is where Elijah fought the prophets of Baal and where Jesus was brought up as a child. Why this mountain? Why this valley? Was it the view? The sense of history? A sense of perspective?

Others prefer the Transfiguration on Mount Hermon, further to the north, which is Mount Hermonnearly 10,000 feet in altitude. Mount Hermon is now a well-known Israeli ski resort attracting thousands every year. Why do they go? Could it be the exhilaration and perspective one gets on the mountain top?

The three disciples are so moved they wish to build booths, tabernacles, tents, shrines. “How good, Lord, to be here! Let us make three shelters, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah,” says Peter. They sense that this is now a holy place. We always want to camp out on the mountaintop, at the holy place. It is a natural response. Mark tells us that Peter was frankly a bit tongue-tied. Here the classic sermons often focus on our desire to remain on the mountain of spiritual bliss, but our Lord calls us to ministry in the valley. The God revealed in Jesus cannot remain aloof on high.

Moses had his perspective changed on the mountaintop. He went up for forty days and forty nights. He hid in the cleft of the rock as God passed by because he could not behold the brightness of God’s glory because it would consume him. On the mountain God gave Moses the Ten Commandments.

Elijah also had his perspective and life changed in a mountaintop experience. He traveled 40 days and 40 nights to get to Mount Horeb, what the Bible calls the Mountain of God, the same mountain where Moses saw the burning bush, the same mountain where Moses received the law on tablets of stone. It was there that Elijah experienced a terrifying storm, with wind that brought down rocks, but God was not in the wind. Then there was an earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. But after that, there was a whisper of silence. And God was in the silence.

Peter’s perspective was changed in this mountaintop experience. Jesus had just rebuked Peter for not believing that he, Jesus, must suffer and die. Peter was in the dark about Jesus’ life and mission, but in this vision he was blinded by the light. He began to understand Jesus as the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. He saw Jesus with new eyes. “Although we once viewed him from a human perspective, we no longer see him in that way.” Peter suddenly began to understand Jesus’ prediction of his own crucifixion. He began to understand Jesus as the future of humanity.

We are invited to climb the mountain and behold the glory of God in the face of Christ, the fulfillment of the law and prophets. In Word and Sacrament, in song and in prayer, we are invited to see the brilliance of the face of God, even if it makes us turn away. And then we are sent out into the world, down into the valley, to love and serve in Jesus’ name.

How good, Lord, to be here!
Yet we may not remain;
but since you bid us leave the mount,
come with us to the plain.
– ELW 315

EPIPHANY 5B – February 4, 2018

Isaiah 40:21-31 – Those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength. On Eagle’s Wings, ELW 787. Arise Your Light Has Come, ELW 314.

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c – Adonai builds up Jerusalem, gathers the outcasts of Israel, heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.

1 Corinthians 9:16-23 – Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel. Though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all.

Mark 1:29-39 – He went away to a deserted/lonely/desert place. Augustine: “Our souls are restless until they rest in thee.” Beneath the Cross of Jesus, ELW 338. The Lord’s My Shepherd, ELW 778.

February 4 is Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Birthday (see notes below).

pathway through the forest

Those Who Wait upon the Lord

Isaiah 40: After 39 chapters of ranting prophetic doom on Judah (and on other nations, to be inclusive), Isaiah changes voice to the hopeful promise of a new creation and a new kingdom in chapters 40-55. There are really three Isaiahs: First Isaiah (chapters 1-39) prophesies Judah’s destruction and exile. Second Isaiah, written perhaps 200 years later, in the exile, prophesies the return from Babylon. Then in chapter 56 we change again to a third author writing after the exile. Isaiah is a collection of pre-exilic, exilic and post-exilic writings. In today’s reading, 40:21 is a continuation of the answer to the question in verse 18: “To what will you liken God?” God is not an idol that you can cast and guild, or carve, so that it won’t rot or tip over. The God we’re talking about sits above the earth. We’re like grasshoppers to this God, who created the universe and spread out the heavens like a curtain. Implicitly: If this God could bring you into exile, then this God could certainly bring you out. This God could give you strength for the journey. Empowering the powerless, the young, the old.

Those who wait on the Lord will have their strength renewed. They will soar with the eagles. Those who wait on the Lord are the יֵוְק (u·qui). They are “those expecting” that God will show up and do what God does: give life and create out of nothing. This is the new creation.

Arise, your light has come!
The mountains burst in song!
Rise up like eagles on the wing,
God’s pow’r will make us strong.

– Arise Your Light Has Come, ELW 314.

1 Corinthians 9 takes on a different theme. It is a common Pauline logic: I have the right to charge for the gospel, but I do not make use of that right, like Christ who was in the form of God, but didn’t exploit that status. I have the right to be free, but I give up that right to be a slave to all. I become all things to all people for the sake of the gospel, so that I might share in its blessings.

In Mark 1, we return to a “waiting on the Lord” theme, but first Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law of a fever. I wonder what she had. Some have suggested she had malaria. Whatever it was, word spread fast, and by sundown all the sick and possessed were brought to him. ἦν ὅλη ἡ πόλις: “The whole city” plopped down on their doorstep, and he healed their sick, casting out demons. All. Day. Long. How can you stop when the needy are at your door? When the last person left, they were wiped out.

How do you recharge from such an exhausting ministry? How do you refill your tank when it has been completely depleted and then some. How do you renew your strength?

We’re told that Jesus got up in the morning while it was still night. Know that feeling? He got up in the πρωi ἔννυχα, pro-ee enucha, morning/night. Why did he get up in the morning-night? He went to a lonely place (ἔρημον τόπον, eremon topon – lonely, deserted, desolate, alone place), to pray. He went to wait on the Lord, who renews our strength, in order to mount up on wings like eagles.

Beneath the cross of Jesus I long to take my stand;
the shadow of a mighty rock within a weary land,
a home within a wilderness, a rest upon the way,
from the burning of the noontide heat and burdens of the day. 

– Beneath the Cross of Jesus, ELW 338

Ministry leaders need to hear this message. Pastors, church staff, key unpaid lay leaders. Burn out is the norm. If you’re pouring it out, doing things that really matter, the compelling nature of the work can eat your lunch. Prayer and sabbath are about renewing our strength. We wait on the Lord for strength. We use this God-given strength, not for self-aggrandizement, but in service to others. We use it to bring good news and healing to the world.

Lent begins soon. Why not teach your people how to wait on the Lord? Here is a book/small group study/sermon series to do it: Learning to Pray Again:

Learning to Pray Again by Michael RinehartLearning to Pray Again has 40 chapters to read daily for the forty days of Lent. Each chapter is a different way of waiting upon the Lord. This could be an opportunity to splash Lent, and the three disciplines of Lent: Prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

The Lord’s my shepherd; I’ll not want.
He makes me down to lie
in pastures green; he leadeth me the quiet waters by.
He leadeth me, he leadeth me the quiet waters by. 

– The Lord’s My Shepherd, ELW 778

The preacher may wish to use this week to talk about prayer, not as a laundry list of things we want from God, but rather as a time of silent waiting upon God, the wellspring of life, who brings hope and strength. When you don’t know how to pray, silence works. The good news is that God gives, even when we don’t ask. Our very lives are an unrequested gift. And even when in old age our strength wanes, and our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed. God gives.

Where is your lonely place where you wait for God? Where do you go for refreshment for your soul? The life and ministry of the church grows out of a life of prayer. We cannot sustain our strength for ministry in this world without returning to the well for the water of life.

We have all known well-meaning activists who have set out to change the world, only to run out of steam mid-course. Perhaps you have been that person. Without a spiritual source, we lose altitude quickly. The rigors of public ministry – exposing evil to the light, serving in Jesus’ name, going the extra mile, loving the unlovable, touching the untouchable, healing the sick, casting out evil spirits – are simply too difficult. We run out of gas. What fills your tank? How might the preacher seriously engage the congregation in pondering this question?

When we trust that God will refresh, renew and restore, we are free to give ourselves away for the life of the world. We can give until we have nothing left, because we know that lonely place where we can wait upon the Lord who renews strength. We know the more we give, the more we will receive, pressed down, shaken together, overflowing. And we long to be emptied, for the joy of being refilled. We need to be filled. As Mother Teresa said, “God cannot fill what is already full.”

I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings. – 1 Corinthians 9:23

The Cost of Discipleship: February 4 is Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Birthday

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born in Breslau on February 4, 1906. He studied at Tubingen and Berlin Universities. In 1930 he attended Union Theological Seminary in New York for a year. The Bonhoeffers were an upper-middle class German family of doctors and scientists, so going into ministry was not thought to be a fitting profession for their sixth child.

He pastored Lutheran churches in London before returning to Germany in 1935. On May 29-31, 1934, the Confessional Evangelical Church met in Barmen with members of the Lutheran, Reformed and United Churches present. The Confession reaffirmed their desires to stand together in their Confession of Jesus Christ as “the way, the truth and the life.” They reaffirmed that Jesus Christ was the head of the church and rejected State rule: Hitler and the Nazi Party.

Bonhoeffer lectured in the U.S. in 1939. His friends urged that he not return to Germany, but he was committed to the confessing church and the Resistance Movement.

Although a pacifist, he eventually joined the conspiracy against Hitler. After multiple attempts on Hitler’s life, on April 5, 1943, Bonhoeffer was arrested, along with his sister Christel and her husband Hans von Dohnanyi.

In its seven years of existence, Flossenbürg, a concentration camp in northeast Bavaria, near the Czech border, imprisoned 96,000 people, executing 30,000. When Bonhoeffer arrived in 1943, there were over 4,000 prisoners in the main camp of Flossenbürg. More than half were political prisoners. 800 were German criminals. 100 were homosexuals. By 1945 there would be 40,000 inmates, 11,000 of which were women.

Prisoners were daily executed at the firing range, and later large gallows were erected. Prisoners were often stripped naked, abused and humiliated just before execution. Sound familiar?

As the Allies approached, orders were given to execute all prisoners at Flossenburg. The prisoners were ordered to remove their clothing and were led down the steps under the trees to the secluded place of execution. On Sunday, April 8, 1945, nearly 73 years ago, Pastor Bonhoeffer conducted a service of worship. As he ended his last prayer, two men came for him. He spoke to an English officer, “This is the end, but for me it is the beginning of life.” The next day, April 9, 1945, he was hanged in Flossenburg along with others from the Resistance. Naked under the scaffold, Bonhoeffer knelt for the last time to pray. His brother was also executed at Sachsenhausen the same day.

Flossenbürg was liberated on April 23, 1945, 14 days after Bonhoeffer’s execution. Never found, Bonhoeffer’s body was either cremated or buried in a mass grave. We will probably never know.

Being a Christian leader is more than leading a religious club. It’s about serving. It’s about peacemaking and justice-making. It’s about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, healing the sick, being a voice for the voiceless, loving the unlovable, touching the untouchable, and teaching our young people to so the same. Following Jesus is a commitment. It cost Jesus his life. It cost Paul his life. It cost Peter his life. It cost Stephen his life. It cost Bonhoeffer his life.

A parish pastor took a stand for justice, against oppression, hatred, intolerance. Many other religious leaders did not. God grant us the grace to speak clearly yet kindly in moments of trial.

Jesus himself did not try to convert the two thieves on the cross;
he waited until one of them turned to him.
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison

We have for once learned to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed, the reviled – in short, from the perspective of those who suffer.

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Do not try to make the Bible relevant. Its relevance is axiomatic. Do not defend God’s word, but testify to it. Trust to the Word. It is a ship loaded to the very limits of its capacity.
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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