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Bishop Michael Rinehart

Lent 3C – March 24, 2019

Isaiah 55:1-9 – Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Seek the Lord while he may be found. Return to the Lord… for he will abundantly pardon. (This is also the OT reading for Pentecost 9A.)

Psalm 63:1-8 – O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water… In the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.

1 Corinthians 10:1-13 – The results of idolatry and immorality are devastating, so do not fall. No test has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God will strengthen you for your testing.

Luke 13:1-9 – Those Galileans slaughtered by Pilate, were they any worse sinners than anyone else? No. How about those who died when the tower of Siloam fell on them? No. But unless you repent, you will also perish. Jesus likens his ministry to a man who allows his gardener to tend a fruitless fig tree for one year. If it doesn’t bear fruit, it will be destroyed. Prediction of the fall of Jerusalem?

 

Lent C

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

March 6 – Ash Wednesday: Dust. Ashes. Mortality. Repentance. Fasting. Don’t show off your piety.
March 10 – Lent 1C: First fruits for the Levite and alien. Jesus is tempted by Satan in the wilderness.
March 17 – Lent 2C: Abram’s call. Faith reckoned as righteousness. Jesus laments for Jerusalem.
March 24 – Lent 3C: Repent, for there is only so much time left for the fig tree to bear fruit.
March 31 – Lent 4C: Lost sheep. Lost sons.
April 7 – Lent 5C: I am about to do a new thing… Mary anoints Jesus’ feet.
April 14 – Palm/Passion Sunday: Jesus entry into Jerusalem as an anti-triumph.

 

The Prodigal God

prodicalgod

For those reading Timothy Keller’s book The Prodigal God: recovering the heart of the Christian Faith, study guideDVD:

Lent 1 – Chapter 1: The People Around Jesus
Lent 2 – Chapter 2: The Two Lost Sons
Lent 3 – Chapter 3: Redefining Sin
Lent 4 – Chapter 4: Redefining Lostness
Lent 5 – Chapter 5: The True Elder Brother
Palm Sunday – Chapters 6 and 7: Redefining Hope, The Feast of the Father

 

 

Isaiah 55: Ho everyone. Listen up y’all. Ripple of Hope

 

This Sunday’s lesson comes from Isaiah 55:

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.2Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 3Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. 4See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. 5See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you. 

6Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; 7let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 8For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. 9For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 10For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. 12For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. 13Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

Ho – Hoy, in Hebrew, means: Hey! Listen up! Pay attention! Like Idou in the Greek. “Behold.” It’s a few snaps of the fingers.

We are at the climax of Second Isaiah (chapters 40-55). Isaiah 55 is the last chapter in Deutero-Isaiah. Proto-Isaiah, chapters 1-39, are pre-exilic; Deutero-Isaiah, chapters 40-55, exilic; and Trito-Isaiah, chapters 56-66, post exilic.

Written, 547-540 BC, these words reflect the end of Babylonian captivity. The Israelites’ dreams had been crushed. Their temple destroyed. Their way of life changed forever. Now comes a word of hope.

The return home is a kind of second exodus. These words will ring in the ears of all who have been displaced. Iraqis. Syrians. Central Americans. All who long for their homeland, from which they have been forever exiled hear these words with force. The restoration of the fortunes of Zion means God’s provision.

Listen to the images:

You poor, who have no money, come to the waters, come buy and eat: Water, wine, milk, grain, bread!

There is a promise of salvation that is very material here. Wealthy societies tend to over spiritualize this. Communities of poverty hear this for what it is, the promise of enough.

As capitalists, we tend to reject the idea of free things. Capitalism creates wealth, but it doesn’t distribute it very well. Today the top 10% have about the same wealth as the other 90%. This is our economy. God’s economy is different than our human economies. You can’t put a price on God’s water. You can’t put a price on the bread of life. God’s economy is one of lavish grace and abundance.

Notice the promises here. First, people are fed. Second, nature is restored. There is a new creation. The mountains and the hills break out in song. Trees clap their hands. I would love to see what Disney could do with this. The cypress and myrtle trees flourish, instead of weeds. Third, faith and hope are renewed, things which money can’t buy.

When we think of prophets, we often think of prophets of doom. One of the jobs of this prophet and many other prophets is to proclaim a message of hope in the midst of calamity. To see the broken world with new eyes. Are we prepared to preach a message of hope when others say the sky is falling?

People seem more in fear of terrorism, immigrants, and war than ever. Yet, by every measure, we are living in the safest time in human history. We hear of wars and rumors of war, but we live in fear. Can the preacher speak a word of hope and vision?

This message is addressed to those who have been torn from their homeland. Their houses bulldozed. Their Temple has been destroyed. Their city has been left in ruin. Their aristocracy dragged into slavery, in exile. Although people may treat you like garbage, God loves you.

We speak the word: whatever you may think of yourself, whatever others may think of you, God loves you. You are of inestimable value. The gospel means telling people they are beloved. They are loved with an everlasting love. It means treating people like it is true as well. People need a community where they can be somebody. When you preach that word, stuff happens.

10For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. 

God’s word does not return empty handed, Isaiah tells us. It accomplishes stuff. God’s word creates the world in Genesis. In Romans, Paul describes the word of the gospel as a “dunamis,” an explosive power. The word of God is not the Bible. It is not ink in a book. The Word is Jesus, the Word made flesh.

A few years ago, after 50 years of trial and error, folks at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) announced that they had finally detected what Einstein predicted: gravity waves. Einstein believed gravity was not an invisible force, but actually waves in the fabric of space/time. Imagine two standing people stretching out a blanket, with a grapefruit in the middle. Now roll marbles on the blanket. They will circle around the grapefruit, following the dipping contour of the blanket. Gravity. Now imagine the grapefruit rolling across the blanket, making waves, like a boat in the water. Gravity. It is an utterly new way of thinking about space and the universe. I suspect we will never quite be able to change our mental picture of the universe to this, just as our ancestors could not imagine a round earth. It is beyond our understanding.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts…

I like to think of the Word as a wave in space/time. It emanates invisibly accomplishing things. This wave in the universe is not death, but life! It is not hatred, but love. It is not chaos, but the coming together of things in the future, by God who is gathering all things together. We come and go, the grass withers and flower fades, but God’s word lasts forever. It is built into the fabric of the universe. Isaiah is not talking about a book. He is talking about a reality.

What images might help us proclaim this ripple of hope?

Come and eat for free? How about the potluck? As a broke college and seminary student, I was always on the prowl for a free meal. For many, the struggle for food is a daily enemy. Economic inequality is a national conversation these days. What if the kingdom of God is a free banquet. Could we have some free barbecues to give the world a foretaste of the feast to come? Are our Lenten meals open to all? Do they know it?

The men at a former congregation decided to cook a full breakfast once a month. They chose the second Sunday of every month. It became known as the Second Sunday Breakfast. They cooked eggs, pancakes, sausage, bacon and biscuits, with orange juice and hot coffee. One gentleman often picked up the entire cost himself, then set out a donation basket. Everyone was welcome, money or not. Some paid; some couldn’t. Newcomers were always free.

you that have no money, come, buy and eat!

 

We always collected more than we spent, like the loaves and fishes in the Feeding of the Five Thousand. The money was used to support student scholarships. Each Second Sunday we ate until the food was gone. I loved coming early to church on the second Sunday. The parking lot smelled heavenly. The aroma of love. And bacon. And guess what. Attendance on the the second Sunday of the month was always the highest of the month. I asked the council, “Why do you think that is?” It wasn’t the preaching.

Welcome isn’t as hard as we think. Everyone eats. Ho! Come! Eat! You have no money. Our church suppers should be for the poor. No, they should be for all, to eat together. A potluck just for us is an abomination. Just us, isn’t justice. How are you inviting those who really need it to your feasts?

Then the language shifts. “Why do you spend your money on that which does not satisfy?” This question should be directed to the congregation. Why are you spending money you don’t have, on things you don’t need, to impress people you don’t like? Why? We have a spiritual hunger that we try to satisfy with things, and with entertainment. Seek something more substantial, Isaiah says.

This is the same shift that Jesus often makes, from the material to the spiritual. Jesus: You cannot live by bread alone. Echoes of Ash Wednesday’s gospel reading from Matthew 6: Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust consume and thieves break in and steal. Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…

The gospel points to our spending habits. You are spending your money on the wrong stuff. You are caught in the trap of materialism. Free yourself! You can’t put a price on God’s water. This is living water to quench your spiritual thirst. This is The bread of life.

Too much? God’s economy doesn’t make sense to you? Of course not. “My thoughts are not your thoughts,” saith the Lord.

Of course, the Eucharistic table is the ultimate weekly sign of the open table of our Lord. It is not just bread and wine we crave, but Christ himself, the spiritual nourishment he brings. Maslow was right. Get the bread thing out of the way for people and they will be able to focus on their spiritual hunger.

Ho! Come to the waters of baptism. You hungry, empty-handed people, come to the table and eat bread and drink wine. Find life!

Our Eucharistic table must extend to the potluck, the Second Sunday Breakfast, the congregational barbecue. They must be not for us, but for the world. It is said that the early church took all the left over bread from the Eucharistic table and send it out with teams to the poor. Let it be so today.

 

Luke 13:1-9 – Deep Thoughts

At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4 Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” 

6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7 So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ 8 He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

I used to love Deep Thoughts, on Saturday Night Live. Humorist Jack Handey was known for his Deep Thoughts, first seen in National Lampoon in 1984. I learned about these ironic one-liners from SNL in the early 90’s, as a young, irreverent pastor. This Sundays’s gospel calls to mind one of Handey’s Deep Thoughts:

If a kid asks where rain comes from, I think a cute thing to tell him is “God is crying.”

And if he asks why God is crying, another cute thing to tell him is “Probably because of something you did.”

The irony is palpable, and yet we give this message to children over and over again. And I suppose it’s human, but we think it every time something happens to us. What did I do to deserve this? If we get sick, we assume that is something we ate, or the result of some bad habit we were unable to kick. People in our congregations carry around an unreasonable amount of guilt and shame. We know we have messed up. We are always waiting for the other shoe to fall. And sometimes our maladies are the result of our actions. The reality is, sometimes life is also random.

Jesus confronts this philosophy in today’s gospel.

The people that were slaughtered by Pilate, do you think they were worse than anyone else? Do you think God was punishing them for their sins? Everybody knows that idea is absurd. They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

How about those 18 people that were crushed when the wall of Siloam collapsed? (This may have been a tower that provided water to Jerusalem. Remember the Pool of Siloam mentioned in John 9?) Do you think those who perished in this tragedy were any worse sinners than the rest of the people in Jerusalem? Do you believe that God was punishing them for their sins? When tragedy strikes, we love to assign blame. I will never forget Franklin Graham suggesting Katrina was God’s judgement on New Orleans.

Of course they (in Jerusalem, and New Orleans) were sinners, like every human being. But assuming that bad things happen to people because they sinned is illogical, and blaming the victim. Maybe everything does happen for a reason, however the reason is not usually what you think, and saying so to someone who is suffering is particularly heartless.

Like Eliphaz says to Job (4:7):

Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished?

Where were the upright ever destroyed?

Do the innocent suffer? Yes, of course. This is the point of the cross after all. Innocence crucified.

Make no mistake, Jesus understands that actions have consequences. “You reap what you sow.” If you live violently, you will probably have a violent life. Whoever lives by the sword, dies by the sword. If you so love, you will also be loved. If you give, you will receive much more back, in ways you didn’t expect.

But if you don’t repent, you will perish as they did. The “you“ here is plural. He is not saying, if you don’t stop cheating on your taxes God is going to hit you with lightning. He is saying, if Jerusalem continues down this violent course, the inevitable will happen. This is not because God is trying to get you, or because you’re any worse than anyone else.

He then tells the parable of the fig tree. He shifts from Pilate to the temple. From tragedy to fruitfulness. The fig tree is often a symbol for the temple. The vineyard owner is upset that the tree is not bearing fruit. He orders it cut down. The gardener, however, talks him into waiting one more year. Let me dig around it, put manure on it, and see what I can do. Like a good apocalypse, this is not about what will happen, but about what might happen if we continue down this current road.

It always amazes me how Jesus can speak a word of grace, and also word of judgment at the same time.

So, what do we say to our people? Yes, you are a sinner, but no, disease, suffering, death are not because of something you did. Life is more complex than that. If you are suffering, know that Jesus told the stories today on his way to Jerusalem, where he himself, the innocent one, would suffer greatly. God understands your suffering.

And even if you did lose that job, or receive that sentence, “because of something you did,” remember that God loves you unconditionally, and forgives you. Even if, like Cain, you have done the unthinkable to your brother, and been banished to the land of Nod, know that you have been marked by God for grace and forgiveness. You are loved with an everlasting love. Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Grieving the shootings in Christchurch New Zealand

Being A Bridge Builder Lenten series

At Tree of Life in Conroe and a few other places we are gathering to talk about how we talk to one another. The church is a community of moral deliberation. We cannot skirt important issues. We must engage them, with grace, honesty and kindness.

People of good will disagree about stuff. Such disagreements can lead to conflict or even contempt. In an imperfect world and an imperfect church, how can we talk to one another in ways that lead to reconciliation, a ministry to which the church is called.

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation…

2 Corinthians 5:18

Some things to read in preparation:

Why Is It So Important to Be Right? By psychotherapist and marriage counselor Mel Schwartz in Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/shift-mind/201103/why-is-it-so-important-be-right

Our Culture of Contempt, New York Times article by public policy scholar and American Enterprise Institute president David C. Brooks: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/02/opinion/sunday/political-polarization.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share&smid=nytcore-ios-share

Schedule
1. March 13, 2018: Respectful Dialog
2. March 20, 2018: Common Ground
3. March 27, 2018: Racism
4. April 3, 2018: Immigration
5. April 10, 2018: Pulling It Together

In essentials, unity.

In non-essentials, liberty.

In all things, love.

Rupertus Meldenius

Some additional Scriptures

For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. (Ephesians 2:14)

You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. (James 1:19-21)

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:31-32)

Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (Romans 12:16-18)

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. (James 3:5b-8)

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation… (2 Corinthians 5:17-18)

In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. (Matthew 7:12)

Lent 2C – March 17, 2019

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

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

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

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

 

Lent C

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

March 6 – Ash Wednesday: Dust. Ashes. Mortality. Repentance. Fasting. Don’t show off your piety.
March 10 – Lent 1C: First fruits for the Levite and alien. Jesus is tempted by Satan in the wilderness.
March 17 – Lent 2C: Abram’s call. Faith reckoned as righteousness. Jesus laments for Jerusalem.
March 24 – Lent 3C: Repent, for there is only so much time left for the fig tree to bear fruit.
March 31 – Lent 4C: Lost sheep. Lost sons.
April 7 – Lent 5C: I am about to do a new thing… Mary anoints Jesus’ feet.
April 14 – Palm/Passion Sunday: Jesus entry into Jerusalem as an anti-triumph.

 

The Prodigal God

prodicalgod

For those reading Timothy Keller’s book The Prodigal God: recovering the heart of the Christian Faith, study guideDVD:

Lent 1 – Chapter 1: The People Around Jesus
Lent 2 – Chapter 2: The Two Lost Sons
Lent 3 – Chapter 3: Redefining Sin
Lent 4 – Chapter 4: Redefining Lostness
Lent 5 – Chapter 5: The True Elder Brother
Palm Sunday – Chapters 6 and 7: Redefining Hope, The Feast of the Father

 

 

Genesis 15: Righteousness, I Reckon

This Sunday’s first lesson, from Genesis 15 is one of my favorites. It is also the text that Paul uses in Romans and Galatians to show that righteousness by faith (not by the law) was God’s plan all along (Romans 4:3, 4:22, Galatians 3:6).

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

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

Here are the first six verses of the text:

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

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

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

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

Sara Koenig invites us to consider whether Abram considered God righteous because of the promise, or whether God considered Abram righteous for believing it. She suggests that the text is ambiguous. He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” Who reckoned righteousness to whom? Could it be that Abram reckoned it to YHWH as righteousness? The subject and object are not clear in the original Hebrew. Well, Paul, as we shall see, has a very clear opinion about this.

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

In dealing with the followers of Christ in Rome and Galatia (modern day Turkey), the apostle is battling a creeping theology, that their righteousness comes through dietary practices, ritual acts and moral choices. Paul is no stranger to this theology, having been trained as a Pharisee. We are also not strangers to this theology. Here in the Texas and Louisiana we are surrounded by sermons telling us to be good, and a theology that teaches works-righteousness. Your holiness is tied to your ability to be perfect. You must be good enough for God. Paul categorically rejects this theology.

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

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

Paul writes in Romans (15:20-15):

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

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

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

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

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

Count the Stars is a thoughtful poem by Michael Coffey, a pastor in Austin, Texas:

Count the Stars

Abraham’s countless stars hover over our troubled heads 

Sarah’s sky lights enlighten our skittish steps 

our ancestors fill the night sky with testimony 

this is not all there is, there is more to come 

more than the terra and the ocean 

the sky painter who flicks your future on midnight canvas

is making space for your story and song 

making and guarding promises still unspoken

opening wormholes to times and places

unreachable by your linear, downward searching mind 

so let that muscle in your forehead go and feel your brow drop 

and your heart slow and your brain relax and the flow flowing 

and rocket on through fear until faith is your Milky Way

Luke 13:31-15: Fox in the Hen House.

Or Hen in the Fox House?

Jesus cries over Jerusalem.

31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

There is a lot in this little paragraph appointed for the second Sunday in Lent, year three. It has no parallel in the other gospels.

First, the Pharisees warn Jesus that Herod is on the prowl. Even Jesus’ critics are concerned when a tyrant rises up. Jesus and the Pharisees have a common enemy. Herod, a brutal earthly ruler, wants Jesus dead.

Jesus calls Herod a fox. Foxes had a negative connotation in the Hebrew Bible as deceptive and cunning. Ezekiel 13:4 says, “Like foxes among ruins are your prophets, Israel!” (NAB*). The sense of the text is a critique of the prophets of Ezekiel’s day, who are like scavengers, preying on death and decay.

Likewise, Song of Solomon (2:15) ruminates poetically, if not positively…

Catch us the foxes,
    the little foxes,
that ruin the vineyards—
    for our vineyards are in blossom.

Foxes ruin the vineyard. Herod is ruining the vineyard. Brutal leaders can ruin a family, a congregation, a community, or a nation. Be careful if you start poking the bear. There may be a cross waiting for you. Just ask MLK.

Jesus stubbornly says, tell that fox I’m going to stick around for several days caring for the sick and demon possessed. Then, pondering his city’s violent nature he mourns at how he has yearned to gather Jerusalem like a hen gathers and protects her young. From what? A fox of course. But the would not come together. So, “Your house is left to you.” We reap what we sow.

Then: You will not see me again until the day you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” That day, of course, is Palm Sunday, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We will read about it in the Processional Gospel, Luke 19:28-40. And then Jesus will once again weep over Jerusalem, though we will stop one verse short of this on Palm Sunday:

As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. 44 They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”

There are a number of potential themes here. David Lose points out Jesus’ courage in the face of danger. Others point out Jesus calling out the powers. Some notice Jesus willingness to be vulnerable in conflict. His concern for the city is evident. David Lyle Jeffrey calls it “Lament for a Nation.”

For what do you weep?

 

 


* The NRSV translates  כְּשֻׁעָלִ֖ים as “jackal” in this passage, while the NAB translates it fox. In other places the NRSV translates  כְּשֻׁעָלִ֖ים as fox, such as in Judges 15:4, when Samson catches 300 foxes and ties torches to their tails. As with many Hebrew words, the original meaning is unclear, and with the word economy of biblical Hebrew (only 800 words), it may refer to any number of animals. In any case, all wolf-like canines such as African wild dog, jackals, coyotes and domestic dogs form a single lineage. Though wolves/jackals are a different genus, they evolved from a single common ancestor: the fox.

 

 

Lent 1C – March 10, 2019

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).

Lent C

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

March 6 – Ash Wednesday: Dust. Ashes. Mortality. Repentance. Fasting. Don’t show off your piety.
March 10 – Lent 1C: First fruits for the Levite and alien. Jesus is tempted by Satan in the wilderness.
March 17 – Lent 2C: Abram’s call. Faith reckoned as righteousness. Jesus laments for Jerusalem.
March 24 – Lent 3C: Repent, for there is only so much time left for the fig tree to bear fruit.
March 31 – Lent 4C: Lost sheep. Lost sons.
April 7 – Lent 5C: I am about to do a new thing… Mary anoints Jesus’ feet.
April 14 – Palm/Passion Sunday: Jesus entry into Jerusalem as an anti-triumph.

The Prodigal God

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For those reading Timothy Keller’s book The Prodigal God: recovering the heart of the Christian Faith, study guideDVD:

Lent 1 – Chapter 1: The People Around Jesus
Lent 2 – Chapter 2: The Two Lost Sons
Lent 3 – Chapter 3: Redefining Sin
Lent 4 – Chapter 4: Redefining Lostness
Lent 5 – Chapter 5: The True Elder Brother
Palm Sunday – Chapters 6 and 7: Redefining Hope, The Feast of the Father

Deuteronomy 26:1-11 – Sharing 101

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.

First fruits. “A wandering Aramean was my father.” Abraham was a resident alien. The Lord brought us out of the land of Egypt. There is a lot to this passage. Celebrate the bounty with the aliens among you.

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 find 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.

I have only begun to learn about the Native Americans in the Houston area. The Atakapa 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 Karankawas (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 Karankawas) 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.” ( http://www.houstonfamilymagazine.com/2013/10/31/houstons-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.

History is always written by the winners. The victors even have the power to rename a place. The heavily-tatooed Karankawas (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 inevitable 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.

The Canaanites were, like the Karankawas, nomadic tribes. 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 sophisticated civilization required more sophisticated 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:

A wandering Aramean was my ancestor…
He went down to Egypt…
The Egyptians harshly afflicted us…
The Lord brought us out of Egypt…
So now I bring the first fruit of the earth…

If you have been the beneficiary of events, just and unjust, that have gone before you. Generosity may be the best way through. Perhaps the only way through.

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.

This is marvelous. What do you do with your 10% religious tithe? You sit down eat it with the Levites (the priests) and the resident aliens. What if we took this passage seriously today? It would mean setting aside 10%, the first fruits of your labor, and throwing the party to end all parties, a celebration of freedom, to remember that we were once immigrants. But don’t forget the most important part. Invite priests and immigrants. Invite the poor. Those who cannot pay you back.

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

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?

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 Karankawas, the Canaanites, the wanderers, the refugees. It is to resist the temptation of Satan’s offers of wealth, power and safety, as Jesus did.

Luke: Wilderness

By means of a diversion, we can avoid our own company twenty-four hours a day.

(Pascal)

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert.

(Luke 4)

In his book The Power of Pause: Becoming More by Doing Less, Terry Hershey tells a story about the son of a rabbi who goes out into the woods every day after school. The worried rabbi asks his son about it. “No need to worry, dad. I go to the woods to talk with God.” Relieved, the rabbi replies, “As a rabbi’s son you should know that God is the same everywhere.” “Yes,” the son replies, “God is the same everywhere, but I am not.”

We need the wilderness, the place of quiet. Without it we are lost. Yes, we also need the place of productivity, but equally we need the place of reflection, or we are doomed to become ceaseless automatons lost in a flurry of unfocused activity.

After his baptism, Jesus began his ministry with 40 days of prayer and fasting. There is no other way to start. How else does one know where to begin? What must be done? We must first discern the voice of God, which means turning off the noise of the world, the noise in our heads. It means learning to listen, as Ann Weems puts it, for the rustle of angels’ wings.

Maybe we need to turn off the TV. Turn off the radio. Spend more time in silence.

The first challenge: Lenten repose is a particular challenge for church leaders on two counts. First, Lent is busier that the rest of the year for church leaders, not less so. There is less time for reflection, not more. Many of us add a midweek services with the added planning, recruiting and sermon prep. Many have big plans for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday, the biggest Sunday morning of the year. Some have baptismal preparation, new member sessions and First Communion classes.

Somehow in the midst of all of this, we must still find time. Where will the extra sermons come from if not from silence, time to listen to God? How can we model a balanced spiritually-centered life if we become children of hell driven by overzealous schedules? Having kids adds more responsibility. But it can help professional leaders in Lent, somewhat. Spring Break inevitably falls in the middle of Lent. The kids are off from school. Take advantage of this. In the midst of the busiest season of the church year, I learned to drop everything and just walk away. Go to the beach. Visit family. A trip to the zoo. A day in the woods. Or just a staycation. We just… have to. Or we will lose our center.

The second challenge is timeless, universal. In the wilderness we will most certainly, nearly always, encounter God. Seek and ye shall find. Knock and the door shall be opened. God is faithful. God shows up. But to be honest we have to admit this presents two problems. A. We’re not always sure we want to be confronted with God’s agenda. It’s so… inconvenient. B. We will most certainly, nearly always, also encounter Satan in the wilderness. Paul says,

So I find it to be a general rule, that when I’m wanting to do good, evil lies close at hand.

At every turn it seems we are tempted to set aside God’s agenda for our own. Many minds greater than mine have parsed the Temptation texts over the millennia. Jesus seems to be tempted three times, by three things that are not at all in themselves bad. He’s not tempted to commit murder or genocide.

Jesus is tempted with three things quite familiar to us as well: wealth, power and safety.

Wealth, Power and Safety

WEALTH: 

“If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.” Nothing wrong with bread right? Jesus teaches his disciples to pray “give us this day our daily bread.” Bread is necessary for life. Luther says bread is,

Everything that nourishes our body and meets its needs, such as: Food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, yard, fields, cattle, money, possessions, a devout spouse, devout children, devout employees, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, discipline, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors and other things like these.

So what’s wrong with Jesus wanting these things? Absolutely nothing, unless their support supplants his primary mission. Our lives can be derailed by good things. The temptation is to make our life about the constant pursuit of more. If you follow Jesus, there will come a time when you are tempted to forget your God-given mission by following the god of the belly. Jesus teaches:

Don’t worry about your life: what you will eat or drink, or what you will wear. Trust God, who clothes the fields and feeds the birds. Seek first God’s kingdom, and let everything else work itself out.

POWER:

“All the kingdoms of this world I will give to you if you bow down and worship me.” Jesus has been called to a ministry that will eventually require him to lay down his life. It’s not at all difficult to see why he would want to walk away from this.

The devil tempts Jesus to trade his calling, his destiny, his integrity for POWER. Like bread, power is not bad either. Think of what you could do with political power. You could feed people. You could make a difference.

Jesus, however, accomplished his mission without holding political office. Here’s the problem: If we chase power, political or ecclesiastical, we will miss what God can do with our powerlessness. God says, “My power is made perfect in your weakness.” It was not in Jesus’ political or military power that made a difference. It was his love and serving and dying for us. Let those with ears hear.

SAFETY: 

“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, after all, doesn’t the Bible say, God’s angels will take care of you?” Safety is not a bad thing. But if saving our skin becomes the highest good, we will never risk anything. There would be no cross. We may think ships are safest in the harbor, but that’s not what ships are built for. Life is dangerous. No one gets out alive. Don’t trade your mission for an illusion of immortality.

The wilderness is necessary. It is a place of reflection and healing, but it is also a place of temptation and testing. Expect to have your calling and mission questioned. Satan speaks constantly: “Why give your life to this silly religious business? The church is just a petulant club of judgmental moralists. Leave this behind. Go make some real bread. Live the high life. Eat and drink for tomorrow we die. Forget your cross. Are you some kind of masochist? Why sacrifice for others? Why be a servant? Why servitude at all? Go for the gusto. Don’t worry about the poor. Didn’t Jesus say the poor will always be with you? You can’t save the world. Go, live your life.”

Perhaps one of the reasons we fear the wilderness experience is because we know that we will encounter voices of doubt, fear, and temptation, as well as the voices of faith, hope and love. So Lent and the desert are not without risks. The wilderness is wild after all. The alternative is closing our hearts to the spiritual, being left to go on our own strength.

So, welcome to Lent. Empty yourself, in whatever ways you can. Change your routine. Listen. Fast. Pray. Give. Trust. Knowing that your fasting doesn’t make you a better person, right before God, of special merit, but rather it simply clears away the clutter so that we can see and hear God more clearly.

God cannot fill what is already full. 

(Mother Teresa)

John Wesley, March 2

Lutherans and Methodists have much in common. Both movements were church reform movements.

Today, March 2, Bishop Abraham Allende reminded the ELCA bishops gathered together that this is the commemoration of John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church. He reminded us that the Wesley brothers sparked an evangelical revival at time of church decline in England. Buildings were falling down and the poor were being neglected. It is well-known that his own conversion took place during a reading of Luther’s commentary on Romans.

Image result for john wesley

Whether you like it or not, read and pray daily. It is for your life; there is no other way… do justice to your own soul; give it time and means to grow. Do not starve yourself any longer.

– John Wesley, in a letter ot a pastor in 1760

John Wesley’s two most frequently preached sermons were

1. “Justification by Faith,” and
2. “The Use of Money”

Wesley on money:

Make all you can…
Save all you can…
Give all you can…

 

 

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