Bishop Michael Rinehart

Reconnecting with God through Nature

I remember the day like it was yesterday. When I close my eyes, I can feel the morning sun on my taut adolescent skin. I am instantly twelve again. Hopping on my bike — that glistening symbol of mobility and freedom — my muscles and my mind anticipate the adventure awaiting me on the hot summer day. I know not where I will go, but only where I will start: the path that leads mysteriously into the woods at the end of my street. I will go as far as my legs can take me, then return.

“Go play,” my mom had said. In an era of boundless freedom for children, as long as I was home by the time the lawn lights came on, all was well. I was free.

My bike bounced over the protruding tree roots along the trail. The path forked from time to time. Like the Frost poem, I randomly chose one path over another, giving little thought to how I would find my way back. The sea of green was balm for the soul. The smells of the forest were intoxicating. I lost complete track of time. There was no time. No school. No chores. Eternity in a microcosm.

Eventually I saw the light of a clearing ahead. My legs tired, I looked forward to taking a break and eating the lunch I had packed. When I emerged from the woods, I skidded my bike to a halt. What I saw was entirely unexpected.

Many treks through my childhood woods had led me to many places, but I had never seen this place before. Before me was a huge pasture of black-eyed Susans as bright as the sun. It stretched out to a distant tree line. I dumped my bike and waded into the knee-deep ocean of yellow, touching the petals with both hands and watching the honeybees hop from flower to flower. It was a sensory symphony. If only I could still visit there today. The memory in my mind’s eye will have to do.

I ate lunch on a patch of grass in the middle of that ocean, then laid on my back watching clouds for an eternity. Eventually I got up and began to make my way home, in no particular hurry. I got quite lost, emerging from the woods into unfamiliar neighborhoods, having to double back several times, but eventually made it home, in plenty of time for dinner.

To this day I have no idea where this place was. In subsequent years, I searched several times, but never found it again. Not long after that, construction began on an interstate bypass which officials boasted would shorten commutes. A neighborhood was built at the dead end.

Recently, I was revisiting my childhood hometown. Driving to the dead end, which is no longer a dead end, I followed the road, through neighborhood after adjacent neighborhood in a vast suburban sprawl. I wandered around the elementary school to which I had walked every day as a child, taking a moment to swing on the swings. I drove around in my car, wondering where the pasture was, nearly a half century after that day.

My kids did not have the same range of play that I did. I walked from my back yard into the woods. I jumped from rock to rock in the creek, catching tadpoles and frogs. I “wasted” untold hours in that woods, in a world of imagination, accompanied by raccoons, rabbits, squirrels, deer and an infinite variety of bugs.

Urbanization has drawn people into cities for jobs, technology, access to medical centers and the arts. 80% of Texans now live in metropolitan areas. Even though I live in a small ex-urban town, my kids still did not have the freedom to roam that I had. Our safety concerns and heightened awareness of predators probably made us a bit too cautious. Cities are beginning to pay more attention to the importance of green space, but in some cases it’s too late. There’s not much left.

This time of year our churches are signing up for summer camp. Camp is a respite in a world of constant electronic distractions. Leaving the cell phone behind is more of a counter-cultural experience than ever, for kids and adults alike. A week with no screen time? Is this possible? Reconnecting with nature makes space to reconnect with God, the earth, and one another.

Those who live in rural and small town areas are blessed with a closeness to the land, the animals and the past. The majority of Americans, however, rarely drive on dirt roads or walk on dirt paths. The loss of Sabbath means we have little time to get lost in the woods.

In his book The Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv shares information that suggests exposing children to nature is a therapy that can impact attention-deficit disorders. Our mental, physical and spiritual health depends on it.

When I wrote my little book on prayer, Learning to Pray Again, I chose a path through the woods as the cover. Prayer is not a drab ascetic chore, but a soul-restoring walk through the woods. It is not escape from the world, but rather the restoration of our connectedness with it.

I write to lift up the importance of our camps and outdoor ministries, which are are a powerful experience in the lives of children and adults alike. I recount these memories to remind myself to take Sabbath, to make time to get lost in the woods, and to disconnect from the machines that too often rule our lives.

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want

He makes me to lie down in green pastures

He leads me beside still waters

He restores my soul…

—Psalm 23

Passion/Palm Sunday – March 25, 2018

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29– Open the gates of righteousness that I may enter.

Mark 11:1-11 or John 12:12-16– The Triumphal Entry.

Isaiah 50:4-9a – I gave my back to those who hit me; my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard. I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.

Psalm 31:9-16 – Into your hands I commend my spirit…

Philippians 2:5-11 – Have this mind among that was in Christ, who emptied himself and became obedient to death on a cross.

Mark 14:1 – 15:47 or Mark 15:1-39, (40-47) – The Passion


Palm Sunday

The Sunday before Easter usually begins with a blessing of the Palms outdoors and a processional. It is a liturgical re-enactment of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem. If your congregation’s building is located in a neighborhood, it is best if this can be a substantial walk to include the neighbors. Make it an event. Pass out palms for all, even those not attending worship. Invite them to come. A processional reading takes place at the doors of the church building. Information on the procession can be found in the Evangelical Lutheran Worship Leaders Desk Edition, p. 622-626. The Procession with Palms (Year B) is available as a leaflet from Augsburg Fortress.

Lutheran World Relief offers fair trade “eco-palms”.  Here’s why. This year we’ll purchase $4.5 million in palms. Most of them will be harvested in Latin America. Very little of this money reaches the actual farmers. This program gives $.05/palm back to the community and pays farmers fairly, eliminating the large corporations that pocket the profits and underpay workers. Creating a steady market in communities means they will care for and keep up their palms, rather than devastating the forest. By this time you have probably already purchased your palms, since the deadline is usually three weeks prior, but consider making a note of this for next year.

After Palm Sunday worship, some palms should be dried and stowed for burning to make ashes for next year’s Ash Wednesday.

Pre- Vatican II, Passion Sunday was the fifth Sunday of Lent (the beginning of Passiontide) and Palm Sunday was the sixth. Dominica in Palmis, Dominica or Dies Palmarum was the beginning of Holy Week. In 1969, Pope Paul VI, moved Passion Sunday to Lent VI, creating “Palm Sunday of the Passion of our Lord.” In Germany it was called Black Sunday, since the crosses were all draped in black on that day for Holy Week.

I grew up with Passion and Palm Sunday mixed. I am told that the passion was read on the Sunday before Easter, because many people did not attend Good Friday services, and therefore would never hear the story of the cross. They would skip from a festive entry into Jerusalem to a festive Easter. Easter with no cross.

Recently there has been a move back to letting Good Friday carry the weight, and allowing Palm Sunday to be just that, a celebration of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.

Two reflections this week: The first is on Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. The second is on the Philippians 2 Christ Hymn.

Before that, a few other comments. As you prepare for Good Friday, click here for Mark Mummert’s helpful blog post on the Solemn Reproaches for Good Friday.

Sovereign God, you have established your rule in the human heart through the servanthood of Jesus Christ. By your Spirit, keep us in the joyful procession of those who with their tongues confess Jesus as Lord and with their lives praise him as Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

The Hebrew Bible text is Isaiah 50:4-9a, about the abuse the suffering servant is to endure. Psalm 31 is “Into thy hands I commend my spirit.”

The Philippians text is chapter 2, the Christ Hymn, on which I will comment below.

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

Zechariah 9:9 says,
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Royalty arrives on a donkey in times of peace (Genesis 49:11, Judges 5:5, 10:4). Royalty arrives on a horse in times of war. This Jesus is royalty, but he is the Prince of Peace, and he is arriving in peace, not as a conquering hero. This king practices humility, as Paul also expresses in Philippians 2.

Charles Spurgeon writes,
Brethren, let us be lowly. Did I hear one say, ‘Well, I will try to be lowly’? You cannot do it in that way. We must not try to act the lowly part; we must be lowly, and then we shall naturally act in a humble manner. It is astonishing how much of pride there is in the most modest.

Jesus’ entry is not a pseudo-humility. The donkey is royalty. The palms signify victory. There is a greatness here, but it is a greatness expressed not in pomposity, but in humility. Those who are truly great need not prove it. Einstein had a humorous humility to him. It is the nature of true strength, to not have to posture.

I have often thought, that if we, the church, could learn this kind of humility, the world would pay careful attention. It could be our greatest form of evangelism, living lives of humility. As someone has said, your life is the greatest sermon you will preach. Jesus showed his greatness through lowliness, his power through humility. The lesson for me this Palm Sunday is humbleness.

Do you wish to be great? Then begin by being.
Do you desire to construct a vast and lofty fabric?
Think first about the foundations of humility.
The higher your structure is to be, the deeper must be its foundation.
Saint Augustine

The gospel writers present Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem as a kind of anti-Triumph – a parody of Caesar’s pompous march into Rome after each military victory.

Dan Clendenin calls it a Counter-Procession that ends with the death penalty.

He highlights three reasons Jesus is crucified:

  • Subverting the nation
  • Encouraging people to not pay taxes
  • Calling himself a king

While these are probably trumped up charges, the sign over his head on the cross confirms that this was probably the line of thought: “King of the Jews.”

Jesus was popular. He drew large crowds. The feeding of the five thousand. Anyone who could draw a crowd of 5,000 men, plus women and children, was a dangerous person, a visible threat to the powers that be. Clogging Jerusalem’s streets at his entry, drew attention to Jesus. An anti-imperial, anti-triumphal procession of peasants would capture attention of the authorities, who were expected to put down riots, much like we see in many places today. Jesus had to have known what he was doing by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey – what he was saying.

What does it mean for us to participate in subversive counter-processions today? How might the preacher tie into the demonstrations by young people right now, following the most recent school shooting in Florida? What does it mean to empty ourselves as Paul talks about in this coming Sunday’s epistle text (Philippians 2)? What does it mean to pour ourselves out like a drink offering (2 Timothy 4:6)? We affect change by our very presence. Where we put ourselves matters. Jesus’ procession is not on religious property. It is in the public square.

It is all well and good to ogle and reenact Jesus’ own procession, but how do we process into the world as a subversive community exposing systems of power and privilege? First, we must acknowledge these powers and principalities. We have to expose them to the light. They have to become topics of discussion. We have to name who is powerful and who is powerless. Then we invite the heart of the people into a soulful response.

To walk the way of the cross is to tap into the power of compassion, listening, enlightening, and emptying. It is the power of powerlessness.

Julius Caesar was born 100 years before Jesus. Known for his incredible speaking ability, his magnetic personality and his military genius, he was elected Pontifex Maximus in 63 B.C. at the age of 37. Today the Pontifex is the Pope, but back then it referred to the Pagan High Priest of Rome.

By reducing the taxes of the rich and by giving land to the poor, he became extremely popular with all levels of society. He conquered what are now Britain, France, Belgium and Germany west of the Rhine, making him the greatest military leader of his time. He is reputed to have known the names of every one of his men in battle. You can read more about this and what follows in Jesus the Last Day, A Collection of Essays published by the Biblical Archeological Society. © 2003 Biblical Archeological Society.

As popular as Julius Caesar was, the senate nevertheless elected Pompey instead, another military leader with his own faithful armies. The senate told Caesar to give up his army. He did not know what to do: submit to the will of the senate or to Civil War? On January 19, 49 years before the birth of Christ, Caesar said, Iacta alea est – the die is cast – and his armies crossed the Rubicon River, entering Italy to change history forever.

From there he conquered Spain, then Greece, and Egypt where he lived with Cleopatra, then on to Syria and Pontus. He conquered the Mediterranean world with such ease he reported his victory with the words Veni, Vidi, Vici – I came. I saw. I conquered. He never once doubted that he had done the right thing. Because Rome needed the best general in charge, right? His victory proved that he had done the right thing; the gods were on his side. The victor is the winner and the winner is the gods’ choice, right?

When he returned to Rome, the people lined the streets for his Triumphal March. They waved branches and threw their garments before him as he rode into Rome on his horse. Some in history see him as the greatest military commander ever. Others see him as one who destroyed democracy and the Republic.

In subsequent years, every time land was conquered there would be a triumphal procession. The historian, Dio Cassius, tells us the triumphator would gather his armies and the Praetorian Guard, and enter Rome clad in armlets and a regal purple robe embroidered with gold after the rites of Dionysus. With a gold laurel crown upon his head that had been borrowed from the Temple of Jupiter, he held a branch in his hand.

The racially-diverse, conquered prisoners of war would march ahead of him, Africans, Jews and Arabs; proof of the victories he had attained. When the triumphator arrived at the Roman Forum, he would command some of the prisoners to be put to death and the rest imprisoned or enslaved. He would ride up to the Capitol and perform certain sacred rites to the gods. The word “capitol” just means “the head.” The head of Italy. The head of the world. Later a triumphal arch would be erected to commemorate the event.

Each leader felt his triumphal march had to upstage the others. So the processions became more and more complex and lavish. Perfumes would be distributed to those along the way to create an aroma or aura. By 20 B.C, 20 years before the birth of Christ, the triumphal procession became the sole privilege of the Emperor, who would parade through the city as people shouted, “Hail Caesar!” A bull would be dressed up and led along in procession to be sacrificed to the gods at the end. A priest would walk behind the bull with a double-bladed axe for the sacrifice.

The Emperor’s face would be painted red like Jupiter’s statue so that he would be identified standing in for the deity. Indeed, Gaius insisted on being addressed as Jupiter, and Nero was called Apollo.

Just before the sacrifice, the triumphator would be offered a cup of wine, but he would refuse, and instead the pour the wine out on the bull or the altar. The wine symbolized the precious blood of the sacrifice.

After the sacrifice, the Emperor would then sit on his Throne in glory.

Both Luke and Matthew base their version of Jesus’ passion on the Gospel of Mark, which was written in Rome, for Christians in Rome. They could not possibly fail to see what we 21st century American Christians almost always miss: Jesus’ procession to the cross is a parody of the Roman triumphal march. It follows a formula.

Jesus is taken first to the Praetorian guard, where he is clad with a purple robe and a crown of thorns.

They parade him through the city, shouting, “Hail, king of the Jews!” His executioner walks alongside him.

The triumphator would be led to the Capitol, the Head. But Jesus was led to Golgotha, the place of the Skull.

Like the triumphator, Jesus too is offered ceremonial wine, but he too refuses it, echoing his words at the Last Supper, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (Mark 14:24-25).

At the end of the procession, the Emperor would sit on his throne. When Claudius returned to Rome after a military campaign, he ascended the steps of the Capital on his knees and then sat on his throne with his sons-in-law on his right and on his left. When Titus returned after destroying Jerusalem and the temple he had Vespasian on his right and Domitian on his left. When Jesus concludes his triumphal procession, he is crucified with two thieves, one on his right and one on his left.

The gospel writers want us to see Jesus’ last day not just as a triumphal march, but as a kind of anti-triumphal march. Whereas the world glorifies power and violence and destruction; Jesus encounters the hatred and violence of his own religious tradition, and the hatred and violence of the world’s greatest empire and responds not with hatred and violence, but with submission to God’s will, and in his resurrection, finds a victory that transcends the human condition.

The pomp and pride of Gaius and Nero are contrasted with the humility of Jesus, and so the pomp and pride of the world’s rich and powerful are contrasted with the humility of the world’s poor and common people. In Christ, God is not for the victor, but for the victim. God’s divine favor is not found in victory, but in humility, compassion, and service. In kenosis: emptying oneself (see the next devotion, below). Here’s the message: The salvation of the world depends upon God’s way, Christ’s way being made manifest in the world.

As followers of Christ, we are challenged on this day and every day, to not cater to power and the powerful, but to give our lives for the poor and downcast of the world. The innocent. The powerless. The children. We are challenged to reject the hatred, violence, and power plays of the world, and risk living in the humility of Jesus the crucified Jew. We are not promised that there will be no cost. We are never promised that there will be no hour of trial or a cross with our name on it. In fact, Jesus warns us that there will be persecution, by those who reject God’s ways. But in the end, there will be a crown of glory that will outshine the suffering of this world.

Hear Paul’s understanding of the Triumphal March (and Mary’s anointing for burial?) in 2 Corinthians (2:14-15):

…thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him.

There can be no mistaking Paul’s metaphor here: Christ is the ultimate Triumphator because he has destroyed the real enemies: sin and death. Therefore, we are freed to follow the cross in Triumphal Procession all the days of our lives, until we are led to our joyful resurrection.

Philippians 2: The Christ Hymn

Paul’s Christ Hymn in Philippians 2 comes up on this Sunday in years A, B, and C. The only other time it pops up is on The Name of Jesus, which many Lutheran congregations omit, and Proper 21A/Ordinary 26A/Pentecost +20 in season A, which usually falls in September. This passage is so central to Paul’s Christology in general and incarnation in particular, that one hates to miss an opportunity to preach it.

One of my favorite books is Michael J. Gorman’s, Inhabiting the Cruciform God. The Inhabiting the Cruciform Godbook is subtitled, Kenosis, Justification and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology.

Now there’s a mouthful, but it’s more than gibberish. This is an incredible work of Christocentric theology. Gorman begins with the number of times Paul uses the phrase “in Christ.” When I reread the New Testament scanning for it, I’m shocked by the number of times that phrase is there, and how I’ve taken it for granted. To cite a couple: 

For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, so that I may gain Christ and be found in him. Philippians 3:8-9

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. 2 Corinthians 5:17 

I remember Mark Alan Powell telling us that there are no places in the Bible where we are told to invite Jesus into our heart. Not that it’s a bad thing to do, but the New Testament never mentions it. Instead, it invites a flip-flop of that. Not Christ in us, but us “in Christ.” Paul has a robust “in Christ” spirituality and theology. What exactly does Paul mean by this turn of phrase? What does it mean, concretely, for Paul be “in Christ?”

Gorman has four main points:

  • Cruciformity = Theoformity, or what is called theosis in the Eastern Christian tradition. To be in Christ is to live life in a cruciform way. It is to be claimed and shaped by Christ.  It is to be molded into the image of Christ. Theosis means humans becoming more like God. As Irenaeus said, later shaped by Athanasius: “God became what we are, to make us what he is.” (See 2 Peter 1:4, Rom 8:29, 1 Cor 15:49, 2 Cor 3:18, 2 Cor 5:21, Phil 3:21). In Philippians 2, cruciformity, theosis is kenosis: emptying oneself.
  • Justification is theosis. Justification, as Paul uses it, is more than a judicial term, a declaration of “not guilty.” It is more than a label. There is a transformation that begins to take place. Anything less is “cheap grace” a la Bonhoeffer, or “cheap justification.” Justification without justice is cheap, armchair grace.
  • Holiness, then, is conforming to the cruciform character of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Holiness (sanctification) is not a supplement to justification, but the actualization of it.
  • Non-violence is one of the essential elements of participating in the kenotic, cruciform God. To live the cruciform life is to empty oneself, to not lay claim to status and power, but to take on the form of a servant/slave.

That last part is critical: to live the cruciform life is not to lay claim to status and power, but to take on the form of a servant. This is what it means to be “in Christ.”

Gorman’s scholarship and exegesis is impeccable. The first part of the book focuses on Paul’s Christ Hymn in Philippians 2, which he calls Paul’s “Master Story.” His brilliant work has huge implications for the church, especially in this postmodern context.

Hear this ancient hymn, perhaps one of the first Christian hymns. Imagine the first Christians singing it in worship…

The Christ Hymn

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death- even death on a cross. 

Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Of course the big argument in church history was the pre-existent camp versus the adoptionist camp. The pre-existent folks point out that Christ was already in the form of God and had to empty himself to become human. My systematics professor called this “theology from above.” The adoptionists pointed out that the phrase “Therefore God highly exalted him…” means that Jesus became Christ, and therefore God, because of his obedience unto death. God adopted him as Son.

Gorman’s work here is brilliant. Christ’s kenosis, his self-emptying reveals the character of God, and forms the key to understanding Paul’s theology, Christology, and ethics. The theology of this seminal passage permeates all of Paul’s letters. Gorman suggests that a kenotic Christ means a kenotic God. Paul’s understanding of Christ, and thus his understanding of God, is in two parts:

  • Humiliation, verses 6-8
  • Exaltation, verses 9-11

Gorman draws two conclusions:

  • Humility is the character of Christ. Therefore, humility is the character of those “in Christ,” and
  • Humility is the character of Christ, and therefore, also the character of God. Christ reveals the true, though often hidden truth about God: humility.

Humility is the character of those “in Christ.” 

Although… not… but.

Although Christ was in the form of God, he did not count on it, but emptied himself.

Do you see the rhythm of this? Gorman points out that time and time again. Paul displays this pattern in his own behavior, probably unconsciously. And, this underlying pattern is woven throughout his letters. Here is the formula:

Although [x], not [y] but [z].


y=selfishness and


Although [status], not [selfishness], but [selflessness].

Now watch.


  • In 2 Cor. 8:9, Although Christ was rich, he became not rich, but (so that) by his poverty we become “rich.”
  • In Rom 15:1-3, Although they are “strong” they must not please themselves, but humble themselves and put up with the scruples of the “weak” so that the body might be built up.
  • In 1 Thess. 2:6-8, Although Paul’s status as apostle allowed him to make demands, he did not, but rather he was gentle.
  • In 1 Cor. 9:1-23. Although Paul has the apostolic privilege to have a wife and get paid for his his work, he does not exercise this privilege, but (v. 12) endures these sacrifices for the sake of the gospel.

Paul is himself, doing what he sees Christ doing in Philippians 2. Possessing status carries with it an inherent mandate to deny oneself; practice humility. This does not deny his apostolic identity. It fulfills it. Although he has authority as an apostle, Paul empties himself, exercising humility as a Christlike act of love. For Paul, love seeks conformity to the self-emptying image of Christ. Humility is the character of Christ, and therefore the character of the one who is “in Christ.” Paul exercises his true apostleship by acting in conformity to Christ. 

Humility is the character of Christ, and therefore, it is also the character of God.

Not only is Christ defined as kenotic, or self-emptying, not only is the Christian (the one “in Christ”) defined as kenotic, or self-emptying, but GOD is therefore defined as kenotic, or self-emptying.

Jesus expresses his very divinity in “downward mobility.” Gorman cites Hellerman, saying Phil. 2 is a contrast to the Roman “cursus honorum,” a lifelong, upward mobility to honor in the Empire, from slavery, to peasant, to aristocrat, to divinity (like Caesar). Jesus instead moves backwards, from equality with God, down the ladder to slavery, then even to public humiliation by death on a cross.The phrase “In the form of God” is Paul’s clearest Christological statement.

“In the form of God” vs. “In the form of a slave” was common parlance. For a god to be in the form of a slave was inconsistent in Roman thought. A god does not divest power. Divinity and kenosis don’t go together. Erik Heen points out ν μορφn θεοu is a phrase used in Emperor cult worship. After Augustus, the phrase was only used for the Roman emperor. So this hymn sets Christ up against the Emperor. Remember, it is most likely that Paul didn’t write this hymn, but is quoting something early Christians sang in worship. We are hearing echoes of the first Christian hymns and theology.

As to the debate about whether Christ already possessed divinity or πρχων, grasped (or “exploited” in the NRSV) it, Gorman points out that the exaltation cannot be a promotion to divinity, as if one could earn divinity by being humble, or doing good works. The hymn clearly says that Jesus was already in the form of God, and emptied himself. The exaltation is not promotion, but a confirmation of his divinity.

But is this emptying in contrast to what God is like? Is God in Christ doing something completely out of character? Or is self-emptying revealing the most intimate and profound character of God?

In other words, Gorman says, there are two possible readings of this text:

  • Christ renounced his deity: “Although Messiah Jesus was in the form of God, a status that means the exercise of power, he acted out of character – in a shockingly ungodlike manner, contrary in fact to true (imperial) divinity – when he emptied and humbled himself.” Or…
  • Christ exercised his deity: “Although Messiah Jesus was in the form of God, a status that people assume means the exercise of power, he acted in character – in a shockingly ungodlike manner, according to normal but misguided human perceptions of divinity, contrary to what we would expect, but, in fact in accord with true divinity – when he emptied and humbled himself.”

Of course, Gorman’s point is the latter. Jesus redefines divinity, and this ultimately changes the world irrevocably. Jesus subverted and deconstructed concepts of divinity when he emptied and humbled himself. This is an absurd story of God in first century Rome, which is Paul’s point in 1 Cor. 1:18-25.

Christ’s self-emptying then is not a termination of his deity; it is the fullest expression of it. Gregory of Elvira said that Christ’s majesty and divinity, though never lost, were “momentarily hidden,” as the sun is hidden behind a cloud. Gorman argues that Paul’s point is quite the opposite, that the humility of incarnation and the cross in fact reveals divine majesty. Like Father, like Son. Christ reveals the true nature of God.

Therefore, Gorman would rather translate hyparchon “because” he was in the form of God not “although” he was in the form of God. Because he was in the form of God he emptied himself… Placher calls this the “Narrative of a vulnerable God.”

Vulnerable God: Now there’s an oxymoron.

So what?

Oh, I think everybody knows so what. They may not like it, but the implications for the church are pretty obvious. If we follow a self-emptying Christ, who reflects a self-emptying God, then being “in Christ” means to be a self-emptying church, a self-emptying people, that the world might see the true God.

The preacher might give self-emptying examples from individuals in the congregation to make it personal. Or stories of saints and/or ordinary people. Schindler is a great example of one who poured himself out for others. The preacher might find examples from the congregation’s history or other congregations’ histories. One congregation I served in a changing neighborhood, while in seminary, turned part of their parking lot into a playground for neighborhood children. That’s rerooting.

Bishop Brauer-Rieke from Oregon told me of some congregations in Portland, who were struggling in this difficult economy, with a colder-than-ever winter. Many were unable to pay their astronomical heat bills. One congregation, Redeemer, strongly rooted in the community realized that the houses in their neighborhood were built about the same time as the church, and therefore, the people in the neighborhood must be going through the same thing. They turned their focus from inward (their energy bills) to outward (their neighbors’ energy bills).

One pastor in our synod tells me his congregation was dying when he arrived. They figured, if we’re going to go out, let’s go out with a bang. They used their coffers to bless the neighborhood. They gave and gave. And of course, they started to grow. This is, in part, why, even when times are tough, cutting back on our percentage of giving is not appropriate. A church that doesn’t give isn’t a church.

For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, so that I may gain Christ and be found in him. Phil 3:8-9

The Christ Hymn of Philippians 2 echoes another ancient hymn in Isaiah 40-55: The Song of the Suffering Servant. God’s power is made known to the world in self-emptying. To paraphrase Irenaeus and Athanasius: “God became what we are, to make us what he is.”

There’s no wiggling out of this.

The good news is, when we give ourselves away, that’s when we really begin to see what life is about.


LENT 5B – March 18, 2018

Jeremiah 31:31-34 – I will make a new covenant. I will write the law on their hearts. They will all know me. I will remember their sins no more.

Psalm 51:1-12 – Create in me a clean heart O God.


Psalm 119:9-16 – Happy are those whose way is blameless…

Hebrews 5:5-10 – High priest according to the order of Melchizedek. He learned obedience through suffering.

John 12:20-33 – Gospel: Greeks. Sir we wish to see Jesus. Grain of wheat dies. Love life lose it. Save me from this hour? When I am lifted up, I will draw all people unto myself. The light is with you a little while longer. While you are in the light, believe in the light so that you may become children of the light.

The Exodus Marc Chagall

Oil on canvas by Marc Chagall (1887-1985). The quintessential Jewish artist bridges the divide between Judaisam and Chrostianity in “The Exodus.” Exodus (1952-66) presents hundreds of shtetl Jews streaming forward, led by Moses carrying the Ten Commandments on the lower right.  The scene is presided over by a towering yellow crucifixion, literally embracing the world fleeing slavery. The power of the Christian crucifixion emerges. Jesus, the crucified Jew is lifted up, and he draws all.

The New Covenant

Jeremiah: The new covenant. We went from the Noahic Covenant in Lent 1, to the Abrahamic Covenant in Lent 2, to the Mosaic Covenant Lent 3 and 4. After weeks of wading through various covenants, we come to Lent 5, the week before Passion/Palm Sunday, in which Jeremiah promises a brand new covenant. The problem with the Mosaic Covenant is the people could not keep it. Their infidelity is why Judah is in exile in Babylon.

After many harsh words, the prophet delivers a word of hope. One day a new covenant will come, not like the Mosaic Covenant. “I will write the law on their hearts.” All will know the Lord. Their sins will be remembered no more. The days are coming, says the Lord.

Christians see the fulfillment of this prophecy in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, followed by Pentecost. Jesus transforms the water of human religion into the wine of the spirit. The new law, the new covenant is written on our hearts, not on tablets of stone. In the Eucharistic Words of Institution we say remember Jesus’ words, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people…”

Hebrews: Jesus is a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. Melchizedek (מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק, malchi zedek, “my king is righteousness”) is mentioned 12 times in the Bible, twice in Genesis 14, once in Psalm 110 and nine times in Hebrews. In Genesis 14, he is the King of Salem and a priest of “God most high” who blesses Abraham. In Psalm 110, “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand and I will make your enemies your footstool… You are an eternal priest like Melchizedek.” In the cryptic theology of Hebrews, Jesus is identified as this priest. This is probably the author’s way of saying that Jesus is now the high priest. The Temple is no longer necessary, which is a good thing, because the Temple was destroyed decades before Hebrews was written. In some ways this is a similar message to the Cleansing of the Temple in John 2 (Lent 3B). The Gospel of John was also written decades after the Temple was destroyed.

The theology of the Letter to the Hebrews is complex. Jesus “learned obedience through suffering.” This is likely encouragement to a church that is under persecution. Christ’s followers are to learn obedience through suffering as Christ did. This message of suffering calls forth Luther’s theology of the cross from the Heidelberg Disputation. This is not a feel-good, self-help gospel. This is an engagement of the world through the lives of those who are suffering.

John: Greeks want to see Jesus. Some Greeks wish to see Jesus. Jesus has already said he has other sheep “not of this fold.” There has been much speculation about the meaning of this enigmatic statement of Jesus throughout history. My take: Jesus is telling his Jewish followers that there are Gentile followers out there. Clearly, the mission to the Gentiles is in full swing long before John writes his gospel.

For the first part of this gospel reading, Jesus has been saying his hour has not yet come. Remember the Wedding at Cana, “Woman, why are you involving me? … My hour has not yet come.” It’s not time yet. After the raising of Lazarus in chapter 11, the decision to kill Jesus is made. Jesus ignores Philip and the Greeks. Now is the time: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

Discursus: Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone. If it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life will lose it, and those who hate it will keep it. John 12:5-26 is a parallel to the Mark 8 text we had Lent 2. This passage appears in all four gospels. To die is to live. Jesus is now to fulfill this, to be glorified, to be lifted up, hearkening back to John 3, last week.

This passage touches upon something that we have seen several times during Lent, the mystery of the cross: The only way to find life is to lose it. “Destroy this temple and in three days I will build it up.” “If any would follow me, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.” “The cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” The preacher must know his or her community well to find creative ways to convey this counterintuitive message with conviction. The power of God is most perfect in our weakness. Life grows when we let it go.

The story of the Greeks wanting to see Jesus gives an excellent opportunity to preach a message of witness. People may be turned off with the church, but they are still very, very interested in Jesus. If we show that we are more interested in people’s spiritual lives than the institutional survival of our religious clubs, we still have the ability to see the power of the gospel at work in the lives of seekers.

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. The hour has come for the Son of Man to be lifted up. Jesus approaches his “hour” with open fear, and also resignation. “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say-‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.” (12:27) This could be a model of how we as Christians might approach our own death. It is natural to be worried, but as a people of the resurrection, confident of God’s saving grace, we know that our lives are in God’s hands.

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32) Though it is homiletical allegory, the preacher might ask the congregation to consider the ways in which Christ is being lifted up in their church and in the wider community. Is Christ lifted up in our speech? In our lives? Is the Son of Man being lifted up in our congregation’s presence in the community? When people talk about our congregation what do they say? What do they see? How are we known? How is Christ known through us? Is the suffering of Christ informing our lives and ministries?

The good news here is that when Christ is lifted up, people will be drawn to him. The good news is that hope is available, for free. It is unearned. Let go of your vain attempts to desperately clutch at life, and you will find it is right in front of you.

Learning to Pray Again

This will be the last entry in the Lenten series “Learning to Pray Again.” Those trying out new prayer practices are likely on the last few chapters, 36-40.

These chapters encourage you to pray for your pastor, and any who are part of your spiritual formation. They also introduce the tradition called “The Stations of the Cross.” These stations are listed, along with a Scripture passage and prayer for each. The point of the stations, though, is to meditate on the images. This is a right-brained prayer form. Meditating on artwork has long been a devotional practice. Different artistic renderings are available in Google images. Here is a photo of the stations we have in our office:

Stations of the Cross at the synod office

Stations of the cross in the office of the Gulf Coast Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Can eating and drinking be prayer? The central act of worship for most Christians is precisely this. We “commune” with God through the simple act of eating bread and drinking wine together.

The last two chapters return us to the point where we began: silence. Prayer is listening at least as much as talking. “Be still and know that I am God,” the psalmist says. “Those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength…” Listening in prayer is recognizing that God is the principal actor in prayer. We are empty vessels, open to receive. God pours love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. The various forms of prayer in this book are really tools to help us get to that place of silence, contemplation. They refocus our attention from ourselves, our tasks and our worries onto divine things. They help us set our minds on heavenly things, rather than earthly things.

Perhaps the way forward as you finish this series is to spend some time reading back through your prayer journal if you made one, or thinking back through the various forms of prayer you tried out these forty days. What worked for you? Write two or three forms of prayer that were helpful. Pick one and make it a daily prayer pattern for a while. Trust that God will show up, often in unexpected ways. And keep in mind the words of Mother Teresa and Meister Eckhardt:

If the only prayer you ever say… is “Thank you,” it will be enough.
Meister Eckhardt

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

Confronting Racism Resources

Racism is power plus prejudice. It takes many forms. There is conscious bigotry, that sees people of color as lesser beings and seeks to exclude, and there is unconscious bias, that wishes well for others, but nevertheless continues to participate in and even support institutional structures that offer privileges to some over others.

Here are some resources on racism to consider. Many thanks to Rozella White and Ele Clay for their assistance.


  • I’m Still Here: Black Identity in a World Made for Whiteness, by Austin Channing Brown
  • Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart, by Christena Cleveland
  • The Cross and the Lynching Tree, by James Cone
  • White Awake: An Honest Look at What It Mean to be White, by Daniel Hill
  • The Power of Proximity, by Michelle Warren


ELCA Social Statement: Freed in Christ: Race, Ethnicity, and Culture

Freed in Christ: Race, Ethnicity, and Culture expresses the ELCA’s calling to celebrate culture and ethnicity.  This calling commits the ELCA to confront racism, to engage in public leadership, witness and deliberation on these matters, and to advocate for justice and fairness for all people. This statement was adopted by the 1993 ELCA Churchwide Assembly. This page will take you to a page where you can download the statement and order paper copies. It also has links to a study guide, an introduction and a summary.

Bishop Mike posts 

Other Resources


Milton, “Paradise Lost”

Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay

To mould me man? Did I solicit thee

From darkness to promote me?

—John Milton, Paradise Lost

LENT 4B – March 11, 2018

Numbers 21:4-9 – Moses lifts up the serpent in the wilderness. Murmuring. Fiery serpents.

Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22 – They cried to the Lord in their trouble and he saved them from their distress…

Ephesians 2:1-10 – Dead in your trespasses, for by grace you have been saved by faith… for good works.

John 3:14-21 – Just as Moses “lifted up” the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him will have eternal life. Light has come into the world, but people preferred darkness. For God so loved the world…

Lifted Up

sign of MosesNumbers: The Serpent Lifted Up – Lent 1 we had the covenant with Noah. Lent 2, the covenant with Abraham. Lent 3 the covenant with Moses. This week we continue with Moses.

Moses led the people out of slavery into freedom, but they would rather return to the old ways. After their hunger is satisfied with manna, they respond, “We hate this food.” So human. The people whine. Scholars call it the murmuring motif, but we know what it is: whining. And so God sends serpents to kill them.

Unlike the unconditional covenant of Noah, the covenant with Moses is conditional. If you keep my statutes and commandments, I will be your rear guard. After the attack of the fiery serpents, the people repent: “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord (and against you, Moses). Help!” So Moses prays. God instructs him to take a bronze serpent and put it on a pole that whoever looks upon it might live. The people are healed simply by gazing upon this serpent.

Ephesians: Grace through Faith – Chapter 2 of the Letter to the Ephesians describes the transformation the Ephesians have taken. What one believes changes how one lives. Like Peter in the gospel for Lent 2B, the Ephesians were focused on earthly things, and not as concerned with spiritual things. Dead in their sins, they were following the “prince of power of the air.” This phrase is used nowhere else in the New Testament. Satan is not in hell (a word that never appears in any of Paul’s letters), but in the space between earth and heaven. Jesus told Peter, “Get behind me Satan.” Paul tells the Ephesians that following the prince of power of the air leads to becoming children of wrath.

In contrast, God, rich in mercy, loved us when we were at our worst, and made us alive together with Christ. Like Christ, we too are raised up and seated in the heavenly places. God did for us what we could not do for ourselves. Ephesians 2:4-5 says,

But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…

Salvation is by grace through faith. It is not our own doing. It is a free gift, not by works (ργων, ergon). Ephesians 2:8-9 says,

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.

At the same time, though we are not saved by good works, we are saved for good works. Ephesians 2:10 follows immediately after the verses above:

For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

Christ has transformed us, and created us for good works. αὐτοῦ γάρ ἐσμεν ποίημα. I prefer “handiwork” over the NRSV word for ποίημα: “what he has made us.” Being good will not make us right with God.

There is, I have seen, a kind of Lutheran overstatement of the doctrine of justification by grace through faith, that implies even trying to do good works constitutes works righteousness, a reaching up to God. This, in my view, corresponds with the ancient heresy of antinomianism. Ephesians is a corrective for this. Certainly, we can never climb to God on a ladder of our own righteousness. That is a foolhardy enterprise. The author of Ephesians wants us to know, however, that having been made right with God, by grace, we are freed to become what we were created to be, children of God who live and walk in good works.

John: The Son of Man Lifted Up – This passage from John 3 (14-31) is part of a larger conversation Jesus is having with Nicodemus, a character who appears only in John’s gospel (3:1, 3:4, 3:9, 7:50, 19:39). Nicodemus was a Pharisee who came to Jesus in the night. “You must be born again,” is Jesus’ word to Nicodemus, in the text just before today’s reading. Later, Nicodemus defends Jesus among his colleagues (7:50). After his crucifixion, Nicodemus brings some very expensive spices for Jesus’ burial (19:39).

Our passage this week begins just a little bit before the often-quoted John 3:16. Here is the text:

[Jesus said:] 14“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
16“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

John, like Paul, never mentions hell. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes might not… perish. Judgment comes in another form, that people prefer darkness to the light. Works may not make one righteous, but as Jesus says in various places, you can tell a tree by the fruit that it bears. If the heart is right with God, good works will inevitably come. When the works do come, we cannot take credit for them, because we are naturally selfish. The only explanation for selfish people doing good works is the power of the Spirit transforming us. The whole world can then see that our works are from God.

Just as Moses “lifted up” (ὕψωσεν, hooposen) the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be “lifted up,” that whoever believes in him will have eternal life. Mark Powell points out that “lifted up” is John-speak for his crucifixion. In John, Jesus’ crucifixion is triumphant. John does not speak of Jesus suffering. For John, the crucifixion is a coronation. Just as gazing on the serpent that was lifted up brought healing to the Israelites, in John’s theology, likewise, gazing upon Christ, lifted up on the cross will bring healing to the world.

How, exactly, does John think healing will come from gazing upon Christ lift upon the cross? Powell, in our Lenten text study last month, ventured some thoughts about this.

John looks out his window and sees people with empty, hopeless, meaningless lives. For John, love is the key. The love of God, revealed in the crucifixion and experience in love for one another is the key to unlocking a hopeful, meaningful life. “Eternal” life is this life, a life with the depth and meaning, not just longevity. The basic truth people need to grasp, in John’s view, is that God loves them. Eternal life means there will never be a time that you are not loved. The creator of the universe loves you passionately. People don’t understand this. If they did, John believes, they would not have meaningless lives. The crucifixion of Jesus is the greatest revelation of God’s love for us. When we look upon the cross, we will be healed, because we will at last know how much God loves us.

God loved the world so much, God sent his Son, not to judge or condemn, but that it might be saved, redeemed. What is offered here, what is meant by “eternal life” is not much different than the “abundant life” promised in John 10:10. Christ came that you might have Life, with a capital “L.” This is hard to convey fully in this day and age, Raymond O. Brown and Mark A. Powell both insist John is not talking about life after death. He is talking about a depth of life now. For Powell, “Eternal life is being in love forever.” This was news in John’s day. The Roman gods did not love people. They exercised power, and sometimes raped humans. John wants us to know the world is not, at its foundation, that kind of place. Instead, love is at the center of the universe. Eternal life is knowing the truth that sets you free: That God loves you.

Love is used more in John than in any other book of the Bible, some 40+ times. The author of John is “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” “By this shall all people know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” At the last supper Jesus gives them a “new” commandment: love one another as I have loved you. Love is also a central theme of the letters attributed to John. In fact, God is love, in 1 John 4:7-8:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God and everyone that loves is born of God, and knows God. Whoever does not love, does not know God, for God is love.

These are interesting texts to preach. As you can see above, there are plenty of themes one could pick up.

The caduceus: This snake-on-a-stick becomes a symbol for the healing profession, the caduceus.

Some believe this symbol comes from a common way of dealing with guinea worm disease: wrapping it around a stick and slowly twisting the stick to excise it. Others believe this symbol comes from the cult of Asclepius, which used snakes as early as 300 B.C. as part of the healing arts. . The original Hippocratic Oath began with the invocation “I swear by Apollo the Physician and by Asclepius and by Hygieia and Panacea and by all the gods…”

Numbers was written around 500 B.C., describing events that took place long before. We know that many medical practices were common, however, across the ancient world.

And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.”

Is this punitive? A reminder for whiny Israelites? “PEOPLE! REMEMBER THE SNAKES!” My 5th-grade teacher had a huge paddle hanging up in front of the room, that all might look upon it and be healed from their urge to do mischievous things. The ominous paddle spoke for itself. So is the serpent law? Or is it gospel, an invitation to healing by placing our trust in a God who is merciful in spite of our whiny, disobedient ways?

Greek mythology, poisonous serpents, guinea worm, law, gospel or magic, Hezekiah eventually took down the pole during his Temple reforms a few hundred years later. It seems the people began to worship the snake on the pole.

Jesus in John’s gospel revives an ancient image. John 3:14-15:

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

John sees the Christ being lifted up as gospel, healing and salvation. God acts mercifully in the midst of a chaotic world. Christ being lifted up is a metaphor for his crucifixion and resurrection. A violent world kills its maker. This is Lord of the Flies. Gaze upon it, and understand. God responds with mercy and forgiveness. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” “Turn the other cheek.” “Go the extra mile.” “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” The resurrection is God’s vindication of the way. The death and resurrection of Christ are healing signs for the world.

Perhaps consider processing a processional crucifix to the hymn Lift High the Cross, so that people may gaze upon it and understand the depth of God’s love.

Consider preaching the invincible love of God that is greater than death. Or ponder preaching a Pauline salvation of justification, being made right with God, that can come in no other way than the grace of God revealed on the cross. The enterprise of human religion, the law, simply cannot save. It is powerless to transform us and deliver us from sin, evil and death. Only following Christ can reveal for us the true nature of God, and offer us salvation and healing, the hope of the world.


If you’ve been using “Learning to Pray Again” ( for your Wednesday or Sunday Lenten series you are likely in or around chapters 22-28, which cover various ways of praying with kids, prayer stations, the Lord’s Prayer, dreaming, speaking in tongues and praying for your enemies.

Take What You Need signThis might be a great Sunday to try some of these things out. Invite children during Sunday School to draw on the sidewalk leading to your worship space, things for which they are thankful. This invites the whole congregation to joyfully engage the hearts and minds of children.

Have an affirmation of baptism and invite members to bless each other by tracing a cross on the forehead of someone next to them. Try post it note prayers, where people write requests on post it notes and bring them forward during the offering. Move the prayers to after the offering so that you can include these concerns in the prayers of the church.

Another option is to replace the prayers of the church with prayer stations as outlined in Prayers for the World stationchapter 24. Have a map where people can place stones on countries to pray for the people in them. Have a station where people can be prayed for and anointed with oil. Have a place where people can write confessions on paper and burn them, or have them write them on dissolving paper and drop them in the font. Have a place where people can light a candle and place it in sand. Use some of the children’s prayers ideas from chapters 22 and 23 like puzzles and coloring. Check out for more ideas.

Confessional Prayer stationTrim other portions of the liturgy to make time for this. Skip the confession and have one of the stations be a confessional prayer station instead. You’re already omitting the hymn of praise during Lent. Offer a shorter homily.

The homily might include a brief explanation of the prayer stations, as various ways to pray. You might choose this day to preach about the Lord’s Prayer. Consider praying the Lord’s Prayer slowly with silence as discussed in chapter 25. Another option is to preach about dreams, mentioned in chapter 26. Praying in tongues (chapter 27) is a lot to cover in one homily, but it is a possibility, unless you’d prefer to wait for Pentecost.

Take A Moment stationChapter 28 is about praying for your enemies. Jesus taught about this in the Sermon on the Mount. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” How often do we actually do it? It was hard, and even controversial to pray for Osama bin Laden. Praying for ISIS today would get the same kind of reaction. We can pray for conversion of our enemies from evil to good. We can also pray for the victims of their senseless violence. Consider making your enemies a frequent part of your congregation’s prayers. Be sure to accompany it with thoughtful teaching on the subject, so people understand what is happening. Prayer is powerful. It will stir things up.

As you can see, with seven chapters each week, there is no shortage of topics for post it prayerspreaching, or for ideas to spice up the prayers. Above all, I would encourage you to leave behind the canned prayers for a while and engage people (prayer team, worship team, staff or others) in thinking about how we might creatively pray in worship in a way that sparks the daily prayer lives of our people.

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