Lutheran Disaster Response periodically gathers those working with disasters: Lutheran Social Services leaders, ELCA Staff, synod leaders and so on. 30 synods represented. 90 participants in New Orleans October 14-17, 2019.
Bishop Deborah Hutterer (Grand Canyon Synod) and David Brauer Rieke (former bishop of Oregon) in front of the London Street levee breach of August 29, 2005.
Sharei Green (LDR Program Communicator) and Jessica Vermilyea (Lutheran Social Services Disaster Response)
Pastor William Flippin (SE Pennsylvania Synod)
Pastor Merle Malone (Frederick Lutheran Church, the Virgin Islands, the oldest Lutheran Church in the Americas, est 1666)
Bishop Shelley Wickstrom (Alaska Synod)
A beautiful morning on the Mississippi.
And look who happened to be in town, to speak at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Pastor Lenny Duncan, author of Dear Church.
I often shake my head at the church and mutter, “Is this what Jesus had in mind?” And then I think of St. Nikolai Church and the Peaceful Revolution. I believe this is indeed what Jesus had in mind.
The beautiful Church of St. Nicolas, the oldest church in Leipzig (Houston’s sister city) was founded in 1165. By 1965 it was located in East Germany, The GDR (1949-1990): German Democratic Republic. It was a communist state, part of the Eastern Bloc, occupied by Soviet forces, controlled by the Stasi, secret police (Staatssicherheitsdienst). The Stasi’s main purpose was spying on the population. Berlin had been walled off by the Berlin Wall. Many people were killed fleeing, shot, or blown up in land mines.
Nikolai Kirche was a sanctuary, a safe space, where, even in the GDR, one could speak freely.
The pastor at St. Nikolai began with prayer, every Monday. A few, then more, then many. In September there were a thousand. The youth group had signs that said, “we want a free country, an open country, free for all the people.” Some were arrested. More came.
By October of 1989, 30 years ago, thousands were gathering for prayer with lit candles. The church could not hold them. Many stood outdid on the streets, security forces with machine guns leering at them.
On October 9, 70,000 people showed up in Leipzig. They had signs that said, “We Are The People” and “No Violence.” The local combat group threatened the “protesters.” Extra police were sent to the city, so that there were 8,000 security forces. Why they did not shoot is still a mystery. The crowds remained peaceful and fundamentally altered the course of European history.
One month later, November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell, and soon afterward, the communist regime. Not one shot was fired.
It started with young people praying. At a church.
Come with me next summer and see for yourself.
The Monday prayers are still going on, and every year in October Leipzig remembers with a Festival of Lights.
Saturday, October 5 we had the ordination of Deacon Nicole Garcia. I also preached at Grace New Orleans and then presided at Misión Mesa Abierta.
Saturday we had the ordination of Deacon Nicole Garcia, our first since moving from consecration to ordination. Nicole hails from the Carolinas. She spent a couple years as a YAGM in Mexico City and last summer at Lutherhill. The ordination was held at Grace, where Mesa meets.
Saturday evening I attended an event at Bethlehem New Orleans. A cool breeze, an awesome band, good food, friends and neighbors made it a super event.
Sunday morning I was at Grace New Orleans. Pastor Chris Christopher, was at Bethlehem Nee Orleans where he had been invited to speak for men’s day.
Sunday afternoon Misión Mesa Abierta met.
Below is Mesa Abierta attendee José Torres, who, while under deportation orders to El Salvador, spent over seven months (222 days, November 2017-June 2018) living in a church while his lawyer helped to get his papers in order. His case has been resolved and he is one happy man. Below that, look at his beautiful girls.
Below are Elvie (left) and Liz (right) from Lima (San Isidro), Peru.
A mere half mile from The Lutheran Center in Baltimore (that houses LIRS and LWR), the Pentagonal World Trade Center appears to rise out of the waters of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. The WTC is the world’s tallest regular pentagonal building. (Houston’s pentagonal JPMorgan Chase buildingis taller, but irregular.)
My friend and fellow LIRS board member, Eddie Resende is the Chief Operating Officer of the World Trade Center Institute. As I was in Baltimore for my last LIRS board meeting, my brother Paul and I went over to check it out.
Completed in 1997, the 30-story WTC cost $22M. The enclosed “Top of the World” observation deck provides 360° views of the harbor and city.
A memorial to the victims of the 9/11 attacks was dedicated on the 10th anniversary.
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7– Thus says the Lord to the exiles in Babylon: Build houses; plant gardens; take wives; have children. But seek the welfare of the city to which I have sent you. OR 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c – Namaan, a Syrian, goes to Elisha to be healed of his leprosy.
Psalm 66:1-12 – Make a joyful noise to the Lord all the earth, for he has tested us, refined us like silver. OR Psalm 111 – I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
2 Timothy 2:8-15– I endure everything for the elect, that they may attain salvation. If we have died with him, we will also live with him. Do your best to show yourself an approved worker.
We all know the story of the Ten Lepers, but most of your people probably won’t. For most of my 31 years of ordained ministry this text was appointed for Thanksgiving, so many of us old preachers tackled it annually between football games.
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
This story is a parallel of the healing; of Namaan the Syrian in 2 Kings 5 (one of our choices for the first reading of the day). Luke references Namaan’s healing in Luke 4:27. Jesus has already encountered a leper in Luke 5.
Jesus is in some unnamed village between Samaria and Galilee, on his journey to Jerusalem, headed for we-all-know-what. Ten lepers come up to Jesus, asking for mercy. With an ostracizing disease they cannot participate in the religious, social or financial life of the community. Leprosy could be any number of diseases. An unknown spot on the arm could be diagnosed as leprosy by a priest. If so, certain rituals were performed. The leper would often be asked to leave the community until things cleared up. One could only return if the priest had declared the disease healed, and the person clean. This put tremendous power in the hands of the priests.
Leprosy, in its many manifestations, is described in painstaking detail in the 59 verses of Leviticus 13. I won’t copy it all here.
Houses could have leprosy too. Leviticus 14:34-47 says,
When you come into the land of Canaan, which I give you for a possession, and I put a leprous disease in a house in the land of your possession, 35 the owner of the house shall come and tell the priest, saying, “There seems to me to be some sort of disease in my house.“36 The priest shall command that they empty the house before the priest goes to examine the disease, or all that is in the house will become unclean; and afterward the priest shall go in to inspect the house. 37 He shall examine the disease; if the disease is in the walls of the house with greenish or reddish spots, and if it appears to be deeper than the surface, 38 the priest shall go outside to the door of the house and shut up the house seven days. 39 The priest shall come again on the seventh day and make an inspection; if the disease has spread in the walls of the house, 40 the priest shall command that the stones in which the disease appears be taken out and thrown into an unclean place outside the city. 41 He shall have the inside of the house scraped thoroughly, and the plaster that is scraped off shall be dumped in an unclean place outside the city. 42 They shall take other stones and put them in the place of those stones, and take other plaster and plaster the house.
43 If the disease breaks out again in the house, after he has taken out the stones and scraped the house and plastered it, 44 the priest shall go and make inspection; if the disease has spread in the house, it is a spreading leprous disease in the house; it is unclean. 45 He shall have the house torn down, its stones and timber and all the plaster of the house, and taken outside the city to an unclean place. 46 All who enter the house while it is shut up shall be unclean until the evening; 47 and all who sleep in the house shall wash their clothes; and all who eat in the house shall wash their clothes.
Think black mold. These laws were designed for the safety of the whole community. They were like our health codes, mold abatement and so on.
One can only imagine the struggle of being ostracized from the community. How does one work? Who helps you in your infirmity? How much would you miss your family? Does your family bring food to you? How far away are you from the comforts of home? For how long?
Jesus commands the ten lepers to go see the priests, even though they have not yet been healed. They must act on faith, going to the priests even though they have not seen even the first signs of healing.
As they are on the way they are healed. Jesus asked them to visit the priests, but not for healing. A priest would have to give them a clean bill of health, before they could return home to mainstream society. Being sick, or more accurately here, unclean, inferred divine disfavor. If you had leprosy, God was clearly punishing you for some hidden sin. Healing was then a sign of forgiveness. It provided an opportunity to be restored to community.
Once the ten realize they have been healed, they continue on their way. Where? Home presumably, understandably. One of them, however, returns to Jesus and begins praising God with a great voice (phoneis megaleis/φωνης μεγάλης: Megaphone!) I love the image of praising God with a megaphone.
Falling at Jesus’ feet he says the two important words we are taught as children: “Thank you,” (Euchariston/εὐχαριστων). Giving thanks is a eucharistic event. Taking the eucharist is an act of Thanksgiving. Sin is the heart incurvatus en se as Luther said, turned in upon itself. Giving thanks is a sign that the heart is no longer turned inward, but now turned outward in joy and thanksgiving for God, life, love, Christ, the other. Ten were healed physically. One leper found more than physical healing.
Jesus is not soft here. He lays it out in three rhetorical questions: “Were not ten cleansed? So, where are the other nine? Is no one going to praise God but this foreigner? Okay, son, move along. Your faith has made you well.” Namaan was also a “foreigner.”
Jesus isn’t happy with a 10% return. In his parable of the sower and the seed, he seems to expect at least 25% of the seeds to fall on good soil and bear fruit. Only one out of ten lepers returning to praise God and give thanks catches Jesus’ attention.
There is a running critique of Israel’s lack of faith in Luke. Foreigners consistently have more faith than Israelites. At times this even seems to surprise Jesus. The “foreigner” comment seems like a slam at first, but Jesus is pointing out for those around, as he did in the Good Samaritan (Luke 10), that sometimes those of other cultures and religious traditions show more faith, compassion and hospitality than those we consider orthodox. Jesus, perhaps ironically, points out that this person is not one of the orthodox, righteous insiders. To wit: “Oh look, a heathen gives praise to God! Hmm. Where are the faithful?” Once again a scandalous Samaritan is made a hero in Luke. This must have irked some folks.
“Your faith has made you well,” is actually “Your faith has saved you.” Sodzo is the verb (ἡ πίστις σουσέσωκένσε). Luke uses salvation language again. Salvation, not as life after death – pie in the sky when you die – but salvation in it’s fullness: one made whole, right with God, body and soul. Paul would say “justified.” Jesus is saying,”Your faith has made you right with God.” Here is justification by grace through faith, even in Luke with his rich/poor flip-flop theology of the afterlife.
One cannot miss Jesus’ constant attention to those on the margins of society. Those who are ostracized and left behind. This is the ministry to which Jesus calls the church.
One can see why this used to be a Thanksgiving Day text. Gratitude is a sign of salvation here.
The leper’s salvation is revealed by his turning to praise God and give thanks. Meister Eckhardt’s words (my second favorite German heretic) have stuck with me all these years: “If the only prayer you ever prayed was ‘Thank you,’ it would be enough.” Having a heart of gratitude, a heart that explodes in praise of God, these are signs of salvation. Luke’s Jesus will use similar words with Zaccheus two chapters later after Zach gives half his stuff away: “Today salvation has come to this household.”
Today. Gratitude, generosity and joy are signs that salvation is here. Now.
Jeremiah 31:27-34 – The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. OR Genesis 32:22-31 – Jacob wrestles with the angel at Peniel.
Psalm 119:97-104– Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all day long. OR Psalm 121– I lift my eyes to the hills, from where will my help come? He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5– Jesus will judge the living and the dead. Proclaim the message. Be persistent.
Luke 18:1-8– Parable of the Judge and the Widow (pray and don’t lose heart)
Central African Republic Sunday:
Pray and Do Not Lose Heart
What does your baptism mean to you? (Ask people to think and write some ideas down if you are in a Bible study or small congregation. Let them really think about it.)
For some in the Central African Republic, baptism means being shunned by your family. For some it means losing their livelihood. Their flocks are taken away. So when someone of another faith becomes Christian and is baptized the people of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Central African Republic bring livestock and support to the table. This is the beloved community.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Central African Republic (L’Église Évangélique Luthérienne de la République Centrafricaine) is one of our two global companion synods, here in the Gulf Coast Synod. Many of our congregations are setting aside October 20, 2019 to celebrate the ministries of this companion synod and pray for them. If you’re in another synod and reading this, why not use this Sunday to lift up your synod’s global companion(s)?
You can observe this day in several ways:
Pray for peace and stability in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Central African Republic. HERE are some prayers you may use.
Invite a member of our synod’s CAR Team to come and speak. Contact CAR Team Chair Carolyn Jacobs for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Take an offering to support the church (for the Gallo Health Clinic, for church roofs, for education and more…).
Include the church in your sermon. (See sermon ideas below.)
Commit to be an annual partner with the church in the CAR. Check out the card below.
The bishop of the Lutheran Church in the CAR is President Samuel Ndanga Toué. The number of congregations and members have moved up and down during the armed conflict, but at one point they reported 55,000 Lutherans in 300 congregations. This church grows rapidly when the conflicts die down. Challenges are water, wells, adequate food, infant mortality, malaria and other illnesses. Many of the congregations are in poor, rural areas. Pastors serve 3-7 congregations each.
In 2003 François Bozizésiezed power in the Central African Republic. The following year fighting began. From 2004 to 2007, the Central African Republic was embroiled in a war called the Bush War. This was a struggle between the government and some rebel forces (The Union of Democratic Forces). The government reached a peace agreement in 2007. It is incredibly challenging and also important being the church in this context.
Our synod has participated in several joint visits to the church in CAR with the other two U.S. companions, the Eastern and Western North Dakota Synods. There were trips in 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 (including at various times Carolyn Jacobs and Lucky Sahualla of Christ the King Houston, Steve Cauley from Advent Houston, Emmanuel Jackson from Living Word in Katy, Charles Short from St. Paul in Baton Rouge, Mark Warpmaeker from Kinsmen, Peggy Hahn from Faith Bellaire, Alan Kethan from St. Paul Columbus, and Bishop Mike). What we found was a beautiful country with many poor people, living by subsistence farming, but vast natural resources. We found a vibrant, growing church that was receiving many newcomers to the faith. At the time of these visits the President of the ELC-CAR was Andre Golicke.
In 2013, things started to heat up in the Central African Republic (CAR). Armed conflict starting boiling over again. A peace agreement between a new government and a number of armed groups was signed last February but there is still violence. Human rights abuses are reported in 70% of the country. Over half (2.5M) the population (4.6M) is in need of humanitarian aid. The spirit is there. The church is there. You are there.
Despite a peace agreement, things are still very tense in the CAR. Currently there are about 650,000 displaced people in the Central African Republic, due to internal armed conflicts. This is an increase of 15% in the first half of 2019. 53 health facilities have closed because of the conflict. This is our companion synod. We cannot turn our heads the other way.
Sometimes these problems seem overwhelming. What can we do from our position here? In Luke 18, Jesus tells a story that suggests one answer.
Then Jesustold them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’”6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Jesus tells the story of a judge who has no respect for God or people, and yet, because of the widow’s persistence, because of her relentless pursuit of justice, he grants her that justice. If a crooked judge will do that, won’t God at least the same for those who pray constantly, day and night?
And so our response begins with relentless prayer. If we want to see justice, we will need to pray right here in worship for the church in the Central African Republic every week. You will need to pray for them in your daily prayers. I believe those prayers will bear fruit. God will hear, and our hearts will be changed. Prayer will spark our generosity and commitment. And this work has already begun.
You are there
There are a number of crucial ministries there for which we pray and to which we give.
The Emmanuel Health Center in Galloserves a life-saving purpose in the CAR, which is one of the poorest and least developed nations. Infant mortality is very high. Getting women the health care they need is one of the commitments of the church.
The church has a seminary, a bible school (to train catechistsand evangelists), a strong women’s organization (Women for Christ), and a youth program. Meeting the needs of the people is an integral part of the church’s mission of sharing the Gospel, and it has many ministries in education, healthcare, agriculture, and water development. Through its ministries, the church helps meet the urgent need for safe drinking water and adequate food, works to lower the rate of infant and maternal mortality, combats AIDS, malaria, and other illnesses, provides basic education, develops women’s leadership, and more.
Each year we raise funds to support this church. This year our ministry fund goals are the following:
Capacity Building and Training – $10,000
Church Roofs – $5,000
Motorcycles for Pastors – $6,000
Emmanuel Health Center at Gallo – $5,000
Village School Operations – $4,000
Village Permanent School – $4,000
University Scholarships – $4,000
Veterinary Project – $2,000
PASE – Water Development – $2,000
Translation of Sunday School Materials – $5,000
Visits and Communication – $3,000
If you want to give to any of these ministries, you can write a check right now, and put Central African Republic or CAR in the subject line. Drop it in the offering plate.
Congregations are invited to become CAR Mission Partners. These partners commit to pray monthly in worship for the church in the CAR. They commit to giving an offering at least once a year. They commit to having one educational event per year on the church in the CAR. To become a CAR Mission Partner, simply fill out this card:
Make A Difference
This work makes a difference. This tribal chief was all smiles when, after hours of driving on deeply pot-holed, single-laned dirt roads through the woods, our Gulf Coast delegation pulled into his village of Mbartoua-Ngangene. There is one church in this town, a Lutheran Church. The Lutherans have built the school here as well. The only school. In a society that generally discourages the education of girls, the daughters of this Muslim chief were learning to read and write at the school. The smile on his face said it all. There is no electricity in this village, and no running water. This did not stop them from showing generous hospitality. They killed the fatted calf, and the chief invited the delegation into his own home for a meal and conversation. It was a dear moment.
If you ask leaders of the church about their evangelism strategy, they talk about their efforts to reduce infant mortality. They talk about Lutheran schools. They talked about Muslim Fulani Tribesmen coming for baptism. They don’t separate evangelism and social ministry. They view the work of Christ in a holistic way.
Worship in the CAR is vibrant and enthusiastic. Worshippers pack adobe buildings they have built, some with roofs supplied by global partners. They sit on the floor and on wooden benches, singing at the tops of their lungs in Baya, Sangho and French, usually accompanied by two bongo drums (pictured left, standing).
People around here sometimes see rousing worship with dancing and singing, and they say, “That’s not Lutheran.” What they mean is it isn’t “European.” Since most Christians live south of the equator now, the geographical center of Chrsitianity is now in Africa. There are more Lutherans in Tanzania than in the ELCA. If we want to see what a Lutheran is today, maybe we need to turn to our companion synod in the Central African Republic.
If your neighbor wants to know what a Lutheran Christian is they will likely look at you. So I ask you, what does your baptism mean to you? To what kind of prayer life does your baptism call you? For whom are you praying each day? For what does your baptism call you to give? Do you believe in prayer and generosity? Will you keep banging on the door relentlessly until there is justice in the world? Truly I tell you today, pray, and do not lose heart.
Please consider taking a special offering for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Central African Republic.