Bishop Michael Rinehart

October 2, 2016 is Pentecost 20C

Lamentations 1:1-6 – Post-exilic. How lonely sits the empty city, once full of people! She who once was great among the nations is now a vassal. Her greatness is gone.
Lamentations 3:19-26 – The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall! My hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 – How long, O Lord, will I cry to you for help and you will not listen? How long will we cry, “Violence?” and you will not save?

Psalm 137 – By the rivers of Babylon— there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our harps.
Psalm 37:1-9 – Don’t worry too much about the wicked. In due time they will fade like grass. Trust in the Lord and do good.

2 Timothy 1:1-14 – To Timothy, my beloved child: I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

Luke 17:5-10 – Parable of the mustard seeds. Undeserving slaves.

Francis, Tyndale, and Mustard Seed Faith

This Sunday’s gospel is Luke 17:5-10 about having the faith of a mustard seed. But there are some other opportunities.

St.Francis of Assisi died in 1226, on October 3, but his saint day is October 4. Francis was born in Assisi as Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, but nicknamed Francesco (“Frenchie”) by his father. By faith, Francis, who said he had “been all things unholy,” renounced his wealth and family, vowed poverty and chastity, and founded an order based on serving the poor.  Preaching on Francis is tempting, because, at his election in March of 2013, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio chose that name, becoming the very first Pope Francis ever. Interesting especially because St. Francis was so critical of the wealth and corruption of the papacy.

Equally tempting is William Tyndale’s commemoration, October 6. By faith, Tyndale translated the Bible into English, even though it was a capital offense even to own an English Bible. Tyndale was a reformer who got what Luther thought he was going to get. Ten years after Luther’s death, Tyndale was strangled publicly, then burned at the stake for translating the Bible into English, the same thing Luther did in German of course. Luther and Tyndale actually met. Tyndale read Luther’s German New Testament in 1522 and started working on his own translation of Erasmus’ text into English. When Tyndale’s bishop warned him his translating work was heretical, Tyndale went to the one place in Europe one could work with intellectual freedom: Wittenberg. The first edition of Tyndale’s New Testament was published in Worms in 1526. Thanks to Guttenberg, the Bibles multiplied throughout England like rabbits. The bishops ordered them burned, and Tyndale with them as soon as he stepped foot on English soil. Seventy-five percent of the King James Bible, published 85 years later, owes itself to Tyndale.

Luke 17

Context: Jesus has compared God to a prodigal, lavishly forgiving Father, who loves both the wandering younger child and the belligerent older child. God has a soft spot for the lost in this world. Jesus has told the story of a master who commended a shrewd manager. He has just told his followers that they must forgive even if someone sins against them seven times in one day.

So, faced with all of this, in this week’s gospel, the disciples ask Jesus, “Increase our faith.” To this he responds, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”

Mikeal Parsons (Luke, in the Paieia series) suggests that Jesus’ response is a rebuke. The disciples don’t need to “top off” their faith. A little dab’ll do ya’. The mustard seed is a great image for Jesus’ day. Faith the size of a tiny mustard seed could move a gigantic tree. Today we might talk about the energy of a tiny atom, able to power a city.

mustard-seedI enjoy passing out mustard seeds when preaching this text. This size of these tiny seeds drives home the point. Just know that many of them will end up on the floor.

In his speech about not worrying about your life (Luke 12/Matthew 6), Jesus asks, “If God clothes the grass of the field… don’t you think God will take care of you – you of little faith?” Jesus calls them “ye of little faith” (ὀλιγόπιστοι – “little-faith-ones”). This is a bit of a critique. The good news is, you really don’t need that much faith anyway. If you have the faith of a mustard seed, you can move mountains (Matthew 17:20) or trees in Luke’s memory.

It fascinates me that Paul recalls this saying of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 13:2, “Even if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” Most fascinating, because Matthew and Luke, who record this saying, had not yet been written. So Paul has heard this story passed on by oral tradition, or he read it in some early gospel or sayings source (Q?) that has been lost to us.

The next saying seems to move us into the topic of humility. We are servants, well, slaves (douloi) of God. No one asks the slave to sit at the table. More like, “Get to work.” To focus on this text as condoning slavery would be to miss the point. With the exception of Paul, the New Testament writers experienced slavery as an unalterable fact of life. Luke’s Jesus is telling his disciples to remain humble, to not get “uppity.” Comport yourselves in this life as slaves, not as domineering. Don’t expect accolades. We are simply faithful slaves doing our duty.

Furthermore, he might be saying, “In doing good or in having faith, don’t consider yourselves morally superior to others.” This tracks well with what Matthew’s Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount.

This text lends itself to talking about faith or talking about humility. What lessons have you learned personally over the years? Pride goeth before the fall? (Proverbs 16:18) Those who exalt themselves will be humbled. Those who humble themselves will be exalted. This calls to mind Jesus advice to not sit at the highest place and possibly be embarrassed and asked to move back. Better to sit back and maybe get asked to come forward. He is, of course, not just talking about banquets, but about a general posture in life.

If you tackle faith, when have been the times in your life you have doubted, only to be surprised? When has faith surprised you? Perhaps we can talk about worry, which plagues many people. How do we name and call out our worry?

How many hours of worry, we
O’er ills that never came to be?

Faith in Luke and Matthew is trusting God, who clothes the grass of field and feeds the ravens, according to Luke 12:24, which never gets read in our three-year Revised Common Lectionary. Trust God.

This passage comes as good news to the majority of our people who have many doubts and questions, and feel that they are not very faithful. It is a great comfort to know that we don’t need to be people of huge faith. We may be ὀλιγόπιστοι, the “ye of little faith,” that Jesus talks about, but that’s okay. All we really need is a little anyway.

I’ll leave you with a short story that I’m sure many of you have used in sermons before. When the great Lundin walked across Niagara Falls on a tightrope, he asked,

“Who believes that I can walk across Niagara Falls on this tightrope?” “We do! We believe!” “Who believes that I can push this wheelbarrow across Niagara Falls?” “We do! We believe!” “Who will get into the wheelbarrow?”

Faith is no armchair business. Faith is not believing creeds or doctrines. Faith is not assent to an intellectual proposition. Faith is the ultimate trust. Faith is my daughter diving off the kitchen counter into my arms. Faith is putting our trust in God, in life and in death. Faith is Abraham believing God’s absurd promises. Faith is Moses trusting God will free the Israelites, so much that he is willing to stand before Pharaoh. Faith is Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane praying, “Lord let this cup pass from me, but nevertheless not my will, but I will be done.” In short, faith is throwing ourselves into Jesus’ wheelbarrow. Jesus’ boat. Come hell or high water.

Texas Should Continue to Welcome Refugees

Governor Abbott’s office announced today, September 21, 2016, that Texas is intending to withdraw from the federal refugee resettlement program. What a strange and disappointing turn of events. To understand the impact of this unfortunate decision, click here: 

With 65M displaced people in the world, the highest on record in WWII, this is the worst possible time for Texas to go backwards. We are in a global refugee crisis.

Texas has been a leader in refugee resettlement, resettling 62K refugees and 14K Cubans in the last 10 years, and these new neighbors have made Houston’s economy and community stronger. We have tremendous local, city and community support. Volunteers from all major faith groups are actively involved in welcoming refugees.

Refugees undergo the most stringent security vetting process prior to admission. These Americans have a significantly lower crime rate than native-born Americans. These unfounded fears are being used to divide us as Texans, and turn us against our neighbors.

The Texas Assn. of City & County Health Officials has expressed their “extreme concern,” since this will effectively defund health screenings. This will create a humanitarian crisis.

The Bible calls us to “Welcome the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” People of faith need to speak up.

More Information

Governor Abbott’s Announcement 


Refugee Services of Texas’ Press Release: 


Media contact:

Chris Kelley, RST Media Relations, 214-457-5266

Statement from Aaron Rippenkroeger, CEO of Refugee Services of Texas, on Gov. Abbott’s Announcement Seeking to Withdraw Texas from the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program After Nearly 40 Years of Compassionate Welcome of Refugees

Refugee Services of Texas is deeply disappointed by Gov. Abbott’s announcement seeking to withdraw the State of Texas from its role in the U.S. refugee admissions program after nearly 40 years of participation, especially at a time in our history when Texas’ compassionate legacy of welcoming refugees seeking safety from violence and oppression is needed more than ever.

The world community is now witnessing the highest level of forced migration on record. More than 65 million people have been torn from their homes and forced to flee war, persecution and instability. Texas is playing a significant role in helping alleviate the worst humanitarian crisis of our generation by providing assistance for refugees, asylees, survivors of human trafficking and related vulnerable populations —75 percent of whom are women and children.

Texas’ integration program, efforts and experience in the resettlement of refugees serve as an international model of success, resulting in the fastest and highest levels of self-sufficiency for those involved. To suggest otherwise is untrue and irresponsible.

Providing security and refuge are not mutually exclusive objectives. Texas has accomplished both objectives for decades. Refugees remain the most scrutinized group of people who come to the U.S., having successfully undergone 20 layers and two years-plus of security checks and clearances, including extensive in-person interviews, biography mapping, biometric analyses, fingerprinting and other security measures.

We agree with Pope Francis who said last week that authentic hospitality is “our greatest security against hateful acts of terrorism.”

Ending the state’s support for the refugee assistance program is a departure from historic Texas values, from our shared principles of human decency and constitutes, for many of our volunteers and others, a rejection of the religious belief to serve the needy and vulnerable, including refugees.

With the U.S. accepting less than one percent of the world’s refugees, Texas and the nation has enormous capacity to welcome more refugees, and this latest step by Gov. Abbott fails to recognize all that we have achieved and that which we can still do.

Working together, Texans from all walks of life will work diligently to create a new refugee service structure independent of the State of Texas to ensure that the most vulnerable and needy among us receive the welcome and support that they deserve, that demonstrates our true capacity as a state and a nation and that makes us all safer and prouder in the long run.

About Refugee Services of Texas:

Founded in 1978, Refugee Services of Texas (RST) is a non-profit social service agency dedicated to providing services to refugees and other displaced persons fleeing persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, and/or political opinion and also to the communities that welcome them. RST provides services to hundreds of refugees, asylees, survivors of human trafficking and related vulnerable populations from over thirty different countries of origin each year via service centers located in Amarillo, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston.



Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service Statement:

September 21, 2016

Press Contacts:

Miji Bell; 410-230-2841Michelle Blunder; 202-478-6176

Statement from Linda Hartke, LIRS President and CEO, regarding Texas decision to withdraw from federal refugee resettlement program

BALTIMORE, MD — Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) is extremely disappointed that the state of Texas has announced that it is pulling out of the U.S. refugee resettlement program.  Texas will still resettle refugees, but the coordinating role that the state has played will be facilitated instead by a designated non-profit organization.

LIRS will continue to work closely with refugee services providers in the state of Texas and local communities over the next 120 days to ensure that the transition does not put refugee families at risk of losing critical, short-term services to help them integrate and rebuild their lives. Local communities and organizations that assist refugees are committed to making sure that there are no gaps in health and social services. Even with four months, however, this will still be a tremendous effort.

Texas leads the nation in refugee resettlement, and the decision to pull out of the refugee resettlement program after nearly 40 years of participation is misguided and inconsistent with that state’s proud history of welcoming refugees.

Despite Governor Abbott’s concerns, we know that refugees entering the U.S. pass through the most rigorous and comprehensive security screenings of any persons admitted to the U.S.  Withdrawing from the resettlement program does not make Texans safer or accomplish any public policy goals.

It sends the message that Texas is an unwelcoming place for refugees, and completely disregards the inherent value that refugees bring to the state’s economy, local communities, and the nation. The Governor’s attempt to harm refugees and the communities that welcome them will only serve to stain the reputation of Texas and the United States as a whole.

During a week when world leaders have just concluded two major summits addressing the global refugee crisis, Governor Abbott’s decision sends the exact wrong message to the global community about who we are as a nation. The governor’s actions seem to be calibrated specifically to undermine U.S. diplomacy, as the U.S. and other countries are working to increase humanitarian assistance to displaced persons. At a time when the eyes of the world are watching to see how the U.S. leads, Texas is placing us on the wrong side of history.




Erik Gronberg’s Installation in Fort Worth, Texas

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September 25, 2016 is Pentecost 19C

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 – As the Babylonians are about to break through the walls in 588 B.C. Zedekiah asks Jeremiah why he’s be prophesying the exile. Jeremiah responds by saying he’s so certain that God will restore the fortunes of Zion that he’s even bought a plot of land. Jeremiah the speculator.
Amos 6:1a, 4-7 – Amos warns those who lie on ivory beds, lounge on couches, who sing idle songs, anoint themselves with the finest oils, and drink plenty of wine (the rich). They will be the first to be carried into exile.

Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16 – This is the “Eagle’s Wings” psalm: You who dwell in the shelter of the Lord and abide in the presence of the Almighty, he will deliver you from the hand of the fowler, under his wings you will find refuge. You will not fear the terror of the night or the arrow that flies by day, though thousands fall around you…
Psalm 146 – Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help. When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish. Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God who … executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry… lifts up those who are bowed down… who watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow…

1 Timothy 6:6-19 – We brought nothing into this world, and we can take nothing out of it (fits with the rich man and Lazarus). The love of money is the root of all evil. Be rich in good works, generosity and sharing.

Luke 16:19-31 – Parable of the Rich man and poor Lazarus

Consider using “Eagles’ Wings” for Psalm 91.

The Rich Man and Lazarus

Is the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus even a parable? St. Ambrose suggests that it is a narrative. The story is not introduced as a parable or a simile, “The kingdom of God is like…” Jeffrey (“Luke”) points out, if it is a parable, it is the only parable in which a character is named. This story is unique to Luke’s gospel.


We cannot consider the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus without considering what comes before it. In Luke chapter 15, the Pharisees and teachers of the law criticize Jesus for eating with tax collectors and sinners. He responds with the stories of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son(s). God cares about the lost. The Pharisees are like the resentful elder brother. Then in chapter 16, last week we had the Unrighteous Steward/Shrewd Manager, in which the owner (God?) rewards the unrighteous for using the owner’s dirty money for good. The point seems to be, if you have money, use it on behalf of those who don’t. Next comes the Lazarus story, but not without an interlude.

Interlude: Luke 16:14-18

This text does not appear in the Revised Common Lectionary, but this paragraph, at the center of chapter 16, is a transition between The Shrewd Manager and The Rich Man and Lazarus.

The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him. So he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God. “The law and the prophets were in effect until John came; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is proclaimed, and everyone tries to enter it by force. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter in the law to be dropped. “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.”

Luke tells us that the Pharisees were lovers of money. Having heard the story of the Shrewd Manager/Dishonest Steward, and Jesus’ punch line: “You cannot serve both God and money,” the Pharisees then ridiculed Jesus.

So Jesus said to them, “You justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts.” He then upholds the law and follows up with a statement on divorce.

This is important information. Jeffrey (“Luke” in the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible) says, “There is little in Jesus’ teaching anywhere to warrant the self-affirming culture of the prosperity gospel.” Like the preachers of prosperity doctrine today, the Pharisees saw their wealth as a clear sign of God’s blessing. They saw others’ poverty as a sign of God’s judgment. People do this today. If one is rich, then one must be successful and have some brilliant insight into the way the universe works. Most pay great deference to people of wealth, even if they got it by inheritance or just good luck.

Jesus’ sayings about wealth and poverty are not designed to push white guilt buttons. Instead, they fly in the face of those who would see wealth as some confirmation of superiority or divine favor. In the U.S. people often jump to the conclusion that the poor are lazy. Their bad fortune is the result of their poor choices. The idea that the whole system is unfair, and in need of overhaul, is hard to swallow. We believe capitalism as a matter of faith. God, however, loves the poor. Luke’s gospel won’t allow its hearers to assume that being wealthy or being a child of Abraham gets them anything. “Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.” (Luke 3:8) “Blessed are the poor.”

We must hear this next story in light of what Jesus says here. The Pharisees are about money according to Luke’s Jesus. And although the Pharisees claim to be about keeping the law, they have missed the point of the law: loving God and neighbor. Caring for the poor.

The comments on divorce may seem out of place. Some have suggested as much. Mikeal Parsons (professor at Truett Theological Seminary and author of “Luke” in the Paieia Commentary on the New Testament) points out the topic of divorce is well within the theme of wealth, and certainly within the theme of the law. “Anyone who divorces his wife,” tracks Mark 10, but then Luke adds remarriage, “and marries another commits adultery.” Parsons says this has the sense of divorcing in order to marry another, which one might very well do for financial reasons, back then as well as today.

According to Jewish law, a man could put a woman away by simply writing a certificate of divorce. This would leave the woman without financial support in a society where women cannot inherit or hold jobs in the male-dominated market. She would have to return to her father’s house in shame. Again, Jesus shows concern for the powerless and vulnerable in society.

The Rich Man and Lazarus in This Life

Here is the first part of this coming Sunday’s gospel reading:

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’

Enter the rich man. With purple (expensive dye) and fine linen garb, the rich man, who is not named, lives much like the wealthy condemned in Amos. Meanwhile Lazarus is poor, starving to death, and diseased. He is dressed in sores, which the dogs lick. Nice. Jesus has a gift for vivid imagery. (If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out…) Lazarus longs to eat the rich man’s scraps, as would a dog.

I’m mindful here of all the food we scrape into the garbage in American society. I recently got to meet Matthew Martin, who is with Outreach Inc’s “End Hunger” program. He shared with me that even in the U.S., 1 out of 6 people are food insecure. “Food insecure” means they don’t know where their next meal will come from. If they get it, it probably won’t be nutritious. 1 out of 4 are children. There are plenty of people here in the U.S. who would love to have what you throw to your dog. Outside the U.S. the problem gets worse. Half of the world lives on $2/day or less; ¼ of the world lives on $1/day. The Lazaruses of the world are not rare or hard to find.

The Rich Man and Lazarus in The Next Life

Both the rich man and Lazarus die. Lazarus is carried into Abraham’s bosom, while the unnamed rich person goes to Hades. (No Purgatory just yet in Christian theology.) Note that unlike the Old Testament which has one afterlife destination, Sheol, and other places in the New Testament that speak of several heavens and so forth, this passage indicates two places: Hades and the Bosom of Abraham.

This story, which insinuates that the rich are poor in the afterlife, and the poor are rich, must weigh heavily on the ears of Jesus’ wealthy religious listeners – the Pharisees. Poor Lazarus is in the Bosom of Abraham. The wealthy are not. Why? We soon find out.

As Lazarus longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table, now the rich man longs to suck a drop of water from Lazarus’ finger. Abraham responds. Jesus puts these words in the mouth of father Abraham himself: “Remember, nameless rich dude, you got the good stuff in your lifetime, and Lazarus got a raw deal, so now it’s flip-flopped,” or words to that effect. Jesus confirms the flip flop.

Richard Krabill calls this flip flop, “The Upside-down Kingdom.” Those who are rich in this life are poor in the next. Those who are poor in this life are rich in the next. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. It’s the same message as the Magnificat. “The rich he has sent empty away…” And the Beatitudes. And this concept is not unique to Judaism or Christianity.

Mikeal Parsons tells us that H. Gressmann, in 1918, was the first scholar to note parallels with an Egyptian folk story of Setme and Si-Osiris. Si-Osiris, comes back from the dead, perhaps like in Dicken’s Christmas Carol. Si-Osiris takes his father on a tour Amente (the realm of the dead). There they see the reversal of fortunes of a rich man and a poor man. The rich man is in torment, and the poor man is seated near the throne, wearing the rich man’s garments. Parsons points out that this reversal of fortunes theme runs throughout the Greco-Roman world.

After reminding the rich man that he was rich in his earthly life, Abraham continues. The poor many cannot dip his finger in water to cool the rich man, because “the chasm (χάσμα is a hapax legomenon, one of 686 words that appear only once in the New Testament) fixed between you two makes it impossible.” While one cannot derive an infallible metaphysical map of the afterlife from this story of Jesus, one can say it is hard to arrive at a theology of universal salvation in Luke’s gospel. There are, in this story at least, two eternal destinations. Between them is an uncrossable chasm. If, however you want to use this to form a popular American revivalist theology, brace yourself. What gets you to Abraham’s bosom? We’re never told that Lazarus was a saint. Or had faith. He’s just poor. And we’re never told the rich man was a bad guy. The assumption seems to be there is a flip flop in the eschaton that has nothing to do with faith or works, just wealth. It just is. Be careful not to read Paul into Luke. Paul isn’t Luke, and Luke is not Paul. Jesus is issuing a warning to the rich, one that American Christians don’t like to hear and will work hard to explain away.

The fact that this story, his story, is so edgy leads me to believe it is less layered and edited than some sayings. It has not been harmonized by time and church politics. This story is peculiar to Luke. The other three canonical gospel writers didn’t know it, or chose not to include it for whatever reason. I think we’re hearing the unedited voice of the Galilean healer. His voice echoes down through time. “Love your enemy.” “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” This is the uncut Jesus. The no-spin zone.

Necromancy: Luke 16:27-31

The second part of this gospel reading continues with verse 27 and takes us to the end of the chapter.

He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Good heavens, can someone come back from the dead and warn these people? The rich man wants someone to warn his five brothers. Here is where our story parts company with the Egyptian folk tale and Greco-Roman stories. In those stories, someone does return from the dead to warn others. In our story, Abraham denies the request. “They have Moses and the Prophets.” There is plenty in the writings of the Hebrew Bible, what we call The Old Testament, to understand God’s call to care for those in need. Everything you need is there.

But there is also, perhaps, a bit of foreshadowing going on here. Someone return from the dead? Hmm. Where might we find a story about that?

But the point is made. The hearers are duly warned. In fact, the very point of an apocalypse is that the living are warned. Change your ways before it is too late. Repent.

Good News?

So where’s the good news? Well, first of all, this is good news… if you’re one of the many, perhaps majority, of the world’s population: the poor. And that’s what Jesus was called to preach, according to Luke (4:18). “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor…”

Unfortunately, the good news turns out that it’s bad news for the rich. If this theology bothers you, welcome to the club. Take it up with Jesus. Don’t shoot the messenger. And preachers: Don’t soften the blow. Jesus was the masterful communicator. The edginess makes it memorable. Makes it stick. We’ll be lucky if they’re quoting our sermons two days from now, let alone two millennia. Let it sting. It’s supposed to sting. If you explain it away, you rob it of its power.

But there is also good news for all who are under the power of sin, and find themselves unable to be perfect and adhere to the law. Adherence to the law is a good thing, but it’s too easily bent, and too hard to keep to count on as a way to a right relationship with God. Hear this story in the context of Luke’s overarching message. It’s clear why Jesus is telling this story. Only five verses prior to this parable we’re told the Pharisees were lovers of money, and they ridiculed him. (Luke 16:14) And why would they ridicule him? Well, he’s already made the point over and over again that their dogged adherence to the law doesn’t guarantee them a place in heaven.

And therein lies the good news. Jesus’ critique of the Pharisaic movement is that successful law keeping fills you with self-righteousness, which is the true enemy. Humility is what is called for when one hangs around with the Alpha and the Omega (as we’ll be reminded in Luke 18:9-14). Jesus, and later Paul, make this clear by raising the ante. The law is not as easy to keep as one might think. “You have heard it said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ but I say to you: If you even look at a woman lustfully, you’ve already committed adultery in your heart.”

Paul does much the same, and thus many take him to be a prude. In fact, his point, made over and over again, is that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. His long list is designed to build humility, not walls. The bar is way too high. The only way to be saved by the law is to keep the whole law. And that’s impossible (“If anyone could have been saved by the law, it would have been me,” says Paul). We’re all sinners, and therefore on the same playing field. There is no hope if not for grace. It’s fourth down, and 10 million yards to go.

“We brought nothing into this world, and can take nothing out,” Paul reminds Timothy in today’s epistle.

As Robert Farrar Capon says, “If the world could have been saved by successful living, it would have been tidied up long ago.” The Back-to-Eden Program is bankrupt. Religion in the cloak of morality has too often demonized the kind, the disenfranchised, those whose skin or gender was wrong, and exterminated those whose religion was inconvenient. The religious impulse means well in trying to recreate paradise, but it always ends in disaster.

The rich man asks Abraham to send someone to warn his sons about this great flip flop. Abraham says no. Even if someone were to return, they couldn’t hear it. Here Luke tips his hand. God is not about bookkeeping. God is about raising the dead. No amount of do-gooding will get us where we need to be. There is no indication that the rich man would escape Hades if he had fed the poor man and tended to his sores.

So maybe someone does get sent back from the dead to warn the living. The ultimate good news is the resurrection.

Rather than asking who is going to hell, a better question might be: “What shall we do with our wealth, since Jesus is risen?”

One last thought. Once at a staff meeting, Kerry Nelson (now pastor at Faith in Bellaire, Texas) recalled an interview on the Tonight Show with the mother of the year. Johnny Carson set her up with a trick question: “As a mother with 12 children, do you have any favorites? Do you love some more than others?”

“Of course I do,” the mother of the year replied, surprising everyone in the audience.

“I love the one who is sick, until she is better.
I love the one who is far away, until he comes home.
I love the one who is hurting, until she has healed.”

God is like a loving mother, who always loves the one who is lost, hurting, sick, or hungry.


decolonizeI’m excited that some folks have taken the initiative to put together a Decolonize Lutheranism inaugural event: #decolonize16, being held at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, October 22.

I’m taking time for this in a busy month because the world needs the voice of the church set free from its bondage to culture. Our church, which is predominantly white Anglo-Saxon, needs to embrace the gifts of the broader multicultural, multilingual, multiethnic, multigender, multifaceted church, for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of the world. We need to be freed from our Babylonian captivity.

I recently asked a group what it meant to be Lutheran. “You might be Lutheran if your name is taped to the bottom of your casserole dish,” came as the very first response. This answer would have been totally unintelligible to Samuel Ndanga-Toue, President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Central African Republic. Likewise to Pedro Bullón, President of the Lutheran Church of Peru. We have confused our faith with our culture.

If we define Lutheranism by jello salad, lutefisk, or any of the accoutrements of Midwestern U.S. or Northern-European culture, we are nothing but a race-based church body, which is antithetical to the gospel. Let’s reclaim the role of our tradition, as a reform movement within the church catholic, committed to the God who in Christ, justifies us by pure grace, through faith, then fills us with the Spirit to freely love and serve God and neighbor.

If you want to listen to a podcast that humorously explores our dilemma, check out To Hell With The Hot Dish episode #2.

Or come join us on a beautiful fall day in Chicago.

Or donate to the cause. 

Clergy Concerns

Recently, Barbara Solsaa of Clergy Life Coaching informally surveyed 182 pastors to discover:

1. What topics they’d be interested in exploring, and

2. Areas in which they struggle the most

The results can be found HERE.

The results do align with topics we have been repeating frequently, and have covered in First Call Theological Education.  The first eight in particular:

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