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Bishop Michael Rinehart

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December 2009

Big Days

Big Days

In 2003 with the help of Lutheran Social Services, we adopted a beautiful little girl from an orphanage in Solikamsk, Russia, about 1,000 miles east of Moscow. At 18 months she was small for her age, and neither walking nor talking. Once we got back to the United States, she began doing both incessantly. She also grew six inches in six months. You can’t sustain that kind of growth. (If she had, she’s now be eight feet tall.) Growth isn’t incremental. It comes in bursts, called “growth spurts.”

Churches grow the same way: in growth spurts. If your congregation wants to grow (many don’t), then you’ll need to plan on having some growth spurts. In an article on breaking the 200-300 barrier, Rick Warren (http://www.timberridge.org/images/59506/HowToBreakThroughthe200-300Barrier.pdf) says that many churches don’t grow for sociological reasons, not spiritual ones. The reasons are often invisible to general membership. The way a church is structured, the way the pastor functions, the family system, the facility, and so on. Churches that grow have leadership that is acutely aware of these factors and is constantly reorganizing for growth. Or as the pastor of a large Houston-area mega-church said to me, “Do now what you are going to have to be doing when you are twice this size.” Big Sundays are a way to get there.

Many congregations will double their worship attendance on Christmas and Easter if they are intentional about inviting in the community. A large percentage of these folks will be visitors. Some will not be prospects because they are out-of-town relatives. The rest, however, are folks who may return if they like what they see. And if they’re invited into ministry, fellowship, serving, they will eventually join.

A congregation with a worship attendance of 80-90 won’t gradually grow through the 100 barrier. The only way to get past it is to burst past it. Plan a big Sunday that attracts 150-200 people. The following Sunday you won’t have that many, but you may fall back to 120. Add enough of these Sundays together and in time you will see significant growth. And your congregation will get used to seeing new faces around, becoming better at welcoming.

Kinds of Services

Christmas and Easter are obvious times to expect a crowd, but don’t leave it at that. Plan a big Sunday once every couple of months. Once Christmas is over, plan your big Sundays for the year. Consider these possibilities:

·         Christmas

·         Valentine’s Day

·         Easter

·         Mother’s Day

·         Baccalaureate

·         Father’s Day

·         Vacation Bible School Day

·         Rally Day

·         Reformation Sunday

·         All Saints

·         Invent a day

The Sunday closest to February 14 is an opportunity to celebrate marriage. This year (2010) February 14 is a Sunday. Why not invite people to do a reaffirmation of marriage vows? What if you had 12 couples reaffirming their wedding vows and a party afterwards? They would bring brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, children and friends. Put an ad in the paper letting people know it’s happening. Celebrate fidelity.  Bring in a crowd. Have a photographer present. Show a video on strengthening your marriage during the Sunday school hour.

Or consider the Love Changes Everything for February 14. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) is encouraging congregations to talk about immigration reform. It’s important that people realize the role of hospitality to the stranger in the Bible. It’s important for people to understand how our current draconian immigration practice is tearing apart families. Bring in a speaker. Advertise in the paper. Even if this topic is controversial in your neck of the woods, all the better. This will put you on the map. People will perceive you as dealing with relevant issues. Your church will get noticed.

Use Mother’s Day as an opportunity to lift up the role of mother. Father’s Day can be a great opportunity as well. Consider doing things that appeal to dad’s on that day. One year we brought in a bunch of easy chairs and awarded the oldest dad, the youngest dad, the dad with the most kids, etc. by letting them sit in the comfy chairs. We used sports images in worship. Consider inviting an NFL or NBA chaplain to come.

Many congregations still do Vacation Bible School. Lots of unchurched kids attend because their parents use it as cheap childcare. After a week of singing songs, the kids are ready to sing for the congregation. Have a big bash on Sunday morning. Leave the VBS decorations up. Have the kids sing, show off their crafts. Plan a lunch. Don’t charge anything for the lunch. Budget for it or have benefactors donate food. Make it festive.

Invent a day. Make a day named after your city: Baton Rouge Day. Invite the mayor, police chief, etc. use Romans 13 to talk about the kingdom on the left, and Christian’s duty to support secular leaders. Have a teachers’ day, firefighters’ day, or health care workers’ day. Invite people to come in uniform, or wear name tags. Heath care workers could be done around St. Luke Evangelist day (October 18?).

Whatever you do, get your event to be seen as the community’s event. Baton Rouge end of Hurricane Season Celebration Worship, for example. Or Humble Baccalaureate Service. A number of congregations do a Blessing of the Animals on St. Francis Day (October 4?). You would be surprised how deeply people love their pets, God’s creatures. They appreciate a time to celebrate this. Keep the service short. Have treats. Expect accidents. People will perceive your church as friendly.

Rally Day is the Fall kickoff event. Want a crowd? Have a free barbecue. AT least in Texas, that will always bring in a crowd. Have a free will offering. Most people will give and while you won’t break even, it won’t cost all that much. Put a big sign out front inviting people in. Have a mission fair going on while people mill around.

The Reformation is something that lots of folks recognize as an important event in Western history. Why not be the church that has the area Reformation service? Have an Octoberfest along with it. Serve sauerkraut and brats. Bring in a crowd.

Getting Ready

Whatever you do, be sure to go out of your way to invite in the community. Figure out ways to get eh word out in your community. Posters, door hangers, newspaper ads, signs, etc.

Christmas and Easter are not the only times for big Sundays, but they are gifts: times when lots of people will come, because it’s in the air. People know it’s Christmas, and even with declining worship attendance in America people still think of going to church as a way to celebrate Christmas. The only thing left for you to do is let them know when the services are and invite like crazy.

I’m surprised when I drive past a church a week before Christmas and there are no service times posted for Christmas Eve worship. Do they want people to come? It appears not. How will people know what time the services are if the only place you advertise them is in your church bulletin? How will they know if they are welcome?

So in December it’s worth the cost to purchase a Christmassy banner or sign that says “All are welcome!” and posts the service times. If times don’t change next year, you can use it again. Let people know when the services are:

·         Put a banner or sign out in front.

·         Make sure the answering machine has service times (and directions).

·         Consider a newspaper ad.

·         Print invitation cards inviting people to worship. Send them to targeted neighborhoods in bulk and also give them to your members during Advent to use to invite their friends. 

On other days the same rules apply. Print up welcome cards so that your members can invite friends and neighbors. Have them out six weeks before the event. Let your members know that there will be a sermon that will connect with a broad audience. The music will be excellent. They won’t regret inviting their friends.

The Big Day

When the day arrives be sure to have excellent hospitality. If people come and visit and no one says a word to them, they probably won’t come back. Double your ushers and greeters. Meet people in the parking lot (with umbrellas if it’s raining). Make sure the pastor is out greeting as well.

The music and sermon should be the very best. Use the day to start a new sermon series on a topic that will make them want to come back and hear the rest. Make sure the congregation is trained to reach out to visitors during the Peace, otherwise this time heightens their sense of not belonging. Be certain that communion instructions are clear so that people don’t get embarrassed.

Have information out about the ministries of the congregation. Have fliers out about your preschool, upcoming mission trips, fellowship events, new small group opportunities, Vacation Bible Schools, etc. 

Have cards available for people to register their presence. If you have a guest book, have it out and attended by a greeter, who can welcome guests.

Don’t let them scoot out the door too quickly. Put refreshments between the pew and the parking lot. Have stealth greeters look for newcomers and spend time getting to know them.

Follow Up

Before you leave Sunday get all the visitor names together. Have ushers or counters pull out the visitor cards. Get names from the guest book. Have your counters get names and addresses from any checks that were in the offering plate.

Have a “Thank you for worshipping at Faith” letter ready to go out first thing Monday morning. It should simply say thank you for visiting and invite them to come back.

In addition to the letter, make a call or a visit within 48 hours. If there are only a handful of visitors, the pastor can make those calls, but studies show lay callers to be more effective. Again the goal is simply to get people to come back the next week. It can be as simple as, “Hello is ___ there? … This is ___________… I just called to say thank you for worshipping at _______ Church on Sunday… What brought you to ___________Church? …  Are you new to the area? …  Is there anything we can do for you?  …  I’d love to meet you. I’d like to invite you to come again this Sunday…

At home visits are trickier. If you have people that go to visit, make sure they are well-trained, and good listeners. People these days don’t open their homes as readily. Best to have two visitors (at least one of which is a female). Have them take a packet of information and simply say thanks for visiting. (Some congregations will take a loaf of bread or a plate of cookies. ) Your goal is a quick non-threatening contact. You don’t leave the porch unless they drag you in. This requires a team of trained visitors.

Pastor  Don Gebert suggests a plan where you have people trained and prepared from every major neighborhood in your vicinity. Then on Sunday afternoon you just call them and give them a name. People tend to be more receptive when you say, “I live just up the street a little ways.” See Don Gebert’s video at http://gulfcoastsynod.org/evangelismnew.htm .

Remember, quite often when people visit your church they are in crisis. Perhaps they’ve just moved to the area. Moving is one of the top stressors. They are new to the area. They need friends. They don’t know where the Post Office is. This provides a great opportunity for ministry. Or perhaps they are recently divorced, or grieving the death of a loved one. There are lots of things that drive people back to church. Sometimes they just sense the need for something spiritual in their lives. Trained visitors can listen for this, and even ask it bluntly: “So what brings to you be searching for a church?” This kind of caring call is more than recruiting. It’s ministry. Compassion.

Michael Rinehart, bishop

1/3/10 is Christmas 2C

Dear Gulf Coast Leaders,

 

January 3 – Christmas  2C

Jeremiah 31:7-14 – Hear the word of the Lord, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands far away; say, “He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd a flock.” 

Or  Sirach 24:1-12 – I came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and covered the earth like a mist.
Psalm 147:12-20 – The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.

Or Wisdom of Solomon 10:15-21 – A holy people and blameless race wisdom delivered from a nation of oppressors. 16
Ephesians 1:3-14 – he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
John 1:(1-9), 10-18 – And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us 

 

Check BLOG for notes on Following Up on Big Sundays: www.bishopmike.posterous.com.  

Interfaith Forum on Immigration for Rostered Leaders – January 11, 8:30-1:30

“The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you,

                                                and you shall love them as yourself” (Leviticus 19:33-34)

 

This January 11 event (8:30-1:30), hosted by religious leaders, is called a clergy convocation, but all rostered leaders are welcome. We will cover your cost if you wish to participate. Held at St. Paul’s Methodist in Houston, the event includes a prayer service, a press conference, a panel discussion and lunch. Registration Form and Invitation are attached. Deadline for sign up is January 5 (just like Theological Conference deadline.

 

Houston Lutheran-Methodist Full Communion Celebration – January 17, 4 p.m.

The Houston celebration of the Lutheran-Methodist Full Communion will be Sunday, January 17, 2010, 4 p.m. at St. Paul’s United Methodist, Houston. Bishop Janice Huie and Mike Rinehart presiding. This takes place on the first day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This will be a great time to celebrate our unity in Christ.

 

Theological ConferenceJanuary 25-27, 2010

La Vida de Fe, San Antonio. Registration deadline January 5.

 

Incarnational Preaching

 

And the Word became flesh…

 

God speaks and stuff happens. Worlds are created. Dry bones walk. The Word becomes flesh. Sarx. Material. Concrete. Real life. In Romans Paul says the gospel is a dunamis, an explosive power. Isaiah (55) says God’s Word always accomplishes God’s purposes; it never returns empty.

 

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

 

If our Word from the pulpit is God’s Word, then it will inevitably do the same. Not because we’re such great orators, but because the message of the cross has power, even though it seems silly to some.

 

It’s incredibly hard to grow a church without good preaching and good music. In the age of recorded music, unless there are family ties in the church, people simply won’t come and force themselves to bear bad music week after week. Bach or schlock. The same goes for preaching. Word gets around pretty quickly, “She’s soooooooo boooooooooring.”

 

I hear from time to time, “Pastor so-and-so is a great preacher.” What makes a good preacher? I think most people mean the preacher is not boring. The preacher is interesting. If you can keep people’s attention, make them laugh, make them cry, make them think, they will say you’re a good preacher. If you give them something they can really use in life, they will love you. They will tell their friends. Their friends will come and check you out. Truth be told, all you really have to do is not be boring.

 

This of course doesn’t meet our criteria for a good sermon, even if it meets theirs. I was taught a sermon wasn’t a sermon unless it made us feel the realities of the human condition, and applied the cross and resurrection to that situation. If your sermon didn’t have any cross theology in it, it was a nice religious talk. Nothing more.

 

One of the most popular preachers on television is Joel Osteen. Lakewood Church is the largest church in the U.S. with an average worship attendance of over 45,000. (The second largest church in the U.S. is Second Baptist, with an average worship attendance of 24,000.) We’ve all heard Lakewood sermons. I’d be surprised if anyone in Houston hasn’t. Osteen gets picked on for his success theology. Osteen gets criticized for preaching a positive, upbeat message without theological depth. They’re right. He’s in line with Norman Vincent Peale and others. People want a word of hope. It’s why Reagan was so popular and Carter wasn’t. People want hope from their leaders. Why follow someone who believes the future is without hope? Osteen also is very, very relevant. His messages are often teach people what their parents’ should have: how to be kind and persistent in adversity, how to speak kindly of others, and so on.

 

So it seems to me there are two ditches: one on the right side of the road and one on the left. The ditch on the right is fluff sermons with no cross. The ditch on the left is a theologically correct sermon that never touches down. As someone in my last parish used to say, “Too heavenly minded to be any earthly good.”

 

A couple of hot-air balloonists got lost in a storm once. When the clouds cleared they were off-course and had no idea where they were. They lowered their altitude and saw a man in a field. “Where are we?” The man responded, “You are in a hot air balloon.” One balloonist said to the other, “That man’s a Lutheran.” “How do you know?” “Because what he said was absolutely correct, but completely irrelevant.”

 

Ouch. Too many sermons are like that. Correct but irrelevant. Some are neither theologically sound nor relevant. My preaching professor used to write, “So what?” at the bottom of our sermons. He wanted us to wrestle with this question: If we take this text seriously, what does is mean for how we live our lives? That’s incarnational preaching. It touches down at some point in every day life.

 

I’ve met pastors over the years who were afraid to do anything relevant in the sermon. Once you suggest how people should live, you run the risk of moving into the realm of works-righteousness. It’s almost as if we believe it’s wrong to do something good. Works could be a threat to faith. The author of Ephesians didn’t think so:

 

8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

In fact, all of Paul’s epistles move from the indicative to the imperative. First Paul talks about what God has done in Christ, and then he tells them what it means and what they must do about it. In each of the letters you can feel the shift. It’s palpable:

 

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3)

 

Therefore, my brothers and sisters,* whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved. I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. (Philippians 4:1-2)

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2and live in love, as Christ loved us* and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1)

 

Watch for the “therefore.” That’s what it’s there for.

 

After John preaches, the people ask, “So, what should we do?” Apparently my professor would have written a “So what?” at the end of his sermon as well. “Those who have two coats should share with those who have none.” Tax collectors, “Don’t collect more than your appointed taxes.” Soldiers: “No extortion.” John spells out the implications of his message.

 

Hosanna Mandeville pastor Sunny Kern says people come to worship begging for direction. Tell us how to live in a way that is faithful to God. Incarnational preaching must at some point touch down in people’s lives.

 

I think the “So what?” has to be both individual and communal. Individual: What does this mean for me when I return to work Monday morning? What does this mean about the way I treat people, family, friends and strangers? What does this mean about how I spend my money? What does this mean given the fact that I’m caught in addiction? Communal: How are we then to be the church together? What could we do together that might be a witness to the love of God in Christ? What does this text mean for how we are the church in this city? In this economy?

 

It’s hard to be a good preacher. We have a challenging job. You have to be a jack of all trades: administrator, counselor, teacher, preacher, accountant, etc. On top of that you’re expected to have something interesting to say every week: something gospel-centered, something relevant, something funny, something profound, something challenging, something motivating, something incarnational. It means we need to spend time on the sermon. It means we have to listen to people’s lives if we are going to speak to their lives. It means we have to study, read, imagine, pray, write, speak.

 

Learning to speak in a way that tells them how profoundly they are loved and forgiven by God, in a way that inspires people to godly action, in a way that brings healing and hope – this is certainly a challenge, but we have a good product. We have the only Word that can ultimately make a difference. God’s Word will do it’s job, even if we don’t. But don’t use that as an excuse to be sloppy. Let’s become adept at speaking the Word into the culture in profound and inspiring ways. Let us, as Barth so astutely put it, preach with the Word of God in one hand and the newspaper in the other, so the Word becomes flesh, and the world doesn’t yawn and say, “So what?”

 

שלומ     سلام    Peace,

 

Mike Rinehart

 

Michael Rinehart, bishop

The Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

12707 I-45 North Frwy, Suite 580

Houston, TX 77060-1239               

281-873-5665

 

 

CHRISTMAS – Year C

And the Word became flesh…

Wednesday, January 6 – Epiphany

Time after Epiphany – Year C

 

January 10, 2010 – Baptism of Christ C

Monday, January 11 – Interfaith Clergy Convocation on Immigration Reform

8:30 AM to 1:30 PM  (8:30-9:00 AM- Registration & Coffee)

St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, 5501 Main Street

January 17, 2010 – Epiphany 2C

 

January 17, 2010 – Houston Lutheran-Methodist Full Communion Celebration

4:00 p.m. St. Paul’s United Methodist, Houston, 5400 Fannin Street, Houston, TX 77004

Rostered leaders are invited to robe and process. Green stoles. Reception following.

January 18-25, 2010 – Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

January 24, 2010 – Epiphany 3C

January 25-27 – Theological Conference, San Antonio, TX. La Vida de Fe.

 

January 31, 2010 – Epiphany 4C

February 7, 2010 – Epiphany 5C

February 14, 2010 – Transfiguration

OR

February 14, 2010 – Love Sees No Borders

An opportunity to share the Biblical message of welcoming the alien and sojourner

February 17, 2010 – Ash Wednesday

 

 

Really Good Stuff

Sticky Church (Leadership Network Innovation Series)  This book connects natural, organic evangelism with spiritual growth, through small groups that deepen relationships and conversation.

Living Together As Lutherans: Unity Within Divesity  This book, written by the three presiding bishops of the ELCA outlines the vision and history of Lutheran unity.

Beyond Cheap Grace: A Call to Radical Discipleship, Incarnation and Justice by Eldin Villafañe. This book bemoans cheap grace and an armchair version of Christianity, showing why faith and social justice cannot be separated.

Luther and the Hungry Poor  – This book highlights many of Luther’s not-so-often-read works on the economy. Torvend discusses the economic implications of the Reformation and the church’s bilking of the poor through indulgences.

The Cost of Discipleship ($5) by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer warns that the Achilles’ heel of the Lutheran movement is “cheap grace.” Grace without cost. Grace without discipleship.

Capon on Cooking Robert Farrar Capon

The Supper of the Lamb by Robert Farrar Capon

 



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December 24 is Christmas Eve

Dear Gulf Coast Leaders,

December 24/25 – NATIVITY OF OUR LORD (three choices)

Set I
Isaiah 9:2-7 – The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. For unto us a child is born, a son is given.
Psalm 96 – Sing to the Lord a new song, all the earth.
Luke 2:1-14, (15-20)  – In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus… Shepherds watching their flocks by night… And angel of the Lord appeared, then a host: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace…”

Set II
 Isaiah 62:6-12 – Say to Zion, “Behold, your salvation comes; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.” 
Psalm 97– The Lord is king! Let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad! 
Titus 3:4-7 – When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of our works, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. 
Luke 2:(1-7), 8-20 – Shepherds watching their flocks by night… And angel of the Lord appeared, then a host: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace…” 

Set III 
Isaiah 52:7-10 – How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
Psalm 98 – Sing to the Lord a new song… Let the earth sing, for he is coming to judge the world with justice.
Hebrews 1:1-4, (5-12) – Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son
 
John 1:1-14– In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 

December 27 – Christmas  1C
1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26Elkanah and Hannah give birth to Samuel, who grows is stature and favor of the Lord.
Psalm 148 – Everyone and everything praise the Lord just about everywhere.
Colossians 3:12-17 –  Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, and above all else: love.
Luke 2:41-52 – The boy Jesus in the Temple increases in stature and divine favor.

December 27 – St. John Apostle – This rarely falls on a Sunday. A great day to lift up John’s high Christology, and vision of God’s love.
Genesis 1:1-5, 26-31
Psalm 116
1 John 1:1 – 2:2
John 21:20-25 – The last verses of John. Peter’s jealousy of the disciple Jesus loved. This text appears nowhere else in the three-year lectionary but here.

Theological Conference is January 25-27 on the Riverwalk in San Antonio. Registration deadline is January 5. Theme: La Vida de Fe.

Interfaith Forum on Immigration for Rostered Leaders – January 11

“The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you,
and you shall love them as yourself” (Leviticus 19:33-34)

This January 11 event (8:30-1:30), hosted by religious leaders, is called a clergy convocation, but all rostered leaders are welcome. We will cover your cost if you wish to participate. Held at St. Paul’s Methodist in Houston, the event includes a prayer service, a press conference, a panel discussion and lunch. Registration Form and Invitation are attached. Deadline for sign up is January 5 (just like Theological Conference deadline.

Houston Lutheran-Methodist Full Communion Celebration
The Houston celebration of the Lutheran-Methodist Full Communion will be Sunday, January 17, 2010, 4 p.m. at St. Paul’s United Methodist, Houston. Bishop Janice Huie and Mike Rinehart presiding. This takes place on the first day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This will be a great time to celebrate our unity in Christ.

Christmas Message

Last week I opined on a stanza of O Holy Night:

Truly he taught us to love one another
His love is love and his gospel is peace
Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother
And in his name all oppression shall cease

From O Holy Night (Free MP3 by Mark Harris)

This week, as we approach the Feast of the Nativity, I recall another carol:

In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.

Good King Wenceslas is a carol about a wealthy king who reaches out to a poor man on the Feast of Stephen (December 26). The story is based on St. Wenceslaus of Bohemia (907-935). Stories of his legendary, lavish generosity exist to this day.

Of course, so do stories of St. Nicholas (270-346), bishop of Myra (in modern day Turkey). When we were in Russia for the adoption we saw icons of St. Nick in nearly every Orthodox church we visited. Nicholas was wealthy due to a family inheritance. When people in Myra would receive anonymous gifts, it was believed they had come from this wealthy, but anonymous giver. Legends hold that he would put coins in the shoes of children. One story says he threw three bags of gold coins into a home at night, where three daughters of a pauper were worried they would never marry, with no dowry.

Of course Saint Nicholas becomes Santa Claus (from his Dutch name Sinterklaas, see picture, right). And the tradition of gift-giving continues in the Christian world. Generosity is a hallmark of the Christian faith, traditionally. This appears in the very early accounts.

33With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (Acts 4:35-37)

The telling and retelling of the Infancy Narrative was considered more than a biography of Jesus. It was a divine drama in which Jesus, like many a divine visitor, is shut out. “No room in the inn,” was a dramatic story for the early Christian communities (and for us), juxtaposing the realities of the way things are in the world, with the way God wishes them to be. More than just a morality play about welcoming immigrants and sojourners, more than a spirituality play about finding room in our hearts for Jesus, this story invites us to leave the tight-fisted, zero-sum economy of the world, and enjoy the prodigal, unearthly economy of God, in wealth and in poverty, in inflation and in recession.

These traditional carols and Scriptures convey a soulful spirituality devoid of mean-spirited self-righteousness. They are an invitation into a different way of being in the world.

This Christmas, may this ancient worldview emerge from the ages, from decades of commercialization, and come into clearer focus in your life.

שלומ     سلام    Peace,

Mike Rinehart

Michael Rinehart, bishop
The Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
12707 I-45 North Frwy, Suite 580
Houston, TX 77060-1239               
281-873-5665

CHRISTMAS – Year C

And the Word became flesh…

January 3 – Christmas  2C

Wednesday, January 6 – Epiphany

Time after Epiphany – Year C

January 10, 2010 – Baptism of Christ C

Monday, January 11 – Interfaith Clergy Convocation on Immigration Reform
8:30 AM to 1:30 PM  (8:30-9:00 AM- Registration & Coffee)
St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, 5501 Main Street

January 17, 2010 – Epiphany 2C

January 17, 2010 – Houston Lutheran-Methodist Full Communion Celebration
4:00 p.m. St. Paul’s United Methodist, Houston, 5400 Fannin Street, Houston, TX 77004
Rostered leaders are invited to robe and process. Green stoles. Reception following.

 

January 24, 2010 – Epiphany 3C
January 25-27 – Theological Conference, San Antonio, TX

January 31, 2010 – Epiphany 4C

February 7, 2010 – Epiphany 5C

February 14, 2010 – Transfiguration

OR

February 14, 2010 – Love Sees No Borders
An opportunity to share the Biblical message of welcoming the alien and sojourner

February 17, 2010 – Ash Wednesday

Really Good Stuff
Sticky Church (Leadership Network Innovation Series)  This book connects natural, organic evangelism with spiritual growth, through small groups that deepen relationships and conversation.
Living Together As Lutherans: Unity Within Divesity  This book, written by the three presiding bishops of the ELCA outlines the vision and history of Lutheran unity.
Beyond Cheap Grace: A Call to Radical Discipleship, Incarnation and Justice by Eldin Villafañe. This book bemoans cheap grace and an armchair version of Christianity, showing why faith and social justice cannot be separated.
Luther and the Hungry Poor  – This book highlights many of Luther’s not-so-often-read works on the economy. Torvend discusses the economic implications of the Reformation and the church’s bilking of the poor through indulgences.
The Cost of Discipleship ($5) by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer warns that the Achilles’ heel of the Lutheran movement is “cheap grace.” Grace without cost. Grace without discipleship.
Capon on Cooking Robert Farrar Capon
The Supper of the Lamb by Robert Farrar Capon

Click here to download:

unknownname.out (422 KB)

Click here to download:

0unknownname.out (49 KB)

12-20-09 is Advent 4C

Dear Gulf Coast Leaders,

 

December 20 – Advent 4C
Micah 5:2-5aBut you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.
Luke 1:47-55Magnificat: And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior…”
or Psalm 80:1-7 – Hear O Shepherd of Israel, leading Joseph like a flock: “Restore us!”
 Hebrews 10:5-10when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; 6in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.
Luke 1:39-45, (46-55) – Mary and Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb.

 

 

Theological Conference will be January 25-27. Bishop Golicke from our partner synod: The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Central African Republic, will be with us.

 

Interfaith Forum on Immigration for Rostered Leaders

 

“The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you,
and you shall love them as yourself”, (Leviticus 19:33-34)

 

This January 11 event (8:30-1:30), hosted by religious leaders, is called a clergy convocation, but all rostered leaders are welcome. We will cover your cost if you wish to participate. Held at St. Paul’s Methodist in Houston, the event includes a prayer service, a press conference, a panel discussion and lunch. Registration Form and Invitation are attached. Deadline for sign up is January 5.

 

Houston Lutheran-Methodist Full Communion Celebration
The Houston celebration of the Lutheran-Methodist Full Communion will be Sunday, January 17, 2010, 4 p.m. at St. Paul’s United Methodist, Houston. Bishop Janice Huie and Mike Rinehart presiding. This takes place on the first day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This will be a great time to celebrate our unity in Christ.

 

And in His Name All Oppression Shall Cease

 

Truly he taught us to love one another
His love is love and his gospel is peace
Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother
And in his name all oppression shall cease
From O Holy Night (Free MP3 by Mark Harris)

 

These words convey the implications of the gospel, an artistic proclamation of the vision Paul so clearly articulated in Galatians 3:28:

 

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female;
for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

 

I know of no other writer from antiquity who said declared that slaves should be on the same footing with free people. I know of no other writer from antiquity who suggested that men and women should be on the same level. Reading the writings of antiquity interests me. I don’t think we can appreciate the full impact of the Bible without reading other things written at the time, to see how different the Bible is. How startling. As much heat as Paul takes for his statements on the roles of men in women in the various communities to which he is writing, his vision of the implication of the gospel of Jesus Christ is nothing short of revolutionary. In a world where slavery is taken for granted, he questions the very foundation of Greco-Roman society and has the audacity to suggest that Jesus, the crucified Jew, has changed it forever. It’s truly an incredible statement.

 

So when I hear people say that the church has placed too high a value on social justice, I’m befuddled. Anyone who thinks that Luther would fall in this camp needs to read Luther and the Hungry Poor: Gathered Fragments to appreciate how offended Luther was by the oppression of the poor that indulgences manifested. He did not find it so easy to separate the theology and justice issues. Luther believed in justification by faith, but as my professor at Valpo, Gerhard Krodel used to say, “Luther would have no time for an armchair faith.” In his clipped German accent: “Vun can’t sit in ze chair und believe zings und tink dis is ze Christian faith.” Faith is a catalyst. The gospel is not a doctrine, but a dunamis, an explosive power as Paul says in Romans. Salvation is not pie in the sky when you die.
Salvation is not a verdict of “not guilty” for those who have earned it by believing something about Jesus. Salvation in the deepest sense is holistic, it is the redemption of the whole of life, an already-but-not-yet reversal of the fall and all it’s implications.

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship ($5) warned that the Achilles’ heel of the Lutheran movement was “cheap grace.” Grace sold on the market like cheapjack’s wares.” Grace without cost. Grace without discipleship. Grace without implications for both the individual and for the individual’s relationship to society is a concept I believe to be foreign to Paul. The gospel without social justice simply isn’t the gospel anymore, as we’ll soon enough be reminded as we march through Luke’s gospel this year.

 

Luke-only texts like the Good Samaritan challenge us to rethink who our neighbor is, and force us to the inescapable conclusion that even the Samaritan, the unclean outsider, the foreigner is our neighbor. Luke’s Jesus finds faith in all the wrong places: women, children, soldiers, Romans, Samaritans, and often fails to find in the places that it should be. Zaccheus gives away half of all he owns and repays everyone four times what he has cheated them. Then Jesus says, “Truly salvation has come to this house.” Salvation is active. It bears fruit. The gospel has economic implications.

 

So it should strike us as no surprise that when people ask what these implications are (So, what should we do?) John answers, “Whoever has two coats should share with those who have none and the same with food.” Social justice. We learned it in kindergarten: share. As uncomfortable as it make us feel, Jesus offers a message that has implications for how we manage wealth. He seems to speak about it incessantly. It fascinates me how easy it is for us wealthy Western Christians filter this out, exalting scarcely mentioned items. When the tax collectors ask, “What shall we do?” he says, “Don’t collect more than you’re supposed to collect.” In other words: don’t cheat. And to the soldiers: Don’t extort people. In other words, don’t abuse your power. He reminds them that healthy trees bear fruit, and that God has little tolerance for fruitlessness. Faith impacts the way we live our lives.

 

And this coming Sunday’s song of Mary, the Magnificat, points out how God feels about the proud and powerful as opposed to those of low degree, how God relates to rich and poor. Historically, the church has a spotty track record when it comes to siding with the power establishment over those of low degree. The response of both the Lutheran Church and the Vatican to the Nazis, white power and the holocaust is wanting. The U.S. Civil Rights Movement was led by church leaders, mostly black, but too many white and white-only churches supported the status quo as Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail illustrates. (See also  Blessed Are the Peacemakers: Martin Luther King, Jr., Eight White Religious Leaders, and the Letter from Birmingham Jail by S. Jonathan Bass, $22.) The quoting of Scripture passages to support the subjugation of women and women’s rights, and the quoting of Scripture to support slavery, causes many today to be suspicious of the church as caving into power structures, favoring exclusivity over inclusivity, and opting for the proud, powerful and rich over those of low degree. Those who oppose the current roster changes to be in dialog with those who believe they have less to do with sexuality and more to do with power, and the church’s track record with outcasts. The pattern is simply all too familiar to ignore or dismiss.

 

For my part, it’s hard to comprehend a church with too much focus on social justice. Matthew 25 looms too large. For many this is a foreign concept. Perhaps there’s a legitimate critique of the church by those who believe this is the case. I’m open to hearing it. We need them to write clearly about this. As one who struggles with the church’s impotence in the public square, it’s hard for me to imagine a church having less focus on social justice than we do now. I’m not sure I’d sign up for that. I can’t imagine, based on her song, that Luke’s Mary would.

 

Yours in Christ,

 

Mike Rinehart, bishop

 

Christianity started in Palestine as a fellowship;
it moved to Greece and became a philosophy;
it moved to Italy and became an institution;
it moved to Europe and became a culture;
it came to America and became an enterprise.
Pastor Sam Pascoe

 

CHRISTMAS – Year C

And the Word became flesh…

 

December 24/25 – NATIVITY OF OUR LORD (three choices)

 

Set I
Isaiah 9:2-7 – The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. For unto us a child is born, a son is given.
Psalm 96 – Sing to the Lord a new song, all the earth.
Luke 2:1-14, (15-20)  – In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus… Shepherds watching their flocks by night… And angel of the Lord appeared, then a host: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace…”

 

Set II
 Isaiah 62:6-12 – Say to Zion, “Behold, your salvation comes; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.” 
Psalm 97– The Lord is king! Let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad! 
Titus 3:4-7 – When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of our works, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. 
Luke 2:(1-7), 8-20 – Shepherds watching their flocks by night… And angel of the Lord appeared, then a host: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace…” 

 

Set III 
Isaiah 52:7-10 – How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
Psalm 98 – Sing to the Lord a new song… Let the earth sing, for he is coming to judge the world with justice.
Hebrews 1:1-4, (5-12) – Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son
John 1:1-14– In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 

 

December 27 – Christmas  1C
1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26Elkanah and Hannah give birth to Samuel, who grows is stature and favor of the Lord.
Psalm 148 – Everyone and everything praise the Lord just about everywhere.
Colossians 3:12-17 –  Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, and above all else: love.
Luke 2:41-52 – The boy Jesus in the Temple increases in stature and divine favor.

 

December 27 – St. John Apostle – This rarely falls on a Sunday. A great day to lift up John’s high Christology, and vision of God’s love.
Genesis 1:1-5, 26-31
Psalm 116
1 John 1:1 – 2:2
John 21:20-25 – The last verses of John. Peter’s jealousy of the disciple Jesus loved. This text appears nowhere else in the three-year lectionary but here.

 

January 3 – Christmas  2C

 

Wednesday, January 6 – Epiphany

 

Really Good Stuff
Sticky Church (Leadership Network Innovation Series) – This book connects natural, organic evangelism with spiritual growth, through small groups that deepen relationships and conversation.
Living Together As Lutherans: Unity Within Diversity – This book, written by the three presiding bishops of the ELCA outlines the vision and history of Lutheran unity.
Beyond Cheap Grace: A Call to Radical Discipleship, Incarnation, and Justice – This book bemoans cheap grace and an armchair version of Christianity, showing why faith and social justice cannot be separated.
Luther and the Hungry Poor: Gathered Fragments – This book highlights many of Luther’s not-so-often-read works on the economy. Torvend discusses the economic implications of the Reformation and the church’s bilking of the poor through indulgences.
The Cost of Discipleship ($5) by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer warns that the Achilles’ heel of the Lutheran movement is “cheap grace.” Grace without cost. Grace without discipleship.
Capon on Cooking Robert Farrar Capon
The Supper of the Lamb Robert Farrar Capon

 

Click here to download:

unknownname.out (422 KB)

Staff meeting

Michael Rinehart, bishop
Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
12707 I-45 North Freeway, Suite 580
Houston, Texas 77060
281-873-5665
www.gulfcoastsynod.org
www.Twitter.com/breadtweet

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