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



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


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