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 Conference – January 25-27, 2010
La Vida de Fe, San Antonio. Registration deadline January 5.
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,
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
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 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
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