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Dear Gulf Coast Leaders,

Mike Rinehart

LENT

Need a theme for Wednesday Lenten services? How about prayer? Last week we were impressed that Windsor Village Methodist had classes on prayer. Why not spend a few weeks focused on it. At the bottom of this email is an outline for a suggested Lenten series.

Don’t Worry

February 27, 2011 – Epiphany 8A

Prayer of the Day –

God of tender care, like a mother, like a father, you never forget your children, and you know already what we need.  In all our anxiety give us trusting and faithful hearts, that in confidence we may embody the peace and justice of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Isaiah 49:8-16a – Thus says the Lord: In a time of favor I have answered you, on a day of salvation I have helped you; I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages; saying to the prisoners, “Come out,” to those who are in darkness, “Show yourselves.” They shall feed along the ways, on all the bare heights shall be their pasture; they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them.

 

Psalm 131 – O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time on and forevermore. (This isn’t the shortest psalm, but it’s pretty close. The shortest is 117. Consider reading or singing it in unison.)

 

1 Corinthians 4:1-5 – Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.

 

Matthew 6:24-34 – Continuation of the Sermon on the Mount. You cannot serve both God and money. Don’t worry about your life. Consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. They don’t toil or spin, or plant or sow or gather into barns, and yet God takes care of them…

 

Hymn – Seek Ye First
We’ve been marching through the Sermon on the Mount.

January 30 – Matthew 5:1-12, The Beatitudes

February 6 – Matthew 5:13-20, Salt and Light. Law: Your righteousness must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees

February 13 – Matthew 5:21-37. The 1st 4 Antitheses, “But I say to you…” Anger. Adultery. Divorce. Oaths.

February 20 – Matthew 5:38-48, The 5th and 6th Antitheses. Retaliation. Enemies.

All of the last four Sundays have been in Matthew 5. Now we move to Matthew 6. We skip the first 30 verses, on prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We’ll go back and pick them up on Ash Wednesday.

February 27 – Matthew 6:24-34. You can’t serve God and money. Don’t worry about your life.

Sadly, we will never get to Matthew 7, the climax of the Sermon. Too bad really. So much of 5-6 doesn’t come together fully without 7. Here’s what I mean:

Jesus raises the bar on the law, as Pastor Rieke pointed out last week. You have heard it said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you, “If you look at another with lust you have committed adultery.” And just like that, we are all all adulterers. If you thought you could ride your high moral horse: bad news. You too are an adulterer.

You have heard it said, “You shall not kill.” But I say to you, “If you get angry or insult someone, you have committed murder.” Just like that, we are all murders. Jesus raises the law so high, no one can attain it. We’re all ruined. The standard is impossible. The stage is set for chapter 7:

“So, do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For the judgement you give will be judgement you get, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’, while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.”

We all have our own sin to deal with, so no time really to worry about others’ sin. Worry about your own log before you get all excited about the splinter in your neighbor. Jesus is raising the bar to bring us to this saying: Don’t judge. It’s the climax. Phooey that we never get there, liturgically. Matthew 7:1-20, a pivotal teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, never appears in our three-year lectionary.

Paul does the same one-two punch in Romans 2. Kind of a bait and switch. After an overwhelming vice list (wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice, envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious towards parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless) and an oft-cited diatribe some pagan homosexual practice, the stage is set. Even if you’re not a God-hater, odds are you’ve gossiped. Paul delivers the punch:

“Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgement on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.” (Romans 2:1)

Don’t forget Paul didn’t put the chapter numbers there. Later editors did that. The no-judging punch flows naturally from what Paul has just said in 1, as the scribe frantically scratches ink on parchment, trying to keep up with Paul’s fevered ranting.

But back to Matthew’s scribe, scribbling as the old man recalls things his Teacher said 50 years prior, straining to convey more than Jesus’ words, but their profound impact and life-transforming meaning.

This coming Sunday we’re back in Matthew 6, with some very comforting words: “Don’t worry so much.” Do you need to hear those words? Odds are your flock does.

First, a mystical saying: “You cannot serve both God and money. If you serve money, you will be led to hate God.” The more you love God, the more money becomes a problem. Reminds me of a Kahlil Gibran piece:

“For what are your possessions but things you keep and guard for fear you may need them tomorrow?

“And tomorrow, what shall tomorrow bring to the overprudent dog burying bones in the trackless sand as he follows the pilgrims to the holy city?

“And what is fear of need but need itself?

“Is not dread of thirst when your well is full, the thirst that is unquenchable?”

It never ceases to amaze me how we who have so much live in such fear of not having enough. dread of thirst when the well is full…

How much is enough?

How do we break free from materialism?

Jesus’ warning about the money-god monster is tied to his next invitation: permission to let go of fear and anxiety. Not being preoccupied with money is a key to letting go of anxiety.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” if he would say this to them, 90% of whom lived in a kind of abject poverty most of us can barely imagine, how much more to us in America? In April a small delegation of us will go to the Central African Republic where the average household income is $300/year – less than $1/day, and the average life-expectancy is 45. I am looking forward to the mind-shift I know will happen as we confront the realities of this world. I don’t even want to think about what their reaction would be if I told them that I too worry about not having enough. CAR Lutheran Bishop Golicke has been here. He knows we scrape more calories off our plates into the garbage at then end to each meal than his people eat in a day.

So how does this impact our people? We need to encounter the poor, not just for them, but for us. Materialism kills not just them, but us. It is idolatry. Two masters. Materialism brings stress, fear, anxiety.

Then Jesus gives us a fresh dose of his nature spirituality to drive it home:

“Consider the birds… they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”

“The birds are our teachers!” Luther says. Learn from them to trust God with your life and rediscover joy.

“And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?”

Quite the opposite actually. Worry and stress actually send toxic chemicals ion our system. 99% of all life-threatening maladies are stress-related.

“And why do you worry about clothing?

“Consider the lilies, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.”

Be like the birds and flowers, who proclaim God’s glory without fear or worry. We might do well to spend a little more time with them. Birds and flowers will teach us to BE. Trust. Sing.

Tomorrow have your devotions outdoors in the morning. Listen to the birds. Let them preach to you a sermon of joy.

“But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you-you of little faith?”

God knows what you need. Seek first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

This would be a good week to sing Seek Ye First, a schmaltzy song from camp. I’m always surprised at how many know this, remember it, love it. It touches the soul. These words are profound, even though we barely scratch the surface if understanding them.

What is your focus in life? Making money to get food, clothing and stuff? Or God’s kingdom, God’s righteousness, God’s justice? Are you working for what you want, or for the bugger picture of what God wants for the whole world?

This last is rather the point of not worrying about material things. Concern yourself instead with something spiritual, God’s dream for the world: peace on earth and justice for the orphan widow and alien.

Then finally he adds a joke:

“So, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.”

This is like one of those good news/bad news jokes, eh?
Good news: You only need to worry about today.
Bad news: More crap coming your way tomorrow.

“Let the day’s trouble be enough for the day.”

There’s no Pollyanna here. Life is hard. Take it one bite at a time. True joy will be found in letting go of your own neuroses, letting go of your get-rich-quick schemes, letting go of all your efforts to justify yourself. Instead, trust God and throw in with God’s dreams for the world. Then life becomes really, really interesting.

MID-WEEK LENTEN SERIES ON PRAYER

Pastor Anton (Sunny) Kern of Hosanna, Mandeville

*second effort suggestions

 

Readings are based on Bill Hybel’s book, Too Busy not to Pray.This approach suggests five daily devotions per week, assuming that your devotions for Sunday and Wednesday are worship. Sunny has given me helpful sermon outlines for the Wednesday services you could use as concepts, as well as bulletin announcements and job descriptions for ministry leaders. If you want them, email me at bishop@gulfcoastsynod.org.

 

Midweek 1, Ash Wednesday – “Authentic Prayer”

Readings and Reflections from Too Busy Not to Pray

Day 1 – Chapter 1

Day 2 – Chapter 2

Day 3 – Reflection on 1 & 2

Day 4 – *Chapter 3

Day 5 – *Chapter 4

 

Midweek 2 – “A Pattern for Prayer”

Readings and Reflections from Too Busy Not to Pray

Day 1 – Chapter 5

Day 2 – *Try a Pattern of Prayer

Day 3 – *Try a Pattern of Prayer

Day 4 – *Try a Pattern of Prayer

Day 5 – *Try a Pattern of Prayer

 

Midweek 3 – “Meeting the Mountain Mover”

Readings and Reflections from Too Busy Not to Pray

Day 2 – *Reflection on Chapter 6

Day 3 – Chapter 7

Day 4 – *Reflection on Chapter 7

Day 5 – Be Creative

 

Midweek 4 – “Slowing Down to Pray”

Readings and Reflections from Too Busy Not to Pray

Day 1 – Chapter 8

Day 2 – *Reflection on Chapter 8

Day 3 – Chapter 9

Day 4 – *Reflection on Chapter 9

Day 5 – Be Creative

 

Midweek 5 – “Tuning into God’s Voice”

Readings and Reflections from Too Busy Not to Pray

Day 1 – Chapter 10

Day 2 – *Reflection on Chapter 10

Day 3 – Chapter 11

Day 4 – *Reflection on Chapter 11

Day 5 – Be Creative

 

Midweek 6 – “Living in God’s Presence”

Readings and Reflections from Too Busy Not to Pray

Day 1 – *Chapter 12

Day 2 – Chapter 13

Day 3 – *Reflection on Chapters 12 & 13

Day 4 – *Chapter 14

Day 5 – *Chapter 15

 

Holy Week

Maundy Thursday – 7:30 pm

“Remembering Jesus’ One Another Commands”

Good Friday – 7:30 pm

“Remembering How He Died for You”

 

Possible Sunday Morning Themes

 

Lent 1 – “Prayer, Fasting, and Temptation”

Prayer and Fasting as tools of increasing spiritual awareness doesn’t free us from temptation but equips us to battle it.

 

Lent 2 – “Unsuccessful Prayers”

Surely Jesus prayed for Jerusalem but he weeps because he can’t give them the peace he came to bring.

 

Lent 3 – “Prayer and Change”

One more chance to change and bear fruit is the message of the parable.  Prayer can change you.

 

Lent 4 – “Coming Home Through Prayer”

Prayer as a tool to return to God

 

Lent 5 – “Prayer Giving, and Participating in God’s Plan”

Mary makes a gift that only makes sense in the context of God’s plan to save the world through Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.

 

Be at peace with God and with one another,
Michael Rinehart, Bishop