Bishop Michael Rinehart

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June 11, 2017 is Holy Trinity

Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a – In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

Psalm 8 – When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?

2 Corinthians 13:11-13 – The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

Matthew 28:16-20 – “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”

There are too many Trinitarian hymns to mention all, but below are a few. The section on Trinity can be found in ELW 408-415.       

  • Eternal Father, Strong to Save – ELW 756
  • Holy, Holy, Holy – ELW 413
  • Come Join The Dance of TrinityELW 412
  • Holy God, We Praise Your Name – ELW 414
  • God, Whose Almighty Word – ELW 673
  • We Believe by The Newsboys is popular in many of our congregations. The refrain is low and singable. The theology is straightforward.
  • David Scherer (Agape) has a creed, as do Lost and Found, Jay
  • Beech, The David Crowder Band (Believe) and Hillsong (This I Believe).

Here is a YouTube video that might make for a meaningful prelude/gathering or contemplative piece during the service. It is a Ken Burns effect on Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Trinity set to the opening of Tchaikovsky’s Liturgy of St John Chrystostom. The Russian Orthodox chant captures a sense of mystery.

Many thanks to Pastor Don Carlson Who helped prepare the posts for this summer. 

Holy Trinity

When the Father laughs at the Son
and the Son laughs back at the Father,
that laughter gives pleasure,
that pleasures gives joy,
that joy gives love,
and the love is the Holy Spirit.
Meister Eckhart, German mystic (1260-1328)

Come, join the dance of Trinity, before all worlds begun- 
the interweaving of the three, the Father, Spirit, Son. 
The universe of space and time did not arise by chance, 
but as the Three, in love and hope, made room within their dance.
— Come Join The Dance of TrinityELW 412

Trinity Sunday is the only festival of the church year dedicated to a doctrine. A full discussion of its roots can be found on Wikipedia under Trinity. There is a lot of interesting information there, but as Pastor Don Carlson in our synod says, “It’s pretty hard to preach. Preaching doctrines can be a pretty dry business.”

One of the ways I have found to touch down in people’s lives is to talk about experiences of God. We experience God as creator (through creation and being in our own skin). We experience God in the life, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. We experience God in the Holy Spirit, the spirit of Jesus that blows through our lives and our communities.

Pastor Carlson suggests rehearsing Luther’s Small Catechism on the Apostle’s Creed. The Small Catechism is helpful included in the pew edition of Evangelical Lutheran Worship, page 1160. The portion on the Creed begins on page 1162. Luther focuses on believing not as intellectual assent to events or doctrines, but rather in trusting in God. In other words, faith is not intellectual assent to the doctrine of the Trinity, but trusting that God who is revealed in three persons.

I would not drag out the Athanasian Creed on this day. It has, in my opinion, little liturgical value. The product of 4th century polemics, it is a valuable historical document that has importance in study, but requires too much interpretation of the 4th century cosmology to be helpful, especially to newcomers. Pastor Carlson says, “It nails the coffin lid on Arianism and Adoptionism, but also nails the lid on interest about halfway through; and the anathemas smack of Christendom.”

Holy Trinity Sunday: whether to preach on the theme or on the texts? The day’s texts are assigned because of Trinitarian references or allusions. Matthew 28 was not chosen because of its well known Great Commission. It was chosen because of the Trinitarian formula.

The Trinitarian formulas of our creeds are an effort to maintain the mystery of the Trinity and not solve the puzzle of the Trinity. So, preaching on the mystery without venturing into our penchant to puzzle-solve can be a very slippery slope.

But there are real life political issues also at stake in the creeds; and so, first, a brief wade into the waters of Nicaea and the Council of 325. Marcus Borg writes:

To resolve the conflict, [Constantine] called the bishops of the church together at his palace on the shore of Lake Nicaea in Asia Minor, not far from today’s Istanbul. Constantine’s agenda was to reach agreement about the nature of Jesus, so that conflicts within Christianity would not lead to conflicts within his empire. He seems not to have cared what the bishops concluded-only that they came to an agreement. Both sides agreed that Jesus was divine. But was [Jesus] one with God- “of one substance” with God, “of one Being” with God?  Or was he a little bit less than God; divine, yes, but created by God and thus not equal with God? The first position was represented by Athanasius (293- 373), the second by Arius (ca. 250- 336). Athanasius won. 

[However, another] issue was at stake that Constantine seemed initially not to understand. Like Roman emperors before him, Constantine was hailed as divine, Son of God, and Lord. But he was not, to use the language of the creed, “begotten and not made.” He was not “of one substance,” “one Being” with God. Athanasius’ interpretation put Jesus above the emperor. Within a few years of Nicaea, Constantine realized this and became “Arian,” that is, an advocate of the lesser status of Jesus advocated by Arius. So did his imperial successors for much of the fourth century. 

Thus a major issue at stake in the Nicene Creed is: Is Jesus above all of the lords of this world or is he one among a number of lords? The issue continues to come up for Christians today. Is Jesus above the lords of culture or is he one allegiance among a number of allegiances? Are we to give our allegiance to Jesus in the religious realm and our allegiance to others in the other realms of life? Are our religious and political loyalties separate? Or is Jesus lord of all lords? The answer of the Nicene Creed (and the New Testament before it) is clear. Jesus as Lord and Son of God transcends all other lords. Given this, standing and saying the Nicene Creed is a subversive act. Its affirmations negate the claims of other lords upon us. God as known in Jesus is Lord, the one and only Lord. The lords of culture- and they are many- are not.


The Greek word for “person” – πρόσωπον – often gets misunderstood as “the separate individual” in modern usage.  πρόσωπον was much more nuanced than that.

The “prosopon” was the mask that an actor wore. That gives a little different twist to “God in three persons (masks?) blessed Trinity.” Halloween is the night when we all get to put masks on our masks, because prosopon can also mean “face” (In truth, the public face we put forward is often already a mask). Prosopon is the exact word that Paul uses for face in 1 Corinthians 13:12.

βλέπομεν γὰρ ἄρτι δι’ ἐσόπτρου ἐν αἰνίγματι, τότε δὲ πρόσωπον πρὸς πρόσωπον.” – “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.”  Then we will see prosopon to prosopon; but for now we see αἰνίγματι – from which we get our word “enigma” – and we are back to the mystery again. Who really is behind mask #1, #2, or #3? Who really is behind our own mask? What is your face on the world?

While the word Trinity is never mentioned in the Bible, it is implicitly there and became the way the church understood divinity, as revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. There may be no mention of the Trinity in the Bible per se, but the theology of it is everywhere. Once Christians began to contemplate the God who creates, redeems, and makes us holy, one God in three persons, they began to notice it in other places. They wondered about the three divine messengers Abraham encountered at the Oaks of Mamre. The personification of Holy Wisdom in the Scriptures came to be understood as the Holy Spirit. The Trinity was not a new idea; it had been there all along, like the Theory of Relativity. They noticed that you have God, Word, and Spirit in the first Genesis creation account. Jesus became identified with the Word in John’s gospel.

Understanding Jesus as The Word, took on significant importance as the Word, the Divine Logos, had special significance in Greco-Roman culture. Heraclitus had used The Word as a philosophical term to describe knowledge and the underlying order of the universe 500 years before Christ. In Greco Roman culture, The Word is a reference to the rules that govern the known universe; The Word is the DNA of the cosmos.

The Stoic philosophers identified the Word/Logos as the divine animating principle pervading all things. In Roman theology, the Logos was the first emanation of the Pleroma (the fullness of all divine powers). For Greek Christians, identifying Jesus with the Divine Logos meant something in pagan society. It communicated, and that communication had cosmic implications. For Jewish Christians, identifying Jesus with the Word that God spoke at creation, the creative force of the universe, also had cosmic implications. Even the Jewish philosopher Philo (20-50 A.D.) had incorporated the concept of the Logos into his philosophy.


The first lesson is the later creation account from the Priestly tradition. This needs to be preached in such a way that it avoids any “7 day creation” literalism. If people want that, they can head for north Texas and visit the Creation Evidence Museum or the Museum of Earth History.

If you preach on this text, consider focusing the God, who creates through the Word, a world where the Spirit blows. Preach on the breath/wind/spirit of God bringing order out of chaos.  Take the ELCA “God’s work. Our hands.” and explore the ways in which we are to be about the business of ending the chaos of life.

A great verse from the Trinitarian hymn “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” – ELW 756:

Most Holy Spirit! Who didst brood
Upon the chaos dark and rude,
And bid its angry tumult cease,
And give, for wild confusion, peace;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!


Lots of themes here. This is the “Great Commission” text and Matthew’s ascension story, selected, of course, because of the Trinitarian formula that is spoken by the ascending Jesus.  How does one make disciples of all nations? (ἔθνη) Two actions: baptize (βαπτίζοντες) and teach (διδάσκοντες – from which we get didactic and Didache).

I’ll leave to you the discussion/debate as to whether in practice it should be baptize > teach or teach > baptize; but I think that – especially in Matthew where Jesus is painted as the New Moses – the teaching issue is critical. How is the faith best taught? What does “teaching the faith” look like in a postmodern world? What in fact is being taught? (One ought review Kenda Creasy Dean’s book, Almost Christian, with regard to these questions).

And lastly, are we really willing to involve “all nations” (ἔθνη)? Are we interested in teaching – and learning from – people different from ourselves? I think that those are important  questions being asked by Christian teenagers at a time when the people in their “teaching places” – the church and the school – are looking increasingly dissimilar.

What to Preach?

A few years ago (2007) Canadian author William P. Young self-published a book of fiction called The Shack, which went on to become a New York Times best-seller. It is now been made into a movie, which I have not yet seen. After a tragedy with his daughter, Mack Phillips enters the shack and encounters manifestations of the three persons of the Trinity. God takes the form of an African American woman who calls herself Elousia and Papa. Jesus Christ is a Middle-Eastern carpenter. Finally the Holy Spirit physically manifests itself as an Asian woman named Sarayu. The book provides a stimulating opportunity to consider how God is manifested, particularly through suffering.

If you want to imagine the way to preach this doctrine in a compelling way, take a look at how Rob Bell starts his 2-hour walk through Scripture, talking about the Trinity.

However you come at this, remember the words of my homiletics professor Paul Harms, “So what?” What is the Good News about the way God comes to us, even those of us sitting here today?

Trinity Sunday A

Listen to the podcast by Bishop Michael Rinehart

A video of Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton’s sermon is available to watch or download at and

Holy Trinity A – June 7, 2020

Prayer of the Day
O God, on this day you open the hearts of your faithful people by sending into us your Holy Spirit. Direct us by the light of that Spirit, that we may have a right judgment in all things and rejoice at all times in your peace, through Jesus Christ, your Son and our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a – In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

Psalm 8 – When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?

2 Corinthians 13:11-13 – The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

Matthew 28:16-20 – “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all I have commanded you, for lo, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

When the Father laughs at the Son
and the Son laughs back at the Father,
that laughter gives pleasure,
that pleasures gives joy,
that joy gives love,
and the love is the Holy Spirit.

Meister Eckhart, German mystic (1260-1328)

Trinity Sunday

Greetings to you on Holy Trinity A, the only Sunday in the liturgical calendar dedicated to a doctrine of the church. The texts for this Sunday begin Genesis 1 where God the creator, speaks the Word which creates while the Spirit hovers over the face of the deep. The gospel is Jesus’ Great Commission to go and make disciples, baptizing with the Trinitarian formula: in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…

This Sunday we have a special treat. Presiding Bishop Eaton has recorded a sermon, and provided other liturgical portions for us. On the one hand, this will give many preachers and worship leaders a much-needed break in this time of preparing worship for online live-streaming.

On the other hand, it provides us with a unique opportunity. It is quite possible that the Presiding Bishop will do something that has never been done before: preach in most ELCA congregations in a single Sunday. With over 9,000 congregations, no Presiding Bishop has even been able to preach in even 500 congregations over two six-years terms, much less several thousands. But this coming Sunday, it is quite possible that a majority of congregations will have the Presiding Bishop as guest preacher. This is a tremendous opportunity for unity and alignment. I hope you will take advantage this opportunity.

The video will be available to view and download at and Bishop Eaton’s liturgical resources can be found HERE.

For those who only use the sermon, and will still be selecting hymns, there many Trinitarian hymns from which to choose. Here are a few. The section on Trinity can be found in ELW 408-415.

  • Eternal Father, Strong to Save – ELW 756
  • Holy, Holy, Holy – ELW 413
  • Come Join The Dance of TrinityELW 412
  • Holy God, We Praise Your Name – ELW 414
  • God, Whose Almighty Word – ELW 673
  • We Believe, by The Newsboys is popular in many of our congregations. The refrain is low and singable. The theology is straightforward.
  • David Scherer (Agape) has a creed, as do Lost and Found, Jay
  • Beech, The David Crowder Band (Believe) and Hillsong (This I Believe).

Here is a video on You Tube that might make for a meaningful prelude/gathering or contemplative piece during the service. It is a Ken Burns effect on Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Trinity set to the opening of Tchaikovsky’s Liturgy of St John Chrystostom. The Russian Orthodox chant captures a sense of mystery.

Come, join the dance of Trinity, before all worlds begun- 
the interweaving of the three, the Father, Spirit, Son. 
The universe of space and time did not arise by chance, 
but as the Three, in love and hope, made room within their dance.

Come Join The Dance of TrinityELW 412

For some more thoughts on Trinity A, see this post from Holy Trinity A 2017:

The Trinity (or the Hospitality of Abraham), Andrei Rublev, 15th Century [wikipedia: Trinity (Andrei Rublev)]

 Hebrew Lessons-at-a-Glance

A sprint through the second half of Genesis.

  • June 14 – Genesis 18:1-15
  • June 21 – Genesis 21:8-21
  • June 28 – Genesis 22:1-14 Abraham tested by God.
  • July 5 – Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67 Isaac and Rebekah. “So he put a ring in her nose, and bracelets on her arm… Then Isaac took her into his mother’s tent… and she became his wife… And he loved her.”
  • July 12 – Genesis 25:19-34 Jacob swindles Esau’s birthright, with red stew.
  • July 19 – Genesis 28:10-19a Jacob’s dream of a ladder to heaven, at Bethel
  • July 26 – Genesis 29:15-28 Jacob, Laban, Leah and Rachel.
  • August 2 – Genesis 32:22-31 Jacob wrestles with God/the angel
  • August 9 – Genesis 37 Joseph’s dreams and his brothers’ plot. “Here comes this dreamer. Let us kill him and throw him into a pit… and see what will become of his dreams.”
  • August 16 – Genesis 45:1-15 Joseph reveals himself to his brothers.

Summer-Epistles-at-a-Glance, Romans 6-14

14 Sundays, June 14 to September 13, 2020

  • June 14 – Rom. 5:1-8 Justified. Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God.
  • June 21 – Rom. 6:1b-11 Baptized. Baptized into Christ’s death, we rise with him.
  • June 28 – Rom. 6:12-23 Freedom. Shall we sin now that we are not under the law?
  • July 5 – Rom. 7:15-25a Sin. Paul’s dilemma: The good I want to do, I don’t do.
  • July 12 – Rom. 8:1-11 Spirit. To set the mind on the Spirit is life.
  • July 19 – Rom. 8:12-25 Glory. cannot be compared to suffering now.
  • July 26 – Rom. 8:26-39 Confidence: Nothing can separate us from God’s love.
  • August 2 – Rom. 9:1-5 The Jews: Paul grieves his people have rejected Christ. But theirs are adoption, glory, covenants, law, worship, promises, patriarchs and Messiah.
  • August 9 – Rom. 10:5-15 The Jews: Justified by Faith just like the Greeks. But who can believe without hearing? So blessed is the proclaimer.
  • August 16 – Rom. 11:1-2a, 29-32 The Jews: God has not rejected his people. God has imprisoned all in disobedience, in order that all might have mercy.
  • August 23 – Rom. 12:1-8 Gifts: One body; many members. Conform not. Be transformed.
  • August 30 – Rom.12:9-21 Life in the Body. Love one another. Live in harmony. Never seek vengeance.
  • Sept 6 – Rom. 13:8-14 Love in the Body. The whole law is summed up in a single word: Love one another.
  • Sept 13 – Rom. 14:1-12 Conflict in the Body. Don’t quarrel. Welcome one another. Don’t pass judgment on one another. Tolerate differences in piety.

2020 Summer-Gospels-at-a-Glance, Matthew 10-18

13 Sundays, June 14 to September 6, 2020

  • June 14 – Matthew 9:35-10:8. Mission. Jesus sends the 12. Harvest plentiful. Laborers few.
  • June 21 – Matthew 10:24-39. Commitment. Not peace. Sword. Find life by losing it.
  • June 30 – Mt. 10:40-42 Hospitality. Whoever gives a cup of water in my name…
  • July 5 – Mt. 11:16-19, 25-30 Repentance and Comfort. Come to me all weary…
  • July 12 – Mt. 13:1-9, 18-23 Parable of the Sower. Birds, rocks, thorns, good soil.
  • July 19 – Mt. 13:24-30, 36-43 Parable of Wheat and Tares. Let them grow together.
  • July 26 – Mt. 13:31-33, 44-52 Parables: Mustard Seed, Yeast, Treasure, Pearls, Net.
  • August 2 – Mt. 14:13-21 Jesus Feeds the 5,000. Send the crowds away…
  • August 9 – Mt. 14:22-33 Jesus Walks on the Sea. Command me to come to you…
  • August 16 – Mt. 15:[10-20] 21-28 (Blind Guides.) Jesus heals the Canaanite Woman.
  • August 23 – Mt. 16:13-20 Peter Confesses Jesus. On this rock I will build my church.
  • August 30 – Mt. 16:21-28 Jesus rebukes Peter. If you follow me, take up your cross.
  • Sept 6 – Mt. 18:15-20 Jesus teaches on Conflict. If a member sins against you…

December 3, 2017 is Advent 1B

Isaiah 64:1-9 – O that you would tear open the heavens and come down…

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 – Stir up your power O Lord and come to save us.

1 Corinthians 1:3-9 – God will strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Mark 13:24-37 – But about that day… no one knows, neither the angels… nor the Son…

First, An Overview of The Gospel of Mark

This Sunday is Advent I, the first Sunday of the new church year. We say goodbye to a year of Matthew and move into a year of Mark, with a smattering of John. Click HERE for an Introduction to Mark’s Gospel.

Here’s bird’s eye view of the gospels for Year B in RCL:

Year B-at-a-Glance 

A very rough outline of the lectionary year

January 6-February 13, 2018 – Mark 1 And John 1
January 15, 2018 is MLK Day

January 23, 2018 we welcome Mark Allen Powell to address Lenten preaching

January 18-25 is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
February 11, 2018 – Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-9)

February 14, 2018 – Ash Wednesday (Joel 2, Isaiah 58, Matthew 6)
February 18-March 18, 2018 – Five Sundays in Lent:

Baptism and Temptation of Jesus (Mark 1:9-15)
Peter’s Confession (Mark 8:31-38)
Cleansing of the Temple (John 2:13-22)
Just as Moses lifted up the serpent, so the Son of Man (John 3:14-31)
Greeks: We want to see Jesus (John 12:20-33)

Three Days
March 25, 2018– Palm Passion Sunday (Mark 14 or 15)
March 29, 2018 – Maundy Thursday (John 13:1-17, 31b-35)
March 30, 2018 – Good Friday (John 18:1-19:42)
March 31, 2018 – Easter Vigil

Easter through Pentecost
April 1, 2018 – Easter Sunday (Mark 16:1-8)
April 8-May 6, 2018 – Easter Season texts from John and Luke
May 20, 2018 – Pentecost (John 15: Advocate will bear witness to the truth)

Time After Pentecost
May 27, 2018 – Trinity Sunday (John 3: Nicodemus)
June 3-July 15, 2018 – Mark 4-6 (4: Parables. 5-6 More Healings)
July 22-August 19, 2018 – John 6 “Bread” texts for five weeks
August 26-October 21 – Mark 7-10 (End of Galilee ministry and Journey to Jerusalem)
October 28 – Reformation Sunday (John 8)
November 4 – All Saints
November 11 and 18 – Mark 12 (widow’s coins) and 13 (the end is coming)
November 25 – Christ the King (John 18: My kingdom is not of this world.)

A Short Outline of Mark’s Gospel

  • Introduction (1:1-13)
  • Jesus’ Ministry in Galilee (1:16-8:26)
  • Journey to Jerusalem (8:27-10:52)
  • Jesus in Jerusalem (11:1-13:37)
  • Passion and Resurrection (14-16:18)

The date of A.D. 70 is preferred because Mark mentions events of the siege of Jerusalem (A.D. 66-70), most notably in Mark’s “Little Apocalypse” in chapter 13, from which is this Sunday’s text.

Here is what to expect in this Advent season of expectation:

Advent B Summary

  • Advent 1B Mark 13:24-37: About that day or hour no one knows
  • Advent 2B Mark 1:1-8 The voice: Prepare the way of the lord
  • Advent 3B John 1:6-8, 19-28 John: The voice in the wilderness
  • Advent 4B Luke 1:26-38 The Annunciation

Mark’s Little Apocalypse

Chapter 13 is the Gospel of Mark‘s little apocalypse. Verses 1-8 will not be read for another year, on November 18, 2018. Verses 9–23 do not get read in the Lutheran lectionary. These verses are important to understand today’s text, which picks up in the middle of this discourse.

model-of-templeJesus and his disciples walk out of the temple. They are marveling at the magnificence of this building. Indeed, the temple probably took up 1/6 of the city of Jerusalem. Ben Witherington III says it would’ve looked like a mountain of white marble decorated with gold from the Mount of Olives. And yet Jesus predicts that one stone will not be left on another. Some of these huge stones are 25 x 50‘. Jesus is not the first prophet to predict the temple‘s destruction (Jer. 7:14; 26:6; Mic. 3:12).

Then Jesus says that his followers will suffer intense persecution. Next he says there will be suffering such as the world has never seen. This takes us to our text for today, Mark 13:24 to the end of the chapter:

24 “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened,
    and the moon will not give its light,
25 and the stars will be falling from heaven,
    and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

The sun and the moon will be darkened, and the stars will fall from the sky (almost a direct quote from Isaiah 13:10). The Son of Man will come on the cloud. This would be a good Sunday to sing “Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending.” Read the signs of the times. When the fig tree puts forth new branches, you know that summer is near. But as to the exact day, no one knows, not even the Son of Man. So don’t focus on predicting the day or the time, focus on remaining vigilant and being prepared. Apparently they had their false prophets of doom then as we do today.

Mark 13 looks to the end of the world and the messianic return, which Mark says will happen a short time after this destruction (the temple). Josephus says the temple was on fire during the final assault. The messiah will come “on the clouds” in this interval between the destruction of the temple and the end of the world. Mark’s community is living in this short interval time. How long will this short interval be? When will the end come? Soon, is Mark’s response. Just like you know summer is just about here when the fig tree bears leaves, so you can know that since Jerusalem has been destroyed, it’s time for the second coming.

“This generation will not pass away before these things come to pass,” Jesus says. If we are talking about the destruction of the temple, Jesus is spot on. Generations are forty years in he Bible. Jesus would be speaking in 30 AD and the temple was destroyed in 70 AD. But if we are speaking about stars literally falling and the end of the world, then the interval turns out to be not as short as Mark thought. Nevertheless, Mark gave himself a loophole: No one really knows the time: not the angels, and not even the Son. From this, by the way, I read a lower Christology in Mark. Even Jesus doesn’t know. Support seems to be, if Jesus doesn’t now, what are the odds that you have it figured out?

The “little apocalypse” probably is a key to understanding Mark (and Peter’s? and Jesus’?) theology. He reflects the early church’s consensus that the end was coming within their lifetime. Mark thought so. So did Paul, by the way. Recall that Paul said, when Christ returns, the dead in Christ would rise first, and then “we who are still alive” would be second, meeting them in the air. Paul fully expects to be alive when Christ returns, at least early in his ministry.

Advent, at its heart, developed as a season to keep alive this messianic expectation. Stories abound about absentee landlords, who go away and are likely to return any moment. It was in time for the church to reminded itself to remain vigilant.

The parable is similar to the Parable of the Virgins that we had recently in Matthew 25. A landowner goes away, but will return soon. How will that landlord respond upon finding them goofing off, misbehaving, burying talents, and generally not being “alert.” Advent was not originally the time of preparation for celebrating Christ’s birthday. In fact, the startling thing in reading the Church Fathers’ Advent sermons is that there is little to no mention of Christmas in them. These early Advent sermons are about being ready for the second coming.

Whether preparing for Christmas or preparing for the second coming, the theme of “preparation” is clear. The preacher might reflect on how we prepare to meet Christ, whether at the end of the world or the end of your life. Let’s all draft our obituaries. Ponder what you might like the speaker to say at your funeral. How you live now, the choices you are making right this minute, will shape that eulogy. My son and I once watched a show in which Stephen Hawking assured us that the sun wasn’t scheduled to do the things Mark describes for a few more million years.  Not long after that program, I attended a funeral of someone who died too young. I was reminded that, regardless of the timing of the end of the world, we are, everyone one of us, only a short time from meeting our Maker. Maybe today. You don’t know what hour, like a thief in the night. Are you ready?

The 500th Anniversary of the Reformation – October 29, 2017

Jeremiah 31:31-34The days are coming when I will make a new covenant with Israel and Judah: law on their hearts.
Psalm 46 – The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold. (Ps. 46:4)
Romans 3:19-28No one will be justified by the law. Now, apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been revealed.
John 8:31-36
– You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.

The 500th Anniversary of the Reformation

dsc_2447-editAs it says in From Conflict to Communion, “Every commemoration has its context.” This commemoration of the Reformation is being held in an age of Ecumenism and in an age of Globalization. Consequently, Lutherans and Catholics, after fifty years of bilateral dialogs, committed to commemorating this 500th  anniversary together, with an eye toward the proclamation of the gospel.

Previous commemorations were characterized by Lutherans and Roman Catholics going to their separate corners, with festive attempts to justify their distinctive existence. Lutherans used the commemoration of the Reformation to criticize the Roman Catholic church. Catholics used it to criticize Luther and his movement for dividing the church. In 1917, at the 400th, Luther was portrayed as a German national hero.

Previous centennial commemorations of the Reformation took place in culturally homogenous lands, or at least in lands where there were a majority of Christians. Today’s pluralism presents a new challenge and a new opportunity for the church. If the goal is not to win the fight, or to promote our tribe, what is it? What if our ultimate goal is the proclamation of the gospel? What then? How do we recognize the truth of what happened in a way that proclaims Christ to the world?

What happened cannot be changed, but how we tell the story really matters. If my wife and I each recount an argument we had, you will hear two very different stories, even though we are describing the same events. We may even both be telling the truth. How you tell the story is shaped by what facts you choose to tell, and which facts you leave out. History notoriously left out the fact that Columbus pimped out young native girls to Spanish soldiers. It was an inconvenient truth. Lutherans might be prone to gloss over Luther’s anti-Semitism.

In chapter 3 of From Conflict to Communion, Lutheran and Catholic theologians together attempt to tell the story of the Reformation in a way that is true and honest, and in such a way that both Lutherans and Catholics can nod, and say, “Yeah, that’s what happened.” It is a sort of “no spin zone.” If you are going to preach the story of the Reformation, I would encourage you to read this carefully. Do not fall back on old vitriolic tropes. There has been an explosion of research on late Medieval society and context that merits a hard look before we channel Roland Bainton, or retell the story as our childhood pastors did.

Lutherans would do well to take a hard look at how very Roman Catholic Luther was, as regarded to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the saints, the Eucharist and so on. Another good read is Martin Luther: An Ecumenical Perspective, by Roman Catholic Cardinal Walter Kasper. This short book can be read in a couple of hours. It helps readers understand how the Roman Catholic view on Luther has evolved, and how A Mighty Fortress can be in the Catholic Hymnal.

There is nothing like a lot of good reading to dispel our simplistic ideas about Lutherans and Catholics today. This is not the 16th century. Bishops are no longer princes. The Eucharist is served in both kinds. Sermons and liturgy are done in the vernacular. The church has not burned anyone at the stake for some time. Lutheran and Catholic churches of today are not the church bodies of the Late Medieval Period.

Instead what we need to proclaim is the way of Jesus as the only hope for a world that seems bent on violence and self-destruction. The world needs the gospel today every bit as much as it did two thousand years ago. With politicians playing brinksmanship, with the largest global refugee crisis in world history, with our precious earth gasping for air, the cosmos is groaning for salvation. It is either the way of Jesus or it is lights out for the world. We can no longer afford to wage internecine ecclesiastical warfare. We must unite in faith, hope and love.

The mark of the true church will not be having the right dogma. Jesus said, “By this shall all people know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” I am a firm believer in justification by grace through faith. One of the first verses I was made to memorize as a child was Ephesians 2:8-9:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.

I just wish they had also had me memorize the very next verse with it, Ephesians 2:10:

10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

Of course we are saved by faith. And works are the natural byproduct of faith. We were created for good works. In other words, we are not saved by good works. We are saved for good works.

Luther understood this:

Thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire.  (LW 35:371)

The whole salvation by faith or by works thing is a straw dog. Asked and answered. To present this as the pressing issue between Lutherans and Catholics today misses the mark. This is also made clear by Lutherans and Roman Catholics together in the 1999 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification:

By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping us and calling us to good works.

Our differences today are more around orders of ministry. Marriage of priests. Ordination of women. The authority of church hierarchy. This is not a time to harp on this. The world yawns. We have much more important work to do.

So I leave you with the challenge to use Reformation to proclaim the love of God revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Tell the story of his love for the world, his healing ministry and battle with the demonic forces of death and hell. And I will also leave you with two other areas for consideration: The Reformation and Justice, and a Trinitarian reflection on a hymn by Luther.

The Reformation and Justice

What does the Reformation have to do with justice? Everything. The Reformation began with an act of justice.

On October 31, 1517 an Augustinian brother, parish priest, professor of Scripture and chair of the department of theology at the University of Wittenberg, posted 95 theses for debate. These theses focused on the issue of Indulgences. By making a donation to the church, one could receive one of these indulgences, a piece of paper signed by the pope granting pardon from the earthly penalties for one’s sins.

50-60% of the population of Saxony was living in destitute poverty. Luther was concerned when he saw peasants who were barely able to feed their families, spending money on indulgences, because they believed they were rescuing their dead relatives from purgatory.

Listen to just a few of Luther’s 95 Theses:

27. They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory.

28. It is certain that when money clinks in the money chest, greed and avarice can be increased; but when the church intercedes, the result is in the hands of God alone.

39. Christians are to be taught that whoever gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better deed than one who buys indulgences. 

44. Christians are to be taught that whoever sees a needy man and passes him by, yet gives his money for indulgences, does not buy papal indulgences but God’s wrath. 

45. Christians are to be taught that, unless they have more than they need, they must reserve enough for their family needs and by no means squander it on indulgences.

If one can, with earthly wealth, purchase spiritual benefits, then where does this leave the poor? Samuel Torvend, a member of the Department of Religion at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, and a former Luther Leaguer in our former bishop, Paul Blom’s first parish, wrote a phenomenal book called Luther and the Hungry Poor. Torvend digs deep to help us understand the socio-economic realities of late Medieval Europe. Luther’s objection to the sale of indulgences, which spurred the 95 Theses and eventually the Reformation, was not just theological. Who but the wealthy could afford to purchase the paper indulgences that the Church said were necessary for eternal life, when 50-60% of the people were living on the edge of subsistence? Where did this leave the huge population of working poor, landless, destitute, and homeless who could never afford to endow churches, commission religious artwork, or even purchase an indulgence?  That one’s place in heaven was determined by one’s wealth on earth was more than Luther could bear. It was unfair. Unjust.. “Now,” he wrote, “the church fishes for the wealth of men.”  Widows, orphans and the hungry poor could not participate in the spiritual economy of the late Medieval Christianity.

The poor would spend money they didn’t have, buying themselves and their dead relatives out of purgatory. Furthermore, Luther was concerned that this spiritual economy actually perpetuated poverty, Torvend argues, by taking resources that could otherwise alleviate hunger and homelessness and funnelling it to finance the Church, which already had more wealth than ancient Rome. Some say the church owned 2/3 of the land in Europe.

The Church lifted up poverty as a virtue; Luther saw poverty as a something to be eliminated, not emulated. We must be concerned, even today, any time the church uses superstition to gain wealth. Luther felt poor Christians should not be using their meager financial resources to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The wealthy should redirect their resources to alleviate poverty as opposed to building mansions in heaven. Christians should be taught that it is better to give to the poor than to buy an indulgence. Those who ignore the poor, he says, and spend their money on church parchment, purchase nothing but the wrath of God.

Perhaps Luther, responding to his intense biblical studies, his conscience and his Anfechtung could not have foreseen that challenging the spiritual economy was also challenging market economy of his day and all who benefitted from it. Within a very short time, his ideas would be condemned by those in power. You don’t sock people in the wallet and get away with it.

Luther called for the sale of monastic, mendicant and ecclesial properties, so that the money could be kept in a common chest to be used for the poor. The chest was to be administered by a board of directors that consisted of two people from the parish congregation, two from city council, three town citizens and three peasant farmers. These orders were put in place in Wittenberg and Leisnig within six years of the 95 Theses.

Luther’s theology of the cross meant that God is revealed in the suffering Christ on the cross. God is present where least expected, in humility, shame, weakness, suffering and death.  In Luther’s commentary on Matthew 25, Luther says Christ invites his followers to encounter him in the hungry, the stranger, the homeless. A church that wants to encounter God must be willing to encounter the suffering in their community.

Luther understood sin as people and communities encurvatus in se (turned in upon themselves). Self-centeredness was inbred, so we should not be surprised that greed usually wins the day, even in the church, since we’re all simul Justus et peccator.

 Grace, however, at work in the life of the Christian has the power to turn people and communities outward (curvatus ad extram). Communities not outwardly focused are simply not Christian. Luther critiqued the fraternities of his day as being self-serving. I wonder how our congregations would fare under his scrutiny.

The Sacraments for Luther had socio-economic implications. Sharing one bread and one cup in the Eucharist meant being one body: becoming part of a community that has all things in common so that no one has need.  He grieved that many gladly share in the benefits of the sacraments, but were not willing to share in the costs, like serving the poor, working for justice, especially at personal risk. “They are self-seeking persons, whom this sacrament does not benefit.” Luther linked sacramental practice and social welfare. “Learn that this is a sacrament of love.”

While Luther’s early theological writings have had much play (The Freedom of the Christian, Letter to the Christian Nobility, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church) during this same period Luther also published works on trade, international commerce, banking practices, state regulation of business and so on. Luther critiqued predatory lending, what he calls usury, loaning money at high interest rates, and asking payments that only cover only interest, not principle, so the poor are kept in perpetual poverty.

So, the Reformation was not about some abstract, hypothetical, theological controversy. It was a pastoral concern about real people living in real poverty. It was about economics and justice. It was about encountering Christ through feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, visiting the sick and in prison. It was then and it is today.

Today indulgences still exist, as a graceful proclamation of forgiveness, but they are not used in the same way that they were 500 years ago. Instead of harping on indulgences, we might look inward and ask: How are we addressing injustice today? How might we be guilty of using superstition to create a false economy, that perpetuates poverty? How might we overturn those schemes that promote predatory lending, and redirection of resources away from those who need them most?

We All Believe In One True God, ELW 411: A Hymn by Martin Luther

We All Believe1 We all believe in one true God,

 who created earth and heaven,

 the Father, who to us in love

 has the right of children given.

 He in soul and body feeds us;

 all we need his hand provides us;

 through all snares and perils leads us,

 watching that no harm betide us.

 He cares for us day and night;

 all things are governed by his might.


2 We all believe in Jesus Christ,

 his own Son, our Lord, possessing

 an equal Godhead, throne, and might,

 source of ev’ry grace and blessing;

 born of Mary, virgin mother,

 by the power of the Spirit,

 Word made flesh, our elder brother;

 that the lost might life inherit,

 was put to death on the cross,

 and raised by God victorious.


3 We all confess the Holy Ghost

 who, in highest heaven dwelling

 with God the Father and the Son,

 comforts us beyond all telling;

 who the church, his own creation,

 keeps in unity of spirit.

 Here forgiveness and salvation

 daily come through Jesus’ merit.

 All flesh shall rise; we shall be

 in bliss with God eternally. Amen.

Text: Martin Luther, 1483-1546; tr. composite

Text © 1941 Concordia Publishing House

Tune: WIR GLAUBEN ALL (see LBW #374)


We All Believe in One True God, WIr glauben all an einen Gott, is a paraphrase of the creed by Martin Luther, first published, as far as we know, in Johann Walther’s Eyn geystlich Gesangk Buchleyn.

The original text is the Creed of course. This is a Late Medieval paraphrase dated around 1524, set to a tune by Martin Luther that is an adaptation of a 14th century Latin Credo melody.

Think Luther the rapper. Would it surprise you to know that Luther wrote rhyming versions of the Creed, the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer? He set the major parts of the catechism to meter and rhyme.

(Sing a stanza of Luther’s Ten Commandments Hymn, but not the sixth commandment.)

Sing a phrase of “Out of the Depths.” Written in 1523 and based on Psalm 130, this hymn was sung ON May 9, 1525, at the funeral of Luther’s friend and patron, Frederick the Wise, in the Castle Church in Wittenberg.

Luther believes the Christian motto, Lex orandi, lex credendi. What you pray you believe. What you sing leads to faith. Liturgy begets theology.

For years confirmation students would tell me they just couldn’t memorize the catechism, or the Scriptures. And yet I would listen to them highly complex lyrics of popular rap or hip hop tunes. There’s something about singing that taps into the brain’s memory capacity. (I wrote a song to teach kids the books of the Old Testament. Yeah, I’ll spare you that one.)

This was consistent with Luther’s desire for worship and theology to be in the language of the people. He wanted to teach the faith by singing the faith. He wanted to help people learn their faith through didactic songs.

Luther wrote his Small Catechism to teach the basics of the faith. Yogi Berra once said, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” For Luther, the main things were:

  1. Commandments
  2. Creed
  3. LP
  4. Baptism
  5. Confession
  6. Sacrament of the Altar

Let’s sing stanza one of “We All Believe in One True God.”

music luther

1 We all believe in one true God, who created earth and heaven,

 the Father, who to us in love has the right of children given.

 He in soul and body feeds us; all we need his hand provides us;

 through all snares and perils leads us, watching that no harm betide us.

 He cares for us day and night; all things are governed by his might.  


Luther relied on an earlier medieval attempt to versify the Creed, but that poem tried to cover the entire creed in a single stanza. Luther expanded the structure to three stanzas to reflect the three parts of the Creed, one for each person of the Trinity. That larger structure required more material, and so he infused the hymn with sections of the Catechism. This we sing that God feeds body and soul. God guides and protects us.

And Moving away from the standard liturgical plainchant of his day, Luther writes this hymn in four parts, so that people can sing the part and enjoy a new style of music that will catch on. So he explained in a preface to a 1524 hymnal:

These songs were arranged in four parts to give the young – who should at any rate be trained in music and other fine arts – something to wean them away from love ballads and carnal songs and teach them something of value in their place.

Luther thought about hymns as a way of instilling the Word of God in people. What do you sing in your quiet moments? When you’re driving down the road? What melodies and texts are committed to your heart?  Are the words holy? Do they reinforce a joyful, transformational, sacramental view of life?

The first stanza was on God the creator. The second is on Jesus Christ, God’s only Son our Lord, who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, buried and raised from the dead. Luther doesn’t have time in this stanza to hit every part of this longest article of the creed, but he hits the main points. He keeps the main thing the main thing, but still gets in some commentary, that Christ is our elder brother, and a source of every grace and blessing.

For Luther Our faith and Our hope is in Christ, and Christ alone. This is what we proclaim 500 years later. In this violent world hell-bent on self destruction, it is the way of Christ, or it is curtains for the world. Let us sing together stanza two.

2 We all believe in Jesus Christ, his own Son, our Lord, possessing

 an equal Godhead, throne, and might, source of ev’ry grace and blessing;

 born of Mary, virgin mother, by the power of the Spirit,

 Word made flesh, our elder brother; that the lost might life inherit,

 was put to death on the cross, and raised by God victorious.


The final stanza of the hymn is on the article of the Creed: God the Holy Spirit. The earliest versions of the Symbolum Apostolicum included these parts of the third article: The Spirit, the Church, forgiveness and the resurrection. Luther hits all four points in his third stanza.

The Spirit, the comforter, dwells with the Father and the Son. That spirit keeps the church, the Spirit’s creation, in the one true faith. In that church forgiveness is spoken and resurrection is proclaimed.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation is not about reviving any ancient conflict. It is about proclaiming the one true faith of the apostles in the language of the people, in the purity of the Gospel. That is who we are. It is about announcing the unimaginable, God’s free grace, love and forgiveness for all, with the hope of salvation and the gift of eternal life.

Let us stand and sing together the final stanza of “We All Believe in One True God.”

3 We all confess the Holy Ghost who, in highest heaven dwelling

 with God the Father and the Son, comforts us beyond all telling;

 who the church, his own creation, keeps in unity of spirit.

 Here forgiveness and salvation daily come through Jesus’ merit.

 All flesh shall rise; we shall be in bliss with God eternally. Amen.


Warren Rinehart (1933-2017)

Warren Rinehart of Leander, Texas died peacefully on July 8, 2017 at St. David’s Hospital in Georgetown, Texas, surrounded by family.

Warren was born to Howard W. Rinehart and Claire Elizabeth Rinehart on June 12, 1933. He was baptized at Martin Luther Church in Canton, Ohio on August 22, 1933, and confirmed on April 13, 1947. He is a 1957 graduate of Capital University, where he met his wife Patricia. In 1962, he graduated from Trinity Lutheran Seminary (formerly Evangelical Lutheran Theological Seminary) in Columbus, Ohio.

Completing internship at St. John Evangelical Lutheran in Oak Harbor, Ohio, Warren was ordained to the holy ministry on April 29, 1962 at Martin Luther in Canton, Ohio. He went on to serve his first call at St. Peter’s in Edon, Ohio. In 1964, he was called by the Board of Missions of the American Lutheran Church to plant a congregation in Grand Blanc, Michigan. He stayed at Holy Spirit Lutheran for 33 years.

After retiring in 1997, he moved to Leander, Texas and served as an interim pastor for congregations in all three Texas synods for over ten years. Among those congregation were:

  • St. Paul in La Grange, TX
  • Elizabeth in Caldwell, TX
  • Our Saviors in College Station, TX
  • First in Waco, TX
  • Zion in MacGregor, TX
  • Faith in Weimar, TX
  • Immanuel in Pflugerville, TX (2000-2001)
  • Palm Valley in Round Rock, TX
  • Hope in Buckholts, TX

He loved ministry, family, gardening, cooking, music, football, and cars. He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Patricia Rinehart, his children Michael and wife Susan, Paul and wife Karen, and Katie, and his seven grandchildren John, Nicolas, Gregory, Abbey, Sarah, Heidi, and Yuliana.

Memorial Service

Thursday, July 27, 2017 at 1:00 PM 
Triumphant Love Lutheran Church
9508 Great Hills Trail
Austin, TX 78759-7290

A reception will follow.

In lieu of flowers, friends are invited to give to the Rinehart Memorial Fund. Gifts will be split among several charities including Alzheimer’s research and Triumphant Love Lutheran Church. Checks can be made to Triumphant Love Lutheran Church, c/o Rinehart Memorial, 9508 Great Hills Trail, Austin, TX 78759-7290, or you may donate online with Triumphant Love.

Back in April of 2017, I posted a bit about my dad, when he was struggling.

1957: Wedding

1961: Michael
1966: Paul
1969: Katie


60 years

June 25, 2017 is Pentecost 3A

Jeremiah 20:7-13 – O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed; you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me.
Genesis 21:8-21 – Abraham and Sarah cast off Hagar, the slave woman and her child.

Psalm 86:1-10 – Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. In the day of trouble I call upon you, for you answer me.
Psalm 69:7-10, (11-15), 16-18 – Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me. Do not hide your face from your servant, for I am in distress-make haste to answer me. Draw near to me, redeem me, set me free because of my enemies.

Romans 6:1b-11 – Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

Matthew 10:24-39 – Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. …and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

Many thanks to Pastor Don Carlson for preparing these reflections on the texts:

We now move into the long green time after Pentecost that has traditionally been called Ordinary Time. It’s always good to somehow break up the time; which, aside from a few festival Sundays, will be with us until November 16th. I have often changed the liturgy setting three times during the season. And perhaps some kind of – or several – sermon series could be based on the gospel readings [see above].

In Matthew, both John and Jesus come proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Matthew is all about Jesus – the new Moses – teaching what discipleship and life in the kingdom of heaven is all about.  As we heard in the gospel for Holy Trinity, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.

I think a series of sermons that help people think about the “now and not yet” kingdom of heaven would be useful. What do our people understand the reign of God to be? How do they as individuals and a congregation participate in it? What are the kingdom’s challenges and the assurances? Jesus’ message in Matthew was about the kingdom of heaven. Question: “Do we sometimes run the risk of truncating Jesus’ message about the kingdom into a message about Jesus?”

It’s not insignificant that when you Google images for “Kingdom of Heaven” the first pages are filled with stills from the 2005 movie of the same name, directed by Ridley Scott of “Gladiator” and “Blackhawk Down” fame. This movie is equally combative with the crusaders being the protagonists and the Muslims being the antagonists as they fight over which “vision” of the kingdom will prevail. Yes, it’s just a movie, but I think that there is precisely this understanding of the kingdom among some Christians. U.S. Americans believe unconsciously, and sometimes consciously, that the reign of God, God’s justice will be brought about only by violence (others, of course, project the whole thing into an afterlife). We would do well to remember the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, that God’s kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven. It brings to mind the line from a hymn which serves as a counterpoint, “For not with swords loud clashing, nor roll of stirring drums; with deeds of love and mercy the heavenly kingdom comes.”

Even if you don’t do a “sermon series” per se, a red thread of the “kingdom of heaven” running through sermons this summer –would be wise – and not a subtle thread at that!


Throughout the summer there will be two options for the old testament text. One is a text that provides backdrop for the Gospel reading. The other is part of the continuous reading through for the Hebrew Scriptures.

One of the assigned texts is a sample of Jeremiah’s complaints. He doesn’t want to bring the word against Pashhur because he suffers for it when he does. And yet, God has a hold on him, “Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’”

Like the prophet Jonah, a part of him wants to get away – far away.  And yet, when he tries, “…then within me there is something life a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary holding it in, and I cannot.”

What an apt reflection of God’s call in and for the kingdom of heaven! It’s just like when Matthew ends his gospel with his ascension and great commission account, which we had last week for Holy Trinity: “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.” The Greek for “but some doubted” is οἱ δὲ ἐδίστασαν; “edistasan” – they “two stood”; shifted from on stance to another; were conflicted; perhaps “ambivalent”.

That’s the way it is when we encounter and are touched by the kingdom of heaven. Part of us wants to embrace it; part of us wants to run away. The kingdom of heaven generates within each of us the ultimate “approach avoidance conflict,“ which brings us to the gospel reading.

Ask your people: “What’s burning fire is shut up with your bones?”


“If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! … Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. … and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

Now there’s a recruitment campaign for discipleship!  And the words probably reflect what that was going in within synagogues and families as the tension increased between those that worshipped and followed Jesus as Messiah and those that waited for another. In many ways – as they would later learn – “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” (Matthew 4:19) is a rose with thorns on its stem.

Some will hear this text as a call to violence, but read in context with all of Jesus other saying it becomes clear that Jesus is speaking euphemistically about the struggle that people will have if they choose to engage the kingdom. Jesus scolds Peter for cutting off the soldier’s ear. He says those who live by the sword will die by the sword. Jesus raises no army and advocates no violence for the kingdom. He simply recognizes what will be lived out in the crucifixion: proclaiming the gospel will stir stuff up.

Still, in the midst of Jesus’ ominous words also comes this assurance, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

There you have it: the approach avoidance conflict that is the kingdom of heaven. That’s where we live. If we are going to start an ongoing sermonic focus on the kingdom of heaven, we should be upfront and honest about our “two footed ambivalence.” The kingdom of heaven, because of who we are and because of our bondage to sin, is both appealing and appalling.


“Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.” 

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