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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 YouTube.com/ELCA and Vimeo.com/ELCA.

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 YouTube.com/ELCA and Vimeo.com/ELCA. 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: https://bishopmike.com/?s=Trinity+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…

Chrism Mass 2022

Holy Tuesday, April 13, 2022

Holy Trinity, Houston

Chrism Mass 2021 – Cancelled

Chrism Mass 2020 – Cancelled

Chrism Mass 2019 – Hosanna, Houston

Chrism Mass 2018 – St. James/Santiago Apóstol

Chrism Mass 2017 – Memorial Drive, Houston (click 2018 link and scroll down)

Chrism Mass 2016 – Kindred, Houston (click 2018 link and scroll down)

Chrism Mass 2015 – Christ the King, Houston (click 2018 link and scroll down)

Chrism Mass 2014 – Zion, Houston (click 2018 link and scroll down)

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.

BORG, MARCUS J. (2011-04-12). SPEAKING CHRISTIAN: WHY CHRISTIAN WORDS HAVE LOST THEIR MEANING AND POWER-AND HOW THEY CAN BE RESTORED (PP. 205-207). HARPERCOLLINS. KINDLE EDITION.

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.

Genesis

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!

Matthew

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?

Zion Lutheran Church in Zionsville’s 150th Anniversary

This morning I had the great pleasure of celebrating the 150th anniversary of Zion Lutheran Church in Zionsville, about half way between Brenham and Burton, Texas.

Zion and I have a connection. I grew up in southeast Michigan. My bishop there was a Reginald Holle (1925-2012), who was a son of this congregation. His sister, Bea Behring was a member of the congregation I served in Conroe.

Zion works closely with Burton Bridge Ministries, even in a pandemic. Especially in a pandemic, making them toiletry kits, Advent Blessing Bags and so on. One goal for their 150th anniversary was to have 150 in worship this year. They achieved the goal, at 166, but not the way they had intended: online.

When the ships started pouring over from Hamburg, Germany in the 1800’s, the first Lutheran Churches were planted. First Galveston in 1850, then Trinity Frelsburg, Eben Ezer in New Berlin and others in Brenham. St. John Ellinger was the last church founded before
the Civil War began, 1861.

After the war, church planting resumed with Bethlehem Round Top in 1865 (the oldest continually used Lutheran Church building in Texas). Then came Schulenberg/Black Jack, New Ulm and New Wehdem in 1869.

All the time, things were percolating in an area called Harrisburg, Texas, on the La Bahia Prairie. Most folks went to other Brenham churches, but were tiring of the travel.

May 8, 1870 a meeting was held to discuss organizing a new congregation and determining a site. Zion was launched with 29 charter members, and the Harrisburg community was renamed
Zionsville, after the new church. The church was built, the consecrated on January 29, 1871. The first baptism was held on January 30, 1871, 150 years ago yesterday.

The congregation still has the paten, chalice and baptismal bowl consecrated on that day.

A young preacher named William Pfenning from Germany was cajoled into coming. Like many of the first Texas Lutheran pastors, he was trained at the St. Chrischona Missionary School in Basel, Switzerland. He served from 1870 to 1875.

The Rev. William Pfennig served Zion 1871-1875.

In 1876, Zion hosted the Texas Synod Assembly. in 1990 the great Galveston Hurricane destroyed the church. In 1901, a second church was completed, 30’x60’ for $3,000. (Note the pulpit above the altar, centering Word and Sacrament.) the congregation had 530 souls.

The verses on the cornerstone are Psalm 84:11-13. No verse 13 in your Bible? Psalm 84 begins with an a note that says, “To the leader: according to The Gittith. Of the Korahites. A Psalm.” Our Bibles today treat this like a title or inscription, and they start numbering the verses with the next line, so they have 12 verses in Psalm 84. But the Jewish Bible and Luther’s Bible counted this note as a verse, so they ended up number the psalm with 13 verses. The same text, just different numbering. So, mystery solved:

For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than live in the tents of wickedness.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
who bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does the Lord withhold
from those who walk uprightly.
O Lord of hosts,
happy is everyone who trusts in you.

Zion again hosted the Texas Synod Assembly in 1905. in 1914, the first Luther League was organized.

The ladies sent clothing to New Guinea, while the congregation supported Lutheran World Relief. In 1928, the chancel was expanded to accommodate growth.

Benevolence was 35%. The congregation began to switch from German to English. The congregational meeting minutes were written in English the first time in 1937. English services were introduced, one Sunday a month in 1938. In 1942 they moved to two Sundays a month. Pastor Mgebroff and a secretary began the slow process of translating all the church historical records from German to English.

The first Vacation Bible School was held in 1946. By 1950, worship was in German only once a month, and in 1961 just on the 5th Sunday. The last German service was held in 1974.

In 1960, another merger formed the second American Lutheran Church. Fees for baptisms, confirmations and funerals were discontinued. In 1965 communion went from quarterly to monthly. In 1967, the congregation voted 89-88 to build a new worship structure, the third church. The building cost $118,000 and was completed in 1970.

Pastors:

William Pfennig (1871-1875)

G. Thone (1875-1880) Below are two of Pastor Thone’s salary receipts, $200 for one year and $250 for another.

Gottfried Jordan (1880-1882) He died in November of 1882. He is buried in Zion’s graveyard.

R. Jaeggli (1883-1886) He was also the president of the Texas Synod. He died in November of 1886.

Ernst Huber (1887-1889) He was also the president of the Texas Synod. He died in August of 1889 after only two week’s illness. He is buried in Zion’s graveyard.

F. Schwann (1890-1893) Raise grain for the cattle that provided milk for his family and the horses that provided him transportation.

G. Stricker (1893-1902) He served during the Great Hurricane and the building of the second church.

Michael Haag (1902-1912) He was the longest serving pastor to this point. He left to take a call at the “Lutheran College in Seguin.”

Karl Mueller (1913-1937) 24 years. He died in 1937 and is buried in Zion’s cemetery. He saw the congregation through WWI, The Great Depression and the 1930 merger that fired the American Lutheran Church.

Fred Mgebroff (1938- ) His salary was $1,000/year, plus some food and a parsonage. English services were introduced.

Richard J. Weber (1947-1974) Weber continued to provide German services by radio after his retirement. He served 27 years.

James Witschorke (1974-1981)

Willfred F. Biggott (1982-1987)

J. Joseph Podolak (1988-1990)

Tim Crist (1990-2000?)

Rudy Kelling (1991-?) Part-time Visitation Pastor

Give me some time and I’ll nail down the timeline from 1994 to present.

Pastor David Hall and Sister Anne Hall

Pat Lehrer (2013-2017)

Katrina Walther (2018-2019)

Many thanks to Pastor Karen Buck, who is serving as their interim pastor.

Some photos from 2014:

Summer 2021

Listen to the podcast by Bishop Michael Rinehart.

Year B in the Revised Common Lectionary.

As I have been announcing for the last month, Aimee and I (as well as my friend John Turnquist who graciously reads and proofs these posts before publication) are going to take a hiatus this summer. We will not leave you abandoned, however. There are lots of good options to consider. I will share three series first, then, for those who stick with the lectionary, I will post a list of every Sunday and the texts, with links.

JUNE
Consider a study of 2 Corinthians in sermon or Bible study
A Heart for Reconciliation: A Walk Through 2 Corinthians

Pentecost 2B – June 6, 2021. 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 – So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed daily. (Gospel: Mark 3:20-35 A house divided cannot stand. All sins forgiven except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.)

A Heart for ReconciliationPentecost 3B – June 13, 2021. 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17– We walk by faith and not by sight, at home in the body and away from the Lord. (Gospel: Mark 4:26-34– The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.)

Pentecost 4B – June 20, 2021. 2 Corinthians 6:1-13– Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation. We have endured beatings, riots, hunger, imprisonment… (Gospel: Mark 4:35-41– Jesus calms the sea: Peace. Be still.)

Pentecost 5B – June 27, 2021. 2 Corinthians 8:7-15– During a severe ordeal of affliction, the Macedonian’s joy and poverty overflow in a wealth of generosity. (Gospel: Mark 5:21-43 – They come to the house of Jairus, where they heal his daughter and then the woman with the hemorrhage.)

Pentecost 6B – July 4, 2021. 2 Corinthians 12:2-10– Paul’s out of body experience, and his thorn in the flesh. My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. 

(Gospel: Mark 6:1-13– A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house. Jesus sends the twelve two-by-two.) 

JULY
Tom Rainer’s The Post-Quarantine Church

Rainer is a well-known church consultant. He wrote this in 2020, but it’s based on pretty solid stuff. He doesn’t offer facile answers, but asks the right questions, suggests pivots, and makes six key challenges. The Post-Quarantine Church is easy to read. Duane Utech and Pastor Barb Bartling from Holy Comforter read this book with their leadership and recommended it. I have read it. There are six challenges in the book, based on things we have learned and experienced during the pandemic.

Challenge 1: Gather differently and better
Challenge 2: Seize your opportunity to reach the digital world
Challenge 3: Reconnect with the community near your church
Challenge 4: Take prayer to a new and powerful level
Challenge 5: Rethink your facilities for emerging opportunities
Challenge 6: Make lasting changes that will make a difference

We have a tremendous opportunity to rethink mission and ministry. A window of creativity and innovation opened, but it is rapidly closing. The pandemic made us realize we can be the church without our buildings. Nevertheless, the building can be a tool for ministry. How are we using it? Many churches have a 10% occupancy rate during the week. How are you using your building as a community center? Do prohibition signs (don’t do this; don’t touch that) send a message of inhospitality? What did you learn about connecting with your community during the pandemic? What was the role of prayer? How will we engage digital ministry? Will it ever be an afterthought again? We now have an opportunity to the some of the best ministry we have ever done, if we will rise to the challenge. Can we give up the busy-ness and simply, focus?

You are planting a new church. Consider setting aside six weeks, one for each of Rainer’s challenges. Invite people to join small group discussions to bat the ideas around. Use it as a time of listening to gear up for a new season of ministry.

AUGUST

5 Weeks of Bread Texts

Pentecost 9B – July 25, 2021. John 6:1-21 – Feeding of the 5,000. Jesus walks on water. (First lesson: David and Bathsheba.

Pentecost 10B – August 1, 2021. John 6:24-35 – I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry.

Pentecost 11B – August 8, 2021. John 6:35, 41-51 – I am the bread of life, the living bread which comes down from heaven. No one comes unless the Father draws, and I will raise you up on the last day.

Pentecost 12B – August 15, 2021. John 6:51-58 – Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them. The one who eats this bread will live forever. 

Pentecost 13B – August 22, 2021. John 6:56-69  – Eat my flesh for eternal life. This is a difficult teaching; who can accept it? Does this bother you? Do you also wish to go away? Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…

JUNE, JULY or AUGUST
Thriving Beyond COVID

If you’re even moderately good at math, you already see that there are more Sundays above in these series than will fit in the summer. 5 weeks on 2 Corinthians, 6 weeks in the Post-Quarantine Church, and 5 weeks of bread texts is 16 weeks. You only get 12 or 13, depending on when you kick off the fall. So, choose two of those three, and then toss in a 3-4 week series on Thriving Beyond COVID.

Thriving Beyond COVID is a series of Bible studies created by Pastor Jeff Linman in Orlando. Jeff uses Hebrews 12, Ephesians 3, Matthew 14, and John 5 to spark some reflection on the last year and where the Spirit might be leading the church ahead. Set up a series of online Bible studies, and ask those groups to share their thoughts. Attend at least one of those group studies. It’s easier than ever since most things are still online. Then preach 3-4 sermons on those texts.

(By the way, I suggest, not as a sermon series, but as a good read, Susan Beaumont’s How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going. There are times in history where change is so profound and rapid, we really don’t have a crystal ball. How do you lead when you can’t see the destination clearly? Beaumont offers great wisdom for us.)

So, plan your summer. Take a couple of days and hole up at a cabin at Lutherhill or Zion Retreat Center and sketch out your sermons for the summer. It can be a fun and rewarding time. Working this far ahead gives you time for creativity and thinking outside the box. Renew your spirit and get in touch with why you were called to this work in the first place.

TEXTS FOR THE TIME AFTER PENTECOST B

And hey, if you’re a purist, go-by-the-book lectionary kind of person, there are plenty of rich texts to consider. On Trinity, Jesus says the Spirit blows where it wills. We have Jesus asleep in the boat: “Peace. Be still.” The woman’s 12-year blood flow. David and Goliath. And much more.

The dates with links take you to some of my earlier commentary on the texts. Use whatever you can as you wish.

Trinity – May 30, 2021

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 Eckhardt

Isaiah 6:1-8– Call of Isaiah. Six-winged seraph. Holy, holy, holy.
Psalm 29 – Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness. (Ps. 29:2)
Romans 8:12-17– Life in the Spirit. Present suffering incomparable to the glory to be revealed. Creation eagerly waits… in labor?
John 3:1-17 – Nicodemus. Being born of the Spirit, which blows where it wills.

Pentecost 2B – June 6, 2021

1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15) – The people ask for a king to succeed Samuel, despite his warnings. 
OR
Genesis 3:8- Because Adam and Eve have eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the serpent is cursed, the woman must have pain in childbirth, the ground is cursed with thistles and whatnot, and Adam is sentenced to a lifetime of hard labor by farming, until he returns to the dust.

Psalm 138 – I will give thanks to you O Lord with my whole heart.
OR 

Psalm 130
 – Out of the depths I cry to you. Lord, hear my voice.
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 – So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed daily.

Mark 3:20-35 – The crowd was so large, they couldn’t eat. His family came out to restrain him, for the people said he was out of his mind. Can Satan cast out Satan? A house divided cannot stand. All sins forgiven except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Those who do God’s will are my brother, sister and mother.

Pentecost 3B – June 13, 2021

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13– Samuel anoints David and the Spirit falls mightily upon him.
OR
Ezekiel 17:22-24– I will dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. The high tree will be brought low, and the low high.

Psalm 20– Some take pride in horses and chariots, but our pride is in the name of the Lord God. 
OR
Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15– The righteous shall spread abroad like a cedar of Lebanon. (Ps. 92:11)
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17– We walk by faith and not by sight, at home in the body and away from the Lord.
Mark 4:26-34
– The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which so small, yet grows and provides branches for the birds to make nests.

Pentecost 4B – June 20, 2021

1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49 – David and Goliath: The Lord who saved me from the lion and the bear will deliver me from this Philistine.
OR
I Samuel 17:57 – 18:5, 10-16 – Jonathan loved David. Saul tries to kill David.
OR
Job 38:1-11– The Lord answers Job out of the whirlwind: Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Psalm 9:9-20 – The Lord judges the nations.
OR
Psalm 133– How good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity.
OR
Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32 – God stilled the storm and quieted the waves of the sea. (Ps. 107:29)
2 Corinthians 6:1-13– Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation. We have endured beatings, riots, hunger, imprisonment…
Mark 4:35-41– Jesus asleep in the boat, wakes and calms the sea: Peace. Be still.

Pentecost 5B – June 27, 2021

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27– David mourns for Saul, the glory of Israel, and for Jonathan: Your love to me surpassed the love of women.
OR 

Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15; 2:23-24 
– God did not make death. God does not delight in death. Death came into the world through the devil.

Psalm 130 – I will exalt you, O LORD, because you have lifted me up. (Ps. 30:1)
OR
Psalm 30– God’s anger is for a moment; his favor for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night but joy comes in the morning.
OR
Lamentations 3:23-33– The steadfast love of the lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning.
2 Corinthians 8:7-15– During a severe ordeal of affliction, the Macedonians joy and poverty overflow in a wealth of generosity.
Mark 5:21-43
 – Inclusio: Jairus’ daughter and the woman with the 12-year hemorrhage.

Pentecost 6B – July 4, 2021

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10– The elders make a covenant with David and anoint him. 
OR 

Ezekiel 2:1-5 
– Call of Ezekiel: Whether they hear or not, they shall know a prophet has been among them.
Psalm 48– The city of Zion is established forever.
OR
Psalm 123– Our eyes look to you, O God, until you show us your mercy. (Ps. 123:3)
2 Corinthians 12:2-10– Paul’s out of body experience, and his thorn in the flesh. My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.
Mark 6:1-13– A prophet is not without honor except in his own country. Jesus sends the twelve two-by-two.

Pentecost 7B – July 11, 2021 OR Herod’s Banquet

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19– David dances before the ark in a linen ephod. 
OR
Amos 7:7-15– Amos’ vision: God sets a plumb line amidst the people of Israel
Psalm 24– The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.
OR
Psalm 85:8-13 – I will listen to what the LORD God is saying. (Ps. 85:8)
Ephesians 1:3-14– The sentence that never ends: Blessed be God who chose us before the foundation of the world, destined us for adoption, as a plan for the fullness of time to gather all things in him…
Mark 6:14-29– Herod, Herodias and John the Baptist’s head on a platter.

Pentecost 8B – July 18, 2021 OR Pause

2 Samuel 7:1-14a– David wants to build God’s house, but God will establish David’s house, his offspring.
OR 

Jeremiah 23:1-6
– Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! The days are coming when I will raise up from David a righteous branch.
Psalm 89:20-37– I anointed my servant David, and my hand will always be with him.
or
Psalm 23– The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. (Ps. 23:1)
Ephesians 2:11-22 – You uncircumcised were once strangers to the covenant, without hope, without God. You who were far off have been brought near. He has abolished the law with its commands and ordinances, that he might create one humanity out of two. No longer strangers.
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56– Jesus to his disciples: “Come away to a deserted place and rest for a while.”

Pentecost 9B – July 25, 2021

2 Samuel 11:1-15 – David and Bathsheba
OR
2 Kings 4:42-44 – Elisha feeds the people with 20 loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain.
Psalm 14– There is no one who does good, no not one
OR
Psalm 145:10-18 – You open wide your hand and satisfy the needs of every living creature. (Ps. 145:17)
Ephesians 3:14-21 – I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
John 6:1-21 – Feeding of the 5,000. Jesus walks on water.

Pentecost 10B – August 1, 2021 OR Bread is All I Need from Day to Day

2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a – The prophet Nathan comes to David to declare God’s judgment on him for killing Uriah: “You are the man.”
OR
Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15 – Manna from heaven.
Psalm 51:1-12 – Create in me a clean heart O God…
OR
Psalm 78:23-29 – The LORD rained down manna upon them to eat. (Ps. 78:24)
Ephesians 4:1-16 – Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are to equip the saints for ministry until we all arrive at unity of faith and spiritual maturity.

John 6:24-35 – I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry.

Pentecost 11B – August 8, 2021, Bread is Relationship

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 – The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”
OR
1 Kings 19:4-8 – Angels feed Elijah in the wilderness.
Psalm 130 – Out of the depths I cry to you.
OR
Psalm 34:1-8 – Taste and see that the LORD is good. (Ps. 34:8)
Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2
– Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger… Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up… And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God… be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
John 6:35, 41-51
 – I am the bread of life, the living bread which comes down from heaven. No one comes unless the Father draws, and I will raise you up on the last day.

Pentecost 12B – August 15, 2021, Bread is Hope

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14 – David dies. God offers Solomon anything. Solomon asks for wisdom.
OR
Proverbs 9:1-6– Wisdom has built her house.
Psalm 111– The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
OR
Psalm 34:9-14– Taste and see that the Lord is good.
Ephesians 5:15-20 – Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit.
John 6:51-58
 – Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them. The one who eats this bread will live forever.

Pentecost 13B – August 22, 2021, Bread is Living Beyond Myself

1 Kings 8:(1, 6, 10-11), 22-30, 41-43 – Solomon’s temple.
OR
Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18 – Choose this day whom you shall serve… as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
Psalm 84 – How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts.
OR
Psalm 34:15-22 – The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous. (Ps. 34:15)
Ephesians 6:10-20 – Put on the full armor of God.
John 6:56-69
 – Eat my flesh for eternal life. This is a difficult teaching; who can accept it? Does this bother you? Do you also wish to go away? Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…

August 25-26, 2017 is when Hurricane Harvey hit Houston.
August 27-28, 2020 Hurricane Laura hit, destroying the sanctuary of St. Paul Lake Charles.

Pentecost 14B – August 29, 2021Post suggests a possible series on James for September.

Song of Solomon 2:8-13 – My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.
OR
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9 – Observe my statutes/ordinances as you enter the land. Teach it to your children.
Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9 – Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever.
OR
Psalm 15 – Do not lend money at interest. LORD, who may dwell in your tabernacle? (Ps. 15:1)
James 1:17-27 – Be quick to listen, slow to speak. Giving. Slow to anger. Be doers of the word, not just hearers. Pure religion: Care for orphans and widows.
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
 – Jesus: It is not what goes in, but what comes out that defiles. Jesus eats with unwashed hands.

August 28, 2012 is the anniversary of Hurricane Isaac.
August 29, 2005 is the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

September 1, 2008 is the anniversary of Hurricane Gustav.

Columbus, Cortés and the Development of Latin@ Popular Religion

I’ve been learning about Latin@ faith and spirituality this month, through a class taught by Dr. Carmen Nanko-Fernández, and through a host of readings, some of which I will mention in this post, and others I will list at the bottom. I am learning as a married, male, Lutheran bishop of European descent, who has not been given the perspective of biculturality. I have much to learn. This is a first attempt to share and integrate my continued lifelong learning.

I say “Latin@” for lack of a better term, and also because this is the term most of the writers I’m reading are using. I am aware that the label is imposed as an expression of power. The term lumps together several dozen distinct cultures with roots in Latin America, that have the common experience of oppression and colonization by Spain. Latin America is a complex intersection of indigenous Americans, European invaders (Spain in this case), African slaves, and Asian immigrants. This reality has created an expression of Christianity that is unique, rich and complex. The realities of being Latin@ in the U.S. has further developed this unique expression.

Christianity is a way of life, that is lived within the context of culture. The way it is expressed and lived depends on that cultural context. Christianity has necessarily taken different forms in Jerusalem, Rome, China, Africa and Latin America. Symbols used in one place are unhelpful in others. The adaptability of the faith is part of its beauty. 

Today is Columbus Day. In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. He also committed genocide, tortured the indigenous peoples he encountered, and “gave” young women to his men. He enslaved human beings for God and country bringing them back to Spain without their consent. The atrocities are well documented, but in particular I commend to you Felipe Fernández-Armesto’s Columbus.

In 1519, Hernán Cortés landed on the Yucatan Peninsula with 11 ships, 500 men and 13 horses. He claimed the land for Spain. He overwhelmed Tabasco and took 20 women as slaves as his bounty. One of them became his interpreter and bore him a son, who is considered to be the first mestizo. He marched on to Tenochtitlán, now known as Mexico City. He massacred thousands along the way. 

The Aztecs were domineering rulers, so Cortés found support from vanquished locals to join his efforts. He tried many times to get a meeting with Moctezuma II, the ruler of the Aztec Empire, but was turned down. By the time he arrived, his ranks had swelled with 1,000 indigenous people who were either forced into service, or willing opponents of Moctezuma and Aztec hierarchy.

Tenochtitlán had an estimated 200,000-400,000 in habitants, making it one of the largest cities in the world, the same size as Paris at the time. London had 50,000. When Cortés arrived with his swelled ranks, Moctezuma reconsidered, letting them in the city gates, and hoping to assess their weaknesses. He fed and cared for Cortés and his men. When they asked for gold he said they didn’t have much, but he was welcome to it. 

Cortés took Moctezuma prisoner in his own palace, then besieged the city. The battle is too complex to detail here. At one point 60 Spaniards were captured, sacrificed, and eaten. The Aztecs began to contract strange new diseases. In time the population was decimated, starved in the siege, Cortés and his men prevailed and Tenochtitán was leveled. 

What happened next was remarkable in its audacity. With the conquest swift, brutal, decisive and complete, the conquerors set out to convert the natives to the Christianity God of love. 

How does one convey the Christian faith to a people who are immersed in a completely different religious world of symbols and meaning, who speak a different language, and who write not in any European-known alphabet, but with pictographs? 

The Aztec people were quite religious. Their faith was rich with personal and communal elements. It was a polytheistic faith, with a pantheon of gods, quite at odds with the monotheistic Christian faith. Both the Spaniards and the Aztecs agreed on one thing. Clearly, the Christian God was greater than the Aztec gods, otherwise, how could Cortés have possibly defeated such a great empire? 

First of all, the main religious argument employed by the early evangelizers was the “conquering might” of the Christian God vis-à-vis the apparent inability of the Amerindian gods to save their worshipers from the Spaniards. (Espín, loc. 1118)

In order to convert the “savages,” the Spanish crown then sent Franciscan missionaries (and in time, Augustinians, Dominicans and Jesuits). Back in Spain, the crown had spent the last few centuries pushing out the Muslims and Jews. Additionally, they were hard at work rooting out any Lutheran or Calvinist heresy. While the Council of Trent would fall short of Lutheran hopes, its reforms were significant, and it also homogenized many older liturgies into one official liturgy. 

These reforms did not reach across the Atlantic for the most part. Pre-Tridentine liturgical patterns had been set in place in the Americas prior to the Council of Trent. The Christianity of the friars was late Medieval Catholicism, not a product of the Reformation or the Catholic Counter-Reformation.  Thus, began a divergence, subtle at first, between Spanish Catholicism and Latin American Catholicism.

Faith must be communicated using the language and symbols of the people. Teaching the doctrine of the Trinity is hard enough when both parties are from the same culture and speak the same language. Across the cultural divide it proved nearly impossible. Fortunately, we have copies of the first catechisms and prayer books employed by the monks. You can look at these Testerian Manuscripts at a museum in Mexico City. They contain the pictographs used to convey the Christian faith to the indigenous population. They were written by Aztec converts, directed by Franciscan friars. 

By Unknown author – http://libweb5.princeton.edu/mssimages/meso-garrett1.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6946204

Any translation requires interpretation and a set of creative choices. How were the friars to speak of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit without it being interpreted in a polytheistic manner? The Aztecs had a pictograph for father and many for the various gods. What pictograph should be used to convey God the Father? God the Son? God the Holy Spirit? For earthly father, they chose a pictograph with a headdress, which conveyed maleness and authority. For God the Father, they used a hybrid of two pictographs, one meaning God and the other meaning father, the latter looking a lot like a Franciscan friar. Espín says they were trying to convey the sense of fatherhood of God. Did it work? Was it understood in a trinitarian way? Most say it is doubtful. It probably conveyed the fatherhood of the friar. This complicated locals further, when trying to convey the Son of a celibate friar (Espín, loc. 1244-54). 

Jesus is clearly depicted as Lord (with a headdress) and God (three groups of feather-like lines around the head). The headdress, conveying a sense of Aztec lords, also conveyed their brutality. Either the author did this intentionally, or simply had no other symbol to use. Jesus is also depicted as the Son of Mary. The difference between Jesus’ relationship with his mother and his Father is not explained. The pictograph for Jesus is the crucifix. It seems there was no symbol adequate, so the author borrowed one from Spanish symbolism. (Espín, loc. 1314-34)

Iberian Christianity was highly Christocentric, with less emphasis on the Holy Spirit (like many Lutherans today). The idea of a Holy Spirit was foreign to Aztec theology. Without much to go on, the author had to convey the divinity of the Holy Spirit as one person of the Trinity. The symbol chosen was a bird with a halo, in flight, ascending, surrounded by light. This was a made-up pictograph with no correlate in pre-Columbian drawing. What would the indigenous people have understood about this? (Espín, loc. 1353-63)

The friars were part of a long tradition of conveying the faith in the illiterate European masses of Medieval period by using icons, symbols and dramas. Symbols, however, in one culture can mean something completely different in another culture. The local population received the message of the gospel in the context of their own worldview, using symbols with ambiguous meaning. The faith that emerged bore a resemblance to European Christianity, but like the mestizo children walking the streets, it was clearly a hybrid. An new expression of Christianity had been born. 

What faith would make sense to the vanquished and humiliated people of the Americas, whose culture, and way of life had been completely destroyed? Ironically, the image of the crucified Christ spoke, even in spite of the treatment of the conquerors. In fact, the brutally humiliated, vanquished Christ on the cross became a powerful symbol with which the conquered people could identify. 

Many pre-Columbian religious practices found their way into the Latin-American Catholicism that emerged. The Day of the Dead celebrations have pre-Columbian origins. Previously held earlier in the fall, they were moved to All Saints and All Souls days, and adapted to conform to those remembrances. Some denigrate the forms of popular religion that resulted, calling them syncretistic bastardizations of Christianity. Such facile appraisals fail to notice the pre-Christian influences on European Christianity, such as the Christmas tree or the word “Easter” likely originating from Eostre, the pre-Christian goddess of Spring. At its best, the Christian gospel does not destroy cultural symbols, but enters them, bringing the message of the cross of Christ. 

In 1531, not long after Cortés conquest, an indigenous convert to Catholicism named Juan Diego saw a vision of a woman who spoke to him in Nahuatl, telling him to build a temple on that site. The site was

Is known as Guadalupe, a mispronunciation of Tecoatlaxope, a Nahuatl term meaning, “She will crush the serpent of stone.” (Espín, loc. 1948)

Who was this woman in the vision? Diego, newly converted to Christianity, interpreted it as a vision of Mary of Nazareth. There was also an Aztec deity known as “our mother” Tonantzin, often depicted as pregnant or carrying a child. She was the wife of the serpent god. The woman that spoke with Juan Diego on the hill of Tepeyac would ikely have been understood as Tonantzin to Aztecs and Mary to Spaniards. Some suggest it was the Holy Spirit. (Why could a female theophany not be God?) 

Either way, there was a true religious message being conveyed in both Aztec and Spanish understanding. God is not just angry judge and conqueror, but also compassionate and loving. Mary, a member of a conquered race, gives birth to a very human Jesus who suffers and is ultimately defeated as were the Nahuatl people. A peasant Galilean, mestizo? (Elizondo), Jesus was humiliated and killed by those more powerful than he was, even though he lived in solidarity with the poor. He revealed a God of the oppressed and vanquished, who loves the weak(Espín, loc. 2040)

This vision seems to have been a turning point for the Christian faith in Mexico. Espín:

Guadalupe seems to be the birth of the inculturation of Christianity in colonial Mexico. In other words, precisely because Juan Diego claimed to have seen Mary the way he did, we can say today that this is a sign that the Christian gospel was in fact announced and accepted in early colonial Mexico, in spite of all the betrayals of the gospel that can also be documented. (Espín, loc. 1979)

Edwin David Aponte concurs:

Localized shrines of devotion to Guadalupe can appear in places as diverse as an Episcopal church in north Philadelphia, St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, a small mission church in the Diocese of Miami, a major shrine outside Chicago, a backyard holy place in south Phoenix, or on unnumbered home altars. (Aponte, loc. 2171)

Our Lady of Guadalupe is a vital symbol for Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, not just religiously, but also culturally.

The late colonial period, according to Espín brought with it a re-evangelization, for two reasons. Trinitarian theology and doctrine had been hard to convey. Some of the indigenous people considered Mary a female deity, along with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Additionally, the saints felt a lot like a pantheon especially when one prayed to them. Second, the Council of Trent had brought about changes in liturgy and practice that had to be taught. The reindoctrination was slow to reach the rural areas. It eventually led to a growing rift between the intellectual and ecclesiastical elite, who were beholden to Spain.

The movement for independence brought unity between elites who wanted independence and those with allegiance to Spain. Politicians and church leaders for independence embraced popular Catholicism as a unifying factor.

Two hundred years after Cortés, in 1821, Mexico won its independence from Spain. 27 years later, Mexico, unprotected by Spain, lost half its country to the U.S. All of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, and parts of Colorado and Utah used to be Mexico. The shaded areas of these maps tell the story.

Maps: University of Wisconsin: https://www.ssc.wisc.edu/soc/racepoliticsjustice/2017/07/12/what-the-treaty-of-guadalupe-actually-says/

Suddenly Mexicans, mestizo families who had lived on the land for centuries found themselves strangers in a new land: U.S. territory. Spanish-speaking states under Mexican law became English-speaking states under U.S. law. People of Latin descent were treated as enemies, relieved of their ownership and rights. “We didn’t cross the border. The border crossed us.” To this day, Latin@s whose families lived here before the first English-speaking person arrived are asked, “When did you come to this country?”

Latin@ popular religion did not immigrant to the U.S. Southwest. It has been here since the early colonial period. In some aspects, it has been here all along.

The popular religious patterns that developed among the richly diverse, multicultural population did so in the home, as priests were in short demand. Religious processions in the street, personal devotions, saints and icons became the norm. Their faith was hewn from a history of colonization, suffering and oppression. Protestants in ministry with Latin@s learn quickly that these symbols are central to life and faith.

We are now living in a time when roughly half of all U.S. Catholics are Latin@, and a growing number of Protestants. Latin@ spirituality is born out of a unique context. Those who criticize Latin@ Christianity for being syncretic ignore the same in European Christianity, as witnessed by Druid Christmas trees, and even the name Easter, which comes from the goddess of the rite of Spring. It may well be a beauty of the Christian faith is that it adapts to the cultures in which is spreads, honoring the faith of converts.

Latin@ spirituality may be a great gift to the U.S. with its rising number of “nones” who claim no religious adherence, as well as great suspicion of religious institutions. Much of Latin@ spirituality is unofficial. Posadas, processions, rosaries and even Marian devotions were not official liturgies of the church, but of a faith that emerged from the people. (The Advent wreath is similar, not a liturgical rite that came from church to the home, but a popular devotion that found its way from the home into church.) The indigenous peoples of this land adopted Christianity and made it their own. 

At at time of COVID-19 pandemic, when gathering in large crowds is unsafe and unwise, perhaps it is a time to revisit the power of devotions in the home. Luther wrote the Small Catechism not for church, but for catechesis in the home. Day of the Dead altars, not unlike African libation altars, give thanks to God for those who went before us. They remind us of the resurrection of the dead, that our loved ones surround us, a communion of saints. We could all use a dose of this. 

Notes

Edwin David Aponte. 2012. ¡Santo! Varieties of Latino/a Spirituality. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books. Kindle Edition.

Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, 1991. Columbus. Oxford University Press.

“Many Cultures. One Faith,” interview with Arturo Bañuelas in U.S. Catholic (November 2009), Vol. 74, No.11, 28, http://www.uscatholic.org/church/2011/01/many-cultures-one-faith.

Elizondo, Virgilio P. 2007. Galilean Journey: The Mexican-American Promise. Maryknoll, Ny: Orbis Books.

Espín, Orlando O. 1997. The Faith of the People: Theological Reflections on Popular Catholicism. Maryknoll, N.Y: Orbis Books. Kindle edition. 

Fernandez, Eduardo C., 2008. Mexican-American Catholics, Paulist, ISBN: 9780809142668 

Carmen Nanko-Fernández, “¡Despierta Iglesia! Reconfiguring Theologies of Ministry Latinamente,” Concilium (2010/1).

Click here to view more catechetical pictographs: https://archive.org/details/catecismotesteri01cath/page/n41/mode/2up

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