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Bishop Michael Rinehart

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Bishop of the Texas Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Evan Cameron’s Ordination

Evan Cameron’s was ordained today, October 20, 2018 at beautiful Wittenberg University, where his faith was nurtured and call discerned. Evan has been called to St. James New Wehdem and St. Paul Phillipsburg In Brenham, Texas.

With brother Eric and sister Katie

And mom…

The Jerusalem Conference

Jerusalem: What Makes for Peace?

U.S. Christian Leadership Summit

October 11, 2018

University of Houston

Faith-based leaders gathered to weep over Jerusalem, as Jesus wept. Jerusalem is the city that made Jesus cry, because they didn’t know the way to peace. (Luke 19:42) we pray for and work for the peace of Jerusalem. (Psalm 122:6)

People of faith earnestly desire the safety, security and well-bring of all people in the Holy Land, Jews and Palestinians.

We grieve that the Christian population (predominantly Palestinian), has declined to 2%.

This day was a time to have reflection and open dialog on the way to a just peace in the Holy Land.

We acknowledge our spiritual kinship with the Abrahamic Faiths: Islam, Judaism and Christianity. With all churches in the Holy Land, we continue to pray for and advocate for Jerusalem as an open and shared city of two people and three faiths. We believe peace and security for some is dependent on peace and security for all.

We reject exclusivist theologies, and those who exploit the conflict and religion for their own motives and racist ideologies.

Below are some faces and photos from the day.

Jim Wallis was one of the panelists.

Schedule

8:30-9:30A REGISTRATION: Hilton Ballroom, University of Houston

9:30A WELCOME: Fr. Don Nesti and Bishop Dr. Michael Rinehart, with Beth Nelson Chase and Jim Hooker of Bright Stars of Bethlehem

10-11:15A PANEL 1-  The Realities of Jerusalem Today

Including Dr. Majed Bamya, Tarek Abuata, Usama Qawasmeh. Moderated by John Lindner

— 11:15A Break —

11:30-12:45P PANEL 2- Jerusalem: Towards an inclusive Religious Discourse: Jewish, Muslim and Christian perspectives

Including Dr. Santiago Slabodsky, Fr. Elias Mallon, Dr. Amir Hussain. Moderated by Dr. David Grafton

— 12:45-2P LUNCH —

2-3:15P PANEL 3- Towards a balanced US policy on Jerusalem: What is possible under the Trump Administration?

Including Jim Wallis, Dr. James Zogby, Rev. Dr. James Forbes, and Dr. Bob Roberts

3:15-4:30P PANEL 4- Jerusalem: The Demand for Urgent Action

Featuring, Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, Jim Winkler, Rev. Dr. Mae Cannon, and  Dr. Iva Caruthers

It is always a pleasure to see Diane White.

Rafael Malpica, Director of Global Mission and Dennis Frado were with us from Churchwide. Father Nesti was with us and brought greetings. Many other friends attended.

Pentecost 22B – October 21, 2018 (Proper 24B, Ordinary 29B)

Job 38:1-7, (34-41)Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: Gird your loins and I will question you.
OR

Isaiah 53:4-12 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, yet we esteemed him stricken by God and afflicted.


Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c
You stretch out the heavens like a tent.
OR

Psalm 91:9-16 – You have made the LORD your refuge, and the Most High your habitation. (Ps. 91:9)


Hebrews 5:1-10
– More great high priest stuff


Mark 10:35-45
– Make us to sit at your right and left in the kingdom of heaven.

 

Preach at the Beach, Tuesday, October 23

 Also, David Lose is speaking at Preach at the Beach on Tuesday, October 23, 2018, at Zion Retreat Center on Galveston Island. Come for the day, or stay the night. $45.


October and November in the Revised Common Lectionary

  • October 7, 2018 we have this text on divorce.
  • October 14, 2018 we have the Rich Young Ruler.
  • October 21, 2018 the disciples ask to sit at Jesus right and left in the kingdom, spurring Jesus to teach about servant leadership. All these texts in October are from Mark 10.
  • October 28, 2018 in the Lutheran Church, we have Reformation Sunday the last Sunday in October.
  • November 4, 2018, the first Sunday of November is All Saints Sunday.
  • November 11, 2018 we have the widow’s coins from Mark 12, another thoughtful stewardship text.
  • November 18, 2018 we have Mark’s “Little Apocalypse” from Mark 13. See these large stones in the temple? Not one stone will be left upon another.
  • November 25, 2018 is Christ the King Sunday. The text comes from John 18. Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world,” and “I have come to testify to the truth.” Pilate asks, “What is truth?”


Random thoughts on Humility and Servant Leadership

After his brother’s baptism last week, Jason sobbed all the way home in the back seat of the car. His father asked him three times what was wrong. He wouldn’t say. Finally, when they got home, his parents sat him down and said firmly, “Tell us what’s wrong.” Jason spilled it: “Well, this morning the pastor said he wanted us brought up in a Christian home, but I want to stay with you guys.”

Sorry, that was bad. But a little groaning humor is better than none at all.

I want to just share some random thoughts on humility and servant leadership. When a text like this comes up, it sometimes seems right to remind people that following Christ is about humility. The story of the Publican and the Pharisee. Don’t take the highest place at a banquet. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. The stories abound. This is a message we as a church need to remember, even as we strive for excellence in proclaiming and inviting.

Douglas John Hall wrote:

How could we have been listening to the Scriptures all these centuries and still be surprised and chagrined by the humiliation of Christendom? How could we have honored texts like the Beatitudes (“Blessed Are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”) and yet formed in our collective mind the assumption that Christian faith would be credible only if it were popular and numerically superior, and respected universally? How could we have been contemplating the “despised and rejected” figure at the center of this faith for two millennia and come away with the belief that his body, far from being despised and rejected, ought to be universally approved and embraced?

Humility is one of the hardest lessons to learn, but it’s absolutely essential.

Humility is seeing yourself for what you really are, and seeing the world as it really is. According to the Bible, humility is one of the things that God asks of us:

He has shown you O mortal what is good, and what does the Lord require of you,

but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8

In this week’s gospel reading, James and John ask Jesus to sit at his right and left. They’re wanting glory. They imagine Jesus on his throne of glory, and two little thrones on each side. Jesus, on the other hand, might be imagining himself on the cross, with one thief crucified on the right and one crucified on the left. He look them in the eye and says, “You apparently have no clue what you are asking.”

Be careful what you ask for.

“Can you drink the cup that I am to drink? Can you endure the baptism I will endure?” The hearer of the gospel knows what is about to happen to Jesus, even if the characters in the novel do not. There has been plenty of foreshadowing. The disciples don’t get it yet. There is a cost to being an instrument of God’s justice in the world. Count the cost. Can you drink the cup?

“Oh, sure we can!” reply James and John. “Well, okay. If that’s what you want,” Jesus seems to reply. But this sitting at my right and left. That’s not mine to give. And then Jesus gives them a lesson in servant leadership.

Gentiles exercise authority by lording it over others. They are tyrants. It shall not be so among you. To be great, you must be a servant. Take note: I did not come to be served, but to serve, and give my life as a ransom for many.

This is not just a lesson about Christian leadership. It may very well be the nature of all great leadership. True leadership is servanthood. The leader does not lead to receive privileges. True leaders are called upon to make the greatest sacrifices. Jesus teaches this lesson over and over throughout the gospels. Divine leadership is servanthood.

One time Jesus went to eat at the house of one of the leading religious leaders. They were watching him closely. But he was watching them closely too. He noticed how they vied for the best seats in the house. The places of honor. Then he told them it’s better to take the lowest place and maybe get asked to come up, then to take the highest place, and then maybe get asked to step down. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted. It’s Jesus’ upside down theory about how the world works: the more you tell people how wonderful you are, the more they begin to believe it’s probably not true.

humility2_640.png

The Bible warns against pride. Pride goeth before the fall. This is not Benjamin Franklin. It’s Proverbs 16. Here is a bit more:

18 Pride goes before destruction,
and a haughty spirit before a fall.
19 It is better to be of a lowly spirit among the poor
than to divide the spoil with the proud.

Proverbs 16:18-19

Jesus warns to not worry too much about the splinter in your neighbor’s eye. You probably won’t be able to see it all that well with the log in your own eye anyway. This is a reminder to not get too uppity.

An antidote to pride is confession. The Bible says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, but if we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

We are encouraged to confess our sins not only to God, but to one another. To our family. To our coworkers. If we are going to practice humility it will probably mean asking for forgiveness daily, unless you’re perfect, and you never mess up. Humility invites us to practice these words, “You were right. I was wrong.” Everybody practice: “You were right. I was wrong.” This phrase costs you absolutely nothing. You lose no ground. In fact it will raise you up. Those who humble themselves will be exalted.

In Philippians (2:3), Paul says “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.” John Maxwell says to always remember that every person is your superior, in one way or another. You will get farther in life if you remember this truth. In humility, regard others as better than yourselves. Philippians 2:3.

When we view things with an inflated opinion of ourselves, when we don’t see things how they really are, we risk making huge mistakes, like Napoleon invading Russia. Hitler invading Russia. (Well, for that matter, anyone invading Russia.) Saddam invading Kuwait.

When we get puffed up, life has a way of putting us in our place. Listen to others’ perspectives. Avoid megalomania at all costs.

Remember, you are always learning. When David Needleman was fired from Southwest Airlines, he lost what he considered to be a dream job. The person who had the unfortunate job of firing him was Ann Rhodes. Don’t ever think you’re indestructible. A few years later, Needleman had learned volumes from his experiences. When he started his own airline, Jet Blue, guess who he hired for his director of human resources? He hired Ann Rhodes, the same person that gave him the boot a few years earlier. The airline took off (pardon the pun), because he had the humility to hire someone who had fired him. We are learning machines. If you think you know it all, and have no more to learn, you might as well dig your grave and get in.

humility1_640

Humility doesn’t mean being a wimp, or standing down when things get tough. After WWII, Winston Churchill humbly commented, “I was not the lion, but it fell to me to give the lion’s roar.” Humility doesn’t mean being a doormat. It doesn’t mean you don’t stand up for what you believe in. It’s just that you remember that no one has a corner on the truth. It takes all of us, all of our perspectives to see the truth. Humility takes strength: strength of character. When you think of this, recall Jesus cleansing the Temple with a whip.

In fact, there is a danger of false humility. Colossians 2: Paul is talking with both Pagans and Christians when he says,

22All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings. 23These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence.

In other words, be careful that your attempts at righteousness or religiosity do not become a source of pride. Too much piety puffs people up. The writer of Proverbs puts it practically, with a touch of humor: “It is not good to eat too much honey, nor is it honorable to seek one’s own honor.” (Proverbs 25:27)

Pray for humility. II Chronicles 7:14 — “If my people, who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray, then I will hear from heaven, I will forgive their sin, and I will heal their land.” If you’ve been humbled in life, rejoice in the difficult lesson. If you have been broken, rejoice. One message from the cross: God uses the broken and fallen of this world.

In Philippians 2, Paul says,

Have this mind among you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant, and being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.

The humility of Jesus is the way of the cross. In his humility, Jesus reveals the true nature of God. But it does not stop there. Jesus invites us to follow in his way, to not think too highly of ourselves, to take the lowest place, to outdo one another in showing honor. By this shall all people know you are my disciples: not your theology, not your moral superiority, not your ability to argue a point, but by your love.

 

 

 

 

Pentecost 21B – October 14, 2018 (Proper 23B, Ordinary 28B)

Job 23:1-9, 16-17Job’s lament: If only I could vanish in darkness and thick darkness would cover my face.
OR

Amos 5:6-7, 10-15 Seek good and not evil, that you may live; so the Lord will be with you, as you have said he is.


Psalm 22:1-15
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
OR

Psalm 90:12-17 So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom. (Ps. 90:12)


Hebrews 4:12-16 
– The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword. All are naked and laid bare before him.


Mark 10:17-31
– Rich young ruler. Eye of the needle. For God all things are possible. First last. Last first.

Jerusalem Conference, Thursday, October 11.

Before I jump in I want to make a plug for the Jerusalem Conference being held on Thursday, October 11, 2018 at the University of Houston. Christians pray for the peace of Jerusalem. This conference will explore pathways to peace. Speakers include Jim Wallis, Mitri Raheb and others. Please make time for this. The cost is only $30.

 

Preach at the Beach, Tuesday, October 23

Also, David Lose is speaking at Preach at the Beach on Tuesday, October 23, 2018, at Zion Retreat Center on Galveston Island. Come for the day, or stay the night. $45.

 

October and November in the Revised Common Lectionary

In October and November the three-year Revised Common Lectionary lays out about like this.

  • October 7, 2018 we have this text on divorce.
  • October 14, 2018 we have the Rich Young Ruler.
  • October 21, 2018 the disciples ask to sit at Jesus right and left in the kingdom, spurring Jesus to teach about servant leadership. All these texts in October are from Mark 10.
  • October 28, 2018 in the Lutheran Church, we have Reformation Sunday the last Sunday in October.

 

  • November 4, 2018, the first Sunday of November is All Saints Sunday.
  • November 11, 2018 we have the widow’s coins from Mark 12, another thoughtful stewardship text.
  • November 18, 2018 we have Mark’s “Little Apocalypse” from Mark 13. See these large stones in the temple? Not one stone will be left upon another.
  • November 25, 2018 is Christ the King Sunday. The text comes from John 18. Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world,” and “I have come to testify to the truth.” Pilate asks, “What is truth?”

Sundays in October and November people are tax planning and thinking about their giving for the coming year. Congregations are the same. This is, in part, because it is budget time, but there is more to it than just that. The end of the year is the harvest. The crops are gathered in and sold, literally and figuratively. Those in retail receive the vast majority of their income during the holiday season, a kind of harvest, the last three months of the year. Bonuses come in for folks in some professions, and it is a time when financial gifts are made. The Bible is rife with images of the harvest. It is a time of reckoning, a time to take stock of things. The end of the year is also a great time to plan for the coming year. It is a time to think about what we are going to spend, what we are going to save and what we are going to give. Where have we been? Where are we going?

The lectionary does not disappoint on this matter. This week we have the story of the Rich Young Ruler. Here is Mark 10:17-31 in its entirety:

17As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”18Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” 20He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

23Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

28Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

The rich, young ruler asks the good teacher how to inherit eternal life. After scolding the rich young ruler for calling him “good” (for only God alone is good), Jesus says, “You know the commandments,” and then starts listing off some of the Ten Commandments. The ruler believes he has kept the whole law, but he wants to be perfect, complete, so he presses Jesus. Jesus tells him he lacks one thing. He lovingly tells him to go sell everything he has, give the money to the poor and follow Jesus. The rich young ruler then goes away shocked, and grieving.

It strikes me that Jesus does not run after him and chase him down. He doesn’t say, “OK then, not everything, but maybe 75%. No? 50%? 20%?”

Instead, he tells his disciples that it is very hard for people with wealth to enter the kingdom of God. It is the disciples now who are shocked, or perplexed. Jesus presses on, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” The disciples are “greatly astounded.”

Tell the story. It speaks for itself. Don’t explain it away or rob it of its tension. Take your time, so that the congregation can imagine themselves in the disciples’ place, for they too will be scratching their heads at this. We are the wealthy. Most in our congregations have never gone a day without food.

The perplexed, astounded disciples then voice our own question upon hearing this from Jesus: “Good heavens! If that camel statement is true, then who can be saved?” Jesus replies, in essence, “No one. It’s impossible, but for God, all things are possible.”  There are both law and gospel in this story. Keep the commandments. Practice radical generosity. Give your life away for the sake of the world and the gospel. That’s the law. Then there is a recognition that it’s probably unattainable, like the camel and the needle. Impossible, but not for God. We will need divine intervention.

There is no getting around it. Jesus is all about giving. If the church is always talking about money, well so is Jesus. If people complain that the church is always asking for money, perhaps it is because we all too often talk about giving to budgets and buildings, rather than a broader appeal for a life of generous living. The fact remains, Jesus talks about giving and generosity more than just about anything else. We need to talk to people about opening their hearts to God and neighbor.

Gander

I love to tell this story. It embodies so much of what we are about: generosity, hospitality and more. 17 years ago, a group of people illustrated this heart-opening generosity in a way that caught my attention. This is a true story. The details vary from source to source, but this experience changed lives. Don’t read the story. Tell it.

17 years ago last month, Delta Flight 15 was over the North Atlantic, en route from London’s Gatwick Airport to Cincinnati, Ohio, when flight attendant Joyce Hanson was ordered to the cockpit immediately, where the stern-faced captain handed her a message from Atlanta that simply said, “All airways over the Continental U.S. are closed. Land ASAP at the nearest airport, advise your destination.”

The nearest airport turned out to be in a town called Gander, on the island of Newfoundland. A quick request was made to the Canadian traffic controller and a detour to Gander was approved immediately. They simply told the passengers they were having instrument troubles. When they landed 40 minutes later, there were already 20 other airplanes on the ground from all over the world, and 60 more were on the way. The captain made an announcement, “Ladies and gentlemen, you must be wondering if all these airplanes around us have the same instrument problem as we have.” He explained that there was terrorist activity. No one was allowed to get off the aircraft. No one on the ground was allowed to come near the aircrafts.

At 6 p.m. on September 11, Gander airport told them that they would be allowed to deplane at 11:00 the next morning.

About 10:30 on the morning of September 12th, a convoy of school buses showed up at the side of the airplane, the stairway was hooked up, and the passengers were taken to the terminal for “processing” through Immigration and Customs. They then had to register with the Red Cross.

The town of Gander has a population of 10,400 people. The Red Cross ended up processing around 8,000 passengers. Passengers from various flights were taken to hotels, churches, schools and private homes, where they finally watched the news and learned what was going on. At such a deeply troubling time in U.S. history, the “Plane People” as they came to be known were utterly overwhelmed by the hospitality of the people of Gander and outlying communities. With nothing to do, and nowhere to go, for two days they did nothing but enjoy the company of strangers. It was a unique bubble in time.

Steve Kirby of Delta Flight 37 stayed in the small town of Gambo. The two small stores there simply opened their doors all night long and told the community to “take whatever you need.” He said, “Every meal was a feast. I gained 28 pounds.” For two days they lived in the new community – a community of kindness, hospitality, generosity, sharing.

218 passengers from Delta Flight 15 ended up in a town called Lewisporte, about 45 Kilometers from Gander. Families were kept together. All the elderly passengers were lodged in private homes. Nurses and doctors were on duty. Phone calls and emails to the U.S. and Europe were available for everyone, once a day.

Some people went on boat cruises of the lakes and harbors. Some went to see local forests. Local bakeries offered fresh bread for the guests. Food was prepared by all the residents and church members and brought to schools and churches. Every need was met. In later news interviews, tears would stream down their faces as passengers would pour out these stories.

Pat Bernard says that she slept in a padded pew at St. George Anglican Church. When the Plane People were finally about to leave, the church had a big good-bye service for them, tons of food, church bells ringing, people hugging.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or… what you will wear… Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them… Consider the lilies of the field… they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these…

Gander

Two days later the passengers were delivered to the airport right on time and without a single one missing or late. When the passengers from Delta Flight 15 were all on board, one of the business class passengers, a Dr. Robert Ferguson got on the PA and reminded everyone of the hospitality they had received at the hands of total strangers. He said he was going to set up a Trust Fund to provide a scholarship for high school students of Lewisporte to help them go to college. He requested donations of any amount from the other travelers. When the paper with donations got back with the amounts, names, phone numbers and addresses, it totaled to $14,500. The doctor got on the PA again and promised to match the donations.

The first recipients of the Flight 15 Scholarship fund were the members of the 2002 graduating class at Lewisporte Collegiate.

choir

Brothers and sisters in Christ, when we catch a glimpse of real hospitality, divine generosity, it changes us forever. We cannot help but give back. True gratitude expresses itself in sacrificial giving. Jesus gives himself 100% to God, even to giving his life on the cross. When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we recall the lavish, prodigal generosity of God, we remember Jesus’ giving of his own life, his death and resurrection, we eat and drink to this utterly new community in Christ, we catch a glimpse of the lavish grace of God, and what it means for our lives. I challenge you to be that new community, out of the grace that God has lavished upon you in Jesus Christ. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger.

What grace and unearned hospitality have you received? What’s your response of lavish generosity, for all that you have received?

By the way, the Lewisport Area Flight 15 Scholarship Fund, administered by the Columbus Foundation at 1234 East Broad Street, Columbus Ohio, is administered by Shirley Brooks-Jones, a retired administrative assistant from Ohio State University. She was on that flight. The fund started with $14,500. Today it is worth over $1.5 million.

Generosity is a sign of the fulfillment of the kingdom of God. It is a sign that our hearts have been touched by God.

Never neglect to offer hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

– Hebrews 13

Pentecost 20B – October 7, 2018 (Proper 22B, Ordinary 27B)

also St. Francis of Assisi: http://www.textweek.com/festivals/francis.htm

Job 1:1; 2:1-10God to Satan: Have you considered my servant Job? God allow Satan to inflict Job with sores.
OR
Genesis 2:18-24
Man names the animals. God forms woman from the rib of man to be his helper. For this reason a man…


Psalm 26
Prove me O Lord and try me; test my heart and mind.
OR
Psalm 8You adorn us with glory and honor. (Ps. 8:6)


Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
– In many and various ways God spoke to the people of old by the prophets, but in these last days…

Mark 10:2-16 – Legal to divorce? Little children come to Jesus. Accept the Kingdom of God as a child…

Looking Ahead

This week I’m going to talk about a really hot topic: divorce. Then I’m going to talk about a concept central to the Christian faith: Giving. We have the Rich Young Ruler, the Widow’s Mite, and a text on servant leadership.

We have eight Sundays between now and Advent: four in October and four in November. For those who use the three-year Revised Common Lectionary, it lays out about like this.

  • October 7, 2018 we have this text on divorce.
  • October 14, 2018 we have the Rich Young Ruler.
  • October 21, 2018 the disciples ask to sit at Jesus right and left in the kingdom, spurring Jesus to teach about servant leadership. All these texts in October are from Mark 10.
  • October 28, 2018 in the Lutheran Church, we have Reformation Sunday the last Sunday in October.
  • November 4, 2018, the first Sunday of November is All Saints Sunday.
  • November 11, 2018 we have the widow’s coins from Mark 12, another thoughtful stewardship text.
  • November 18, 2018 we have Mark’s “Little Apocalypse” from Mark 13. See these large stones in the temple? Not one stone will be left upon another.
  • November 25, 2018 is Christ the King Sunday. The text comes from John 18. Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world,” and “I have come to testify to the truth.” Pilate asks, “What is truth?”

 

Summary
October 7: Divorce
October 14: Rich Young Ruler
October 21: Servant Leadership
October 28: Reformation

November 4: All Saints
November 11: The Widow’s Coins
November 18: The Little Apocalypse
November 25: Christ the King


Perhaps a Thanksgiving service can be thrown in there for good measure.

This month you could forgo the gospel readings and preach on Job the first three weeks of October, leading up to Reformation Sunday. A three-week series dealing with theodicy, suffering and the like. Why do bad things happen to good people? This is one of the most difficult questions with which people of faith wrestle. If you preach on this, and publicize it in advance on the web, in the local paper, you will draw an interested crowd. Then you just have to figure out how to make sense of it all. Maybe Rabbi Kushner can help a bit.

You could tackle Hebrews the following three weeks leading up to Reformation Sunday. This text says that God “appointed” Jesus. He is a “reflection” of God’s glory. When he made purification for our sins, then he sat down at God’s right hand and “became” superior to the angels. A bit of adoptionism there? It may sound like it, but earlier the author made it clear that Jesus is the one through whom the worlds were made (1:3).

Hebrews 7:3 says, “Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.” The Jesus of Hebrews was tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin (4:15). He destroyed the one with the power of death: the devil (2:14). “For a time” Jesus was lower than the angels too. He was crowned with glory because of his suffering and death. He was “made perfect” through his suffering.

If you are itching to preach a theological treatise, this might be the opportunity. Additionally, we get Hebrews 4 the following week (The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword. All are naked and laid bare before him.) and Hebrews 5 on October 21 (He is able to deal with the ignorant and wayward. You are my son, this day have I begotten you.).

Divorce

Or, this Sunday, you could address the issue of divorce. Sound like fun? In my experience, no matter what else happens in worship, no matter what you read, sing, or say, some people will hear one thing, and one thing only: Mark 10:11-12…

Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her;
and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.

These are serious words. They were spoken by Jesus himself. We must ponder them carefully. If we gloss over them, people are left to their own imaginations, or the concepts and images given to them by the culture, or popular religion.

The church affirms that marriage is a lifelong covenant, not to be discarded thoughtlessly. Divorce tears up families. Often the children are the greatest casualties. On the other hand, the church has often upheld a strict understanding of divorce, even in the face of abuse. Children are also the greatest casualties of an abusive marriage. When the church insists on keeping such marriages together, it risks supporting such abuse.

There may be more going on here. In a society where men could divorce women with the stroke of a pen, but women could not divorce men, Jesus could be unveiling another dark truth. Could it be that Jesus is defending women in this text? Could it be that he is less interested in holding together abusive marriages than he is protecting the vulnerable who had no power, couldn’t vote, couldn’t inherit, owned no property and had no rights, who could be put away with the stroke of a pen?

Divorce in Jesus’ day was not something women could do, at least not easily. A man could “put away” his wife with a simple written statement. Women did not have this right. Was Jesus standing up for women’s rights? Did he recognize they were the vulnerable ones? Is it not typical of Jesus to be watching out for the least and the last? Considerations like this are often ignored. Nevertheless, they have serious implications for applying Jesus’ teaching today.

Many people in our society have felt the pain of divorce. It is not uncommon for half a confirmation class to come from blended families. Many of these families have only heard words of judgment from the church. Some left abusive relationships only to be denied communion in one church or given the cold shoulder in another. In the past, women were counseled to stay in abusive relationships and be “faithful” to an unfaithful spouse.

This might be a good Sunday to speak about the unspeakable, to do some Lutheran teaching on divorce, to lift up a theology of grace that addresses both law and gospel.

The French philosopher Voltaire pointed out that divorce has probably been around at least as long as the advent of formalized marriage. Even Moses allowed divorce. That is, Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce against a woman. Under Jewish law, a man can divorce a woman for any reason. The Talmud gives a specific example: A man can divorce a woman if she ruins dinner. Some infractions required divorce, such as adultery. In some cases, it even called for the death penalty. The man simply wrote a certificate of divorce, handed it to the wife, and sent her away. In the Talmud, only the husband can initiate divorce.

Historically, married women had almost no rights vis-à-vis their husbands. In Victorian England, once married, a woman’s possessions belonged to her husband. A husband could beat his wife, just as parents were allowed to beat their children. Annulment by the church was a long, expensive process, inaccessible to the majority of poor peasants. A Victorian woman could file for divorce, but she had to be able to prove that her husband had committed adultery. If the court found that testimony unsatisfying, the divorce was denied and the results could be catastrophic for the woman. As a result, few were willing to even take the risk. Even today, in some societies, if a woman who has been raped reports it, and the courts find insufficient evidence, she can be charged with adultery.

Even Jesus allowed for divorce in certain circumstances. Matthew 5:32 and 19:19 allow divorce in the case of marital unfaithfulness. In my book, physical abuse is undoubtedly one form of unfaithfulness.

And yet, in this passage Jesus doesn’t seem to come down on divorce so much as remarriage. Privately, he says to his disciples, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” The sin here seems not to be divorce, but remarriage in the case of divorce.

Somehow this kind of rhetoric seems familiar. We have seen this kind of talk from Jesus before. Rhetorical overstatement seems to be Jesus’ homiletical forte. This is the Jesus who tells his followers to tear their eyes out if they cause them to sin, after all. Could this be another case of hyperbole?

Likewise, Paul seems to be prepared to allow remarriage in certain circumstances (I Cor. 7:15). If one is deserted by an unbelieving spouse, he seems to think one should not be penalized by being forbidden to remarry. If Jesus had meant remarriage was adultery, why would Paul allow this? Paul also allowed a woman to remarry if her husband died (I Cor. 7:39).

This all makes me wonder, “What is going on here?”

If one looks carefully at what is happening in the text, one immediately sees there is a polemic. Jesus is addressing the Pharisees who have asked him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” They are asking him to uphold a Deuteronomy 24:1 understanding of divorce, whereby a man can put away his wife for any reason. They are not (let’s be perfectly clear), asking if a woman can divorce a man. So, think about it for a moment: What would be their motive for asking this question in the first place?

Hear this: Jesus rejects the Deuteronomy 24:1 understanding of divorce, perhaps because it is unfair, putting the woman in an unjust position. It makes her completely vulnerable to the will of the husband.

He substitutes their Deuteronomy 24:1 understanding of marriage with a Genesis 2:24 understanding. This is not a one-sided relationship of power, but rather a mutual relationship whereby husband and wife are no longer two, but one flesh. This theology said, in essence, to the Pharisees, “No, you cannot divorce your wife any time you wish.” By mentioning the unfaithfulness clause, he does, however, reinforce the one circumstance under which a woman can seek a divorce.

Leave and cleave are covenant terms. Marriage was a covenant. A covenant was a way of binding together people who were not related by blood. Covenants were sealed by oaths and acts. The marital bed was the act that sealed a marriage covenant. Covenants could also be dissolved by acts. Adultery was an act that dissolved, de facto, the marriage covenant. This dissolution is not God’s will, but once it has happened, it has happened. This does not mean a couple cannot stay together after an affair, but perhaps that another covenant, a new covenant, must now be made.

The draft of the ELCA’s Social Statement on Women and Justice says, on page 3:

Patriarchy is a social system dominated by men, identified with men, and centered on men’s actions, voices, and authority. In patriarchal systems, men are typically viewed as better than women, given more power than women, and have more authority than women. This patriarchal worldview harms women and girls.

Further ahead, on page 29, the draft statement says,

Patriarchy and sexism in the Christian Church have a long history. Although women were followers of Jesus and leaders both in Jesus’ lifetime and in the very early church, women were excluded and vilified as Christianity grew in status and wealth. Early church theologians were often misogynistic; they repeated the idea that women were “the devil’s gateway” and rebuked women as “a feeble race, untrustworthy and of mediocre intelligence.” Throughout much of the history of the Christian Church, women were therefore excluded from Christian leadership, including ordained leadership; taught to be submissive in marriage, church, and society; and coerced to endure violence.

Sadly, this truth often gets ignored when listening to passages like those in today’s gospel reading. We operate in peril if we ignore the power dynamics going on in Jesus’ day, or ours. Over 28 million women are forced into sexual slavery. That figure includes forced marriage in many cultures.

I do not include all this intending it to be preached. Care must be taken, especially with impressionable children in worship. Know your context. But there may be pieces that prove helpful as the preacher crafts a message that people can actually hear – need to hear.

Lutherans have always recognized that we are a broken people who live in an imperfect world. In a perfect world, everyone would be faithful and all marriages would last a lifetime. This simply is not the case. Jesus was a friend of sinners. He approached the self-righteous with very hard words. Sinners, he approached with kindness and forgiveness.

As a church we are called upon to approach all people in all circumstances of life with love and humility. This is Jesus’ way of being in the world. We believe and teach that divorced persons are to be welcomed into all aspects of the church’s life, without judgment or recrimination. As Jesus said,

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. (Matthew 7)

When you get the log out of your eye, you can start working on other people’s specks. Let whoever is without sin cast the first stone.

Are you divorced? You are welcome here. Are you a sinner? You are welcome here. Have you made mistakes in life? You are welcome here. All are welcome, for, as Jesus said, “My Father’s house is a house of prayer for all people.” The church is not a club for saints, but a hospital for sinners. Welcome sinners, to this table. The ground is level at the foot of the cross.

2018 Fund for Leaders Scholarship Recipients

For the first time in many years, some Gulf Coast Synod seminary students were honored to receive full-tuition, 4-year scholarships. We celebrated with Bishop Eaton, the 65 synod bishops, seven seminary presidents, some churchwide staff and 56 scholarship recipients, the most ever. Over $2 million was distributed this round, from the $56.4M fund. $15M has been given in scholarships to date.

We currently have about 18 people in some stage of Word and Sacrament candidacy, and four in TEEM (Theological Education for Emerging Ministries).

This year, Gulf Coast recipients (and some friend of the Gulf Coast Synod) are:

  • Cody Miller, from Kinsmen, Houston is studying at Wartburg.
  • Cassandra Nagle, from House of Prayer, Houston is studying at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago.
  • Yu-Jen (Evangeline) Dai, from Faith Chinese Fellowship, Bellaire is studying at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary.
  • Nicholaus Chove, from UMOJA Swahili Church in Houston, is attending Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary. He is in candidacy in the North Texas North Louisiana Synod.
  • Mary Button (Pastor Mike Button’s daughter, Metro New York Synod) is attending United Lutheran Seminary.
  • Cassie (center) with her LSTC roommate Maeve (right). Cassie was a Spanish major, and she lived in Argentina for a while:
  • Nicholaus (center) with Florida/Bahamas Bishop Pedro Suarez (right):

    L-R: Cody Miller, Cassie Nagle, Mike Rinehart, Evangeline Dai:

    Mary Button with her father, Pastor Mike Button:

    L-R: Bishop Jon Anderson with Mary Button and Mike Button, who was Jon’s internship supervisor:

    Another awesome creative leader in the church, Jonathan Rundman:

    The women of the ELCA Conference of Bishops. (Missing is Idalia Negrón of the Caribbean Synod.):

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