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Bishop Michael Rinehart

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michaelrinehart

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

April 2, 2017 is Lent 5A

Ezekiel 37:1-14 – The Valley of the Dry Bones. I am going to bring you up from your graves, my people.

Psalm 130 – Out of the depths I cry to you.

Romans 8:6-11 – If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

John 11:1-45 – The Raising of Lazarus

Raised

Another long gospel reading, with a million sermons that could be preached. This is where we’ve been this Lent:

  1. The temptation of Christ
  2. John 3 – Nicodemus (physical/spiritual rebirth)
  3. John 4 – The Woman at the Well (physical/spiritual thirst/water)
  4. John 9 – The Man Born Blind (physical/spiritual blindness)

So now what are we to make of John 11 – the raising of Lazarus?

Permit me some random exegetical musings and then a playful look at art.

My favorite commentary on the Gospel of John is by C. K. Barrett, a volume bequeathed to me by my father, published in 1958, the year he entered seminary in Columbus, Ohio. A lot of research has been done in the last 50 years, but this work holds enduring insights for me.

For example, Barrett points out that it is unlikely that John had access to the Gospel of Luke, written decades before John, but there are some striking similarities, even if not. John and Luke are the only two gospels that mention the sisters Mary and Martha. Consider also the relationship of Luke’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus to this story. The rich man begs Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water to cool his tongue. When this is not possible, the rich man begs Abraham to send someone to warn his family. Abraham says, “They have Moses and the prophets.” The rich man replies, “If someone rises from the dead, they will believe.” In the final scene, Abraham says, “Even if someone rises from the dead they will not believe.

In John’s story this week, Lazarus does in fact come back from the dead. Considering this, it is hard to believe John had no access to Luke’s parable. It is possible, and perhaps plausible, that this resurrection story comes from John’s tradition, but is then edited to suit John’s theological purposes.

Barrett also points out that there are resurrection stories in the synoptic Gospels as well (Mark 5:21–43; Matthew 9:18–26; Luke 8:40–56; Luke 7:11–16). Still, there is no parallel to this story in the synoptic tradition.

I find it encouraging that Barrett writes, even in 1958,

“It is evident that it was not John’s intention to write a work of scientific history. Such works were extremely scarce in antiquity, and we have seen that John’s interests were theological rather than chronological. Moreover, his treatment of the only source (Mark) we can isolate with any confidence from his gospel is very free; there is no reason to think that he followed other sources more closely. He did not hesitate to repress, revise, rewrite, or rearrange. On the other hand, there is no sufficient evidence for the view that John freely created narrative material for allegorical purposes. His narratives are for the most part simple, and the details generally remain unallegorized.” (p. 117)

Barrett continues,

“It was of supreme importance to him that there was a Jesus of Nazareth who lived and died in Palestine, even though to give an accurate outline of the outstanding events in the career of this person was no part of his purpose. He sought to draw out, using in part the form and style of narrative… the true meaning of the life and death of the one whom he believed to be the son of God, a being from beyond history. It was for this interpretation of the focal point of all history, not for accurate historical data, that we must look in John. Yet at every point history underlies what John wrote. The reader is reminded of ancient Egyptian figure drawing…”

I often try to describe the Gospels as works of art. When one looks at a Rembrandt, one can ask the question, “Is this historically accurate?” The answer is difficult. Yes, the event actually took place. But did the people look like that? Were they standing precisely there? Did it happen with Renaissance landscapes in the background? No, the Gospels, like art, are interpretations, with a very mild nod to historicity.

This is to say, Barrett would suggest, the story in John 11 is a theological statement about who Jesus is and a foreshadowing of the resurrection of the dead, in the life to come. Jesus is life. Jesus is the resurrection, both now and in the coming kingdom.

Barrett seems uninterested in debating the historicity of the event. Here are his words:

“What is the historical value of the story? This question depends mainly on the view taken of the sources and purpose of the gospel. It is of course possible to take an a priori view of miracle which rules out the possibility of such an event as this. If such an a priori view is taken there is clearly no further room for argument, and it is not within the province of this commentary to discuss the philosophical aspects of miracle.”

He seems to be saying, if you don’t believe in miracles, then there’s no point in debating whether this event took place or not. Do bodies come back to life? Is there room in your cosmology for such a thing to take place? If you enter into the narrative already saying no, then there’s no point in bothering to argue about it. If, on the other hand, you imagine that John gives a whit about historical accuracy, you don’t know how to read ancient literature, which shows little interest in such post-Enlightenment categories.

Back to the story. Jesus loves Lazarus and his sister Mary (one of the seven Marys mentioned in the gospels) and his sister Martha. They live in Bethany, a suburb of Jerusalem. Some have suggested that Lazarus (not John) was the disciple whom Jesus loved because of this passage. The story of Mary (sitting at the feet of Jesus) and Martha (working) is Luke, not John. But the personalities of the characters in the these stories seem consistent in both gospels: Martha, taking center stage, wracked with grief, complains that if Jesus had been on time, none of this would have happened in the first place. The voice of grief.

This is the only place in which this story is recounted. Jesus pushes Martha. “I am the resurrection and the life.” This passage is read at most funerals. “Do you believe this?” Martha’s confessional response should be right up there with Peter’s: “Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” This is every bit as striking as Peter’s confession.

Since we have spoken as the Gospels as art, I would like to consider art as gospel. Let us allow the world’s great artists to tell this story, a story that has been captured in art more than most gospel stories.

This first is from the year 1304, by Giotto di Botone (1267-1337). It’s at the Arena Chapel in Padua:

Nearly 160 years later, Nicolas Fromen (1425-1486) did this piece, below, on wood. It’s part of a triptych. Bodone painted this to keep his father, who had committed usury, out of purgatory.

Note the artist painted himself in the upper left hand corner of the picture. Froment has painted himself into a corner. Notice also he’s the only one looking at you.

Eerie how the artist stares out at us through the portals of time. Lazarus is up in this picture, but he’s not looking so good. Perhaps like the guy in The Mummy. He’s been dead several days. I don’t look so good after a night’s sleep.

Mary and Martha are in the lower left, weeping. People to the outside of the crowd are probably Froment’s contemporaries. One (upper right?) may be his patron.

Note the disciple to Jesus’ left is reading a book. This work is 1461. The printing press was invented in 1450. Interesting that Froment paints people in contemporary outfits, using the new technology of the day. It would be like painting a Raising of Lazarus today and having someone reading from an iPhone, in blue jeans.

I love how the Renaissance artists painted the Bible stories into their day and age: scenery, architecture, clothing. I wish artists did more of this today. Our desire to portray things as closely as possible in their original context is good, but we’ve also lost something: imagining these things in our day and age.

Here’s one by Dutch artist Geertgen tot Sint Jans. It’s a Northern Renaissance classic. He painted this when he was 20 years old, around 1480. It’s been in the Louvre for over 100 years. Note Mary and Martha to the lower right and the Pharisees at the upper left.

Looking at this close up reveals quite a few peculiarities. What’s that above Mary’s head? You might not be able to make it out here. You can find it online and view as closely as you wish, all of these pieces of art simply by typing the artist’s name. It is fun to show them on a large screen in powerpoint at an adult ed forum. Here’s Geerten up close. It’s public domain.

This next one is by Benozzo Gozzoli, ca. 1497 (I love his name). Luther was 14 when this was painted. Gozzoli died shortly after painting it. He also painted himself into one of of his works, but not this one (see Procession of the Magi). Besides having a totally cool name, Gozzoli painted a lot of Bible passages. Look at the little people in the lower left. This is a curiosity of Renaissance art I’ve never fully understood. Mary and Martha are on the lower left. The disciples have halos.

have to admit, one of the things that bothers me most is the fact that Jesus in these depictions seems so emotionless. It strikes me that one of the important parts of this passage is the fact that Jesus wept. A very divine Jesus in John’s high christology still weeps at the death of Lazarus. Our hope of the resurrection does not exempt us from deep feelings of grief.

This next is a Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio from 1609. His use of light is incredible. The light emerges from somewhere behind Jesus. The new Baroque (1600-1750) realism.

Note that the light picks up the detail of Jesus’ hand, which looks conspicuously like Michelangelo’s hand of God, for obvious reasons.

Or is he trying to make it look Adam’s hand? Probably not. God’s right hand. Adam’s left. In either case, it appears Lazarus is not so sure about wanting to return to this earthly life, as his hand seems to be up in protest.

This Rembrandt is from 1630. Finally, a little emotion on Jesus’ face.

Jean-Baptiste Jouvenet’s Raising of Lazarus (1706) is rather busy. Everyone seems to be shocked, even Jesus.

The Lazarus Raising by Gustav Dore (1865) is part of a long series of Dore’s work on John’s gospel. It’s black and white, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out where the light is coming from.

Van Gogh (1890) starts getting a bit abstract:

But nothing beats the 20th century for abstract. This piece by William Congdon was produced in 1961:

So which of these is historically accurate? Which of them are true? None of them. All of them.

This story is clearly a foreshadowing of the resurrection. It is a message of hope and a message about who this Jesus is, and what his ministry means. There is more to life than meets the eye. God is working life in the midst of death. This Jesus is the resurrection and the life.

Joy in Life

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”

George Bernard Shaw

The 2017 MS 150

The MS 150 is a bike ride from Houston to Austin. 13,000 riders raise money to fight multiple sclerosis. Blair Lundborg and I will be riding this year, April 29-30, 2017. To find out more, or to donate/sponsor me, go to:

http://main.nationalmssociety.org/site/TR/Bike/TXHBikeEvents?px=15682232&pg=personal&fr_id=28263

Day one is 76 to 100 miles, depending upon where you start. Lunch is in Bellville, at the Austin County Fairgrounds on FM 529. Overnight is in LaGrange.

Day two begins in LaGrange and finishes in Austin. The route is either 66 miles, or the 77 mile challenge route with rolling hills through Bastrop State Park. Lunch is in Bastrop, at the intermediate school.


March 26, 2017 is Lent 4A

1 Samuel 16:1-13 – Humans look on the outward appearance, but God looks upon the heart.

Psalm 23 – The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want.

Ephesians 5:8-14 – Live as children of the light. Sleeper awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.

John 9:1-41 – Healing of the Man Born Blind

Music

  • Amazing Grace (I was blind, but now I see…)
  • Be Thou My Vision
  • Psalm 23: Shepherd Me O God, The King of Love My Shepherd Is

Spiritually Blind

This story comes off as a kind of comedy. It’s long. Consider having a group rehearse it and read it: Shared Reading of John 9.

For another angle on this text, read this article I wrote back in 2011 after the Japanese earthquake: “Is the Earthquake God’s Judgment on Japan?

There seem to be a great many points made in this multidimensional text. I’ll suggest five scenes. Any one of them could be a sermon.

1.It’s dangerous always drawing a direct connection between suffering and sin.

Scene 1: Who sinned?

It’s a quandary. If he’s blind from birth, and if the people in Jesus’ day considered disabilities are the result of sin, then who did the sinning? Did he sin before he was born? Or did his parents sin, and he’s paying for it? In short, what caused his blindness?

Before you laugh, consider the number of children born HIV positive. People always wonder: who sinned that this child was born HIV positive? Before you judge the mother, consider the woman who is HIV positive not because of their promiscuity but because of her spouse’s indiscretions. Still, someone sinned, right? Some disasters are the result of sin. It’s not an unreasonable question. But what about the person with cancer? Must have been something they ate. The person hit by a car? Must have been walking in the wrong place. We can’t seem to get past the idea of karma: If something bad happened to you, it must be something that you did.

Also consider the Final Solution in WWII. The Nazis felt they could develop a Master Race by exterminating all those with handicaps, diseases, homosexual orientation, and, of course, the Jewish people. There is an insidious view of sickness here that makes some clean and some unclean. Who sinned?

Jesus seems to discount this explanation. Blaming the victim won’t wash. Suffering is to be met with compassion not judgment.

Spit and mud. Jesus uses spit in Mark 7:32 and 8:23 as well. We may be seeing through a window into Jesus’ healing style. Using spit was not uncommon among ancient healers. The mud conjures for me God making Adam out of the dust in Genesis. John’s Jesus is one with the author of life in Genesis.

There are also themes of sin and baptism. We too are sinners from our birth. We too are called to wash in the pool of Siloam, the waters of baptism.

2.Compassion and the law

Scene 2: In verses 13-17, we are informed that Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath. So, the religious leaders, more concerned with dogged adherence to the law than compassion for the blind man, bring the man in for interrogation. Their legalism blinds them to the Gospel: the beautiful thing that God is doing in the world.

What happened?
He put mud on my eyes, I washed, and now I see.
This man is not from God. He doesn’t observe the Sabbath.
But if he’s not from God, how can he perform such signs?
What do you say about him?
He is a prophet. 

This is an unauthorized healing. Jesus does not have the permission or authority to heal. No one should break the law in such a flagrant way. Luke’s Jesus says, “If one of you has a child or a donkey that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on the sabbath day?” (Luke 4:5) Compassion is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:10, Galatians 5:14)

3.Triangulation and exclusion

Scene 3. Enter mommy and daddy. In verses 18-23, the Pharisees, who suspect the whole thing is a hoax, bring in the parents.

Is this your son, who was born blind?
Yep.
How does he now see?
Dunno. Ask him. He is of age. He can speak for himself. (Snark) 

They said this because they were afraid: Anyone who confessed Jesus as messiah would be put out of the synagogue.

Kicked out of the synagogue.

This is not like getting kicked out of a club. This is getting kicked out of one’s most central community.

See also 12:42, “Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue…”

And 16:2, “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God.”

There seems to be a theme here. Some suggest that this was something that John’s church was experiencing: the exclusion of Christian Jews from the Synagogue. These 2nd century Christians resonated with Jesus’ sayings about exclusion.

The list of those who are not welcome in the Temple or Synagogue was staggering: gentiles, women, blind, lame, deaf, mute, lepers, anyone unclean. Exclusion became a way to cut people off from community. The law gave the privileged power over others. It is precisely toward these outcasts and sinners that Jesus directs his ministry.

To whom is your ministry directed? Who are the objects of your compassion? Your judgment?

4.Who is this Jesus?

Scene 4. In verses 24-34, the investigation continues, preparing us for the punch of the text. The man is grilled again.

This Jesus is a sinner.
I don’t know about that. I just know he healed me. I was blind, but now I see. (Seems like an obvious cue to sing “Amazing Grace”)
What did he do to you?
I already told you. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to be his disciples? (More snark/sarcasm)
You are his disciple. We are Moses’ disciples. We don’t know who this upstart is or where he comes from.
This is an amazing thing. You don’t know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. You say God doesn’t listen to sinners, so…
You were born in sin, and you would educate us? And they drove him out.

Of course they did.

The blind man’s witness may be the most effective. Rather than a creedal formula and a doctrinal response, we can say: “I don’t really know about all of that, all I know is that he healed me.”

How has God healed you? Where have you seen Christ’s healing presence in your community?

5.Beware of spiritual blindness

Two weeks ago Jesus began talking with Nicodemus about being reborn. Nicodemus thought he was talking about a physical rebirth, but Jesus was actually talking about a spiritual rebirth.

Last week Jesus spoke with the woman at the well about quenching her thirst. She thought he was talking about physical thirst, but Jesus was actually talking about spiritual thirst.

This week our story is about blindness. Lest we think the story is about physical blindness, Jesus is probably talking about spiritual blindness.

Scene 5. Verses 35-41 deliver the punch.

Jesus heard that they drove out the man born blind. In character, Jesus seeks him out.

Do you believe in the Son of Man?
Who is he?
C’est moi.
I believe.
I came so that the blind might see, and those who see become blind.
Pharisees: Are you calling us blind?
Jesus: Well, if the shoe fits…
If you were blind, you would have no sin, but since you say, “We see” your sin remains.

The Pharisees believe the man’s blindness is an indictment – proof he is a sinner. His blindness is God’s judgment. Jesus does not view the man’s blindness as judgment but rather a malady for which we should have compassion. Jesus tells the Pharisees, in essence, if you were actually blind, you would have no sin. But because you think you see, your hypocrisy indicts you.

The Pharisees think the man is blind. But for Jesus, it is the Pharisees who are blind – spiritually blind.

The real sin, the ultimate blindness, is self-righteousness. Hypocrisy blinds us to the spiritual life. The Pharisees believe that the blind man is a sinner or perhaps his parents. The blind/outcast/unwelcome man is not the sinner in Jesus’ eyes, but those who judge. This mirrors Matthew 7. Self-righteousness becomes the plank in our eyes, blinding us.

The irony is, the more we try to be good (not a bad thing) the greater the danger of feeling morally superior, which is perhaps the greatest sin of all. A smarter person could come up with an equation for this.

I’m not sure what the solution to the equation is. I can only turn to mercy, grace, forgiveness, hope, and compassion. This defines us as Lutherans. While many religions, and various other denominations, define Christianity as a kind of moral contest, the gospel is about God’s love for us in spite of our brokenness.

In practical terms, it comes down to doing the opposite of the world. The world says, mercy for me, judgment for you. The opposite of that is to have very, very high standards for me and radical grace and compassion for you and others. This is what Jesus does throughout the gospels. Don’t worry about the speck in your neighbor’s eye. Work on the log in your own.

Shared Reading of John 9

The readings this Lent are long stories. March 26, Lent 4A is the entire ninth chapter of John. An interesting way to present this gospel may be through a dramatic reading. Find someone to coordinate this effort. That person will only need to find 12 people and rehearse them. Pick people who can speak up and won’t be too nervous.

Speakers may sit wherever they wish, scattered throughout the congregation. Parents should sit together. Pharisees might sit together. Have each person remain seated until their first line comes. When their line comes, they should read it, then remain standing for the rest of the reading. Read through it together 30 minutes before the service.

E – Evangelist
1 – Disciple 1
J – Jesus
N1 – Neighbor 1
N2 – Neighbor 2
N3 – Neighbor 3
B – Blind man
P1 – Pharisee 1
P2 – Pharisee 2
P3 – Pharisee 3
M – Mother
F – Father

E: As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth.

1: His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’

J: Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We *must work the works of him who sent me* while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’

E: When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him,

J: ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent).

E: Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

N1: The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, ‘Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’

N2: Some were saying, ‘It is he.’

N3: Others were saying, ‘No, but it is someone like him.’

B: He kept saying, ‘I am the man.’

N1: But they kept asking him,

N1, N2, & N3: ‘Then how were your eyes opened?’

B: He answered, ‘The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, “Go to Siloam and wash.” Then I went and washed and received my sight.’

N2: ‘Where is he?’

B: ‘I don’t know!’

E: They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight.

B: He said to them, ‘He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.’

P1: Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.’

P2 & P3: But others said, ‘How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?’ And they were divided.

P1: So they said again to the blind man, ‘What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.’

B: ‘He is a prophet.’

E: The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them,

P2:  ‘Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?’

F: His parents answered, ‘We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.’

M: His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus* to be the Messiah* would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, ‘He is of age; ask him.’

P3: So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, ‘Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.’

B: He answered, ‘I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.’

P1: They said to him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?

B: ‘I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?’

P2: Then they reviled him, saying, ‘You are his disciple,

P1, P2, & P3: But we are disciples of Moses.

P3: We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.’

B: ‘Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’

P1: They answered him, ‘You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?’ And they drove him out.

J: Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’*

B: ‘And who is he, sir?* Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’

J: You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’

B: ‘Lord,* I believe.’ And he worshipped him.

J: Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’

P3: Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’

J: Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.

Our Peruvian friends through the years

1999:

Below: The first ordinations. Irene, Adita, Benjamín, Patricia, Pedro. Rafael Malpica, bottom right. I’m in the back right. 

2001, Patricia’s visit to Texas:


2002:

2005:

2008:


2009, 10th Anniversary of the first Ordinations:


2011:




2012:

2013:


2015:

2016:

2017:

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