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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.

Pentecost 5B – June 24, 2018

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.

Open Your Heart
2 Corinthians 6:1-13

As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return—I speak as to children—open wide your hearts also.

Paul and the Corinthians

So far in our series, we have had Sunday morning texts on 2 Corinthians 4 and 5. This week we read from chapter 6.

In chapter 4 Paul said to not lose heart. In chapter 5 Paul said if anyone is in Christ there is a new creation. Now Paul will put a full-court press on the Corinthians to open their hearts and be reconciled to God and to him.

Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation. Paul sees that salvation is at hand, so now followers of Christ must act like it; we must live into this salvation that is now. If now we are reconciled to God, how much more should we now be reconciled to one another?

Paul points out there are no obstacles left to block the way. What could possibly stop them from patching things up? Nothing is left to keep them from reconciliation. No one has found fault with Paul’s ministry. “Let’s mend these fences, for the sake of the gospel,” Paul seems to be saying.

This is the final part of Paul’s argument for reconciliation. He will make a very personal appeal, in three parts: hardships, virtues and treatment.

In verses 4-10, Paul lists the hardships he and his colleagues have endured. As we learned last week:

Hardships: in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger…

Have they given as much? Suffered as much for the sake of the gospel? Does not their willingness to endure so much for the gospel prove their authenticity?

Then Paul continues by naming the virtues with which he has endured the aforementioned hardships:

Virtues: …by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute.

There can be no mistake here. For Paul, holiness has to do with how one responds to one’s sufferings. Jesus is our model. He prayed for those who were torturing him: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Finally, Paul shares the unfairness of how they have been treated:

Treatment: We are treated as impostors and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

This is reminiscent of the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people revile you and curse you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account…”

These lists are not unlike the virtue lists of the stoic philosophers. They are designed to set an example and commend the speaker to the listener. They also garner some sympathy and credibility. The Corinthians should listen to Paul because of what he has endured and how he has come through it. He has paid his dues. He has earned their respect.

He will repeat and amplify this argument in 11:23-27. Both of these passages mimic stoic virtue lists, but his virtues are more Christian. They do not explore the qualities of greatness as much as the qualities of humility, the qualities of a servant of God. As Christ endured suffering, he and his coworkers have also. Their greatness is not in conquering. It is in enduring. If they have endured so much, perhaps he hopes the Corinthians will cut them a little slack and let bygones be bygones.

Ben Witherington III, in Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthianssays the point is not just that Paul has endured, but that he has endured with integrity and character. The virtues show how he handled the hardships. Paul has pure motives and authenticity as an apostle. Therefore, the Corinthians should listen to him.

His ministry has been characterized by love and purity, so theirs should be too. He has been expansive in his heart toward them. They should be the same.

This phrase in the last part of the reading is telling: “Our hearts are wide open to you.” Would that this described every church.

Paul goes on to say there is no restriction to his affection, only in theirs. He grieves this. He stands ready for reconciliation. This allows him to speak as an adult to a child, in words that may still be directed to us today: “Open your hearts wide open also.”

With whom do you need reconciliation? Is your heart open wide?

Heart Passages in 2 Corinthians

2 Corinthians 1:22
By putting his seal on us and giving us his Spirit in our hearts as a first installment.

2 Corinthians 2:4
For I wrote you out of much distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain, but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.

2 Corinthians 3:2
You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all;

2 Corinthians 3:3
And you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

2 Corinthians 4:1
Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.

2 Corinthians 4:6
For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 4:16
So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.

2 Corinthians 5:12
We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart.

2 Corinthians 6:11
We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you.

2 Corinthians 6:13
In return—I speak as to children—open wide your hearts also.

2 Corinthians 7:2
Make room in your hearts for us; we have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one.

2 Corinthians 7:3
I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together.

2 Corinthians 7:15
And his heart goes out all the more to you, as he remembers the obedience of all of you, and how you welcomed him with fear and trembling.

2 Corinthians 8:16
But thanks be to God who put in the heart of Titus the same eagerness for you that I myself have.

Texts and Themes

Don’t Lose Heart
Pentecost 2B: June 3 – 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.

New Creation
Pentecost 3B: June 10 – 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17 – If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. We walk by faith and not by sight, at home in the body and away from the Lord.

Open Heart
Pentecost 4B: June 17 – 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 – Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation. We have endured beatings, riots, hunger, imprisonment…

Eager Generosity
Pentecost 5B: June 24 – 2 Corinthians 8:7-15 – The offering for the poor in Jerusalem. Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.

Powerful Weakness
Pentecost 6B: July 1 – 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.

 

More Information on the Study of 2 Corinthians

Pentecost 4B – June 17, 2018

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. For an earlier post on this text by Pastor Don Carlson, check out June 17, 2012 (DC).

New Creation

Last week’s text ended with 5:1: “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” This week’s text begins five verses later, continuing the theme, “So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord— for we walk by faith, not by sight.” (5:6-7)

While we are at home in the body, we are away from the Lord. It is this view beyond the temporal world that gives Paul the freedom to walk by faith, and not by sight. He would rather be home with the Lord. This may be a perspective borne of his sufferings. Next week we will hear (6:4-10) of some of Paul’s sufferings:

…as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Later, in 11:23-29, Paul will spell out more of the things he has endured in his missionary work:

Are they ministers of Christ? I am talking like a madman—I am a better one: with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I am not indignant?

Have you suffered? So did Paul, and Christ for that matter. You are not alone. The words of our Scriptures are not naïve with regards to suffering. So Paul can yearn for the day he is at home with the Lord.

holding hands

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. (4:8-10)

Pastors have the privilege of being with people at the point of death. It is a sacred privilege. In over a quarter century of ordained ministry, I have heard many words uttered on death beds. Joy and sorrow. Hope and regret. Not everyone is ready to let go of this mortal coil. To them, Paul’s words probably seem strange, surreal even. Sometimes death comes too soon, like a thief in the night. The hardest thing most pastors will ever have to do is bury a child.

Other people, however, are quite ready for death. Some pray for death to come with joy. Some even express frustration when it doesn’t come. After 65 years of marriage, Margaret’s husband died. Up in years herself, she had no desire to live. At 94, JoAnne had lived a long time. Her body was giving out on her little by little. She had aches and pains that she knew would never go away. “I’ve had a long life. I’ve experienced more love and joy than I had a right to expect. I’ve had hardships, but the Lord has seen me through. It’s time.”

Brian Gigee, a pastor in Pearland, a suburb of Houston, recently shared a letter written by his mother entitled, “To Be Read at My Funeral.” He crafted it in song. https://youtu.be/wQ6wcXtIZmc

Refrain
Don’t cry for me now, now that I’m gone
I’m not far away in God’s heavenly home
Any tears you may shed will just water the seas
As God blesses and grows our family tree

They said we were poor, my family and me
Nine brothers and sisters, I know they’ll agree
Through hardship and troubles, not silver and gold
God made us all conquerors with riches untold

Your father and I, we’re together again.
We’ll sit side-by-side. He’s still my best friend.
And we’ll watch over you with each night and day.
The bright torch you have carried will light your pathway

Each generations, babies new cry
We enter life’s mystery and often ask why
And soon you’ll discover, faith makes you strong
In the arms of our Savior we’re never alone

Final Refrain
Don’t cry for me now, now that I’m gone
I’m not far away in God’s heavenly home
And the story of God’s love, won’t end with this song
Don’t cry for me now, kids, God’s grace keeps us strong
In the presence of Jesus, we’re already home

Our lesson concludes with verses 14-17:

For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

Not nearly enough is made of Paul’s understanding of the love of Christ. It is this “love of Christ” (v. 14) that drove Jesus to endure the cross. It is this love that reshapes Paul’s understanding of faith and community. The law of Moses, written on tablets is now the law of love, written on our hearts. Without this love (1 Corinthians 13) nothing else really matters. Without this love, our preaching is just noise, faith is nothing, and even sacrifice means nothing.

Paul lives in the mystery of the crucifixion. Because Christ has died, we have all died. In Romans he said all who are baptized into Christ Jesus are baptized into his death. We all die in Christ, so that we may no longer live for ourselves. We live to love one another and serve God. This is not an eschatological “pie in the sky when you die” theology. We die to ourselves to live for Christ in this world. This death means we are called to love one another and serve the Lord, whether we are away in the body or at home with the Lord. In life and in death, for Paul, all is Christ.

Following Christ, then, means nothing less than a shift in consciousness. It is a way of seeing the world, not through the lens of the moment, the lens of wealth or the lens of power, but through the lens of love, that transcends life and death. We walk by faith and not by sight. We live in love, seeing beyond our current circumstances to the bigger picture.

The lectionary does not appoint the last part of chapter 5 for our reading, but it may be worth including. In fact, I would consider reading the entire chapter. Here’s why. The last verses form the implications for what Paul has said. As N.T. Wright says (in his book 2  Corinthians), a new creation means a new ministry. The new creation means nothing less than a ministry of reconciliation, with us as ambassadors. In Christ we are reconciled to God and to one another. This returns us to love of God and neighbor as the heart of Christianity.

For a great video on seeing the world with new eyes, through a new lens, check out this $15 video at sermonspice.com: http://www.sermonspice.com/product/14972/get-service

Discussion Questions:

What might it mean to walk by faith, or live by faith? What do you think it means to walk by sight? What is the opposite of faith, doubt, fear, despair?

What might it mean for you to live your life with a ministry of reconciliation?

What might it mean for your church to carry out a ministry of reconciliation in your community?

Peru 2018

More photos to come.

We in the ELCA have created a network of global partnerships. Every synod has one or more companion synods. One of our companion synods is the Lutheran Church of Peru. We have been so blessed by our friends in Peru.

Our group came in June, from congregations in Columbus, Houston, Katy, Conroe and LaGrange. First we visited with church leaders form the Lutheran Church of Peru. Lima is a city with 12 million people in the metro area, twice the size of Houston.

Friday we had orientation and Bible study with leaders of the Peruvian church. We learned about the history of the church in Peru and planned for the festival the next day. As always, our friends showed great hospitality.

Saturday we held the festival for children and youth at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Breña, a suburb of Lima, Peru.

In the phot below, next to me is Scoly Palencia, who will be joining us for the ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston soon. Patricia and David Ehler of St. Paul LaGrange, Texas lead a group in an activity, below.

Wendy and Kevin Page led games, relays and obstacle courses.

Duane and Joen Larson lovingly applied (temporary) Luther rose tatoos, which were very popular. The kids we’re excited to show off their tattoos.

Paul Schmidt and I led parachute games and gave out red clown noses donated by Yuliana Rinehart.

the group gathered for songs, Scripture, a message by Presidente Bullón and prayer. Jorge began with an interaction song.

It was a great honor to see my old friend David Turibio. The second photo is the first time we met, nearly two decades ago, in 1999.

Sunday morning – Cristo Salvador, San Juan de Miraflores, Lima

Our translators, Dina Anton and her sister Shoni Regina.

Sunday afternoon – Emanuél, Collique, Lima

Pastora Ute Ihrke-Buchroth

Sunday afternoon – El Buen Pastor, Lima

Wendy and Kevin Page, Duane Larson and Regina Anton visited Misión El Buen Pastor. Here’s what Duane has to say:

“Worship this evening was at a mission church in an area of deep poverty, El Buen Pastor, one of three congregations served by Pedro Bullón, the Lutheran Church in Peru President. Worship included interactive sermon (like a base community), confirmation of 5 adults, and my presiding en Español with a preface I’d not seen until 5 seconds before its time. Much going with the flow, and the Spirit was powerful in that place, with lots of children. Pics include sample of the community water source and flat area that is children’s only play space.”

Sunday evening – Emaús, Carabayillo, Lima

Street preacher. Pastor Andrés Palencia set up for worship in the neighborhood. All are welcome. Lots of youth sang like crazy. The oldest is Ernesto at 81 years old. We laid hands on Scoly Palencia, to send her to the ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston. David and Patricia Ehler, Paul Schmidt, Dina Anton and I attended.

Monday – Lima

In the morning we met with Peruvian leaders to discuss the past and the future of our partnership. Then a visit tot he Catacombs and the Cathedral in Lima.

Ele Clay’s Ordination

Today, June 3, 2018, I had the privilege of presiding over the ordination of Ele Clay to the ministry of Word and Sacrament, at Covenant Lutheran Church in Houston. Thank you Evangeline Dai, Chris Markert and Jeanne Anderson for your photos.

Pentecost 3B – June 10, 2018

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 3:8-15 – The curse of Adam and Eve.

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.

2 Corinthians 4

The next five Sundays we are in 2 Corinthians. This series consists of three things:

  1. Daily devotional readings
  2. Weekly Bible studies
  3. Weekly sermon helps

Invite people to do a daily devotion for the next five weeks, attend worship and join a study group. Recruit a group of hosts, so that there are a lot of groups at different times of the week and places in your community. All hosts have to do is open their homes and read the questions. You’ll be surprised at how much people grow, and what gets stirred up in the life of your congregation.

The devotional readings and Bible studies can be found in the book A Heart for Reconciliation which can be found at Amazon. Sermon helps can be found at  https://bishopmike.com/books-2/2-corinthians/. Many thanks to Megan Dosher Hanson for working with me to put this together.

The texts for the next few weeks fall out as follows:

Don’t Lose Heart
Pentecost 2B: June 3 – 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.

New Creation
Pentecost 3B: June 10 – 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17 – If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. We walk by faith and not by sight, at home in the body and away from the Lord.

Open Heart
Pentecost 4B: June 17 – 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 – Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation. We have endured beatings, riots, hunger, imprisonment…

Eager Generosity
Pentecost 5B: June 24 – 2 Corinthians 8:7-15 – The offering for the poor in Jerusalem. Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.

Powerful Weakness
Pentecost 6B: July 1 – 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.

Corinth

Corinth was a city about half way between Sparta and Athens, on the isthmus between northern and southern Greece. Ships could be dragged across the isthmus, if one had ancient Corinthenough slaves. It was at one time the second city of Greece, and one of the major Roman centers, along with Ephesus.

Here stood the temple to Poseidon, god of the Mediterranean, whose anger kept Odysseus from returning to Ithaca from the Trojan wars. Here were held the Isthmian games, which happened biennially and attracted huge crowds. Nero attended on November 28, 66, and he proclaimed freedom to all Greeks.

Corinth probably had a population of 130,000, though some estimate at a lower population of 90,000. It was perched 1800 feet above the harbor on a mountain called the Acrocorinth. It was a worldly city. The verb “to Corinth” (Korinthiazesthai) meant to fornicate. Aphrodites’s (the goddess of love) temple crowned the high mountain on which the city stood. The temple was staffed by a thousand female slaves, which probably lended to its great popularity with the sailors (according to Strabo).

It should come as no surprise to us that Paul’s letters to the Corinthians deal extensively with issues of marriage, misconduct and sexual morality. Shortly after Paul left, one of the church members had an affair with his stepmother. Paul is offended: even the Gentiles don’t even speak of such things. It was against Roman law, and against Jewish law as well.

Paul is suspicious of carnal relations, though not the prude that his contemporary Seneca is. “You and I who are still far from wise, must not commit the error of falling into a stormy passion which enslaves us to someone else.” —Seneca. Many chose celibacy as a “higher calling.” Paul probably would have agreed, but said it’s better to marry than be afire with lust. Paul would say, though, that it would be better to remain single so as to do the Lord’s work. (I Cor. 7:32). He did not, however, advocate divorce, saying that couples should never refuse one another sexually.

Priscilla and Aquila

In Corinth, Paul meets up with two business associates, also tentmakers, Priscilla (a diminutive for Prisca, “ancient”) and Aquila (“eagle”), who have been expelled from Rome in Claudius’ purge of the Jews. In Priscilla we encounter another tradeswoman, like Lydia. Tradespeople belonged to business associations. If Paul was making and selling tents to earn his way, it would have been natural for him to link up with others similarly engaged. Think of the freemason’s lodge or Kiwanis Club, which provide business contacts and support as well as a shared social fellowship. The words, club, association, and church are all the same word in Greek: ecclesia. It is quite possible the church started this way, as it did with Lydia in Philippi. Juvenal blamed much of the immorality and superstition of the age on the fact that women had found emancipation through these clubs. Paul said Priscilla and Aquila had “risked their necks” for his life. (Romans 16:3-4)

Titius Justus

After living with Prisca and Aquila for a couple of years, Paul moves in with Titius Justus, who, perhaps significantly, lived next door to the synagogue. There is a white marble lintel inscribed SYNAGOGE HEBRAION and an impost decorated with the seven-branched candlesticks on Lechaeum Road there. Paul reminds the Corinthians after moving on to Ephesus, that rich men supported their ministry and provided them with a meeting place.

Paul says, “I received from the Lord what I passed on to you,” this is my body, this is my blood of the new covenant…  In those days, when the number of followers of Christ were so small they could fit in one house, communion was a piece of cake (if you’ll pardon the pun) — clearly a social meal, held at the home of the person with the most square-footage. But shortly after Paul leaves, he hears of problems: divisions among believers, and drunkenness and gluttony. Here’s the problem. Most Roman dining rooms would only have space for a few diners. The rich would probably eat first, as was the custom. The poor would arrive after work, and wait around in the atrium until there was space. In addition, while waiting for the plebes to arrive, the rich were getting drunk. Paul saw this as an affront to the gospel. It is not, in his view, the Lord’s Supper at all. In addition, it could be that there would be manifestations of the Spirit that could be taken for drunkenness (e.g. tongues as in Acts 2), further clouding the issue. Which raised another divisive issue: those who spoke in tongues and those who didn’t.

Eating food sacrificed to idols.

In most ancient cities, the butchers were the priests and the priests were the butchers. Should one be a vegetarian to avoid eating meat dedicated or sacrificed to some pagan idol? Many believed that the gods were devils. Is it proper to eat food that has been sacrificed to a devil?

Paul takes a liberal approach. Just because some priest mumbled some mumbo-jumbo over the animal does not make it evil. These gods are not Gods anyway. For Paul, the important thing is that Christ made us free. Some practiced vegetarianism to avoid eating pagan meat. Others didn’t. Paul’s message: Live with one another. There were those who practiced celibacy and those who didn’t. Respect one another. There were those who were Jewish Christians and those who were Pagan Christians. Many divisions. One faith, one Lord, one baptism.

All their spirituality is worth nothing if there is not love, according to Paul in I Corinthians 13. Love is the subject of Paul’s most famous hymn, “words which, if he had written nothing else, would have guaranteed that subsequent generations would have revered Paul, seeing him as one the most stupendous religious poets and visionaries whom the world has ever known.” (A. N. Wilson, Paul, p. 173)

How many letters?

While there is little doubt among scholars that Paul is the author of 2 Corinthians, there is quite a bit of discussion over whether the Epistle was originally one letter or whether it is a composite of two or more of Paul’s letters.

Although the New Testament only contains two letters to the Corinthians, the evidence from the letters themselves is that he wrote four, at the very least:

  1. The Early Letter. 1 Corinthians 5:9 says, “I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons”. Paul is clearly referring to an earlier letter that predates 1 Corinthians. This is sometimes called the “warning letter”.
  2. 1 Corinthians
  3. The Severe Letter. Paul refers to an earlier “letter of tears” in 2 Corinthians 2:3–4 and 7:8. 1 Corinthians clearly does not match that description; so this “letter of tears” may have been written between 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians.
  4. 2 Corinthians

The tone of the first part (chapters 1-9) of 2 Corinthians is harmonious. Then there is an abrupt change of tone. 2 Corinthians 10–13 has a bitter tone. This has led some to speculate that chapters 10–13 form part of the “letter of tears” referenced in 1 Corinthians 5:9. Those who disagree with this assessment usually say that the “letter of tears” no longer exists. It may be lost to history, as are most of Paul’s letters.

Outline

There are several ways to outline 2 Corinthians. Here is one possible way:

  1. 1:1-11 Greeting
  2. 1:12-7:16 Paul defends his actions and apostleship, affirming his affection for the Corinthians. (Our first three readings.)
  3. 8:1-9:14 Instructions for the collection for the poor in the Jerusalem church.
  4. 10:1-13:10 A polemic defense of his apostleship
  5. 13:11-13 Closing greetings

Reading schedule

It is our recommendation that participants in this study read one half of a chapter of 2 Corinthians each day. At this rate, you will progress through 2 Corinthians in less than a month. It may be advisable to read the entire letter in one sitting at first, to get a feel for the whole of the letter.

2 Corinthians 4

This week’s text comes from 2 Corinthians 4. Chapter 1 proceeds like a typical Pauline letter. He identifies himself as the author, along with his travelling companion, Timothy, who with Silvanus helped Paul to proclaim the gospel to the Corinthians. Paul gives his standard greeting, and then a blessing that evokes images of his own suffering for the sake of the gospel.

Chapter 2 begins with the words, “I made up my mind not to make you another painful visit.” And “I wrote as I did…” Paul must have written a scathing letter to them, the “Severe Letter” mentioned above. With a hint of defensiveness, Paul insists on his sincerity, saying, “We are not peddlers of God’s word like so many.” (2:17)

In chapter 3, Paul goes on to share his love for the Corinthians. They are Paul’s letter of recommendation, written on his heart, not on stone tablets, like the law. Here he hints at what may be part of the conflict. As in Galatians, the Judaizers may also be working with the Corinthians, demanding they be circumcised, follow Jewish customs and abstain from eating meat and anything not kosher. “We are ministers of a new covenant, not chiseled on stone. Paul rehearses a common theme of frustration that his Jewish colleagues do not recognize Jesus as the Messiah. They are “veiled” as Moses was on the mountain.

When we arrive at our chapter for today, Paul says, “we do not lose heart.” The gospel is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this world has blinded them. Paul says he and his colleagues proclaim “Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.” The God who said “Let there be light,” has shined in our hearts. We have this gospel in clay jars, to show the glory is from God, not us.

Our text begins at verse 13. We have the same Spirit. And God, who raised Jesus will also raise us, and bring us all into God’s presence. Here we arrive at the heart of Paul’s faith. “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” (4:16) The suffering of this world is a “slight momentary affliction” in light of eternity. It is preparing us for something greater. We look beyond what can be seen to what cannot be seen. We look beyond the temporal to the eternal. The punch line comes in the first verse of chapter 5: If this earthly tent in which we live is destroyed, we know we have a house not made with hands in heaven.

One possible theme for the preaching might be perspective. Paul puts his momentary suffering in perspective. He takes the long view. In his book, “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen Covey says to “begin with the end in mind.” Perhaps this is a Sunday to have people write their obituaries. There is something about this practice that puts things in perspective. It helps people get out of the tunnel vision of the moment and think about the broad arc of life. Our lives are atomized. What is the sum of the parts? What do our current priorities say about who we are? How will they be perceived by those who come after us?

Another theme might be spiritual growth – the outer nature and inner nature. Is your outer nature wasting away? If you’re over 25, probably so. It begins slowly at first, and becomes pronounced after 50. More importantly, is your inner nature being renewed daily? As our bodies deteriorate, is our spirit becoming more rich? Are you growing spiritually? How would you know?

Galatians 5:22 says the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Are you growing in these fruits of the spirit? Are you a more loving person than you were at this time last year? Do you have more joy? More peace? Are you becoming more kind, generous and faithful? As our bodies wear out, the Spirit grows our inner nature.

As we become more loving and patient, more Christ-centered, we find we have more resources for the momentary sufferings we encounter. They don’t go away, but we put them in perspective and find that joy helps us in our sorrow.

Invite people to make a commitment to their spiritual lives. Take time for prayer this week, and trust that the Spirit will grow their inner nature. Take time each day to read a little Scripture (half  a chapter of 2 Corinthians). Make time for prayer, worship and study, then trust that the Holy Spirit will grow their spiritual lives.

A third approach might be found in the phrase, “So we do not lose heart…” In the midst of all the ups and downs, Christ is our hope. We might draw upon a couple of verses earlier in chapter 4, prior to our reading (4:8-10):

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.

It is faith that gives us hope in the midst of any trials that come our way. Our joy does not come from our circumstances, but from our ability to see beyond our circumstances. As Nehemiah said (8:10), “The joy of the Lord is my strength.”

Meditación: Una Consciencia Nueva de La Creación de Dios / Meditation: A New Consciousness of God’s Creation

Este es uno de varios sermones escritos en inglés y español por pastores de la Iglesia Luterana de Perú y el Sínodo de la Costa del Golfo Texas-Louisiana, ELCA, para el domingo (3 de junio de 2018) antes del Día del Medio Ambiente (5 de junio de 2018) . El sermón aparece en español primero, luego en inglés, a continuación.

This is one of several sermons being written in English and Spanish by pastors in the Lutheran Church of Peru and the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod, ELCA, for the Sunday (June 3, 2018) before Environment Day (June 5, 2018). The sermon appears in Spanish first, then in English, below.

Meditación: Una Consciencia Nueva de La Creación de Dios
Día Ambiental, Junio 2018
Rev. Dr. Uta Ihrke-Buchroth
Iglesia Luterana Emanuél, Lima (Collique) Peru

Español viene…

Meditation: A New Consciousness of God’s Creation
Environment Day, June 2018
Rev. Dr. Uta Ihrke-Buchroth
Emmanuel Lutheran Church, Lima (Collique) Peru

Exodus 20,13 / 1. Thessalonians 5,17

I: Exodus 20,13

The decalogue, the 10 commandments as christians say or Mitzwot as it is called in the Tanach, are understood as key rules for theological ethics in Judaism and Christianity. Especially the prohibitive “You shall not kill!” the 5th commandment according to Catholics and Lutherans and the 6th commandment to other churches and Jews is a well known and challenging text considering the occasion of the day of environment.

Within the concerns for environment the topic of global warming has become one major problem for our planet, because it is destabilizing the ecosystem earth. Consequences are the increasing whether extremes. Last year in March, Peru suffered from the floods through the El Niño phenomenon, which destroyed homes and also took away lives. Just months later our sisters and brothers in Texas were affected severely.

Environmental issues signal that beyond the differences of life reality in the two countries and churches we are all sitting in the same boat, which is our mother earth. It makes us feel part of one unity. If one part is suffering all parts are suffering with it. Therefore the 5th of June presents an opportunity for us as Christians, sisters and brothers in different contexts to look at environmental issues through the perspective of our religion and scripture. God’s creation as a whole and its suffering is an ethical duty for us as believers, because God has no other hands than ours. We are called to involve as protagonists in favor of life according to our basic ethical rules.

So lets take a deeper look into scripture. “You shall not kill!” A short prohibitive, as exegetes call it. The root retzach/razach is used to describe destructive action of different kinds .”לֹא ִת ְרצָח“

In the New Testament, especially in the context of the Sermon of the Mount in Matthew 5,18 Jesus affirms the Torah as a whole and makes the commandments even more rigorous and can clearly be understood as an affirmation of non-violence. In a more motivating way we could say, you don ́t need to kill because God’s love has saved you through Christ. You are liberated and your liberty can liberate others to feel alive.

The missing object-suffix in לֹא ִת ְרצָח has concerned me since my first semester of theology. Luther interprets it simply with “your fellow” and most scholars point out the significance of the commandment within human relations, however there is no object in Hebrew that explains whom is supposed not to be killed.

Considering ethics in an initial and terminal state of human life, the commandment of life tends to be diluted increasingly. Peruvian law is still clear about it and last weekend about 800.000 people participated in the March for Life through the streets of Lima organized by the Cardinal to maintain the law that protects unborn human life under all circumstances.

But how about other species? The 5th of june is an occasion to reflect on how we relate to God’s creation as a whole in order to make effort for life, for all living creatures on Gods beautiful planet. The day of environment invites us to rethink how our lifestyle our daily action can form a statement for life and for happiness of Gods creation as a whole, to maintain and reestablish our ecosystem as beautiful and functional as God has created it.

I am very happy that our little Lutheran minority in Peru has made effort for life and peaceful living, as emphasized in different public ecumenical conferences held by the church, because it is such an important testimony as christians for sustainability.

The work of Albert Schweitzer: Reverence of life, and his famous statement: “I am life that wants to live, in the midst of life that wants to live”, can inspire us towards a new attitude of compassion and love for all of Gods children.

Of course there are different ways we could approach making change in our own lives, because that is the field where we can change something as individuals. And Environment Day might encourage us to ask whether there exists a necessity to kill other creatures for our nutrition for instance. Scientifically and thanks to the testimonies of a growing number of people, it has been proven that in our context it is not necessary to consume meat, especially considering the cruel mass production of livestock and milliards of animals being slaughtered yearly.

Besides carbon dioxide, methane is affecting our climate severely. One molecule of methane is similar to the pollution caused by 40 molecules of CO2 and is emitted by agriculture, mainly by beef production.

At the present date intensive livestock farming occupies about 70% of world’s area of arable land. Potentially this territory could be used for a high quality plant-based nutrition that would stop hunger for humans all over the world, saving resources. Particularly in Latin American soya fields for fodder (90% genetically manipulated highly pesticide-burdened) are occupying high amounts of former territory of the Amazon rain forest, which is the green lung for earth, storage of CO2 and has a lot of interaction with our climate.

So there are many reasons to rethink our consumer behavior. I don ́t need to point out that especially mammals as organisms function very similarly to the human body, and that they have a nervous system that perceives feelings of fear and threat similarly to humans. You might oppose, saying that in Gen 9, 2-3 God literally allows eating meat. But it was under special contextual circumstances after a natural disaster. But Jesus ate fish and lamb (Luke 24,42-43; Luke 22,8-15), gave fish to others (Matt.14, 17-21) and declared all food as pure including animals (Acts 10,10-15; Mark 7,19).

Our lutheran theology encourages us towards an interpretation that considers the context of time and space in which a biblical narrative speaks. A contextual theology has to point out, that neither Jesus nor the Israelites in antiquity experienced a context of industrialization and exploitation of creation. In ancient times there was no overfishing, no intensive lifestock or factory farming, etc.

In the report of creation Genesis 1,28 the priestly source states that humanity shall rule over the earth and all living creatures. Now, the verb “rule” in Hebrew implies responsibility and respect, not exploitation. Nevertheless ecotheology to a certain extent holds the pericope responsible for todays ecocrisis, because it gave humans authority over God’s creation.

Considering the actual circumstances of our ecosystem, as Christians we can admit that we have sinned, because our consciousness of being simul iustus et pecator, as Luther says, always holy and sinning in God’s perspective, liberates us. Our salvation does not depend on our action, but our action can become good, creating justice in unconditional love and care for other human and not human beings, because we are liberated to act.

If we think about how our own life can be a testimony of God’s love for her creation, we need to have compassion with ourselves acknowledging that changing habits especially if they have been taught to us since our early childhood is not easy and will not happen rapidly but step by step. We need to feel gratitude for every little step forward, for instance by reducing animal-based food and enjoy more fruits visualizing that we want to reduce suffering of God’s creation.

II: 1. Thessalonians 5,17

Paul tells the Greek congregation to pray without ceasing, just as Jesus does in Luke 18,1 and many other pericopes in the Second Testament. But what does that mean? Surely he does not refer to a non-stop talking prayer, but rather to the attitude of meditation, where we seek God’s presence and a higher state of consciousness that is difficult to reach in our daily lives filled with stress and preoccupation.

If our mind is preoccupied for instance, a presence in meditation will gain the transition into a prayer and gratitude in order to keep inner peace. Living in Gods presence we do not fear. (Phil 4,6; Col 4,2). In other words, praying should be like breathing, naturally without thinking of it. Since atmospherical pressure provokes breathing, it is actually more difficult to hold or pause our breath than to inhale and exhale. As believers we are practically existing within the atmosphere of the Divine.

Paul declares that we should constantly breathe Gods presence and truth in order to function completely as followers of Christ, feeling alive and not hold our spiritual breath assuming that it is sufficient to get back to it once in a while.

Instead of an outspoken prayer, what Paul refers to is the attitude of listening or meditating, feeling God’s presence and counting on it all the time and let it permeate our thoughts, words and actions.

Now, combining the two texts it becomes obvious that a closeness to the Divine in constant meditation is the force within us to let change happen, for instance if we think of our nutrition, which of course is one life dimension among others. Feel welcome to think of the many ways in our lives where we can do better. Meditation, constant prayer can change the chip in our head, because everything starts with a new perspective new ways of looking at things and circumstances.

Preaching ethics, (which I do only occasionally, but the day of environment is a great occasion to do so), one needs to give personal testimony. So let me tell you how meditation made me able to change the chip in my head and realize that I was called to a different nutrition than my parents have taught me. I started living vegan during my full-time studies of theology, for ethical reasons, but when I met my gourmet-cooking husband, I could not resist his magical dishes (among other things).

Work-life routine with all it ́s appointments and projects that occupy ones mind neither helped to a deeper spirituality. So I managed to lead a “normal” life, free of feelings of guilt or compassion for God’s creatures, I abandoned the kitchen completely for years, because seeing or preparing raw meat or fish made me sick to the stomach.

It was not until last year’s Lent, that I felt the deep need of spending time in a monastery. For a mother with two toddlers that ́s not actually a realistic desire, so I just prayed about it and tried to find out why God put this wish into my heart. I found out that I was missing silence (which in Lima is very hard to get), I was missing a deeper mindfulness as I had as a student spending hours in meditation and walks through the forest. I found out that my life consisted in functioning and restlessness. So the wish of the “monastery” simply represented the necessity of mindfulness and inner peace. In Lent I went back to Yoga school and meditation, that I have come to know during pregnancy and it helped me in difficult situations. So I started power Yoga developing deep breathing techniques, which I haven’t known before. It just felt awesome and brought back a state of mindfulness and sensibility that I was missing so much. The sensibility gained through a deeper spirituality also lead to a new longing for plant-based nutrition and changed the chip inside my head without forcing it. Meditating the לֹא ִת ְרצָח– commandment encouraged me to develop a new sense of compassion.

Beyond all obvious scientifically-based reasons, it was the force of spirituality that changed the chip in my head. In a spiritually conscious state, we become who we really are, it brings us back to our origin and life-source, which is God. I learned to love the kitchen again, without the feeling of guilt or disgust. I enjoy preparing food for my kids with happiness and deep gratitude, because Peru is a wonderful and very blessed place to be for a plant-based nutrition because of its abundant variety of fruits and vegetable due to its different climatic zones. Its a joy rather than diet and avocados have become our daily bread.

Albert Schweitzer says: “By having a reverence for life we enter into a spiritual world. By practicing reverence for life we become good, deep and alive.”

If we want to change the world as believers, there is a significance of spending time for daily meditation. God talks to us when we are in a state of mind that is listening in silence. Its not coincidence that meditation has literally a lot to do with conscious respiration. When Paul states that our life should be a prayer he refers to the meditative state of mind that brings us closer to God and enables us to feel compassion.

But of course my nutrition-example is only one possibility and it can be practiced little by little in an explorative way. You could try out a detox day, or detox-week and see how it feels to you. You might not imagine how strength-full you wake up in the morning. Every little step is important. The decision to grab an apple for snack is a reason to be thankful. We need to be compassionate also with ourselves.

There are so many life dimensions where one could rethink behavior in order to make the world a little bit better and give a credible testimony as Christians.

Another example would be using the bike instead of the car. Every time that I get back to Germany I am just astonished showering with potable water. That is an incredible blessing and not imaginable in Peru. Every showering becomes a prayer and thankfully reduces shower time to save water, because of the consciousness of being in the midst of potable water that most of my sisters and brothers in this world need so urgently.

In my congregation at the outskirts of Lima we focus on being a healing community and we donate fresh fruits to everyone who visits considering their needs and living condition in poverty, teaching them a plant based nutrition as a healthy low cost alternative and combine it with curses of meditation. The testimonies of our sisters about how their life has changed are incredible.

Living the salvation and liberation through Christ creates an attitude of looking towards the possible little things and steps just next and near to us.

The attitude of Jesus always was looking to what is possible, reachable in a situation where others were anxious and affirming that it is impossible to do good. He was not murmuring about what is missing and instead gained feeding 5000 people with 5 loaves in John 6,1-15. Jesus teaches us to realize our potential and not lament about what is missing.

To gain the attitude of Christ and to follow him, we need a daily and consistent praxis pietatis in meditation. Spirituality can change the chip in our heads, because its our unconscious lifestyles that causes suffering to God’s creation. Consequently it is meditation that changes the world. Our lives should be a prayer, because only a meditating mind can make efforts for non-violence. Peace in this world and in our families can only be gained through inner peace, peace in our minds.

לֹא ִת ְרצָח The Sanskrit term Ahimsa, often used by Mahatma Gandhi, is a synonym of our meaning

Environment Day invites us to think about how we are called to protect God’s creation in the life dimensions we can think of, and to feel gratitude for every little step forward, trusting that change comes naturally by itself, having compassion with ourselves.

Changing the world through faith is just about little steps that a more conscious living in the presence of the creator enables us to do. Through listening to God, the Holy Spirit can and will work in our different life dimensions. The gift of seeing miracle, and appreciating everything that God puts into our life has a lot to do with our own eyes. Being liberated through faith, we are enabled to visualize all the blessing that makes us able to act and feeling gratitude for every little step.

Jesus fed the 5000 people with his positive attitude. His gratitude was the light he send out. With his actions and words he enlightened all the people around him and nurtured them spiritually and physically.

May our spiritual practice lead to a new consciousness of God’s creation and may our faith make us powerful to go little steps together as sisters and brothers in Christ, in Texas, in Peru and wherever we are on this one and only planet earth as sisters and brothers. May God’s presence sharpen our eyes and ears to fulfill our task as caretakers of God’s creation with compassion and love in our hearts. Amen

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