Bishop Michael Rinehart



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

Sacrificial Love

Listen to the podcast by Bishop Michael Rinehart

Downloadable resources for Friday April 10, 2020 – Good Friday by

Bishop Sue Briner, Southwestern Texas Synod
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Isenheim Altarpiece, Matthias Grünewald

Good Friday – April 10, 2020

Merciful God, your Son was lifted up on the cross to draw all people to himself. Grant that we who have been born out of his wounded side may at all times find mercy in him, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12  The Song of the Suffering Servant. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…
Psalm 22  My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Hebrews 10:16-25  I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more. New covenant.
Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9 – Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, let us hold fast to our confession.
John 18:1 – 19:42 – John’s passion: arrest, trail, crucifixion.

For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.—Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:21-22

He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account. Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. – Isaiah 53:3-5

The Song of the Suffering Servant, or what some call Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song. “He will be exalted and lifted up. He was a lamb led to the slaughter. When the church was trying to understand the power and significance of Jesus’ crucifixion, these passages rang out.

This Suffering Servant in Isaiah takes on our infirmity, our grief, our sorrow, and our sins. Perhaps we will hear this text with new meaning in the midst of a global health crisis.

The church meditated on the cross as a way to understand suffering in the world. If you want to see Christ, look up on the suffering people of this world. God is not as illusive as you think.

When you look into the eyes of those who are suffering, you are looking into the eyes of God.

God is revealed in the suffering of the righteous. This is not to say that God desires or causes our suffering. But sacrifice and suffering often reveal the divine.

The story has that captivated many of us this in the coronavirus outbreak has been the story of a 72-year-old Italian priest named Don Giuseppe Berardelli, who had served as an ordained pastor for nearly half a century. He made the highest sacrifice on March 15, 2020.

Casnigo, in northern Italy, has a population of 3,200. But even small towns can be hit hard by epidemic. When Berardelli developed a respiratory condition, his parish purchased a respirator for him. As the number of skyrocketed, local hospitals ran out of respirators, reports circulated that Father Berardelli donated his respirator to a younger man. Berardelli subsequently died of the coronavirus.

He passed away in a hospital in Lovere, Bergamo. There was no in-person funeral, but locals applauded him from their balconies.

Many priests have died of the coronavirus in Italy to date. Italy has seen more cases (100,000+) than any country with the exception of the US (150,000+) as of the end of March. They have had nearly 12,000 deaths, as the US death toll now reaches 3,000.

Since the story came out, some have suggested that he was having trouble tolerating the respirator, and therefore refused it, so there may be some urban folklore to the story. Still, the story is instructive.

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

John 15:13

When someone practices sacrificial love, God is revealed. In a world of selfish self-centeredness, one act of selfless love reveals something going on in the world that transcends the sinful, law-of-the-jungle, me-first, way of being in the world. Kindness and compassion are revealed.

This is what we see on the cross, when an itinerant carpenter turned preacher and healer, who devoted his life to serving outcasts, is nailed to a cross. We see the love of God in his mangled visage. We hear the voice of love in his words, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

It is well for us to meditate on this violent and love-revealing cross today.

Commanded to Love

Downloadable resources for Thursday April 9, 2020 – Maundy Thursday

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Maundy Thursday – April 9, 2020

Holy God, source of all love, on the night of his betrayal, Jesus gave us a new commandment, to love one another as he loves us. Write this commandment in our hearts, and give us the will to serve others as he was the servant of all, your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14 – Passover. Yahweh to Moses and Aaron: This month shall be the beginning of months for you. This day shall be a day of remembrance for you.

Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19 – What shall I give the Lord for his benefit to me? I will lift the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.

1 Corinthians 11:23-26 – Paul’s Eucharistic theology: I passed on to you what I received: The words of institution.

John 13:1-17, 31b-35 – Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. A new commandment I give you: Love one another.

Commanded to Love

Grace and peace to you from Jesus of Nazareth the crucified Jew, who lived briefly, died violently and rose unexpectedly. To all who live in the shadow of an outbreak, who live in the threat of sickness, and who are “social distancing” or “physical distancing” in a time of community-wide anxiety, may the grace and peace of Christ be with you all.

Tonight is the night in which Jesus was betrayed. This is gut-wrenching stuff. To be betrayed by your inner circle. To be denied by your chief disciple. Jesus is having a bad day. Frankly, a bad week. Given all we’re going through right now, perhaps is good for us to meditate on Jesus’ dark and difficult days before Easter. Here’s how Jesus spent his last day.

  • On this night, Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper.
  • On this night, Jesus washed the disciples feet.
  • And on this night, Jesus gave his disciples a clear command, recorded in John 13, a passage we read every year on this night:

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.
Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.”

The word “Maundy” comes from the Latin mandatum, which means “command.” It is the word from which we get our word “mandate.”

This is my mandate: Love one another.

None of this should surprise to us.

This carpenter/rabbi was once asked which was the most important commandment. Without missing a beat, he replied with what was most likely the first Bible passage he ever memorized, what every Jewish child memorized, Deuteronomy 6:4-5, the Shema: “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” He said, “This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like onto it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two rest all the law and the prophets.”

In other words, if you want to know the two most important things in life, they are to love God and to love one another.

He said, on this very night, “By this shall all people know you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

This is the one who taught us not to love just our neighbor, but also love the stranger in our midst (like the Good Samaritan). And not just the stranger but even to love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us.

Who taught his followers to turn the other cheek, ending the world’s cycle of hatred and violence.

The gospel of John says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…”

That’s John 3:16. A lot of people have that memorized, but not as many people know 1 John 3:16: “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”

These are words we need to hear now more than ever.

This theology was so strong that John also said this in 1 John 4:7-8: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and everyone that loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love, does not know God, for God is love.”

This understanding of the centrality of love in the gospel is present in Paul’s writings too. In his most famous chapter, 1 Corinthians 13, the chapter that is read it every wedding even though it’s not about marriage, Paul says,

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge…

if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

If I give away all my possessions, and even make the ultimate sacrifice and give my life, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

At the end of time all things will pass away, but only three things will endure: faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is… love.

This is the Christian faith, that there is nothing in all creation that can separate you from this love of God as seen in Christ.

And so, on this night, Jesus said, “A new commandment I give you: Love one another, just as I have loved you.”

But wait a second, that’s not a new commandment. Jesus learned as a child. It’s all over the Hebrew Bible. There’s nothing new about loving one another. The new part of this is “as I have loved you.”

Washing Feet 

And how did Jesus love us?

He loved us by wrapping a towel around his waist and washing his disciples feet, the job of the lowly servant. And when they barked at this, he said I do this to set an example for you, as I’ve done for you so you should do for others. Love means becoming a servant of all people. It means in his time of crisis, Jesus tended to the needs of others. It means in our time of trial tending to the needs of others. That’s how Jesus loved us.

Giving himself to eat and drink.

And how did Jesus love us?

He loved us by giving his disciples bread, said take and eat, do this in remembrance of me. He gave them wine, said take and drink, for the forgiveness of your sins. Before they betrayed and denied him, he already forgave. That’s how Jesus loved us.

Most of us are not eating bread and drinking wine on this night. Even this you do out of love, not to protect yourself, but to protect others, the most vulnerable. Even Jesus fasted from this night on, saying, “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until I drink it with you in the kingdom of heaven.” That’s how Jesus loved us. Love is sacrificial.

Giving his life

And how did Jesus love us?

By teaching us the meaning of love. He said, “Greater love has no one than this, than you lay down your life for your friends.” Love is not a greeting card sentiment. It is a whole life commitment. Love is not a feeling. It is a commitment to act on behalf of the beloved, in the beloved’s best interests, regardless of the consequences.

He loved us by giving his life on the cross.

That’s the kind of love that God has for you. It is invincible. It is an everlasting love, that is even stronger than the grave. It’s a love that will sustain during times of uncertainty. It’s a love you can share and never run out.

God’s grace to you this Holy Week.


Listen to the Podcast for Sunday, April 5, 2020 – Passion/Palm Sunday

Passion/Palm Sunday – April 5, 2020

Sovereign God, you have established your rule in the human heart through the servanthood of Jesus Christ. By your Spirit, keep us in the joyful procession of those who with their tongues confess Jesus as Lord and with their lives praise him as Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Processional Psalm and Gospel

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 – Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter… Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

Matthew 21:1-11 – Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, on a donkey.

Isaiah 50:4-9a – Game face: I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting… therefore I have set my face like flint…

Psalm 31:9-16– In you, O Lord, I take refuge. Let me never be put to shame. I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbors, an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me. I have passed out of mind like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel.

Philippians 2:5-11 – Christ hymn: Have this mind, that was in Christ, who didn’t count on his equality with God, but emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant, and becoming obedient, even to death on a cross.

Matthew 26:14 – 27:66 The Passion. Judas’ betrayal. Peter’s denial. Pilate. Barabbas. Jesus’ crucifixion and burial.


Matthew 27:11-54  The Passion. Pilate. Barabbas. Jesus’ crucifixion and burial.

Palm Procession and Philippians in a Public Pandemic

Do you wish to be great? Then begin by being.
Do you desire to construct a vast and lofty fabric? Think first about the foundations of humility.
The higher your structure is to be, the deeper must be its foundation. ~ Saint Augustine

Well this is certainly going to be an utterly unique Palm Sunday in every single one of our lives. In the church as I served, Palm Sunday was sometimes the third highest attendance of the year, after Easter and Christmas. It may still be, at least virtually.

We usually begin outside, sometimes with a fire burning. Worshippers have palms that they wave as we shout, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!“ We read the professional gospel about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a donkey, then process into the church singing All Glory Laud and Honor. Six stanzas may be a bit much for online worship. Are there other Hosanna songs your people know and love?

Call and response is a bit weird in online worship, but it might bring the comfort of familiarity. A bulletin could be emailed out in advance, or slides could be shown on the livestream for people to follow. What about those who are not online, or who live in areas with slow Wi-Fi, where a livestream will be glitchy? Can you Zoom and invite them to call in on their phones?

The liturgy is found on page 622 of the ELW Leaders’ Edition, including a blessing of the Palms. You’ve probably already ordered them. If they come, why not bless them anyway? They can be made available once this current crisis abates.

The service continues with the prayer of the day,

As we now enter into the contemplation of the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ and meditate on the salvation of the world through his sufferings, death, burial and resurrection, let us pray.

Sovereign God, you have established your rule in the human heart through the servanthood of Jesus Christ. By your Spirit keep us in the joyful procession of those who with their tongues confess Jesus as Lord and with their lives praise him as Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

The lessons follow.

Isaiah 50: Game Face

The Hebrew Bible text is Isaiah 50:4-9a, about the abuse the suffering servant is to endure. In Isaiah, Israel is the servant, God’s servant, called to be a blessing to its own people, and a light to the nations/the Gentiles. Israel will not be great because of their power and glory, but because of their humble servanthood.

In chapter 50, part of Second Isaiah, coming out of the Babylonian Captivity, Israel, the Suffering Servant speaks. “I have been given the tongue of a teacher.” Is suffering not our teacher? Do we not learn by our mistakes, our failures, and our shortcomings? The Suffering Servant is not arrogant, but now a listener, a learner. “God has opened my ear.”

“I gave my back to those who struck me… I did not hide my face from those who insulted and spit on me.” One lesson in humility can go a long way. There is nothing like being thrown into the dog house to teach us humility. “Therefore, I have set my face like flint.” Everybody plays the fool, sometime. No exception to the rule.

The Suffering Servant is humbled, yet able to see God’s deliverance. There is hope. “He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me.” Paul echoes something similar in Romans 8. “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Certainly, in these difficult days of disease and quarantine, we can appreciate these words of humiliation and hope.

Philippians 2: The Christ Hymn

Paul’s Christ Hymn in Philippians 2 is read on Palm Sunday in all three years of the lectionary. This is for a good reason. This passage is central to Paul’s understanding of Christ and the gospel.

One of my favorite books is Michael J. Gorman’s, Inhabiting the Cruciform God. The book is subtitled, Kenosis, Justification and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology.

Gorman calls Philippians 2 Paul’s “Master Story.” Hear this ancient hymn, perhaps one of the first Christian hymns. Imagine the first Christians singing it in worship:



Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

These might be words for us today, with all that is going on. Rephrased:

Have the mind of Christ
who didn’t cash in on his divine status
but emptied himself
taking on the role of a servant to all
even to his death on the cross

He humbled himself, therefore God exalted him
giving him a name above all names
so every knee shall bow, every tongue confess
in heaven and on earth and under the earth
Jesus reigns, to God’s glory

Humility is the character of Christ, and therefore, also the character of God. Christ reveals the true, though often hidden truth about God: humility. And if this is so, it is the character of those in Christ. To follow Christ, for Paul is to live in humility. It is to empty ourselves.

We are certainly having to empty ourselves these days, for the sake of others, especially the most vulnerable. As I’m writing (on March 20), I feel fine. In not in a risk group. I’d like to be out and about. Even if I got the virus, statistically, I’d get over it. But I could be a carrier, and put others at risk.

Bishop’s Associate for Mission Chris Markert said this week,

If we are to have the same mind as Christ, then we  “empty ourselves” and become like servants to one another, especially the most vulnerable. That is why we’ve locked ourselves in during this pandemic. It’s why we practice social distancing, not to protect ourselves, but to protect others… it is also why we don’t panic-buy, keeping others from getting what they need.

Lord of Life in The Woodlands member and synod bookkeeper Beth Vu said we also,

Think of others interests, looking out for those that might need assistance.  A neighbor knocked on my mother’s door seeing if there was anything they could do for her.

Beyond our appointed text, verse 14 goes on to say, “Do all things without grumbling or complaining.” That may be a taller order. 

Although Christ was in the form of God, he did not count on it but emptied himself.

Paul does this a lot:

  • In 2 Cor. 8:9, Although Christ was rich, he became not rich, but (so that) by his poverty we become “rich.”
  • In Rom 15:1-3, Although they are “strong” they must not please themselves, but humble themselves and put up with the scruples of the “weak” so that the body might be built up.
  • In 1 Thess. 2:6-8, Although Paul’s status as apostle allowed him to make demands, he did not, but rather he was gentle.
  • In 1 Cor. 9:1-23. Although Paul has the apostolic privilege to have a wife and get paid for his his work, he does not exercise this privilege, but (v. 12) endures these sacrifices for the sake of the gospel.

Paul doing what he sees Christ doing.

Jesus expresses his very divinity in “downward mobility.” The Roman “cursus honorum,” a lifelong, upward mobility, from slavery, to peasant, to aristocrat, to divinity (like Caesar). Jesus instead practices downward mobility, from equality with God, down the ladder to slavery, then even to public humiliation by death on a cross.

Christ’s self-emptying is not a termination of his deity; it is the fullest expression of it. Christ reveals the kindness and humility of God.

The Triumphal Entry

Zechariah 9:9 says,

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

The donkey is actually the mount of royalty arriving in peace (Genesis 49:11, Judges 5:5, 10:4). Royalty arrives on a horse if at war. This Jesus is royalty, but he is the Prince of Peace, and he is arriving in peace, not as a conquering hero. This king practices humility, as Paul also expresses in Philippians 2.

If we, the church, could learn this kind of humility, it would capture the world’s attention. It could be our greatest form of evangelism, living lives of humility. As someone has said, your life is the greatest sermon you will preach. Jesus showed his greatness through lowliness, his power through humility. The lesson for me this Palm Sunday is humbleness.

In times of great difficulty, the church has an opportunity to demonstrate humility, kindness and sacrificial love. When the chips are down, we see the true character of the individual. This is an opportunity to witness to the love of Christ, who came not to be served, but to serve, and give his life as a random for many.

Care Act COVID-19 Relief for Churches

Here are a few articles to get started as we absorb this 1,400-page legislation.

This act has multiple provisions for churches and church employees:

Unemployment insurance for laid off church employees. Under the CARES Act, those normally not eligible (including church employees) can collect unemployment benefits if they are laid off.

The Paycheck Protection provisions allow small businesses, which include churches and other non-profits to apply for loans which can convert to grants.

The SBA application form is here:

  1. Are churches eligible?  Yes.  There is some misinformation out there and some lenders are confused, but churches are eligible.
  2. What is the application period for the Paycheck Protection Plan loans/grants?  It opens April 3.  There is no close date yet, but because the pool of money is limited, applicants should start now.
  3. If you take the loan/grant, do you have to submit to an audit to get forgiveness?  Not likely.  You will have to document through payroll records, canceled checks, etc., that you spent the money as allowed (at least 75% on payroll), but that is a far cry from an audit.  The SBA’s ability to audit individual claims is going to be severely limited.
  4. Who is the “owner” of the congregation/synod?  NO ONE.  The space on the application for ownership of 20% or more of the entity does not apply and should be left blank.  Do NOT say that the synod or the ELCA owns a congregation. IT IS NOT TRUE. If congregations put down the ELCA, it will put the ELCA over 500 employees and no one will receive relief. 
  5. Do we share common management or ownership (question 3 on the application)? NO.
  6. Do we need a congregational meeting to approve borrowing money?  Maybe. One option is to hold a remote meeting; remote meeting instructions can be found HERE.  If timing is an issue, the congregation can start the application process and ratify later, when you can hold a remote meeting.  Another option is to treat it as a grant application (assuming the congregation is going to comply with the rules for forgiveness) so a meeting is not necessary.  If no meeting is held now, be sure to have a meeting when the congregation can, to ratify the action.

ELCA summary document


Listen to the Podcast for Sunday, March 29, 2020 – Lent 5A

Lent 5A – March 29, 2020

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


And you, most kind and gentle death
Waiting to hush our final breath
Oh, praise Him! Alleluia! 

You lead to heav’n the child of God
Where Christ our Lord the way has trod.
Oh, praise Him! Oh, praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

St. Francis

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

March 1, 2020 – The Temptation of Christ
March 8, 2020 – John 3 – Nicodemus (physical/spiritual rebirth)
March 15, 2020 – John 4 – The Woman at the Well (physical/spiritual thirst/water)
March 22, 2020 – John 9 – The Man Born Blind (physical/spiritual blindness)
March 29, 2020 – John 11 – The Raising of Lazarus

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, and published in 1958, the year he entered the 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. Both mention Lazarus. Consider the relationship of Luke’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus to this story.

In Luke’s parable, 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, “But 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, Lazarus does in fact come back from the dead. It’s hard to imagine these stories are not connected somehow. Considering this, it is hard to believe John had no access to Luke’s parable.

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 (p. 117), 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.

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 dressed 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 history.

This is to say, Barrett would suggest, the story in John 11 is an important 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.”

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 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.

Lazarus’ resurrection was penultimate. It is not the final word. In fact, all healing of any kind is penultimate. Here’s what I mean. Lazarus may have been raised from the dead, but then he died again, right? I mean, unless he’s still roaming around somewhere, he had to die again. I’m not sure I relish the idea of dying twice. Lazarus’ story is a prefiguring of the resurrection of the dead to eternal life. A final resurrection. This is what we celebrate.

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


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.

I 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.

St. Paul Davenport, 1988-1994

I was privileged to serve my first call in this remarkable congregation, St. Paul Lutheran Church in Davenport, Iowa. It was there Susan and I bought our first house, on W, 29th Street, just north of Vanderveer Park, so I could walk through the park to work. It was there our son John was born. It was there I worked as youth pastor with grade school youth, junior high conformation, senior high ministry and Camp Shalom. A kind and gracious staff maximized my assets and minimized my deficits (as much as they could anyway). I couldn’t have asked for a better first call.

I honestly don’t know who took which photos, to it will be hard to give credit where credit is due.


ELCA Youth Gathering: Rejoice in the Lord Always in San Antonio

Having just graduated from seminary, I accepted a call to St. Paul Lutheran Church in Davenport, Iowa. In our small gathering group were Amy Aufdengarten, Betsy Batcher, David Fisk, David Hatfield, Beth Kusatz, Jeff Lindmark, Clint Schnekloth, Sara Welty and others??


Ice Cream Social 1989

St. Paul Halloween Party (I took a little heat for cross-dressing…)

Valerie and Hans Schnekloth:


1990 Flooding

Camp Shalom 1990

Ice Cream Social 1990

Matt and GJ at some rockin’ youth event



Administrator Clark Aron’s 2nd floor corner office in the church house:

Mary Hahn with her state-of-the-art Macintosh.

Our church housekeeper Lois, a child of the congregations, served St. Paul for many, many years.

My cluttered 3rd floor office suite, with the fabulous window and view. 🙂

Choir Tour 1991

In June 1991 I ran my first marathon, Grandma’s in Dubuque. (I didn’t win.)

Camp Shalom 1991

The Bix 7

ELCA Youth Gathering: Called to Freedom in Dallas

After some growth, a larger group of youth at this gathering. ELCA pastor Clint Schnekloth, in our youth group, wrote a devotion for the gathering.

Confirmation 1991

Confirmation always took place in the fall of the 9th grade year.


Fall Confirmation 1992

Row 1 (L-R)

  • Anna Goodwin
  • Pastor Mike Rinehart
  • Pastor Don Harding
  • Director of Music Larry Petersen
  • Director of Communications Mary (Hahn) Miller

Row 2 (L-R)

  • Lois Boeh
  • Administrator Clark Arons
  • Marge Irwin
  • Senior Pastor Bill Waxenberg
  • Senior Pastor’s Secretary Pat Megown
  • Carla Aufdengarten
  • Holly Arp

Row 3 (L-R, standing)

  • Evalie Grothusen
  • Pastor Ron
  • Brian
  • Matt Spencer
  • Pastor Bob Hurty


Camp Shalom 1993


Camp Shalom 1994

ELCA Youth Gathering: 2B Alive at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta

On the Bus with John on my lap:

Going away party the youth threw when I accepted the call to North Carolina.

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