Bishop Michael Rinehart



Covenant, Houston

Covenant Lutheran Church, on Barker Cypress on the west side of Houston, was chartered in 1984. They began worshipping in an elementary school. The founding pastor was John Hunsicker.

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confirmation hunsicker.jpgBishop Phil Wahlberg

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In time they constructed a church building. Groundbreaking:

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Pastor Kerry Nelson

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Under Pastor Kerry’s leadership, Covenant moved to their current location on Barker Cypress, near Clay Road.

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advent candle covenant.jpgAssociate Pastor Brad Otto (now at Messiah Cypress) was called during Pastor Kerry’s time at Covenant:

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Pastor Susan Rippert

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Pastor Liz Hanley

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Covenant’s current pastor, Ele Clay, was ordained on June 3, 2019.ele installation.jpg

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35th Anniversary, February 17, 2019





Epiphany 7C – February 24, 2019

Genesis 25:3-11, 15– Joseph and his brothers, and father.

Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40– Do not fret because of the wicked. They will soon fade like the grass. The meek shall inherit the land.

1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50 – Paul continues his teaching on the resurrection. Your current body is a seed. What is sown is a perishable, physical body. What is raised is an imperishable, spiritual body.

Luke 6:27-38– Sermon on the Plain continued. Love your enemies. Give to anyone who begs of you.

Looking ahead: Lent C

Return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.
– Joel 2

March 3, 2019, is Transfiguration Sunday. Lent begins that week on Ash Wednesday, March 6, 2019.

March 6 – Ash Wednesday: Dust. Ashes. Mortality. Repentance. Fasting. Don’t show off your piety.
March 10 – Lent 1C: First fruits for the Levite and alien. Jesus is tempted by Satan in the wilderness.
March 17 – Lent 2C: Abram’s call. Faith reckoned as righteousness. Jesus laments for Jerusalem.
March 24 – Lent 3C: Repent, for there is only so much time left for the fig tree to bear fruit.
March 31 – Lent 4C: Lost sheep. Lost sons.
April 7 – Lent 5C: I am about to do a new thing… Mary anoints Jesus’ feet.
April 14 – Palm/Passion Sunday: Jesus entry into Jerusalem as an anti-triumph.

The Prodigal God

prodicalgodThe story of the Prodigal Son comes up this year. It only appears in a Lukan year, and it only appears Lent 4C (March 31 2018). Most readers and preachers assume this well-known story is about forgiveness. Timothy Keller, in his book The Prodigal God: recovering the heart of the Christian Faith, says the story is ultimately about the self-righteous moral disease of the older brother. At the very least, this easy read will enhance your preaching, reminding you of the cultural context most of us know, but sometimes forget. However, the publisher (Dutton) also offers a study guide, and a DVD, so this book could make an excellent small group study in Lent (or early Fall) when the story surfaces in the lectionary.

Lent 1 – Chapter 1: The People Around Jesus
Lent 2 – Chapter 2: The Two Lost Sons
Lent 3 – Chapter 3: Redefining Sin
Lent 4 – Chapter 4: Redefining Lostness
Lent 5 – Chapter 5: The True Elder Brother
Palm Sunday – Chapters 6 and 7: Redefining Hope, The Feast of the Father

Sermon on the Plain, Part 2: Luke 6:27-38

27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.

35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

After clearly delineating the injustice in the world, between rich and poor, Jesus, who is called to preach good news to the poor, makes it clear that God cares for those in need. They are blessed. Then he engages his disciples on how to conduct themselves in the face of such injustice. Love your enemies. Give to those in need. Share your worldly goods. Lend, expecting nothing in return.

Luke boils down the central moral/ethical teaching of Jesus. After the beatitudes, Jesus begins with three hard words: “LOVE YOUR ENEMIES.” One might spend a lifetime learning this difficult art.

strengthtoloveMartin Luther King, Jr. wrote extensively on this. His book, Strength to Love, is profound. Coretta Scott King wrote, “If there is one book Martin Luther King.Jr. wrote that people consistently tell me has changed their lives, it is Strength to Love I believe it is because this book best explains the central element of Martin Luther King, Jr’s philosophy of nonviolence: His belief in a divine, loving presence that binds all life.

Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.

–Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love


Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. So when Jesus says “Love your enemies,” he is setting forth a profound and ultimately inescapable admonition. Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies– or else? The chain reaction of evil–hate begetting hate, wars producing wars–must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.

–Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love


Everywhere and at all times, the love ethic of Jesus is a radiant light revealing the ugliness of our stale conformity.

–Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love


One of the great tragedies of life is that men seldom bridge the gulf between practice and profession, between doing and saying. A persistent schizophrenia leaves so many of us tragically divided against ourselves. On the one hand, we proudly profess certain sublime and noble principles, but on the other hand, we sadly practise the very antithesis of these principles. How often are our lives characterised by a high blood pressure of creeds and an anaemia of deeds! We talk eloquently about our commitment to the principles of Christianity, and yet our lives are saturated with the practices of paganism. We proclaim our devotion to democracy, but we sadly practise the very opposite of the democratic creed. We talk passionately about peace, and at the same time we assiduously prepare for war. We make our fervent pleas for the high road of justice, and then we tread unflinchingly the low road of injustice. This strange dichotomy, this agonising gulf between the ought and the is, represents the tragic theme of man’s earthly pilgrimage.

–Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love

Mikeal Parsons, in his commentary on Luke, from the Paideia series, divides this section into four parts. Simplifying his remarks, I would characterize them as follows:

  1. 9 moral imperatives.
  2. 3 rhetorical questions: love, do good, lend.
  3. 3 moral imperatives, with the same verbs as in 2: love, do good, lend.
  4. 4 moral imperatives bridging to the next section: Don’t judge, don’t condemn, forgive, give.

The moral imperatives are in the plural. “Y’all,” not “you.” They are directed not just to individuals, but to the community, the society.

Our amygdala is the critical “fight or flight” part of the brain that in a crisis instantly direct us to run away! or fight! Jesus offers us what Walter Brueggemann calls “the third way.” Not fight or flight. Stay and resist. Do not run. But also do not use violence (physical or verbal) to destroy your enemy. Do not passively accept injustice, but also do not create more injustice by resorting to violence. Instead, stand your ground, even if you have to take a few blows for justice. Do not run. Do not hide. Do not be passive. Turn the other cheek.

While there is a command to love ones neighbor (Lev. 19:18), and even the resident alien (Lev. 19:34), there  is no explicit command to love ones enemy in the Torah or Prophets. It’s does pop up in inter-testamental Judaism. Parsons quotes the Testament of Benjamin (2nd C.):

A good man . . . shows mercy to all, even though they are sinners. And, though they devise evil against him, he overcomes evil by doing good. . . 

It is quite possible that Jesus is alluding to the Romans, who are occupying Israel. Do not retaliate against acts of violence with more violence. Where would this end? Someone must break the cycle of violence. In the next chapter, Luke shows us a benevolent centurion.

I have seen this work. When someone treats you poorly, feeling justified because they think you have acted against them, and you keep responding to assaults with kindness, something in them begins to shift. We trade the satisfaction of watching our persecutor suffer, for the greater good of potentially turning an enemy into a friend. As MLK makes clear, this is impossibly difficult, especially when we are really suffering from others’ acts against us.

The next imperatives explore the first imperative to love the enemy.

  • Do good to those who hate you.
  • Bless those who curse you.
  • Pray for those who mistreat you.


Drawing on Grundmann, Parsons points out a progression from hate (attitude) > to curse (words) > to mistreatment (action). Meanwhile, Jesus’ suggested responses become more spiritual: Do good > bless > pray.

Paul picks up this ethic in Romans 12:14:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them…

The theme of non-retaliation runs through all of this:

If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also;
and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.
Give to everyone who begs from you;
and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.

Do to others as you would have them do to you.

“Give to everyone who begs of you,” always catches people’s attention. I have known many people who considered this a sacred duty. “What if they’re not really in need and are trying to scam you?” one will ask? I have wrestled with this over the years. In every parish I had a discretionary fund. As hard as we tried to verify people’s need, there were times we got scammed. Any time there is a system, someone will try to game the system. I ultimately came to the conclusion that I would rather risk giving to someone who didn’t need it than risk not giving to someone who did. I have plenty. I have a roof over my head. I’ve never had to go without a meal, while millions struggle. Love is vulnerability. Risk. Let it be.

A former parishioner, who grew up in rural Texas, told me once he gives to everyone who begs, without exception, because Jesus said so. This parishioner told me, “I’m not smart enough to figure out who is in need and who is not, who is worthy and who is not. And I have more than I need, so I just give.” I think that’s what Jesus would do. This gentleman didn’t graduate from high school, but he taught me something about Jesus, and life.

One time C. S. Lewis was walking down the road with a friend. A man came up and asked for help. Lewis gave him money. Afterwards, the friend said, “How do you know he won’t spend it on alcohol?” To which Lewis replied, “I’m not so sure I wasn’t going to spend it on alcohol.”

If someone begs and you have no food or cash, just say so. Don’t ignore them. Acknowledge their humanity. Look them in the eye. I like to keep water and granola bars in the car. If their need is genuine, they will be grateful.

Jesus calls us to live differently. One who has received grace lives differently.

In his prison cell, it is said that Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer treated his Nazi prison guards with love and respect, and he won them over.

When our government began detaining those seeks asylum in the U.S. I was furious. But when they began separating children from their parents I felt a sense of rage. And hearing people then say, “Serves then right. They’re breaking our laws…” it was more than I could bear.

I spoke to the CEO at Lutheran Services of Georgia. Here’s how it would happen. Someone would come and offer to watch the child while the mother went to the showers. While she was gone someone would come and take the child away, moving the child to a different facility. Careful record were not kept. Many of these children will never be able to be reunited with their families. It’s just impossible. Many mothers will never see their children again. Ever.

When the American public heard what was going on, an explosion of outrage erupted. When the courts finally ordered the administration to reunite children separated from their families, guess who they turned to. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, one of the most trusted immigration and refugee organizations, in the U.S. Guess what budget they gave us to do this work. Zero. Not a dime. We did this work with your gifts and offerings. With grants from the ELCA and private donors. You cleaned up the mess, reuniting nearly two thousand children. Some separated for months and months. Terrified. There will be lasting effects. And hundreds have been put into foster care, because we will never find their parents, because you can’t ask a six month old baby the names of their parents.

An illiterate at LIRS recently told me a story of being in an ICE facility, and getting called over by a captain to help in a situation. Frustrated by the situation, she nevertheless helped. He gave her his card. Later, when a family that had been reunited got stopped at the airport by Homeland Security, she took out the card and called that ice officer. He said, “I’ll take care of it,” and went right over to the airport and did just that. When we demonize the other, we forfeit the opportunity to build bridges and work together.

Jesus’ teaching might come in handy in our highly polarized, highly anxious society. People of good will disagree about stuff. That’s okay. Don’t run away. Don’t avoid the issues. “Our lives begin to end when we stop talking about things that matter,” said MLK. Don’t threaten to leave the conversation. Threaten to stay. And don’t resort to violence, verbal or otherwise. Stand your ground. Choose the third way. The way of love. Recognize the other person’s humanity. Look them in the eye. Tell them what matters to you and why. Listen. Don’t return hatred for hatred.

Learn the strength to love.

Epiphany 6C – February 17, 2019

Jeremiah 17:5-10– Jeremiah’s Beatitudes. Blessings and woes (curses)

Psalm 1– Happy is the one who does not walk in the way of the wicked (WWW), stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of scoffers.

1 Corinthians 15:12-20– How can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If so, then Christ was not raised, your faith is in vain, and those who died have perished.

Luke 6:17-26– Sermon on the Plain. Lukan Beatitudes: Blessings and Woes.

February at-a-glance

February 3, 2019 – Epiphany 4C (Jeremiah’s call. Jesus in his hometown: No prophet is without honor, except in his own country.)
February 10, 2019 – Epiphany 5C (Isaiah’s call. Jesus teaches from a boat. The great catch.)
February 17, 2019 – Epiphany 6C (Jeremiah’s blessings and woes. Sermon on the Plain. Lukan Beatitudes: Blessings and Woes.)
February 24, 2019 – Epiphany 7C (Joseph and his brothers. Sermon on the Plain continued. Love your enemies. Give to anyone who begs of you.)

March 3, 2019 – Transfiguration

March 6, 2019 – Ash Wednesday

Jeremiah 17:5-10

Thus says the Lord: Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord. 6They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. 7Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. 8They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit. 9The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse— who can understand it? 10I the Lord test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings.

Professor Ralph Klein’s comments are most helpful for this text:

  • The poem is very similar to Psalm 1, which is the Psalm assigned for this day. Verses 5-6 describe those who trust in mere mortals (they are the wicked) and compare them to a shrub in the desert. These people may just as well be a juniper in the Arabah, which will fall under a curse in bad times because it cannot wait for the rains to come (Lundbom in the Anchor Bible).
  • Contrasted with them, in vv 7-8 are those who trust in Yahweh. These righteous are compared to a tree transplanted by an abundant source of water.
  • Verse 9 ascribes devious motivations to the human heart–it is desperately sick. Jeremiah is generalizing about every heart, including his own.
  • Verse 10 asserts that Yahweh tests the mind and the heart and applies appropriate rewards and punishments to the righteous and wicked respectively.
  • The Gospel, Luke 6:17-26, pronounces great reversals. The poor, hungry, and sorrowful will receive good news while the rich, the full, and the happy will find their good times turned into bad.  There is a healthy tension between these two passages.  The passage from Jeremiah urges people of faith to live ethically; the Gospel warns against making a one-to-one equation between prosperity and piety.  People could misuse the OT lesson to support self-righteousness; people could misuse the NT lesson to advocate cheap grace.  The truth lies in the tension between the two passages.

1 Corinthians 15:12-20

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.

As I said last week, the epistle readings in Epiphany 5C, 6C and 7C (February 10, 17 and 24), are Paul’s extended argument for the resurrection of the dead in 1 Corinthians 15.

The first thing I notice as I slowly read this text is the number of “If… thens.”

  • If Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, then how can you say, no resurrection?
  • If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised;
  • If Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.
  • If the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised.
  • If Christ has not been raised, then your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished.
  • If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, then we are of all people most to be pitied.

conflictandcommunityBen Witherington III, in his book Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians, calls 1 Corinthians 15 “Argument VIII,” and Paul’s at his rhetorical, argumentative best.

Mack, M. Bunker, and D. Watson call Paul’s arguments micro-rhetoric, exhibiting all the elements of a speech. One can hear the if-thens as an oratory/preaching device for a crowd.

Witherington outlines Paul’s classic Greek rhetoric as follows:

  • exordium in vv. If.,
  • narratio in vv. 3-11,
  • propositio in vv. 12-19,
  • thesis, stated in short form in v. 20,
  • probatio in vv. 21-50, using paradigms, examples, analogies, and closing with a scriptural analogy,
  • conclusion in vv. 51-58,
  • recapitulation, a citation of Scripture for a final appeal (vv. 54f.),
  • peroratio in the form of an exhortation to act on the basis of all that has just been said (v. 58).

So, our text represents the propositio, that is the summary of the matter, and the thesis, the short statement of the point. Witherington says Paul’s point is today’s final verse (20):

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.

The Greek listeners would undoubtably understood Paul to mean resurrected corpses. Paul seeks to correct this misunderstanding. He also is correcting the Corinthian Christians, who  spiritualized the resurrection as people do today.

Witherington addresses those not “in Christ:”

Paul does not discuss the fate of those outside Christ here. It is possible to read various ideas into his silence. It could be that he saw the nonbeliever’s resurrection as separate from the Christian resurrection, but we cannot be sure. His point is to focus on what will happen to Christians, so the analogy is not perfect. There is a corporate solidarity in death and in new life in each case, but not all will be in Christ, and so not all will be affected by him in the way that all are affected by Adam.

I would argue, however, that because Paul never mentions “hell” in the undisputed epistles, that Paul assumes those not in Christ perish, as he says Christians would, if Christ was not raised:

If Christ has not been raised… then those also who have died in Christ have perished. 

As I said last week, Paul’s understanding of resurrection is widely misunderstood today. If you preach this text, you might go back and read what I wrote. (Epiphany 5C – February 10) I won’t repeat it here. I also recommend James Tabor’s explanation in Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity.

Luke 6:17-26

He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

20Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

24“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25“Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. 26“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

This week we get verses 17-26 of the Sermon on the Plain: Four blessings and four woes. Next week we get versus 27-38. Mikeal Parsons (Luke, Paideia), outlines the three distinct sections Sermon on the Plain as follows:

  • 6:20–26
  • 6:27–38
  • 6:39–49

Each section has a clear marker separating it from the others:

  • “Then after making careful eye contact with his disciples, he turned and said” (6:20a);
  • “to you who are listening I say” (6:27a); and
  • “Then he told them an illustration” (6:39a).

The Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:17-49) has much of the same content as the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7, other places in Matthew, and Q, however Luke definitely makes his own mark on the text. From Parsons:


Prior to our reading Jesus went up to the mountain to pray. He met with his disciples. In Luke there are not twelve disciples. There are many more. Jesus gathers his many disciples, and chooses twelve of them to be apostles (Luke 6:13). Jesus comes to a level place on the slope  and stands with them. Jesus is speaking to the apostles, and the disciples. The crowd listens in.

David Lyle Jeffrey (Luke, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible) points out that this Sermon on the Plain does not appear in Mark. It’s counterpart in Matthew is much longer (Matthew chapters 5-7). Luke’s version in this Sunday’s gospel reading is terse by comparison.

There are four beatitudes. (Matthew has eight.) Luke adds woes that Matthew doesn’t have. This certainly changes the feel of Luke’s version.  The four beatitudes in 6:20–23 (poor, hungry, mourning, hated) are countered by four woes in 6:24–26 (rich, full, laughing, esteemed). Luke’s beatitudes do not have the alliteration of Matthew’s Greek. (Matthew uses a lot of words that begin with “p.”) Augustine considered these two sermons, preached on different occasions, rather than one reported differently.

The Psalms begin with a beatitude: “Blessed are they who walk not in the counsel of the wicked…” (Psalm 1:1) This is the appointed psalm of the day.

Parsons says the poor are “victims of social and economic oppression.” The kingdom is theirs. Communities of wealth and privilege tend to downplay the import of this passage. Keep in mind Jesus has already told us that the Spirit has anointed him to preach good news to the poor.

The hungry will be filled, an obvious reference to the eschatological banquet.

The weeping will laugh. In Matthew 5 and Isaiah 61, the weeping are “comforted.” Parsons points out Luke borrows weeping into laughter from Psalm 126:1–6 and Ecclesiastes 3:4. For everything there is a season… a time to weep, and a time to laugh.

Fourth and finally, blessed are you when you are hated, excluded, reviled, and defamed. Rejoice and leap for joy. This is what they did to the prophets. You must be on the right track.

Some point out that Jesus experienced all these things himself.

The woes correspond to the beatitudes. One might translate this translate this, “Beware.” Beware you who are rich, filled and gluttonous, laughing and buried in flattery.

I am mindful of Amos’ stern warning in Amos chapter 6:

6:1 “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion,
and to those who feel secure on the mountain of Samar′ia,
the notable men of the first of the nations,
to whom the house of Israel come!

6:4 “Woe to those who lie upon beds of ivory,
and stretch themselves upon their couches,
and eat lambs from the flock,
and calves from the midst of the stall;

6:5 who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp,
and like David invent for themselves instruments of music;

6:6 who drink wine in bowls,
and anoint themselves with the finest oils,
but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!

6:7 Therefore they shall now be the first of those to go into exile,
and the revelry of those who stretch themselves shall pass away.”

The good news for the poor is pretty clear here. The good news for the rich is they get to be a part of the sharing. But the good news comes with a warning about the great reversal that will take place in the kingdom. Luke spells this out in chapter 16 with the story of the rich man and Lazarus. If those who are poor, hungry, weeping and hated are blessed, and if you aren’t any of those things, go find someone who is.

It is sometimes difficult to preach a graceful, non-legalistic sermon because of the woes. The sermon doesn’t end here, though. Jesus goes on to talk about being perfected in love. We will read the next section next week. The preacher might work ahead to know “the rest of the story.” Consider a two-part sermon that leaves some questions hanging for next week. Blessings and woes… How then should we live? Stay tuned…

Epiphany 5C – February 10, 2019

Isaiah 6:1-8, (9-13)– The call of Isaiah. Holy, holy, holy. Six-winged seraphs. I am a man of unclean lips. Who will go for us? Here I am. Send me.

Psalm 138– I give you thanks with my whole heart… though the Lordis high, he regards the lowly; but the haughty he perceives from far away.

1 Corinthians 15:1-11– Paul’s profession of faith. Christ died for our sins, then rose and appeared to many of us. Last to me, as one untimely born, he appear to me, least of the apostles. By the grace of God, I am what I am.

Luke 5:1-11– Jesus teaches from the boat. Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.

February at-a-glance

February 3, 2019 – Epiphany 4C (Jeremiah’s call. Jesus in his hometown: No prophet is without honor, except in his own country.)

February 10, 2019 – Epiphany 5C (Isaiah’s call. Jesus teaches from a boat. The great catch.)

February 17, 2019 – Epiphany 6C (Jeremiah’s blessings and woes. Sermon on the Plain. Lukan Beatitudes: Blessings and Woes.)

February 24, 2019 – Epiphany 7C (Joseph and his brothers. Sermon on the Plain continued. Love your enemies. Give to anyone who begs of you.

March 3, 2019 – Transfiguration

March 6, 2019 – Ash Wednesday

This Epiphany we have some texts that I don’t recall preaching in my career. We only get an Epiphany 5, 6 and 7 when we have a very late Easter. This year, April 21, is fairly late. Although we had later Easters in 2000 and 2011, they didn’t fall in year C of the revised common lectionary. I would be hard pressed to figure out when we last had the Epiphany 7C gospel of Luke 6:27-38, from the Sermon on the Plain in Luke. A little on Easter for the curious.

Easter in the Western Calendar

Because Easter in the Western calendar is always the first Sunday, after the first full moon, after the vernal equinox (Spring), the earliest possible date for Easter is March 22 and the latest possible is April 25. There are 35 dates on which Easter can take place. Here, for you church nerds, are the dates of Easter, at least for the rest of my lifetime:

21st April 2019

12th April 2020
4th April 2021
17th April 2022
9th April 2023
31st March 2024
20th April 2025
5th April 2026
28th March 2027
11th April 2077
16th April 2028
1st April 2029

21st April 2030
13th April 2031
28th March 2032
17th April 2033
9th April 2034
25th March 2035
13th April 2036
5th April 2037
25th April 2038
10th April 2039

1st April 2040
21st April 2041
6th April 2042
29th March 2043
17th April 2044
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25th March 2046
14th April 2047
5th April 2048
18th April 2049

10th April 2050
2nd April 2051
21st April 2052
6th April 2053
29th March 2054
18th April 2055
2nd April 2056
22nd April 2057
14th April 2058
30th March 2059

Wasn’t that fun? Easter falls in March once or twice each decade. The earliest Easter will be March 25, in 2035 and 2046. That’s three days later than earliest Easter can be (March 22). The next time Easter will be on March 22 is in 2285, 266 years from now. The latest Easter will be in the next 40 years is the latest it can be: April 25, in 2038.

If I live to be 97, I will be with some of you to celebrate Easter on March 30, 2059. This is, however, quite unlikely, since no one in the recorded history of my family has ever made it to 87, much less 97. But I digress…

The Call of Isaiah

jeremiah2Last week we had the call of Jeremiah. One might consider continuing on in a series with the theme of calling. Such a series would need to land on each individual’s sense of calling to ministry. A ministry fair would be an excellent opportunity for people to explore their own sense of call. People are driven to serve in different ways. Some are passionate about hunger and poverty, others about the plight of refugees, still others about abuse. How are we helping people find their God-given calling? How do people recognize their calling? Telling stories of how others found and realized their calling is a great start.

1 Corinthians 15

paulandjesusThese next three Sundays, Epiphany 5C, 6C and 7C (February 10, 17 and 24), we are in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul’s profession of his faith, and his extended exposition on the resurrection of the dead. Paul’s understanding of resurrection is widely misunderstood today. If you are going to preach a three-week series on these texts, I would recommend James Tabor’s book, Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity, for a fuller understanding.

People often think of resurrection in one of two ways, either as our spirit floating up into heaven, or a resurrected corpse. For Paul, it was neither. Paul believes we will be given new, resurrected bodies, as a careful reading of 1 Corinthians 15 and other letters shows. We put off the old body, which is sown in the ground like a seed. We are not, however, left “naked.” We are given a new, spiritual body, like Christ. This new body is a spiritual body. In 1 Corinthians 15:45, Paul says,

Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

 Consider also 2 Corinthians 5:1-4:

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.For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling—if indeed, when we have taken it off[we will not be found naked.For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.

For Paul, Jesus bodily resurrection is a spiritual body. Jesus is the first of a new species of spirit-beings in the universe. He calls them “children of God,” a kind of cosmic family. Christ is the firstborn of this new family. Romans 8:29.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.

There is much that can be said here about the concept of Gnosticism (a pure, beautiful soul being encapsulated into an evil body), Greek dualism (a spirit/soul being liberated at death from the body) and Hebrew view of death, ultimately adopted by Christians (Sheol, the place were the dead sleep for eternity). Resurrection was sharply debated in Jewish circles from 200 B.C. to 100 A.D. Jesus fell in line with the Pharisees in this argument, and Paul was a Pharisee.

Jewish Christians did not imagine immortal souls dancing into eternity. Theye saw a resurrection of the dead into new spiritual bodies that would not decay. God will raise those in Christ, even if they had died at sea, burned to ashes or been eaten by dogs. “And the sea gave up the dead in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead in them…” (Revelation 20:13) For Plato, death was a friend, releasing the soul from the body. For Jews and Christians, death was the enemy. They saw not disembodied bliss, but reembodied life, according to Tabor.

Celsus, a second-century Greek philosopher, wrote a critique of Christianity. He said Christians “believe in the absurd theory that the corporeal body will be raised and reconstituted by God, and that somehow they will actually see God with their mortal eyes and hear him with their ears and be able to touch him with their hands.” This is not actually what Christians believed, but that hasn’t stopped fake news ever. It is a caricature.

Paul’s opponents in Corinth press him: “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” (1 Corinthians 15:35). Paul goes on to describe the spiritual body and the heavenly Adam, in our text for February 24. His logic goes like this. If there is a physical body, there is a spiritual body. The first man, Adam, became a living being. The last Adam, Christ, became a life-giving spirit. The first man was from the earth. The second man is from heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. Jesus is proof of this for Paul.

Paul did not see Christ crucified, buried and risen. He is simply passing on what he received from the Corinthians, or perhaps by direct revelation (see Galatians 1:11-12). For Paul, Jesus changed clothes. Bodies burned to death do not need to be reconstituted, an absurdity the Greeks criticized. In the end of time, God gives them new, resurrected bodies. Resurrection is a reclothing with a spiritual body.

Tabor uses John the Baptist as an example. Herod served John’s head on a platter. John’s disciples buried the rest of his body. Later, when Herod hears of Jesus’ miracles, he thought that John the Baptist had been raised from the dead. There is no report that he went to John’s tomb to see if it was empty. It wouldn’t matter. He didn’t imagine the head and body magically reuniting. He imagined John alive, even though his body was a-moulderin’ in the grave. This illustrated the Jewish concept, at the time, of someone being resurrected into a new body.

This kind of in-depth look at Paul’s theology in Corinthians and Romans is not for a funeral sermon. While it might convey a sense of hope, it is probably too complicated to offer a crystal clear message to address grief. If we want to talk about these things, and educate around them, perhaps it is best to do so in a sermon where the majority of people aren’t there because of a recent death. An Bible class or small group would offer even more time for questions and conversation.

Catching People


By chapter 5 of Luke’s gospel we are well into Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. He has been born, baptized, and tempted in the wilderness. He has read his mission statement, from Isaiah, in his own hometown synagogue: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to preach good news to the poor, release to the captives, jubilee year…

In Luke 5 we have the story of the miraculous catch of fish, followed by two healing stories. Then Jesus calls a questionable character named Levi, a tax collector, who subsequently throws Jesus a lavish banquet. Clearly, Jesus’ ministry is not going to reflect the abstinence of John the Baptist’s ministry. Jesus is criticized for eating with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus commissions Levi: “Follow me.” Perhaps Jesus issues such a call to you today. Are you interested? What would following Jesus look like?

This great catch story, says Mikeal Parsons in his commentary on Luke from the Paideia series, is a parallel with the post-resurrection story in John 21. Raymond E. Brown goes to great lengths to compare the two stories. Luke rearranges Mark’s order of things. In Mark the call of the disciples comes early. In Luke, these calls come after Jesus’ ministry is underway. This order makes the calling more like those of Jeremiah and Isaiah, where the commission comes after everything else. The commissioning in Luke 5:10 corresponds to the commissioning in Isaiah 6:7-10, in our Old Testament reading. Parsons:

The disciples are called and commissioned to participate in Jesus’s people-fishing mission, and this mission, as Luke makes clear in Luke 4, is a mission of release and redemption, not one of deception and destruction.

There isn’t much else to run with in a sermon than the commissioning we all have in our baptism. The very ministry of preaching good news to the poor, release to captives, recovery of sight to the blind to which Jesus said he was called in Luke 4 is the ministry to which his disciples are called. The question becomes, how are each of you gifted and called to participate in Christ’s ministry, to bring God’s good news to those who are poor, to join in Christ’s healing ministry and to proclaim Jubilee year?





2019 Tri Theological Conference

200 ELCA pastors, deacons and other church leaders from Texas, Louisiana and beyond, met at First Lutheran Church in Galveston January 28-30 for the Tri-Theological Conference. Our speakers were Reesheda Grahan-Washington and Shawn Casselberry, who spoke on their book Soul Force: Seven Pivots Toward Courage, Community and Change.

Rozella coordinated with the help of her good friend Deacon Beth Hartfiel. Gretchen Lundquist, Gulf Coast Synod Office Manager, handled the administrative responsibilities with the help of Synod Staff member Aimee Elles.

#tritheo19 “you’re invited to turn your judgement into curiosity” – @rozellahw

Opening devotions with Pastor Ele Clay:

#tritheo19 “Baptism is a ritual of two very distinct points of change – death and resurrection” – Pr.Ele Clay

#tritheo19 “There’s a correlation between our privilege and resources and our inability to name our fears and challenges” -@ReeshedaW

#tritheo19 What defines us in the body of Christ is not our rightness or our leftness, it is our belovedness.


The Southwestern Texas Synod Folks:

Who believes enough in you to tell you the truth about yourself? – @ReeshedaW #tritheo19

The LSPS Alumni Dinner at Salsa’s:

Pastor Brian Gigee singing his songs at The Old Quarter for the Trinity Alum gathering:

#tritheo19 “The more comfortable we are, the harder it is to be innovative and creative.” – @reeshedaw

#tritheo19 “Mary’s song comes out the way it does bc she had probably always been told what couldn’t do or be, but God unleashes her voice.” —Tracey Breashears Schultz’ sermon at closing worship

Paul’s Timeline

Here is one possible timeline

33 Jesus’ crucifixion 

34? Paul’s conversion 

Arabia (Gal. 1:17 — NOT Jerusalem) 

Damascus (Gal. 1:17 — NOT Jerusalem; Wilson: “Cannot date Paul’s sojourn into Damascus” p. 82) 

37? Jerusalem (Gal. 1:18 — after three years, for 15 days; only saw Cephas/Peter and James, the Lord’s brother; Acts 9:26-30) 

Tarsus (where Barnabas finds him, Acts 11:25) 

Antioch (where Barnabas takes him, Acts 11:26) 

37-46 Still nine years unaccounted for! 

46-48 1st Missionary Journey with Barnabas (Acts 13-14) 

48 Jerusalem conference with Barnabas and Titus (Gal. 2:1, Acts 15) 

49-52 2nd Missionary Journey with Silas (Acts 15:36-18:21) Luke goes too. Timothy gets picked up in Lystra. 

51-52 Paul in Corinth 

53-57 3rd Missionary Journey (Acts 18:22-21:16) 

59-62 4th Missionary Journey (to Rome) 

Paul beheaded?

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