Bishop Michael Rinehart



November 26, 2017 is Christ the King A

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24  I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.
Psalm 100  Know that the LORD is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Psalm 95:1-7a  O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.
Ephesians 1:15-23  God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, … And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Matthew 25:31-46 – The parable of the Sheep and the Goats

Prayer of the Day
O God of power and might, your Son shows us the way of service, and in him we inherit the riches of your grace. Give us the wisdom to know what is right and the strength to serve the world you have made, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Gospel Acclamation
Alleluia. Blessed is the one who comes in the name | of the Lord.
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our an- | cestor David. Alleluia. (Mark 11:9)

Color: White or Green

sheep and goats

Christ the King 

Christ the King is the last holy Sunday in the Western liturgical calendar. It is the newest of Christian festivals. It was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925, to counter the rise of secularism and the rise of secular dictatorships in Europe. Pius hoped:

  • That nations would see that the Church has the right to freedom and immunity from the state
  • That leaders and nations would give respect to Christ
  • That the faithful would gain strength and courage from the celebration of the feast

It is also the last Sunday we will spend in the Matthean lectionary this year. The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats is the last of three parables in Matthew 25. Matthew 25 is part of the last of five great discourses or sermons in Matthew’s gospel, sometimes called the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 23-25), because Jesus delivered it from the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24:3). In my post on the November 12 text, I went into this in detail. Jesus’ first sermon (The Sermon on the Mount) is delivered from a mountain. Likewise, his last sermon in Matthew.

This Sunday’s gospel, the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, is the last of three parables in Matthew 25:

  1. The Parable of the Virgins
  2. The Parable of the Talents
  3. The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats

As I mentioned last week, the three parables of Matthew 25 might roll like this…

Virgins: Be ready for Christ’s coming. Keep your lamps trimmed and burning. You don’t know when the bridegroom is coming. Be ready for the great reckoning at the end of time. What constitutes readiness?

Talents: Perhaps the joyful, risky, equitable use of one’s gifts – using what God has given us for the things that God really cares about. What does God care about?

Sheep and Goats: When I was hungry you gave me food… Whatever you do to the least of these you do to me… God cares about those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, strangers, sick and imprisoned.

A sermon on this parable can be found on my blog. This sermon explores the idea that if Christ truly rules in our lives, then what other things or people are not? Because Christ reigns, death is destroyed, and we are free from our bondage to other gods, so that we might be a servant church.

This parable begins with images of the end times. The Son of Man returns to judge the nations, as in Daniel 7:

I was watching in the night visions, “And with the clouds of the sky one like a son of man was approaching. He went up to the Ancient of Days and was escorted before him. To him was given ruling authority, honor, and sovereignty. All peoples, nations, and language groups were serving him. His authority is eternal and will not pass away. His kingdom will not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)

Every nation is judged as in Zechariah 14 (note also, the Mount of Olives is mentioned):

Then the Lord will go to battle and fight against those nations, just as he fought battles in ancient days. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives which lies to the east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in half from east to west, leaving a great valley. Half the mountain will move northward and the other half southward… The Lord will then be king over all the earth. In that day the Lord will be seen as one with a single name. (Zechariah 14:3-4, 9)

You can’t miss the reference to the Mount of Olives here. Matthew knows his Hebrew prophets.

This Son of Man comes as a cosmic judge in this little apocalypse. I would quickly point out that it is nations that are being judged, not individuals. We may be too soaked in revivalist theology to hear this text in the way Matthew intends it. His is not a me-and-Jesus gospel of private salvation. One cannot escape the reality that the Son of Man is judging countries here.

Justin Eler points out in Spanish, in a Working Preacher article that The Sheep and the Goats is peculiar to Matthew, and appears to be a continuation of the previous Parable of the Talents. They share the theme of what we ought to do while waiting for the return of Christ. He also points out that this is not just the culmination of Jesus’ ministry, but of his life.

La parábola del juicio de las naciones es propia del evangelio de Mateo y aparece a continuación de la parábola de los talentos que un rico dejó a sus siervos o empleados para usar, invertir, desarrollar y cuidar a otras personas durante su ausencia. 

El tema de esperar el regreso del Señor, o sea el fin de los tiempos, culmina aquí con esta parábola que resuelve las parábolas que la preceden y es la conclusión del ministerio de Jesús. Esta parábola no es solamente la culminación del ministerio docente de Jesús, sino también de su vida.


The parable of the judgment of the nations is proper to the Gospel of Matthew and follows the parable of the talents, which a rich man left his servants or employees to use, invest, develop and care for others during their absence.

The theme of waiting for the return of the Lord, or the end of time, ends here with this parable that resolves the parables that precede it and is the conclusion of the ministry of Jesus. This parable is not only the culmination of the teaching ministry of Jesus, but also his life.

How shall we spend the time waiting for Christ’s return? Keep your light shining, your lamps trimmed and burning. Use your talents, what God has given you to invest in God’s reign. Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Welcome the stranger. Visit those sick and in prison. As I said in a recent Reformation sermon, “Now that you know you don’t have to do anything, what are you going to do? How will you spend the days of grace God has given you under this beautiful blue sky?”

Carla Works points out in another Working Preacher article that this parable summarizes what Jesus’ ministry has been about all along:

Christ has announced the arrival of God’s kingdom while he cures the sick (e.g., 8:28-9:8, 9:18-38; 12:9-14; 14:34-36; 15:29-31), welcomes the despised (9:9-13), and provides food for the hungry (14:13-21; 15:32-39). He orders his disciples to carry on his ministry by doing likewise (10:5-15, 40-42). 

There is a clear note of judgment here. Therefore, there is also a great temptation to preach works-righteousness. It will be easy, I’m afraid, for our people to hear the examples of sheep feeding Jesus when he is hungry, welcoming Christ as a stranger, and so on, as an individual’s entrance requirements for heaven, except for one thing: those who feed, clothe, welcome and visit Jesus, don’t know they have done so. “When did we see you hungry?” They are dumbfounded. They didn’t do it to get into heaven. In fact they didn’t know.

Antiquity is filled with stories of divine visitors who come in disguise. The king comes in pauper’s rags. The king judges based on how he is treated, even as a pauper.

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, because through it some have entertained angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2)

When you help someone in need, you never know who you are helping. You might be helping an angel. In this story, Jesus suggests any time, every time we help those in need, we are helping Christ.

And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, whenever you did it for one of the least of these, you did it for me.’ (Matthew 25:40)

Any time we help those who are needy and suffering, those on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder, we are helping Christ. This is a mystical and yet incredibly tangible teaching. It is the culmination of Jesus’ parables of the kingdom. It is a mystical union. Christ comes to us in this holy way.

True to form, Jesus then retells the story for the benefit of the goats. I love to divide the congregation down the center aisle into sheep and goats as I retell this story. It drives home the force of the drama in Jesus’ words.

Notice those on the right don’t “go to heaven.” They “inherit the kingdom.” You may recall earlier in Matthew that the meek inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). Whoever has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for Jesus’ sake will “inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29). Jesus teaches the disciples to pray, “Thy kingdom come,” not that they might be sent there. God’s kingdom comes to us.

Those on the left are banished into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and all his angels. Note a couple of things.

First, the devil has angels in Matthew. The Son of Man has angels who will separate the good from the righteous at the end of time (Matthew 13:41, 13:49, 16:27, 24:31, 25:31). Apparently the devil has angels too. Demons are mentioned nearly a dozen times in Matthew. Why not here? This has always perplexed me. Perhaps I am making too much of it, but I can think of no other place in the New Testament where Satan has angels. We may have to dig in apocryphal literature to shed light on this. At the very least, this rings of something foreign to the synoptic tradition. This story, only in Matthew, may have been solidified in poetic form with its own language, perhaps borrowed by Matthew for his narrative.

Second, there is a fairly vivid depiction of hell in this sentence. Hell isn’t mentioned here, but it’s implied. Matthew doesn’t use the word “hell” per se, but he speaks of a fiery Gehenna, which often gets translated “hell.” The idea of hell is still under development in the first century, as Greek mythology collides freely with Hebrew mythology in the expanding Roman Empire, but we all too often superimpose Dante’s popular medieval mindset on Matthew’s Jesus. This would be a mistake. In Matthew the devil has a fiery Gehenna garbage dump that burns constantly, where evil will be tossed out and burned. In Matthew, God intends to bring the wheat into God’s granary and burn the tares up for good. The final sentence of the text is intentionally ominous: “And these will depart into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

This text reads like an apocalypse. Revelation is an apocalypse, as is Daniel. Dicken’s classic, “A Christmas Carol,” is an apocalypse. Ebeneezer Scrooge asks the Ghost of Christmas Future if these are visions of things that will be, or may be. The Ghost is, of course, silent.

The truth is, the future is unwritten. John the Revelator knew this. Matthew did too.

So, how do we preach this text with grace and faith? We preach it not in isolation, but with the texts that came before it in mind. We recall that good works are fueled by the oil of faith. We recall that it is God who gives the oil, the wedding garment, the talents and, thus, the will and capacity to do the good works mentioned in this parable. We recall that it is communion with Christ that we seek in serving those in need.

We recall that any separation of faith and works is artificial. We remember Luther’s words:

Thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire. (LW 35:371)

We remember that both sheep and goats are surprised when their actions are pointed out. Good works are not a put on. They flow freely and unconsciously from a life of faith, from a heart in communion with God. Or not.

November 19, 2017 is Pentecost 24A, Proper 28A

Judges 4:1-7 – Read the whole chapter to get the context. Israel did evil, so God turned them over to Canaan who had 900 chariots with iron-rimmed wheels. They cried out to the Lord. Deborah the prophetess, who sat under her date palm tree settling disputes, summoned Barak, telling him to gather 10,000 troops, for God would deliver General Sisera and his chariots over to them.


Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18  – silent before the Lord, for the day of judgment is almost here. I will punish those entrenched in sin. It won’t be pretty. Neither silver nor gold will deliver them from the Lord’s angry judgment. Their blood will be poured out like dirt.

Psalm 123 – Four verses: my eyes look up to you enthroned in heaven, like a servant to a master. Show us favor. We have had our fill of humiliation.


Psalm 90:1-8, (9-11), 12 – Lord you have been our protector through all generations. You make us return to the dust. To you a thousand years is as a day. (The days of our lives are 70, maybe 80. They pass quickly, then we fly away.) Teach us to number our days, consider our mortality that we might live wisely.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 – no need to instruct you about the times. You know the Lord will come like a thief in the night. So stay awake, and sober as children of light. Put on the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet of hope for salvation.

Matthew 25:14-30 – The parable of The Talents. Three slaves steward 1, 2, and 5 talents. When the master returns to settle accounts, two have earned 100%. The one who buried his talent is scorned.

Prayer of the Day
Righteous God, our merciful master, you own the earth and all its peoples, and you give us all that we have. Inspire us to serve you with justice and wisdom, and prepare us for the joy of the day of your coming, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Gospel Acclamation
Alleluia. Abide in me as I a- | bide in you;
those who abide in me | bear much fruit. Alleluia. (John 15:4, 5)

Life’s ROI: Risk or Paralyzed by Fear?

Last week we heard the first of three great parables from Matthew 25:

  1. November 12, 2017: Matthew 25:1-13 – The Parable of the Virgins
  2. November 19, 2017: Matthew 25:14-30 – The Parable of the Talents
  3. November 26, 2017: Matthew 25:31-46 – The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats

This Sunday’s gospel is Matthew 25:14-30. Matthew 25 is part of the last of five great discourses in Matthew’s gospel. It is sometimes called the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 23-25), so called because Jesus delivered it from the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24:3). In last week’s post I opined about the Augusta Victoria Hospital, located on the Mount of Olives where Jesus might have been speaking these parables. There are 800 olive trees on the Lutheran World Federation’s property on the Mount of Olives. Your church can plant a tree on the Mount of Olives. The ELCA is supporting a housing project on the Mount of Olives. Christians have been leaving Jerusalem. The Christian population has fallen from 30,000 to 10,000 since 1946. The dramatic settlement of East Jerusalem combined with the demolition of Palestinian homes has led to a housing crisis. The project has been delayed due to fact that Israeli authorities have not issued building permits, but in time 84 apartments will be built on LWF property, God willing.

In Matthew 24 we have Jesus’ description of the end times, and the persecution/tribulation that Christians will endure before the final victory. Some see this as a prediction of the Roman persecution and the destruction of Jerusalem, while others see this as a cosmic battle at the end of time. The Left Behind series parlayed this into a fictional series playing on the idea of the rapture, a concept that faithful Christians would be preserved from this persecution and taken to heaven before the tribulation. This theology emerged in American evangelicalism after the 17th century and is rejected by traditional Lutheran and Catholic theology.

This week we read the Parable of the Talents. David Garland (Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary), says,

The parable of the wise and the wicked stewards (24: 45-51) and the parable of the talents (25: 14-30) give more precision to what it means to watch and be ready. Vigilance is not a passive waiting and watching but consists of active, responsible service. When Christ returns, he will not ask if one had the date right but “What have you been doing?”

Stanley Hauerwas (Matthew: Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible) points out the intentional connection of this parable to the earlier one in Matthew 25: “It is as if…” makes it clear Matthew intends the second parable to help interpret the first. We’ll get to this at the end of this post.

So the story goes, a man goes on a journey and entrusts his property to three slaves. The word is δούλους (doulous), so it should be translated “slave” and not “servant.” To the first he gave πέντε τάλαντα (pente talanta), five “talents.” To another he gave two, and to the final slave he gave one talent. A talent was a measure of mass or weight. It varied in different times and cultures.

Picture1The talent is the largest weight mentioned in the Bible. From Exodus 38:25-26 someone good at math worked out that a talent is about 3,000 shekels. This is the Canaanite system (based on Ugaritic), and not the Mesopotamian system, which divided the talent into 3,600 shekels. I believe both “shekel” and “talent” originally meant “weight,” hearkening back to a time when business was done not with minted coins, but by trading certain weights of grain, wool and the like. 10 gerah made a beka (Gen. 24:22; Ex. 38:26). 2 beka made a shekel (Gen. 23:16, 2 Sam. 14:26). 50 shekelim made a maneh (mina in NRSV translation; Ezekiel. 45:12; Ezra 2:69; Nehemiah. 7:71, 72). Luke uses the maneh (lit. mina) in his parallel to today’s story in Luke 19:12-27. 60 manim made a talent. Eventually weights were made corresponding to these amounts. These weights eventually morphed into coins. In New Testament times, a talent was around 130 pounds. I know, more information than you need (or want, perhaps), but that’s how we roll.

Left: A 1712 woodcut of the Parable of the Talents.

We can’t be sure what this much weight would correspond to American dollars in a November 2017 economy. Some folks estimate a talent would have been considered over 8,000 denarii. Since a denarius was a day’s wage, this means 8,000 days of pay, or something like 22 years. At an average income of $50,000 today, that’s over $1M. 5 talents would then be well over $5M. So, while the details may not be important, the astute reader might like to know that we’re talking about a vast sum of money here, not a pittance. The point here is that it’s an absurd sum of money. As usual, Jesus uses outrageous images to capture his listener’s imagination. Like the image of gouging out your eyes if they cause you to sin, or a camel fitting through the eye of the needle, Jesus is being provocative. One might start a sermon with the question: “What would you do if someone gave you a million dollars to manage?”

So, let us say the master gives one slave $5M, one $2M, and one $1M then takes off. The ones with five and two talents double their investments through trading. Risky but profitable. The one with one talent buries it out of fear of the master. The first two are praised by the master. The third is chastised for being wicked and lazy. The story is designed from the get-go to inspire outrage. It still works today. People hear this story and flinch. What? Those who have much receive more, and those with little have even the smidgeon they have taken away? What? The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer? And the slave who returned the master’s original sum gets thrown out into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth? What kind of master is this?

Many thoughts bounce around. First of all, on judgment day there will be a weighing of sorts. An accounting. This is a God of accountability.

Second, I recall Henri Nouwen saying there are two ways to live: a safe way with arms folded, and another, risky way, with arms open to embrace. The latter is vulnerable. Life is risk. None of us gets out of this alive. Or as one person put it, ships may be safer in the harbor, but that is not what ships are built for. How are you investing what God has given you? What is your life worth? Your body? A million dollars? All of it is on loan to you from God. How will you invest it?

Care must be taken to not use this text to presuppose any economic system as Christian, or to misuse it to promote a particular work ethic. None of the slaves earned the talents for which they were given responsibility. Hauerwas reminds us we must read this text in its apocalyptic context, and in light of Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom in Matthew. “After much time,” the master was delayed in returning. The critique of the last slave is that he feared the giver. Hauerwas: “In other words the one with one talent assumed that he or she was part of a zero-sum game.” He has played it safe. Garland: “He buried his silver—the best security against theft (see Mishna Baba Mesi‘a 3: 10).” The master acts generously, but the slave views the master as a petty tyrant. How do our people view God?

Garland (p. 246):

This parable illustrates that the “delay” (24: 48; 25: 5, 19) is not a meaningless interval. It presents a window of opportunity for servants who love their Master to put to good use the resources given them for gain.

I find it interesting that the word “talent” today, meaning “a special aptitude,” originated from this very passage. The traditional interpretation of the passage was that Jesus was talking about the use of the gifts that God has given to us. So the ancient weight “talent” came into Middle English as “special natural ability,” according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. In other words, this word, that originally meant a measure of weight, came to mean a special aptitude because of Jesus’ use of it in this parable. Did you know Jesus was responsible for the creation of an English word?

Another point that is clear is that the master gives a vast amount. We are blessed with immeasurable gifts. They all ultimately belong to the master, but they are ours to use for the time we are on this earth. Like the stories in which Jesus curses the fig tree, we have the sense that the master expects fruit, results. The gifts God has given us are to be used for God’s purposes, and not wasted. This seems to be a theme that Jesus hammered. Consider his words in Luke 12:48, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.”

The poet John Milton seemed to understand it in this sense:

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent, which is death to hide,
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He, returning, chide

Perhaps we are the ones with only one talent.

Joachim Jeremias saw this parable as a critique of the Scribes and Pharisees, who were given charge of the invaluable kingdom of God, and had squandered it. Will Herzog has a completely different interpretation, based on liberation theology. This interpretation requires us to forget everything we’ve ever read on this passage. The master is not analogous to God, but rather a very bad absentee landlord. He’s a slumlord, who praises those who exploit the poor for unrighteous gain. After all, as Calvin pointed out, lending money at interest was strictly forbidden in the Hebrew Bible (Exod. 22:25-27, Deut. 23:19-20). These stories are recorded in Matthew half a century after they were told. Each gospel writer appropriates the story in a way that speaks to the community to whom they’re writing. (We need to do the same. How does this story speak to your people?) It is hard to say, maybe even impossible, what point Jesus might have been making to his original hearers.

Luther noted that a tree is either growing or dying. This is true of our spiritual lives as well. Luther said the Christian life is semper in motu, always in motion. Bernard of Clairveau noticed that people who do not progress in spiritual life tend to regress. There is little stasis. Lange also likes the idea of these talents as spiritual gifts, or the spiritual life. Are you growing spiritually? What is the fruit of that growth?

Here’s what the story does for me. It causes me to ask the question, “What am I doing with what God has given me?” The preacher might want to consider this question for the entire congregation. Luther said that one of the most important qualities of an excellent preacher is boldness. The good news is that God has generously given the world so much: natural resources, our talents, our gifts. The question is now, how will we use them?

What has God given us? How are we using it for God’s glory? Consider our wealth, for starters. Professor of Economics and Finance (University of Michigan, Flint) Mark Perry notes that even the poorest 5% of Americans are richer than most of the world. The poorest 5% of Americans have more wealth than the richest 5% in India. We are the wealthiest people in the world. How are we using those gifts? From a divine perspective, are we using them well? Are you using your wealth for God’s purposes? To wit: Are you using your money for the things God really cares about?

There’s no way to get around it. This is a stewardship text.

What about your gifts, talents, abilities? We know what God cares about. Just read the Bible. Are we leveraging our gifts for God’s purposes? As we step back and look at our congregation, what assets do we have as a body? Is our congregation using its assets for God’s purposes, or are we sitting on our assets? (If you say it that way in a sermon, be very careful to pronounce assets clearly.) A bold preacher might dare to title the sermon, “Are You Sitting on Your Assets?”

Taken as a trilogy the three parables of Matthew 25 might roll like this…

Virgins: Be ready for Christ’s coming. Keep your lamps trimmed and burning. You don’t know when the bridegroom is coming. Be ready for the great reckoning at the end of time. What constitutes readiness?

Talents: The equitable use of one’s gifts – using what God has given us for the things that God really cares about. And what does God care about?

Sheep and Goats: When I was hungry you gave me food… Whatever you do to the least of these you do to me… God cares about those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, strangers, sick and imprisoned.

Next week, we’ll take a closer look at this third and final parable from Matthew 25.

Reformation 500

Monday, October 30, 2017 – Leipzig



Reformation Day, Tuesday, October 31, 2017 – Leipzig, St. Thomas Kirche

Pr. Martin Henker

All Saints Day, Wednesday, November 1, 2017 – Eisleben

Guide Dorothy


All Souls Day, Thursday, November 2, 2017 – Dresden

The Houston Astros won the World Series.  Some folks stayed up 1:30-5:00 am Leipzig time to watch.

Dresden after the 1945 bombing.

The Zwinger, Art Museum

Frauenkirche, Church of our Lady



The Royal Palace and Museum

Friday, November 4, 2017 – Wittenberg


Schloss Kirche

Stadt Kirche

Confessing and repudiating the sins of anti-Semitism.

Christian Neichel at Karlstadt’s workshop

Luther House, the Augustinian house where Luther lived from 1511 until the end of his life, first as a friar, and then as a married man.


Saturday, November 5, 2017 – The Wartburg, Eisleben

Eva Hedwig

All Saints Sunday, November 5, 2017 – Erfurt, Buchenwald 

Worship at the Augustinerkloster

The Rev. Dr. Irene Mildenberger

Aimee reading the gospel.




Monday, November 5, 2017 – Erfurt






November 12, 2017 is Pentecost 23A, Proper 27A

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25 – Joshua assembles the tribes at Shechem, telling them to put away the gods they worshipped beyond the Euphrates, in Iraq/Mesopotamia, where Abraham came from. Choose this day whom you shall serve… As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. The people agree. (So Joshua sets it up as a law and erects a standing stone.)


Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16 Wisdom is radiant and unfading… One who rises early to find her will have no difficulty.


Amos 5:18-24 – Woe to those who wish for the day of the Lord. It will be dark and disastrous. I despise your festivals, religious assemblies, burnt and grain offerings, and songs. Take away your songs and instead let justice roll down like mighty waters and righteousness like an forever-flowing stream. ELW 717, 710

Psalm 78:1-7God set up a law in Israel. He commanded our ancestors to make his deeds known to their descendants, so that the next generation, children yet to be born, might know about them. They will grow up and tell their descendants about them.


Wisdom of Solomon 6:17-20 The beginning of wisdom is a sincere desire for instruction. The desire for wisdom leads to a kingdom.


Psalm 70 – Five verses: I am oppressed and needy. God, hasten, hurry up, and help me! Make those who say, “Aha! Aha!” be put to shame.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 – We don’t want you be uninformed about those who are asleep, or to grieve as those without hope. When the Lord returns, the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are still alive will meet the Lord up in the clouds, in the air.

Matthew 25:1-13 – The parable of The Virgins. The kingdom of God is like ten virgins, five foolish, five wise, waiting for their bridegroom, with their lamps. The wise brought extra oil. The foolish have to go buy oil and don’t make it back in time for the wedding banquet. ELW 677

Prayer of the Day
O God of justice and love, you illumine our way through life with the words of your Son. Give us the light we need, and awaken us to the needs of others, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Gospel Acclamation
Alleluia. Keep awake | and be ready,
for you do not know on what day your | Lord is coming. Alleluia. (Matt. 24:42, 44)

Fuel for the Journey

Children’s Song: Give me oil in my lamp.

Can you believe it’s only three Sundays until Advent? The Sunday after this will be November 19, followed by Christ the King, November 26. Then December 3 is the first Sunday in Advent.

November is also the end of the church year. These three Sundays we get to hear three great parables from Matthew 25:

Figure 1: Bishop Martin Lohrman overlooks walled Jerusalem from the top of the Mount of Olives.
  1. Virgins
  2. Talents
  3. Sheep and Goats

Matthew 25 is part of the last of five great discourses in Matthew’s gospel. It is sometimes called the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 23-25), so called because Jesus delivered it from the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24:3).

The Lutheran World Federation has a hospital on the Mount of Olives. Eight years ago I visited this hospital with other ELCA bishops. All the photos here are from that 2009 visit.

Picture2Augusta Victoria Hospital is a church and hospital complex located on the southern sideof Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem. According to Wikipedia, the compound was built in 1907-1914 by the Empress Augusta Victoria Foundation as a center for the German Protestant community in Ottoman Palestine, also building the slightly older Church of the Redeemer the tallest tower in Jerusalem’s Old City. The complex also includes the German Protestant[1] Church of the Ascension with a 50-meter high belltower, a meeting center for pilgrims and tourists, an interreligious kindergarten and a café, as well as the Jerusalem branch of the German Protestant Institute of Archaeology.


Picture5Augusta Victoria Hospital provides specialty care for Palestinians from across the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with services including a cancer center, a dialysis unit, and a pediatric center. It is the second largest hospital in East Jerusalem, as well as the soleremaining specialized care unit located in the West Bank or Gaza Strip. Because Palestinians cannot easily pass through the wall, pictured in a number of these photos, Augusta Victoria Hospital is a lifeline.

I know this is a bit of a tangent, but It is quite possible that Jesus was standing right here at Augusta Victoria when he spoke the words in Matthew 25.

In the first of Matthew 25’s three parables, The Parable of the Virgins, five foolish and five wise bridesmaids take their lamps to meet the bridegroom. When the bridegroom is delayed, it appears the wise bridesmaids have brought extra oil. The foolish have not, so they must go get some oil from the “dealers.” While they are gone, the bridegrooms arrives. The banquet begins and the doors are closed. They are left out. The parable concludes with the point: “Therefore, keep awake. You know neither the day nor the hour.”

Our brains are wired for stories. So the Bible uses stories to convey theology. Jesus too.

A traditional interpretation is that the delayed bridegroom is Jesus. The virgins are the church. Some are prepared with enough oil for the long wait. Others are not.

Augustine says in XLIII:

 It is no easy question, who the ten virgins are, of whom five are wise, and five foolish… but if I mistake not this parable relates to the whole Church.

And again, later, he says:

In the “girded loins” is virginity; in the “burning lamps” good works… He who will not see what is evil, he who will not hear what is evil, he that turneth away his smell from the unlawful fumes, and his taste from the unlawful food of the sacrifices, he who refuseth the embrace of another man’s wife, breaketh his bread to the hungry, bringeth the stranger into his house, clotheth the naked, reconcileth the litigious, visiteth the sick, burieth the dead; he surely is a virgin, surely he hath lamps. 

Question: What is this oil that some run out of?

There are many different interpretations. What guesses might you have?

Many interpreters like good works, because of what Jesus said earlier in the gospel, in the Sermon on the Mount: “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:15-16)

If you think about it, however, Matthew 5 refers to the light given off by the lamp as good works. Let your light shine, so people may see…” If the light is good works, what might the oil be? What fuels good works? You can imagine what Luther said of course: faith. Perhaps Matthew is saying, “Keep the faith.”

Others have suggested that the oil is the Holy Spirit that empowers good works. Or the Word.

Augustine thinks the oil is love:

Some great, some exceedingly great thing doth this oil signify. Thinkest thou that it is not charity? This we say as searching out what it is; we hazard no precipitate judgment. I will tell you why charity seems to be signified by the oil. The Apostle says, “I show unto you a way above the rest.” Though I speak with the tongues of men and of Angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” This, that is “charity,” is “that way above the rest,” which is with good reason signified by the oil. For oil swims above all liquids. Pour in water, and pour in oil upon it, the oil will swim above. If you keep the usual order, it will be uppermost; if you change the order, it will be uppermost. “Charity never falleth.”

Irenaeus of Lyons has this to say in Adversus Haereses II.XXVII.2

 And when the Bridegroom comes, he who has his lamp untrimmed, and not burning with the brightness of a steady light, is classed among those who obscure the interpretations of the parables, forsaking Him who by His plain announcements freely imparts gifts to all who come to Him, and is excluded from His marriage-chamber. 

Where to go with the congregation?

However one interprets this, it might be a good opportunity to ask people, what fills your spiritual gas tank, or oil lamp? What gives you joy, love, generosity?

What fuels good works in your life? Generosity? Compassion? Service? What keeps your faith, hope and love burning bright? Whatever it is, don’t show up to the party without it.

And ask people what they are waiting for? For what do you yearn, that is delayed? Justice delayed is justice denied. Is it coming?

When will Christ come? Matthew’s message is, we don’t know. But be ready.

Next week talents. Don’t bury your talents. Use them. For what?

The following week: Sheep and Goats: Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome Strangers. Visit those sick and in prison.

The light of faith is a free gift. Keep your lamp trimmed and burning.

All Saints Sunday – November 5, 2017


Revelation 7:9-17 – John’s apocalyptic vision of white-robed martyrs standing before the throne and the Lamb, along with the angels, the elders and the four creatures. They hunger no more, nor thirst (Isaiah 49:10). The sun does not strike them nor heat (Psalm 121:6). God wipes away every tear (Isaiah 25:8). ELW 422, 423,

Psalm 34:1-10, 22 – I will bless the Lord at all times… I sought the Lord and he answered me… Taste and see that the Lord is good. ELW 493

1 John 3:1-3 – See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God…

Matthew 5:1-12 – The Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. ELW 728

We also had the Beatitudes Epiphany 4A: January 30, 2011. The Beatitudes “placemat” can be found here: 01-24-11 Beatitudes Study Placemat

Prayer of the Day
Almighty God, you have knit your people together in one communion in the mystical body of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Grant us grace to follow your blessed saints in lives of faith and commitment, and to know the inexpressible joys you have prepared for those who love you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Gospel Acclamation
Alleluia. They are before the | throne of God, and the one who is seated on the throne will | shelter them. Alleluia. (Rev. 7:15)

Color: White

All Saints

Picture1The first Sunday in November in our congregations is All Saints Sunday. It is traditional to remember the saints of the congregation who have passed away in the last year. Often a pillar candle is lit on a retable, or on the altar as their names are read. Many congregations also invite members to come forward and light candle in remembrance of loved ones.

While many use the white votive candles in glass cups, as in the picture above from 2Grace, Conroe, even in the best of circumstances, paraffin wax finds its way on the table, floors and pews, as during Christmas. There is another option. A St. Gregory Palamas Greek Orthodox Monastery in Perrysville, Ohio makes beeswax candles. You can purchase a pack of 50 for $16.50. They can be lit and places in small boxes or jars of sand. The link is here:

If you’d prefer the former, Sacco’s in Houston sells ten-hour disposable votive candles in plastic cups $35 for a carton of 100. Beat the rush.

My post this week is a bit different. Rather than digging into the text, I’m offering a guided meditation that can be used. I don’t do this for sermons often, but All Saints seemed like a good time to offer a guided meditation. This meditation is simply a series of questions that invite worshippers to reflect on the saints in their lives. 


Who are Your Saints?

Who are your saints?

Who went before you?4

Who were the looming giants of your childhood?

Who held your hand?

Who taught you to walk?

Who cupped your cheeks in their hands and kissed your face?

Who picked you up when you fell down and bandaged your hurts?


Who are your saints?

Who taught you to pray?

Who taught you right from wrong?

Who brought you to the baptismal font?

Who placed a Bible in your hands?

Who first taught you the words, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.”

Who first taught you, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil, for Thou art with me…?”

Who taught you to see flowers and trees not as things, but as beautiful mysteries?

Who taught you to see majesty in clouds, and sunsets and oceans?

Who taught you to soak up the rainy days?

Who taught you kindness to strangers?

Who taught you to love your enemies?

Who taught you not to judge others, or look down your nose at others?

Who taught you that it is better to give than to receive?

Who taught you to love your neighbor as yourself?

Who taught you to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, visit the sick and in prison?

Who taught you to care for those who are hungry, broken, lonely?

Who taught you that Jesus was the reflection of the immortal God?

Who are your saints?

Who taught you to love?

Who taught you to give of yourself, in order to discover what life was about?

Who taught you the virtue of self-sacrifice?

Who introduced you to the God that lurks beneath the surface of life?

Who taught you that life is more than just a sequence of events?

Who taught you there was more to life than going to work, and accumulating wealth and things?

Who taught you it was okay to fail? That falling down is a part of life?

Who taught you to get up, dust yourself off, and get back on the horse?


Who are your saints? Light a candle.

Who taught you to do what you love?

Who helped you discover your true gifts in life, and develop them?

Who loved you when you could not love yourself?

Who showed you grace and forgiveness you did not deserve?

Who taught you to forgive, and let go of grudges?

Who believed in you when you did not believe in yourself?

Who are your saints?7

Who taught you to hope beyond this life?

Who taught you that there is more to life than meets the eye?

Who taught you to imagine what lies beyond the veil, around the bend where you cannot see?

Who waits for you beyond the grave?

Who whispers to you in your dreams, and in your prayers?

These are the ones we remember today.

These are the ones for whom we light our candles.

The communion of saints, who wait for us on a distant shore we cannot see over the horizon.

The multitude of apostles, prophets, martyrs and saints.

Even the flawed, deeply flawed saints.

So let us say our prayers and light our candles.

For the saints we remember.8

For the saints that we barely remember, from times that are only a misty memory.

And the saints that we cannot remember at all.

For those we knew, and those we never knew, countless generations before us.

For those who loved, before our parents were alive, whose love brought us into being.

For those who wait for us with joy.

Who from their labors rest.

And let us look once again with the eyes of a child.  

At a world of mystery that is larger than life.

Larger than we can imagine.

Higher than we can reach.

Deeper than we can see.

And let us live in the hope,

Of one day being reunited with those whom we love.

On that day when we awaken.

Like babies, being born again, opening our eyes for the first time.

Taking our first breath, in a world we cannot begin to understand.

Embraced and loved by those whom we can almost see, as through a mirror dimly.

But one day, face to face.

Alleluia. Alleluia.



The 500th Anniversary of the Reformation – October 29, 2017

Jeremiah 31:31-34The days are coming when I will make a new covenant with Israel and Judah: law on their hearts.
Psalm 46 – The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold. (Ps. 46:4)
Romans 3:19-28No one will be justified by the law. Now, apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been revealed.
John 8:31-36
– You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.

The 500th Anniversary of the Reformation

dsc_2447-editAs it says in From Conflict to Communion, “Every commemoration has its context.” This commemoration of the Reformation is being held in an age of Ecumenism and in an age of Globalization. Consequently, Lutherans and Catholics, after fifty years of bilateral dialogs, committed to commemorating this 500th  anniversary together, with an eye toward the proclamation of the gospel.

Previous commemorations were characterized by Lutherans and Roman Catholics going to their separate corners, with festive attempts to justify their distinctive existence. Lutherans used the commemoration of the Reformation to criticize the Roman Catholic church. Catholics used it to criticize Luther and his movement for dividing the church. In 1917, at the 400th, Luther was portrayed as a German national hero.

Previous centennial commemorations of the Reformation took place in culturally homogenous lands, or at least in lands where there were a majority of Christians. Today’s pluralism presents a new challenge and a new opportunity for the church. If the goal is not to win the fight, or to promote our tribe, what is it? What if our ultimate goal is the proclamation of the gospel? What then? How do we recognize the truth of what happened in a way that proclaims Christ to the world?

What happened cannot be changed, but how we tell the story really matters. If my wife and I each recount an argument we had, you will hear two very different stories, even though we are describing the same events. We may even both be telling the truth. How you tell the story is shaped by what facts you choose to tell, and which facts you leave out. History notoriously left out the fact that Columbus pimped out young native girls to Spanish soldiers. It was an inconvenient truth. Lutherans might be prone to gloss over Luther’s anti-Semitism.

In chapter 3 of From Conflict to Communion, Lutheran and Catholic theologians together attempt to tell the story of the Reformation in a way that is true and honest, and in such a way that both Lutherans and Catholics can nod, and say, “Yeah, that’s what happened.” It is a sort of “no spin zone.” If you are going to preach the story of the Reformation, I would encourage you to read this carefully. Do not fall back on old vitriolic tropes. There has been an explosion of research on late Medieval society and context that merits a hard look before we channel Roland Bainton, or retell the story as our childhood pastors did.

Lutherans would do well to take a hard look at how very Roman Catholic Luther was, as regarded to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the saints, the Eucharist and so on. Another good read is Martin Luther: An Ecumenical Perspective, by Roman Catholic Cardinal Walter Kasper. This short book can be read in a couple of hours. It helps readers understand how the Roman Catholic view on Luther has evolved, and how A Mighty Fortress can be in the Catholic Hymnal.

There is nothing like a lot of good reading to dispel our simplistic ideas about Lutherans and Catholics today. This is not the 16th century. Bishops are no longer princes. The Eucharist is served in both kinds. Sermons and liturgy are done in the vernacular. The church has not burned anyone at the stake for some time. Lutheran and Catholic churches of today are not the church bodies of the Late Medieval Period.

Instead what we need to proclaim is the way of Jesus as the only hope for a world that seems bent on violence and self-destruction. The world needs the gospel today every bit as much as it did two thousand years ago. With politicians playing brinksmanship, with the largest global refugee crisis in world history, with our precious earth gasping for air, the cosmos is groaning for salvation. It is either the way of Jesus or it is lights out for the world. We can no longer afford to wage internecine ecclesiastical warfare. We must unite in faith, hope and love.

The mark of the true church will not be having the right dogma. Jesus said, “By this shall all people know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” I am a firm believer in justification by grace through faith. One of the first verses I was made to memorize as a child was Ephesians 2:8-9:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.

I just wish they had also had me memorize the very next verse with it, Ephesians 2:10:

10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

Of course we are saved by faith. And works are the natural byproduct of faith. We were created for good works. In other words, we are not saved by good works. We are saved for good works.

Luther understood this:

Thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire.  (LW 35:371)

The whole salvation by faith or by works thing is a straw dog. Asked and answered. To present this as the pressing issue between Lutherans and Catholics today misses the mark. This is also made clear by Lutherans and Roman Catholics together in the 1999 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification:

By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping us and calling us to good works.

Our differences today are more around orders of ministry. Marriage of priests. Ordination of women. The authority of church hierarchy. This is not a time to harp on this. The world yawns. We have much more important work to do.

So I leave you with the challenge to use Reformation to proclaim the love of God revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Tell the story of his love for the world, his healing ministry and battle with the demonic forces of death and hell. And I will also leave you with two other areas for consideration: The Reformation and Justice, and a Trinitarian reflection on a hymn by Luther.

The Reformation and Justice

What does the Reformation have to do with justice? Everything. The Reformation began with an act of justice.

On October 31, 1517 an Augustinian brother, parish priest, professor of Scripture and chair of the department of theology at the University of Wittenberg, posted 95 theses for debate. These theses focused on the issue of Indulgences. By making a donation to the church, one could receive one of these indulgences, a piece of paper signed by the pope granting pardon from the earthly penalties for one’s sins.

50-60% of the population of Saxony was living in destitute poverty. Luther was concerned when he saw peasants who were barely able to feed their families, spending money on indulgences, because they believed they were rescuing their dead relatives from purgatory.

Listen to just a few of Luther’s 95 Theses:

27. They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory.

28. It is certain that when money clinks in the money chest, greed and avarice can be increased; but when the church intercedes, the result is in the hands of God alone.

39. Christians are to be taught that whoever gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better deed than one who buys indulgences. 

44. Christians are to be taught that whoever sees a needy man and passes him by, yet gives his money for indulgences, does not buy papal indulgences but God’s wrath. 

45. Christians are to be taught that, unless they have more than they need, they must reserve enough for their family needs and by no means squander it on indulgences.

If one can, with earthly wealth, purchase spiritual benefits, then where does this leave the poor? Samuel Torvend, a member of the Department of Religion at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, and a former Luther Leaguer in our former bishop, Paul Blom’s first parish, wrote a phenomenal book called Luther and the Hungry Poor. Torvend digs deep to help us understand the socio-economic realities of late Medieval Europe. Luther’s objection to the sale of indulgences, which spurred the 95 Theses and eventually the Reformation, was not just theological. Who but the wealthy could afford to purchase the paper indulgences that the Church said were necessary for eternal life, when 50-60% of the people were living on the edge of subsistence? Where did this leave the huge population of working poor, landless, destitute, and homeless who could never afford to endow churches, commission religious artwork, or even purchase an indulgence?  That one’s place in heaven was determined by one’s wealth on earth was more than Luther could bear. It was unfair. Unjust.. “Now,” he wrote, “the church fishes for the wealth of men.”  Widows, orphans and the hungry poor could not participate in the spiritual economy of the late Medieval Christianity.

The poor would spend money they didn’t have, buying themselves and their dead relatives out of purgatory. Furthermore, Luther was concerned that this spiritual economy actually perpetuated poverty, Torvend argues, by taking resources that could otherwise alleviate hunger and homelessness and funnelling it to finance the Church, which already had more wealth than ancient Rome. Some say the church owned 2/3 of the land in Europe.

The Church lifted up poverty as a virtue; Luther saw poverty as a something to be eliminated, not emulated. We must be concerned, even today, any time the church uses superstition to gain wealth. Luther felt poor Christians should not be using their meager financial resources to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The wealthy should redirect their resources to alleviate poverty as opposed to building mansions in heaven. Christians should be taught that it is better to give to the poor than to buy an indulgence. Those who ignore the poor, he says, and spend their money on church parchment, purchase nothing but the wrath of God.

Perhaps Luther, responding to his intense biblical studies, his conscience and his Anfechtung could not have foreseen that challenging the spiritual economy was also challenging market economy of his day and all who benefitted from it. Within a very short time, his ideas would be condemned by those in power. You don’t sock people in the wallet and get away with it.

Luther called for the sale of monastic, mendicant and ecclesial properties, so that the money could be kept in a common chest to be used for the poor. The chest was to be administered by a board of directors that consisted of two people from the parish congregation, two from city council, three town citizens and three peasant farmers. These orders were put in place in Wittenberg and Leisnig within six years of the 95 Theses.

Luther’s theology of the cross meant that God is revealed in the suffering Christ on the cross. God is present where least expected, in humility, shame, weakness, suffering and death.  In Luther’s commentary on Matthew 25, Luther says Christ invites his followers to encounter him in the hungry, the stranger, the homeless. A church that wants to encounter God must be willing to encounter the suffering in their community.

Luther understood sin as people and communities encurvatus in se (turned in upon themselves). Self-centeredness was inbred, so we should not be surprised that greed usually wins the day, even in the church, since we’re all simul Justus et peccator.

 Grace, however, at work in the life of the Christian has the power to turn people and communities outward (curvatus ad extram). Communities not outwardly focused are simply not Christian. Luther critiqued the fraternities of his day as being self-serving. I wonder how our congregations would fare under his scrutiny.

The Sacraments for Luther had socio-economic implications. Sharing one bread and one cup in the Eucharist meant being one body: becoming part of a community that has all things in common so that no one has need.  He grieved that many gladly share in the benefits of the sacraments, but were not willing to share in the costs, like serving the poor, working for justice, especially at personal risk. “They are self-seeking persons, whom this sacrament does not benefit.” Luther linked sacramental practice and social welfare. “Learn that this is a sacrament of love.”

While Luther’s early theological writings have had much play (The Freedom of the Christian, Letter to the Christian Nobility, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church) during this same period Luther also published works on trade, international commerce, banking practices, state regulation of business and so on. Luther critiqued predatory lending, what he calls usury, loaning money at high interest rates, and asking payments that only cover only interest, not principle, so the poor are kept in perpetual poverty.

So, the Reformation was not about some abstract, hypothetical, theological controversy. It was a pastoral concern about real people living in real poverty. It was about economics and justice. It was about encountering Christ through feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, visiting the sick and in prison. It was then and it is today.

Today indulgences still exist, as a graceful proclamation of forgiveness, but they are not used in the same way that they were 500 years ago. Instead of harping on indulgences, we might look inward and ask: How are we addressing injustice today? How might we be guilty of using superstition to create a false economy, that perpetuates poverty? How might we overturn those schemes that promote predatory lending, and redirection of resources away from those who need them most?

We All Believe In One True God, ELW 411: A Hymn by Martin Luther

We All Believe1 We all believe in one true God,

 who created earth and heaven,

 the Father, who to us in love

 has the right of children given.

 He in soul and body feeds us;

 all we need his hand provides us;

 through all snares and perils leads us,

 watching that no harm betide us.

 He cares for us day and night;

 all things are governed by his might.


2 We all believe in Jesus Christ,

 his own Son, our Lord, possessing

 an equal Godhead, throne, and might,

 source of ev’ry grace and blessing;

 born of Mary, virgin mother,

 by the power of the Spirit,

 Word made flesh, our elder brother;

 that the lost might life inherit,

 was put to death on the cross,

 and raised by God victorious.


3 We all confess the Holy Ghost

 who, in highest heaven dwelling

 with God the Father and the Son,

 comforts us beyond all telling;

 who the church, his own creation,

 keeps in unity of spirit.

 Here forgiveness and salvation

 daily come through Jesus’ merit.

 All flesh shall rise; we shall be

 in bliss with God eternally. Amen.

Text: Martin Luther, 1483-1546; tr. composite

Text © 1941 Concordia Publishing House

Tune: WIR GLAUBEN ALL (see LBW #374)


We All Believe in One True God, WIr glauben all an einen Gott, is a paraphrase of the creed by Martin Luther, first published, as far as we know, in Johann Walther’s Eyn geystlich Gesangk Buchleyn.

The original text is the Creed of course. This is a Late Medieval paraphrase dated around 1524, set to a tune by Martin Luther that is an adaptation of a 14th century Latin Credo melody.

Think Luther the rapper. Would it surprise you to know that Luther wrote rhyming versions of the Creed, the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer? He set the major parts of the catechism to meter and rhyme.

(Sing a stanza of Luther’s Ten Commandments Hymn, but not the sixth commandment.)

Sing a phrase of “Out of the Depths.” Written in 1523 and based on Psalm 130, this hymn was sung ON May 9, 1525, at the funeral of Luther’s friend and patron, Frederick the Wise, in the Castle Church in Wittenberg.

Luther believes the Christian motto, Lex orandi, lex credendi. What you pray you believe. What you sing leads to faith. Liturgy begets theology.

For years confirmation students would tell me they just couldn’t memorize the catechism, or the Scriptures. And yet I would listen to them highly complex lyrics of popular rap or hip hop tunes. There’s something about singing that taps into the brain’s memory capacity. (I wrote a song to teach kids the books of the Old Testament. Yeah, I’ll spare you that one.)

This was consistent with Luther’s desire for worship and theology to be in the language of the people. He wanted to teach the faith by singing the faith. He wanted to help people learn their faith through didactic songs.

Luther wrote his Small Catechism to teach the basics of the faith. Yogi Berra once said, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” For Luther, the main things were:

  1. Commandments
  2. Creed
  3. LP
  4. Baptism
  5. Confession
  6. Sacrament of the Altar

Let’s sing stanza one of “We All Believe in One True God.”

music luther

1 We all believe in one true God, who created earth and heaven,

 the Father, who to us in love has the right of children given.

 He in soul and body feeds us; all we need his hand provides us;

 through all snares and perils leads us, watching that no harm betide us.

 He cares for us day and night; all things are governed by his might.  


Luther relied on an earlier medieval attempt to versify the Creed, but that poem tried to cover the entire creed in a single stanza. Luther expanded the structure to three stanzas to reflect the three parts of the Creed, one for each person of the Trinity. That larger structure required more material, and so he infused the hymn with sections of the Catechism. This we sing that God feeds body and soul. God guides and protects us.

And Moving away from the standard liturgical plainchant of his day, Luther writes this hymn in four parts, so that people can sing the part and enjoy a new style of music that will catch on. So he explained in a preface to a 1524 hymnal:

These songs were arranged in four parts to give the young – who should at any rate be trained in music and other fine arts – something to wean them away from love ballads and carnal songs and teach them something of value in their place.

Luther thought about hymns as a way of instilling the Word of God in people. What do you sing in your quiet moments? When you’re driving down the road? What melodies and texts are committed to your heart?  Are the words holy? Do they reinforce a joyful, transformational, sacramental view of life?

The first stanza was on God the creator. The second is on Jesus Christ, God’s only Son our Lord, who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, buried and raised from the dead. Luther doesn’t have time in this stanza to hit every part of this longest article of the creed, but he hits the main points. He keeps the main thing the main thing, but still gets in some commentary, that Christ is our elder brother, and a source of every grace and blessing.

For Luther Our faith and Our hope is in Christ, and Christ alone. This is what we proclaim 500 years later. In this violent world hell-bent on self destruction, it is the way of Christ, or it is curtains for the world. Let us sing together stanza two.

2 We all believe in Jesus Christ, his own Son, our Lord, possessing

 an equal Godhead, throne, and might, source of ev’ry grace and blessing;

 born of Mary, virgin mother, by the power of the Spirit,

 Word made flesh, our elder brother; that the lost might life inherit,

 was put to death on the cross, and raised by God victorious.


The final stanza of the hymn is on the article of the Creed: God the Holy Spirit. The earliest versions of the Symbolum Apostolicum included these parts of the third article: The Spirit, the Church, forgiveness and the resurrection. Luther hits all four points in his third stanza.

The Spirit, the comforter, dwells with the Father and the Son. That spirit keeps the church, the Spirit’s creation, in the one true faith. In that church forgiveness is spoken and resurrection is proclaimed.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation is not about reviving any ancient conflict. It is about proclaiming the one true faith of the apostles in the language of the people, in the purity of the Gospel. That is who we are. It is about announcing the unimaginable, God’s free grace, love and forgiveness for all, with the hope of salvation and the gift of eternal life.

Let us stand and sing together the final stanza of “We All Believe in One True God.”

3 We all confess the Holy Ghost who, in highest heaven dwelling

 with God the Father and the Son, comforts us beyond all telling;

 who the church, his own creation, keeps in unity of spirit.

 Here forgiveness and salvation daily come through Jesus’ merit.

 All flesh shall rise; we shall be in bliss with God eternally. Amen.


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