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Bishop Michael Rinehart

Prayer for this Coronavirus Pandemic

Prayer for a Pandemic

May we who are merely inconvenienced

Remember those whose lives are at stake.

May we who have no risk factors

Remember those most vulnerable.

May we who have the luxury of working from home

Remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent.

May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close

Remember those who have no options.

May we who have to cancel our trips

Remember those that have no safe place to go.

May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market

Remember those who have no margin at all.

May we who settle in for a quarantine at home

Remember those who have no home.

As fear grips our country,

Let us choose love.

During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other,

let us yet find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbors.

Amen.

A Prayer by Kerry Weber, America (Jesuit Review)

Jesus Christ, you traveled through towns and villages “curing every disease and illness.” At your command, the sick were made well. Come to our aid now, in the midst of the global spread of the coronavirus, that we may experience your healing love.

Heal those who are sick with the virus. May they regain their strength and health through quality medical care.

Heal us from our fear, which prevents nations from working together and neighbors from helping one another.

Heal us from our pride, which can make us claim invulnerability to a disease that knows no borders.

Jesus Christ, healer of all, stay by our side in this time of uncertainty and sorrow.

Be with those who have died from the virus. May they be at rest with you in your eternal peace.

Be with the families of those who are sick or have died. As they worry and grieve, defend them from illness and despair. May they know your peace.

Be with the doctors, nurses, researchers and all medical professionals who seek to heal and help those affected and who put themselves at risk in the process. May they know your protection and peace.

Be with the leaders of all nations. Give them the foresight to act with charity and true concern for the well-being of the people they are meant to serve. Give them the wisdom to invest in long-term solutions that will help prepare for or prevent future outbreaks. May they know your peace, as they work together to achieve it on earth.

Whether we are home or abroad, surrounded by many people suffering from this illness or only a few, Jesus Christ, stay with us as we endure and mourn, persist and prepare. In place of our anxiety, give us your peace.

Jesus Christ, heal us.

Spiritual Blindness

Listen to the Podcast for Sunday, March 22, 2020 – Lent 4A

Lent 4A – March 22, 2020

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

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

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

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

Music:

Amazing Grace (I was blind, but now I see…)

Be Thou My Vision

Psalm 23: Shepherd Me O God, The King of Love My Shepherd Is


Spiritually Blind

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

Shared Reading of John 9: https://bishopmike.com/2017/03/13/shared-reading-john-9/

For another angle on this text, read this article I wrote back in 2011 after the Japanese earthquake: “Is the Earthquake God’s Judgment on Japan?” https://bishopmike.com/2011/03/25/disaster-and-gods-judgment/

There are so many subtle themes in this multidimensional text. Let’s consider the story in five scenes. Any one of them could be a sermon.

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

Who sinned?

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

For more on antiquity’s belief that outward physical appearance and handicaps were a sign of inward spiritual issues, and how Jesus counters this, see Mikeal Parson’s Body and Character in Luke and Acts: The Subversion of Physiognomy in Early Christianity.  

Before you laugh, consider the number of children born with AIDS. People always wonder: who sinned that this child was born with AIDS? Before you judge the mother, consider the woman who has AIDS not because of their promiscuity, but because of her spouse’s indiscretions. We move so quickly to placing blame, rather than applying compassion.

Sadly, some disasters are the result of sin. It’s not an entirely unreasonable question. A bus catches fire because a manufacturer cut corners. But what about the person with cancer? Must have been something they ate. The person hit by a car? Must have been walking in the wrong place. We can’t seem to get past the idea of karma: If something bad happened to you, it must be something that you did. The truth is, however, sometimes bad things happen and no one is at fault.

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

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

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

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

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

What happened?

He put mud on my eyes, I washed, and now I see.  

This man is not from God. He doesn’t observe the Sabbath. 

But if he’s not from God, how can he perform such signs?

What do you say about him?

He is a prophet.

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

Scene 3: Triangulation and exclusion

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

Is this your son, who was born blind? 

Yep.

How does he now see? 

Dunno. Ask him. He is of age. He can speak for himself. (Snark)

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

Kicked out of the synagogue.

This is not like getting kicked out of a club. This is getting kicked out of ones most central community.

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

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

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

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

To whom is your ministry directed? Who is welcome? Who is unwelcome, explicitly or implicitly? Who are the objects of your compassion? Your judgment?

Scene 4: Who is this Jesus?

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

This Jesus is a sinner.

I don’t know about that. I just know he healed me. I was blind, but now I see. (Seems like an obvious cue to sing Amazing Grace.)

What did he do to you?

I already told you. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to be his disciples? (More snark/sarcasm.)

You are his disciple. We are Moses’ disciples. We don’t know who this upstart is or where he comes from.

This is an amazing thing. You don’t know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. You say God doesn’t listen to sinners, so…

You were born in sin, and you would educate us? And they drove him out. 

Of course they did.

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

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

Scene 5: Beware of spiritual blindness.

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

Last week Jesus spoke with the woman at the well about water from the well to quench  thirst. She thought he was talking about physical thirst, but Jesus was actually talking about spiritual thirst.

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

Scene 5. Verses 35-41 deliver the punch.

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

Do you believe in the Son of Man?

Who is he? 

C’est moi.

I believe.

I came so that the blind might see, and those who see become blind.

Pharisees: What? Are you calling us blind?

Jesus: Well, if the shoe fits…

If you were blind, you would have no sin, but since you say, “We see” your sin remains.

The Pharisees believe the man’s blindness is an indictment – proof he is a sinner. His blindness is God’s judgment. Therefore, they treat all those with disabilities as being out of favor with God. Jesus does the opposite. Jesus does not view the man’s blindness as judgment, but rather a malady for which we should have compassion. Jesus tells the Pharisees, in essence, you are the blind ones here. If you were physically blind, you would have no sin. But because you think you see, your hypocrisy indicts you.

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

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

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

I can only turn to mercy. Grace. Forgiveness. Hope. Compassion. This defines us as Lutherans. While many religions, and various other denominations, define Christianity as a kind of moral contest, the gospel is about God’s love for us in spite of our brokenness.

In practical terms, it comes down to doing the opposite of the world. The world says, mercy for me; judgment for you. The opposite of that is to have very, very high standards for me, and radical grace and compassion for you, and others. This is what Jesus does throughout the gospels.

Don’t worry about the speck in your neighbor’s eye. Work on the log in your own.

Woman at the Well: The Soul-quenching Waters of Grace

Listen to the Podcast for Sunday, March 15, 2020 – Lent 3A

Lent 3A – March 15, 2020

Exodus 17:1-7 Moses brings water out of a rock at Massah and Meribah.

Psalm 95 The Venite: O Come, let us sing to the Lord, let us shout for joy to the God of our salvation.

Romans 5:1-11 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through Jesus Christ… We boast in our sufferings, for suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character… While we were weak, Christ died for the ungodly.

John 4:5-42 The Woman at the Well. “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”


Woman at the Well: The Soul-quenching Waters of Grace

If we want to understand this well story well, we should talk about wells. It’s a deep subject as the old pun goes. Wells are the critical source of water, absolutely necessary for life, and therefore, a central meeting place. Wells are a fact of life and also a metaphor. Even today we talk about conversations around the water cooler. If we are to understand the John 4 text at the deepest level, we must be prepared to hear the various parts of the story at both their face value and also their symbolic meaning.

In the Bible, the heart is a well from which can flow fresh water or brackish water. Proverbs 4:23  says, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”

Later in John’s gospel, 7:37-38, Jesus will talk about the heart (or the belly) as a well. It’s unclear what “scripture” John has Jesus is citing.

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38 and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’”

The well is also a metaphor for the tongue:

  • Proverbs 18:4 says, “The words of the mouth are deep waters; the fountain of wisdom is a gushing stream.
  • James 3: “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water?”

Everywhere I have travelled in the developing world, I have seen women hauling water from the well to the home. It seems as if this has always been women’s work.

Well stories abound in the Jewish Bible. The author of the Gospel of John knew this. Wells were holes in the ground, sometimes covered by a stone. It was a place to draw water for the family and for the livestock. A well was life.

Isaac’s wife was found at a well. In Genesis 24, Abraham sends his servant out to find Isaac a wife. When the servant arrives in the town of neighbor, we are told he prayed:

O Lord, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. 13 I am standing here by the spring of water, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. 14 Let the girl to whom I shall say, ‘Please offer your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master.”

Before he finished praying Rebekah showed up at the well. This Genesis story is important, because in John’s gospel, Jesus asks for a drink from the well in the same way as the servant in Genesis 24:14: “Please offer your jar that I may drink…”

Jacob met his wife Rachel at a well in Genesis 29. Traveling east of his homestead, he came across some flocks that appeared “well-watered.” As he is visiting with the brothers who own the well, their sister Rachel comes up, with her father’s sheep.

Moses, the central figure of the master story of the Hebrew Bible, The Exodus, found his wife at a well.

But Moses fled from Pharaoh. He settled in the land of Midian, and sat down by a well. 16 The priest of Midian had seven daughters. They came to draw water, and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. 17 But some shepherds came and drove them away. Moses got up and came to their defense and watered their flock. 18 When they returned to their father Reuel, he said, “How is it that you have come back so soon today?” 19 They said, “An Egyptian helped us against the shepherds; he even drew water for us and watered the flock.” 20 He said to his daughters, “Where is he? Why did you leave the man? Invite him to break bread.” 21 Moses agreed to stay with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah in marriage. 22 She bore a son, and he named him Gershom; for he said, “I have been an alien residing in a foreign land.”

Please allow me a brief digression. Did you know there is a natural spring called Jacob’s Well in the Texas Hill Country, near Wimberley? It’s actually a dangerous diving spot. Thousands of gallons of water per minute surge upward forming the source of Cypress Creek and eventually feeding into the Gulf of Mexico. It is one of the longest underwater caves in Texas. In 1924, Jacob’s Well flowed at a rate of 170 gallons/second (shooting 6 feet into the air). Over the years, the well’s flow has diminished. The spring ceased flowing for the first time in recorded history in 2000, and again in 2008. See photos below from Amazing Planet. Water is becoming a greater and greater challenge Texas.


With temperatures rising and water levels rising-, water scarcity is becoming more and more an issue. It always has been, in one way or another, if one listens carefully to the importance of water in ancient societies. Perhaps today we are more ready to hear these stories.

John 4 is a bit long to include here. This story takes up the majority of the chapter, 42 verses, prompting Gulf Coast Pastor Gary Morgan-Gohlke to say, “I love that Jesus had no place he’d rather be that day than having a long, deep talk with her and I love that John uses most of an entire chapter to include the details.”

Jesus comes to a Samaritan city called Sychar where there is a well called “Jacob’s Well.” This

Jacob’s Well in 1934

well is considered important by Jews, Muslims, Samaritans and Christians. It is located within an Eastern Orthodox monastery. It has been a tense location since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. In 1979, the custodian of the well, Archimandrite Philoumenos, was hatcheted to death by a Israeli activist. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem declared Philoumenos a saint.

That Jesus sat here, clearly the place for women is interesting. A Samaritan woman arrives, so Jesus says to her, “Give me a drink.” That this is a remarkable boundary-crossing in Jesus’ day is in no doubt, since the text tells us (v. 27) that the disciples, “were astonished that he was speaking to a woman.” (καὶ ἐθαύμαζον ὅτι μετὰ γυναικὸς ἐλάλει). We must be careful to check our 21st century understanding of gender relations.

Even the woman sees the problem. “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” Alice Conner in Fierce: Women of the Bible and their Stories of Violence, Mercy, Bravery, Wisdom, Sex and Salvation interprets this as, “You know you’re not supposed to be talking to me, right?” Indeed, we will soon discover that Jesus has not just crossed a gender boundary, but also boundaries of race, religion and shame.

Jesus suggests that maybe she should be asking for a drink from him, and he might provide “living water.” I wonder what those who can’t understand this text allegorically make of this passage. She responds literally. “You don’t even have a bucket, and the well is deep.” Deep indeed. In John 3, during the Nicodemus story which we read last week, we learned that the things of the Spirit are complex. The Spirit blows where it wills. You hear the sound, but you can’t really know where it’s going. (John 3:8)

Jesus says you can drink the water from this well, but you’ll be thirsty again. If you drink of the living “water” of which he is speaking you will never be thirsty again. Jesus’ water will be like a spring (well) gushing up to eternal life. “Eternal” in John is not so much about length as it is about depth. Eternal life in this life and the next is abundant life: life in all its fullness.

Jesus always moves from the physical to the spiritual. In John 3 he was talking about spiritual rebirth, but Nicodemus was focused on physical rebirth. In John 9 the Scribes and Pharisees will be focused on the man’s physical blindness, but it becomes obvious that Jesus is speaking about their own spiritual blindness. In today’s passage, Jesus keeps taking the conversation to a deeper level. The Samaritan woman keeps thinking about physical water. “Give me this water so that I won’t be thirsty, so I don’t have to keep coming back to this well.”

Then things get real. Jesus says, “Okay. Go get your husband and we’ll talk about it.” When she responds that she has no husband, he concurs. She has had five, and the man she is living with is not her husband. She is impressed by this, and calls him a prophet.

She then addresses the religious problem. You Jews worship on that other mountain in Jerusalem. We worship on this mountain here. It’s an argument about where the navel of the universe is, and also about whose religion is the true religion. We have these same conversations today. Again Jesus takes it to a new level. The hour is coming when this mountain or that mountain won’t much matter. People will worship God in the Spirit. God is Spirit.

Again impressed, the woman says she knows the messiah is coming. Everything will get sorted out then. Perhaps he knows when the messiah is coming. Jesus says, “I am he,” or more literally, “I AM.” (Ἐγώ εἰμι.) Jewish hearers will get this. It’s straight out of the Septuagint. It’s the same thing God said to Moses at the burning bush. She lights up.

Right about then, the disciples arrive with all their misgivings about him speaking to a Samaritan woman in public, but they are afraid to bring it up with him. The woman leaves and begins telling everyone about this Jesus whom she has encountered.

Verses 31-38 are a strange interpolation. It follows the pattern of people talking about physical things and Jesus talking about spiritual things. They suggest he get something to eat. He responds with things like, “I have other food you don’t know about.” “My food and drink is to do the will of the one who sent me.” “The fields are ripe for harvesting.” If Jesus spoke to people like this frequently, it is no wonder they had trouble following him. He was speaking on another plane altogether. Those who focus on mystical things often seem crazy to those around them.

Finally, we are told that many Samaritans believed in Jesus because of the Samaritan woman. “He told me everything I have ever done.” He saw her. He saw inside her, and he loved her. Many others believed because of Jesus’ preaching. “We have heard for ourselves, and know that this is the savior of the world (ὁ σωτὴρ τοῦκόσμου).

David Lose published an excellent article in the Huffington Post a few years ago that is worth a read when considering this text: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-lose/misogyny-moralism-and-the_b_836753.html. He reminds us that Christian commentators have tried to make a prostitute out of this woman, and wonders why we seem to need to do so.

Jesus’ conversation with a Samaritan woman in public is certainly scandalous, as evidenced by his disciples’ own reaction. Still, we should not assume that she is a scandalous woman. A bad girl. There’s nothing in the text to suggest this. She’s had five husbands, yes. She could be widowed. If so, she deserves Jesus’ compassion. Even if she is five times divorced, this was likely not her choice. Men divorced women (for the flimsiest of reasons), not vice-versa. Being barren is grounds for divorce. Perhaps she is unable to bear children. We simply don’t know. Either way, Jesus chooses to respond by treating her as a person, with compassion.

It’s interesting how we respond when we don’t know. Do we assume the worst? Even if the worst is true, whatever that may be, should we not even still respond with compassion as did Jesus to the woman caught in the very act of adultery, coming to us in just four more chapters (John 8)?

Jesus points out the truth of her situation, which surprises even her. Lose suggests that this is not judgment but compassion. His bridge of compassion sparks her to point out their religious differences. We worship on different mountains. We are different. Jesus responds suggesting that mountains are becoming irrelevant. We worship God in spirit.

Liz Curtis Higgs, in Bad Girls of the Bible, considers the question of why men so badly want a bad girl, but then also want to denigrate her. Why do we want to make a bad girl out of this Samaritan woman? Why do we want to make a bad girl of out Mary Magdalene? She exposes society’s need to have a bad girl, as a counterpoint to self-righteous moralism. Painting easy, vulnerable targets as bad makes me look and feel good about myself. But while men hate the bad girl, deep down they want her. “I’m a bad girl.” Wink. “A very, very bad girl.” Male society wants the bad girl, but also wants to hold her in contempt.

Jesus does not go to her because she is bad. He does not ask her to repent, and sin is never mentioned. He goes to her because she has been victimized. He “sees” her. This is the first step to being a healer. You have to see people first.

Do you “see” the vulnerable? Or do you “see” the powerful who look down upon the vulnerable, powerless and stigmatized, yearning for God’s mercy? Do you see desperate people fleeing violent situations, or do you see criminals who have crossed our borders and are stealing our jobs?

The Samaritan woman is one of the many unnamed women of the Bible. There are around 3,000 names, perhaps 1,700 of them are distinctive names. Named women make up less than 8% of all the names in the Bible. 93 have spoken words recorded, like this woman. Most of them are under the authority of a man. The only women who were not were what the Tanach calls zonah. Independent women were often considered a threat. This may be another reason that strong, independent women got labeled prostitutes, as a means to stigmatize them and take away their power.

This text is also an awesome text to consider interfaith dialog. How does Jesus engage this woman of a differing religious background? He sits with her. He is honest with her. He listens to her. He does not critique her faith. He does not try to proselytize her. He builds a bridge. “You worship on this mountain and we worship on that one. The days are coming when we will all worship God in spirit and in truth…” What could we possibly have in common? Let’s talk about the Spirit. She emphasizes their differences: “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman, a Samaritan?” (John 4:9) Jesus does not emphasize their differences.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly… God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us… we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

God in Christ is about reconciliation. God in Christ is about redemption of all of us, even the broken, even the ungodly. Christ died for people like you and me, and the folks that we know. And this woman. This is enough for a week of preaching.

And then there’s this passage from today’s epistle reading…

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

God’s love has been poured into our hearts…

What a deep, soulful passage. Paul’s formula is borne of his experience murdering Christians, his mystical encounter with Christ, his out-of-body experience, his conversion, his own subsequent persecution:

suffering > endurance > character > hope

It is a very Christian formula, the E=MC2 of early Christian theology. Law and Gospel. Suffering and Hope. This is a perspective easily lost by the American church. We live in such abundance, the concept of going without, denying ourselves, making sacrifices for others, except, ironically, in the military, where people put their lives on the line for the safety of others.

Jesus’ willingness to suffer for his beliefs, for his misguided Jerusalem, is at the heart of the foolish message of the cross. The disciples’ willingness to give their lives for their faith fueled the powerful Christian movement of slaves and women. Martyria of the second and third generation Christians shows a 100% whole-life commitment to a new kind of society. What would they think about a church two millennia later, that is wealthy, and comfortably in bed with the empire? We can only guess.

Have we become too comfortable to risk speaking up for those who are outcast? Are we too comfortable to become despised and persecuted for standing up for the poor, the stranger, the diseased? Are we too comfortable to name racism, sexism and classism? Are we too comfortable to preach a sermon that asks hard questions?

The preacher could spend an entire sermon on signs of spiritual thirst that only the Spirit can quench. We are desperate for love, joy, peace, justice, generosity, kindness and other spiritual fruits. This thirst is the gentlest way to preach law, judgment. We can talk about how our desperate and feeble attempts to quench our spiritual thirst in all the wrong ways leads to the world we live in. We try to fill the spiritual void with money, sex, entertainment, success, and a pantheon of gods, Luther would say. A great sermon title based on an old country song would play well in rural Texas congregations: Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places.

Paul says that God’s love poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. The only source of lasting love that quenches the deep spiritual thirst in our lives is the love of God that is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. And with that we’re back to grace. It is grace that redeems, renews, justifies, absolves.

Anything that does not do those things is not the gospel.

Louisiana Interchurch Conference 50th Annual Assembly, March 2-3, 2020

The Louisiana Interchurch Conference grew out of the post-Vatican II ecumenical imperative. 70 participants (like the Septuagint), from a dozen denominations (listed below). 23/70 participants are Roman Catholic in this strong Catholic area.

Above, Pastor Nancy Andrews (ELCA Dean of the Bayou Conference and Pastor at Lutheran Church of Our Saviour) finishing lunch with (L-R) The Rev. Dr. John W. Forbes, The Rev. Kenneth D. York and the Rev. Dr. Ernest Peters, of the AME Zion Church.

ELCA representatives:

  • Pastor Nancy Andrews, Baton Rouge
  • Mr. Joel Hicks, Shreveport
  • Pastor Robin McCullough-Bade, Baton Rouge
  • Bishop Mike Rinehart

This event usually falls during the Spring ELCA Conference of Bishops meeting, so I’m hit and miss. This year things worked out. There’s also a board meeting in the fall that I usually make.

The meeting was led by LIC President, The Rev. Dr. Timothy Jones:

Father Dan Krutz (ECUSA) has served as Executive Director since 1992, 28 years!

Jessica Vermilyea, Lutheran Social Services Disaster Response, gave us a disaster update, along with some reflections on Coronavirus developments:

Keynote Speaker Jim Winkler, President and General Secretary spike in the state of the ecumenical movement and the loss of civil discourse in the U.S:

Jessica Vermilyea (LSS Disaster Response, Roman Catholic Deacon Jeff Chapman from Shreveport, and Joel Hicks, candidate for ministry in the ELCA, serving a congregation in Shreveport, Louisiana:

Joel Hicks, candidate for ministry in the ELCA, serving a congregation in Shreveport, Louisiana hopes to be ordained in June.

Pastor Nancy Andrews and I with Father Winston Rice (Episcopal), Executive Director and Gulf Coast Chaplain of the Maritime Pastoral Institute:

AME Zion Pastor Kenneth York, Faith African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Baker, LA:

Pastor Robin McCullough-Bade, Director of the Interfaith Federation of Greater a Baton Rouge:

Denominations Represented

    African Methodist Episcopal (AME)
    AME Zion
    Baptist State Convention
    Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
    Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME)
    Church if God in Christ (COGIC)
    Episcopal Church USA
    Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
    Presbyterian Church USA
    Presbyterian (Evangelical)
    Roman Catholic
    United Church of Christ
    United Methodist Church

Louisiana Interchurch Conference Timeline

Nic at Night

Listen to the Podcast for Sunday, March 8, 2020 – Lent 2A

By Henry Ossawa Tanner – http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/Lot/henry-ossawa-tanner-1859-1937-nicodemus-coming-5073716-details.aspx, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4864388

Lent 2A – March 8, 2020

Genesis 12:1-4a God calls Abram at 75 to leave his country and kindred. “I will bless you to be a blessing.”
Psalm 121 I lift my eyes to the hills. My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth. The Lord will be your shade. The sun will not strike you. The Lord will keep your going out and coming in forevermore.
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 The promise rests not only on the adherents to the law, but to those who share the faith of Abraham. 
John 3:1-17   Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the night. Born again.


Lent A at-a-glance

The Gospel readings for Lent in Cycle A of the lectionary are the traditional texts that catechumenates studied in preparation for baptism. What if every new member class studied and reflected on these texts?

  • Lent 1 (March 1, 2020): Matthew 4 (The Temptation in the Wilderness)
  • Lent 2 (March 8, 2020): John 3 (Nicodemus) or Matthew 17
  • Lent 3 (March 15, 2020): John 4 (Woman at the Well)
  • Lent 4: (March 22, 2020) John 9 (Healing of the Man Born Blind)
  • Lent 5: (March 29, 2020) John 11 (The Raising of Lazarus)

Nic at Night

Some of these thoughts are based on reflections from former bishop Claire Burkat.

  • Night is a mysterious private zone.
  • By telling us Nick came to Jesus at night we are put on alert.
  • Light and dark are powerful theological polarities.
  • This Jesus has already turned over the tables in the temple and turned water into wine in John’s gospel. Is he a prophet or troublemaker?
  • Later in John, chapter 7, Nic defends Jesus when the Pharisees try to arrest him. So something in this John 3 conversation worked for Nic.
  • Later, Nicodemus swiftly and loving takes Jesus’ body (just before night) and prepares it for burial, wrapping the body in spices…

Born again

  • Jesus: We speak of what we know and testify what we have seen. Nic: Huh?
  • Flesh/Spirit is another polarity. Water and Spirit.
  • Being born again is necessary to enter the kingdom of God. Nic: How can that be?
  • Birth: to sire or beget. The begotten verb. Genesthenay. We need to be begotten a second time by the Spirit. Nic doesn’t get this.
  • Born anew also means from above. Which is it? Both?
  • Babies do not get to decide when they are being born. God decides.
  • Brueggeman: Womb and compassion are the same word (splanknesthays). Can I enter into God’s compassion again?

High and lifted up

  • Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert (Numbers 21) so must the Son of Man be lifted up.
  • God sent the serpents to punish the people for complaining. “I’ll give you something to complain about…” We can see how people can see natural disasters as punishment.
  • God punishes them for their sin, then saves them to teach them a lesson. To give physical life.
  • The son of man is lifted up not on bronze, but on a cross. To give eternal life.
  • Why does God lift him up? In order that the world might be saved through him.

John 3:16

  • Luther called John 3:16 the gospel in miniature.
  • God is more gracious than Luther would be: “If I were as our Lord God and those vile people were as disobedient as we, I would knock the earth to pieces.”
  • God so loved the cosmos. That’s the word John uses. Perhaps not just the world, but God so loved the “universe.” No one is outside the realm of God’s love.
  • Even if I descend to Sheol, you are there.
  • This is an incarnational passage. Why not come down from the pulpit at some point? Talk, touch. Shake hands.
  • They got to whip him, spit on him, nail him to a cross, put him in a tomb.
  • We ought to require people to memorize 3:17 along with 3:16.
A Border-crossing Church

A few years ago I approached the Lenten texts from year A from a border-crossing perspective. Here is the text of that sermon:

We follow a border-crossing Jesus, who calls us to be a border-crossing church.

A border-crossing church is a church that does what Jesus did: breaking through barriers in order to reach out in love to the neighbor across the artificial human borders that we set up to keep others apart – boundaries of race, class and gender, for example. Paul says in Galatians 3:28, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Barriers of race, class and gender are irrelevant because of Jesus.

In the story of the Good Samaritan, a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What do you think?” The man replies. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength.” “Correct,” Jesus says.

But wanting to justify himself, Luke tells us, the lawyer asks Jesus, “Ah, but who is my neighbor?” Who, precisely now, is it that I must love? Who is in this circle called neighbor?

It’s a great question. Is someone of a different race my neighbor? Is my someone of a different religion my neighbor? Is my neighbor someone who lives next door? How about three houses down? How about in the next neighborhood, or across the world?

In true rabbinic fashion, Jesus answers the question with a story. A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho where is beaten and robbed and left for dead. In time a priest goes by and does nothing. Also a Levite. All the people who should respond don’t. And then along comes a Samaritan.

Samaritans were Jews in Samaria who had long ago married with other races, clans and religions. Today some would call them mestizos: half breeds. Jews despised them. They called them dogs. It was forbidden to talk to them, touch them, shake hands, make eye contact. They were untouchable.

Isn’t it interesting that Jesus uses a Samaritan in this story? Jesus intentionally chooses someone he intuitively knows will make his listeners flinch. He knows that for them the term “Good Samaritan” is an oxymoron.

Christian spirituality is not ethereal. It is earthy. God is not found in rising above humanity, but in encountering humanity grounded in human suffering. In Jesus’ spirituality God is encountered through the least of these.

For Jesus, it is impossible to love God without loving neighbor. They are simply two sides of one and the same coin. John says, “Beloved, let us love one another. For love is of God and everyone that is loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God, for God is love. (I John 4:7-8)

The Lenten Journey

In these 40 days of Lent we hear stories of a border-crossing Jesus.

Lent I: The Temptation of Jesus – After Jesus’ baptism, we are told the Spirit drives him into the wilderness for 40 days to be tempted by the devil. This is a border-crossing, from the relative comfort of home into the discomfort of the wilderness. From mommy to Satan. From the known into the unknown.

In the wilderness Jesus is tempted to be derailed from his ministry. Not by bad things. Satan does not tempt Jesus to give up good for evil. Jesus is not tempted to commit adultery or genocide. Instead he is tempted with good things, like bread, safety, authority. We too are tempted every day to be derailed from our ministry, by things that might not be bad, but will distract us from the ministry to which God has called us. We too are tempted every day to choose the comfortable place rather than cross the border into the uncomfortable place into which God is calling us.

Lent II: Nicodemus – Then we hear the story of Nicodemus (John 3) who is told that he must be “born again” or perhaps “reborn from above” in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. The birth canal is another border from womb to world. Being born again is a border crossing we must take every day. As usual Jesus moves from the physical to the spiritual. This is not a physical rebirth but a spiritual one.

Nicodemus, you and I – we are called to leave the womb of this self-centered life and to cross the border into an other-centered, God-centered life. We are called to die to ourselves and rise again in Christ. This too is a border-crossing.

Lent III: Woman at the Well – Next we hear the story of the woman at the well, from John 4. This is a major border-crossing. Jesus sits down next to someone who has three strikes against her: She is a woman – men are not to speak to women in public in Semitic societies. Jesus is breaking the rules. Second, she is a Samaritan woman. We’ve already talked about the fact that an orthodox Jew is not to speak to a Samaritan. Finally, this woman has had many husbands. This makes her suspect. Jesus engages her in public. Even the disciples are shocked by this. He crosses gender barriers. “I will give you water so that you will never thirst again,” Jesus says. But of course he is not speaking of our physical thirst, but our spiritual thirst. This is a thirst that can only be addressed by being “in Christ,” by making Christ’s faith our faith, by following Christ’s way of being in the world.

Lent IV: Healing of the Man Born blind – In March we hear the story of the man born blind. In this story Jesus crosses borders of shame, disease, disability. In the process he challenges the blindness of the religious leaders of his day to the truth of their own spiritual blindness. This Jesus walks into the face of leprosy and a host of other unnamed diseases, making him unclean. He crosses borders that the world call unsafe, unreasonable, unwise, and invites us to do the same. Many say the early church’s willingness to care for the sick and the poor made Christianity preferable to its pagan counterparts. The Emperor Julian complained to the high priest of Galatia in 362 A.D. that Christian virtues overshadowed pagan virtues. “They care for their own poor, and ours as well.” (http://www.roman-emperors.org/julian.htm). There is great risk in encountering disease. But when the church chooses safety and comfort, its message is powerless. When we become a border-crossing church, the power of the gospel changes lives.

Lent V: Raising of Lazarus – Finally, we will hear the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Is not death the final border? Jesus, the Word of God becomes flesh for our sake, crossing the border from divinity into our humanity. Entering into our world, he lived a border-crossing life, showing us the way of justice and peace. Then he took upon himself the full weight of human sin, hatred, violence and suffering on the cross. Rising again, he crossed the border from this world into eternity. Jesus became Christ. And he promised to come again. On the day when we take our final breath, he promises to come back and carry us across that final border. “In my Father’s house there are many rooms. I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am you may be also.”

Conclusion

This Lenten season, as we make the journey of the cross with Jesus, heed Jesus’ call to take up our cross and follow him. Let us be Christ’s body, his hands and feet in this world. Trusting in the promises of baptism let us be the church that bursts through barriers of race, class, gender, creed, stigma, shame, disease, disability. Believing in the resurrection of the dead, let us have the courage to walk into the darkness of this world and bring the love of God, the light of Christ, the joy of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Take the Census!

Listen to the PODCAST for this post.

Every ten years the U.S. has a census. The last one was in 2010. This year the census will find out how many people are living in the U.S. (citizens and non-citizens) as of April 1. The primary question will be: How many people are living in your home April 1, 2020?

There will be other questions. Citizenship will not be one of the questions. Also, it is against federal law for personal information from the census to be shared. Only the bulk data is recorded.

The Rev. Gregory Han

Why is this important? PCUSA Pastor Gregory Han, Director of Interfaith Relations and Education at Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston explained this to me in a PODCAST this week.

Dollars: Dollars for a whole host of purposes is distributed based on the population. This impacts the neediest among us. WIC, SNAP, Meals on Wheels, and other services depend on accurate information.

Data: Decisions about infrastructure, such as the placement of hospitals, depends on accurate information about the population.

Democracy: The number of state and federal representatives for an area depends on the population. More people means more representation.

What you can do:

  1. VISIT volunteerhouston.org to learn more and take the census pledge now. There you will learn about the census, who should take it, why to take it, how to take the census, and more. (The pledge is not the census. It is a pledge to fill out the census.)
  2. ENCOURAGE people in your congregation to take the census. Consider having a census Sunday at your congregation around April 1.
  3. HELP your neighborhood know about the census. It’s a great way to get to know the folks that live near your home or church. Consider becoming a census education volunteer, by taking THIS TRAINING.
  4. WATCH this videoThe Census Made Simple: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oXZAe8XYeNQ&feature=youtu.be 
  5. TAKE the census, of course! You will be able to take the census three ways: 1. online (English and Spanish), 2. by phone (12 languages) or, if you don’t do either of those, 3. someone will come to your home in person. Learn more at census.gov.

Postscript

Earlier census information looked like this:

1820:

img_0330

1830:

img_0329

1840:

img_0326

1900:

img_0334

img_0332

Finding your family in previous censuses, is relatively easy. Just create a free account at Family Search and then search for family members by name or location here: https://www.familysearch.org/search/

You can link to census information and photographs of the original census docs. The site will also give you access to birth, marriage and death records that are available.

Census records are confidential for 72 years, so you will not find photographs after the 1930 census. The first U.S. census was in 1790. It recorded the population as of August 1, 1790, as mandated by Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution.

Be careful of many other sites, which will to charge you money for free information.

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