Bishop Michael Rinehart

Welcome Steve Stutz

This Sunday All Saints, November 3, 2019, we welcome Steve Stutz onto the ELCA roster in the Gulf Coast Synod. Steve will he serving as Interim Pastor for Memorial Lutheran Church in Texas City. We’ll have a Litany of Welcome on Sunday.

Steve grew up unchurched in St. Louis. He attended a Lutheran school and married his high school sweetheart. Steve is a Concordia Seminary St. Louis grad. After serving in the military, he served an LCMS congregation in West Texas. He has a Doctor of Ministry from Houston Grad School of Theology. He was also certified as a Spiritual Director with the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. He does spiritual direction and also coaching. Check him out at

St. James of New Wehdem in Brenham 150th Anniversary

Reformation Day, October 27, 2019

St. James was founded by immigrants from Wehdem, Germany, in the mid-1800’s.

Ray Tiemann, former Bishop of the Southwestern Texas Synod (left) and Pastor Evan Cameron (right).

With 284 in worship today, overflowing into the fellowship hall, it was nice that they shuttled people from the parking lot to the church. I love in our country churches don’t have cement parking lots. The earth breathes. The ground absorbs the rain and floodwaters.

St. James’ four organists.

Who served Nathan’s Barbecue, but Nathan himself!

Pastor Evan with Pastor Lawrence Bade

Pastor Evan with former St. James Pastors Willard Rother (left, 1961-1970) and Pastor Laird Engle (right, 1971-1975)

All Saints – November 1 or Sunday, November 3, 2019

Listen to the Podcast.

Daylight Savings Time ends this Sunday!


Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18 – The holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom for ever—for ever and ever.’

Psalm 149 – Let the faithful exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their couches. 

Ephesians 1:11-23 – 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.

Luke 6:20-31 – Blessed are you poor, hungry, weeping. Surely your reward will be great in heaven. Woe to you rich, full, laughing.




Daniel 7: A Crazy Dream


Rice University Professor and Christ the King Houston member Matthias Henze wrote A Companion to Biblical Interpretation in Early Judaism. Matthias happens to be the husband of Pastor Karin Liebster at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Houston. He wrote the chapter on Daniel. Henze, the Watt J. and Lilly G. Jackson Chair in Biblical Studies and founding director of the Program in Jewish Studies at Rice, is the editor of Biblical Interpretation at Qumran and the author of The Syriac Apocalypse of Daniel and The Madness of King Nebuchadnezzar: The Ancient Near Eastern Origins and Early History of Interpretation of Daniel 4.

His most recent book is also his most accessible book for lay readers. Mind the Gap: How the Jewish Writings between the Old and New Testament Help Us Understand Jesus, is critical for understanding the inter-testamental period. (He doesn’t like to call it that). We look to the Jewish Bible to understand the Jewish context of the New Testament. This is a mistake. So many of the words and concepts of the New Testament come from the period between the testaments (4th century BC-1st century AD). Think about all the stuff that’s not in the Old Testament: synagogues, Pharisees, Sadducees, Sanhedrin, rabbis, messiahs). This is a good book to read, and readable by dedicated Bible study groups. 

Back to A Companion to Biblical Interpretation in Early Judaism. How did early Jews interpret their own Scriptures? This companion covers about 500 years, from 300 B.C. to 200 A.D. Henze pulls together 18 authors who explore Jewish Biblical interpretation in six kinds of literature from late second-temple Judaism:

  1. Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. Biblical interpretation begins within the Bible itself. 
  2. Rewritten Bible, such as Jubilees, Genesis Apocryphon and Pseudo-Philo. 
  3. Qumran literature, from the Dead Sea Scrolls. 
  4. Apocalyptic literature from the Hebrew Bible, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, such as Daniel and 2 Baruch. 
  5. Wisdom literature such as The Wisdom of Solomon, and
  6. Hellenistic Judaism, including Philo and Josephus. 

Before I launch in, a short word about apocalypses (apocalypsi?). Barbara Rossing is particularly helpful in understanding the nature of an apocalypse. She uses A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens as an example. After being visited by ghosts of Christmas past present and future, Ebenezer Scrooge asks, hauntingly, “Are these the shadows of the things that will be, or are they shadows of things that may be?”

This is an apt question. As it turns out, the predictions of the Ghost of Christmas Future do not come to pass, because Scrooge changes his ways. Apocalypses do not predict the future; they warn us, by painting a picture of one of many possible futures. They are told to get us to change our ways. The apocalypses of Daniel and Revelation are not meant to be predictions of the future (though they get treated that way in pop religion), but warnings of what might be, if people don’t change their course.

Henze tells us the book of Daniel consists of two parts: stories about Daniel (chapters 1-6) and the apocalyptic visions received by Daniel (chapters 7-12). Our text for today is from the second section. Daniel is clearly written by multiple authors, from slightly different time periods. Written during the Maccabean Revolt, it probably dates to 167 B.C. at the earliest (perhaps later), making it possibly the last book of the Hebrew Bible to be written. It’s a great place to explore how Scripture interprets Scripture. Daniel treats earlier biblical texts, written hundreds of years prior. Henze says, “…Daniel has become something of a locus classicus of inner-biblical exegesis.”

Consider the first half of Daniel, before we get to our text. Daniel’s interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is a strong parallel to Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream in Genesis. Henze quotes André Lacocque saying, “Everyone agrees that Dan. 2 is a midrash on Gen. 41.” The parallels are too numerous to list, but here are some of the points Henze makes:

Both Joseph and Daniel are taken into exile against their will. In both cases it turns out to be a blessing. They’re both handsome. They’re both recognized by a foreign king for their wisdom. Both soon become aides of the court. Both Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar have troubled spirits. In both cases the court magicians cannot interpret the dreams. Both Joseph and Daniel interpret the dreams. Both dreams are allegories. Both dreams involve numbers, seven lean and fat cows/years in Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream, and four metals of the statue/world empires in Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.

The apocalyptic visions in chapters 7–12, the second half of Daniel, are written later than the court stories and dream motif of the first part of the book. The authors of chapters 7–12 refer back to, and provide exegesis for chapters 1-6. Ironically, the authors of Daniel 7-12 are the first interpreters of Daniel 1-6. 

We only get verses 1-3 and 15-18 of Daniel 7:

In the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head as he lay in bed. Then he wrote down the dream: 2 I, Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea, 3 and four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another…


15 As for me, Daniel, my spirit was troubled within me, and the visions of my head terrified me. 16 I approached one of the attendants to ask him the truth concerning all this. So he said that he would disclose to me the interpretation of the matter: 17 “As for these four great beasts, four kings shall arise out of the earth.
18 But the holy ones of the Most High
shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever—forever and ever.”


Our text for this Sunday, from Daniel 7, is actually a parallel of Daniel 2. Both are dream sequences. Daniel 2 has four metals, while Daniel 7 has four beasts. In both cases the dreamer has a troubled spirit. In both cases the dream is an allegory for four kingdoms that will arise on the earth. 

The first kingdom is the Babylonian Empire. After the next three kingdoms, God will establish an eternal kingdom for the holy ones. Henze sees Daniel 7 as a historical recontextualization of Daniel 2, with the fourth kingdom, which Daniel describes as probably referring to the Seleucid King Antiochus IV. (Antiochus outlawed Judaism in 167 B.C.) Scholars call the process by which an author adopts earlier materials and then further develops them within the context of the same book Fortschreibung (“successive development”). We find this in Isaiah and Ezekiel as well.

Where does the preacher go with all of this? 

Dr. Anna Carter Florence of Columbia Seminary in Atlanta said the exegetical work is important, but it can also be used to keep the text at arm’s length. She proposed a couple of ways to bring the text closer to home. The first is to pay attention to the verbs and who they refer to I underlined them above. 

had a dream
lay in bed
wrote down
stirring up
came up…

was troubled
shall arise
shall receive


Verbs usually bring people to a familiar place. Our people lay in beds, have dreams, that stir things up, trouble us, leave us terrified… One could talk about the place of dreams. How does God speak to us? In the Bible God speaks in dreams a lot. 

  • What are the verbs?
  • What is the order of those verbs?
  • What do the verb tense and mood tell you? 
  • What do the verbs stir or evoke in you?
  • Are these verbs associated with certain groups, or used to stereotype or make broad generalizations?. 
  • If you run the verbs through your Bible echo chamber what do you hear?
  • If God is a character in this verse, how are God’s verbs different from the others?
  • Do any of the verbs surprise you? What were you expecting?
  • What about those nouns?


Dr. Florence also encouraged us to consider what moves you in the text:


If you’re in a text study group, try using the outline above sometime. 

The meta message of the dream sequence in Daniel 7 seems to be a common motif: The kingdoms of this world are a flash in the pan from a historical perspective, from God’s vantage point. Don’t place your hope and allegiance in them or in kings. This could be a touchy but poignant sermon topic.

Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals,
in whom there is no help.

(Ps. 146:3)


Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah,
and he will reign forever and ever.’
(Rev. 11:15)

Put not your trust in earthly rulers, for health or wealth, for joy or happiness, for salvation of the world or salvation of your soul. The kingdoms of this world — whether Pharaoh’s Egyptian Empire, Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian Empire, Antiochus IV’s Seleucid Empire, Caesar’s Roman Empire, or our American Empire — they cannot deliver. Empires inevitably disappoint us. Eventually they crumble like clay. They can have only a penultimate claim upon us. We belong to a greater empire, the Empire of God, as described in Isaiah and the prophets, in Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount. We look to the Saints, not the Patriots. 




Ephesians 1: All Things Under Christ’s Feet


In our epistle text, Paul calls the Ephesians saints, who have received power. Then, in an endless sentence he continues that God has raised him from the dead and raised him above all the authorities, powers and dominions (kingdoms?) of this world.

In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20 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, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.




Luke 6: The Lukan Beatitudes


How then shall the saints live? How then shall we live? Jesus gives us a clue in Luke 6:

He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: 

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 

21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. 

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 

22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.

 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. 

24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 

25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. 

“Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.

26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

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

Love your enemies; turn the other cheek; give people the shirt off your back; give to those in need; follow the Golden Rule, doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. This is how those in God’s Empire live. This is how saints behave. 

Our text begins:

He came down with them and stood on a level place

In Matthew Jesus goes up on the mountain. In Luke Jesus comes down. Matthew shows us a Jesus who goes up on the mountain like Moses. Luke shows us a Jesus who comes down to us, in the flesh. 

The text continues:

with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 

We often think of Jesus having 12 disciples. Not in Luke. In Luke, Jesus has many disciples. But he has 12 apostles. 

Then we get Luke’s version of the beatitudes, a reflection of Matthew’s (Mt. 5) ten years later. Luke’s Sermon on the Plain, echoes Matthew 5’s Sermon in the Mount, but with a set of “woes,” that Matthew doesn’t give us. Blessed are you poor. Not “the” poor, but “you” poor. It’s personal. Not the “poor in spirit” as in Matthew. Luke doesn’t pull punches. Blessed are you hungry. Blessed are you who weep. Blessed are you hated/excluded/persecuted.

The woes correspond: Woe to you rich, full, laughing, esteemed. 


Blessings Woes
Poor Rich
Hungry Full
Weeping Laughing
Hated Esteemed


Some people believe Luke arranged them intentionally to match the four virtues of the Stoic philosophers of his day in order to speak to his context:


Stoic Virtures Lukan Beatitudes
Temperance Poor
Justice Hungry
Prudence Weeping
Fortitude Hated


Others point out how similar they are to the beatitudes in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. Except there are four in Luke and eight in Matthew:


Luke Matthew
Poor Poor in Spirit
Hungry Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness
Weeping Mourning
Pure in Heart
Hated Persecuted for Righteousness


Scholars believe both Matthew and Luke are copying from another source (Q). Did Matthew add text or did Luke edit down? Why?

This text with its blessings for the poor and woes to the rich is an uncomfortable passage for those of us who have it good. If you make $32,000/year, you are part of the top 1% global earners. Are you rich? Let that sink in. All those times you felt poor. Remember, you have drinking water. Electricity. Food. Shelter. So beware. But then Jesus offers you something. Are you rich? Here’s how to comport yourself:

Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who abuse you. Turn the other cheek. Give them the shirt off your back. Give to all who ask of you, and don’t expect anything in return. Do unto others as you would have them do to you. 

Ethics 101. Jesus 101. If you’re rich, then be generous. 

Why this text on this day? Perhaps we’re being reminded that saints are those who put their trust in God, not in the comforts of this world. In fact, saints are those who are often willing to suffer loss in this world, for the sake of the kingdom of God. Saints are those who bank on the “riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,” per the letter to the Ephesians.

St. Francis said,
“Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary use words.” 



Life Group Questions

  1. Ice breaker: have you ever been poor, hungry, mourning or hated? When? What was it like? What got you through?
  2. Dig: Read Luke 6:20-31. Some believe this to be some of the most profound moral teaching ever written. Why do you think this is? What jumps out at you?
  3. Dig: Compare Luke 6 to the beatitudes in Matthew 5. How are they similar? How are they different?
  4. Reflect: Why do you think Jesus might call these unfortunate situations “blessed?” Why might Jesus call wealth and plenty of food a “woe?”
  5. Reflect: Who do you know that is poor, hungry, mourning or hated? How might you draw close to this person?
  6. Reflect: Read Luke 6:31. This rule has a name. Can your group come up with it? Why might this moral teaching be considered gold throughout history?







The inauguration of Debbie Mauldin Cottrell as the sixteenth president of Texas Lutheran University

L-R Pastor George Brookover, NTNL Bishop Erik Gronberg, Dr. Alan Sager, Dr. Kendra Mohn (Trinity Fort Worth).

It’s always good to see John Dellis, fellow classmate from Trinity Lutheran Seminary.

Dr. Kendra Mohn gave the invocation. Kendra is the spouse of Bishops Erik Gronberg.

Stirring enthusiasm from Amaris Diaz, president of the Mexican American student association, Richard Tolbert, president of the black student union, and Nicolas Orange, president of the student government association. People of color now outnumber Anglo students at TLU.

Bishop Sue Briner installing President Cottrell.

It was kind of Darrell Colson, President of Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa to attend. 

Dr. Alan Sager

Sermons after Kristallnacht

The Sunday after a shooting at a gay night club in Florida, it was interesting to see which preachers changed their sermons to respond to the situation. The same for the shooting of Trayvon Martin, or Alton Sterling. Pastors who write sermons early in the week sometimes have to toss it out when the national consciousness shifts due to a major event. Still others ignore it completely.

In the 1930’s life was getting difficult for German Jews. In his effort to promote a pure white Germany, Hitler and his Third Reich had passed laws forbidding Jews to hold public office or teach in schools. They could not move freely, without permission. Laws were passed for bidding Jews to wear eyeglasses or winter clothes.

On the night of November 9, the German Sturmabteilung (Storm Troopers) unleashed hell. Hundreds of Synagogues were burned. Hundreds were dragged to concentration camps. Many were killed. It was called Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass. The Nazis liked to used evocative names for their atrocities. Today Germans prefer to refer to it as the November Pogrom.

I got to wondering what pastors preached about after Kristallnacht, especially those who had the courage to address it directly. Fortunately, we have some of these sermons.

A lot was at stake.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer had been decrying the dangers of Naziism as early as 1933. When Bonhoeffer gave a speech on the church’s responsibility to care for and advocate for the Jews, a group of pastors stormed out of the room while he was speaking.

More to the point, pastors could be arrested for preaching against the Reich. In March 1935 the Second Confessional Synod of the Old Prussian Union church issued a declaration that stated the nation was threatened by the great danger of a new religion: National Socialism. Pastors were going to read the declaration from the pulpit, until the government got wind of it and forbade the reading of the declaration. Furthermore, pastors were required to notify the government in writing that they would not read the statement. May pastors refused to comply. Over 700 pastors were arrested, including Pastor Paul Schneider, the first pastor to die in a Nazi concentration camp, according to Dean Stroud in Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow.

Pastor Julius von Jan served in Oberlendlingen. On November 16, 1938 he preached a sermon on Jeremiah. The kings of Israel had trampled on justice. He quoted these words from Jeremiah 22:

‘Thus says the LORD: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place… But if you will not heed these words, I swear by myself, says the LORD, that this house shall become desolation.

Pastor von Jan said God had sent prophets like Jeremiah, but they had been put in concentration camps. Those who have spoken out against the injustices have been ridiculed and have lost their income.

The sermon ruffled some feathers. After this sermon he was beaten a large group of Nazis, then dragged to City Hall and arrested. He was convicted of misuse of the pulpit and insidiousness. In November of 1939 he was sentenced to 16 months in jail. He was released in May of 1940 after serving five months. (Behind Valkyrie: German Resistance to Hitler, Ed. Peter Hoffmann.)

Another pastor, Helmut Gollwitzer, has studied under Karl Barth. He served in Berlin-Dahlem after Martin Niemöller was arrested. On November 16, 1938 he preached on John the Baptist.

“Have not our mouths been muzzled…?”

“How, following all the years and centuries of preaching, have we come to this place where we find ourselves today and as we find ourselves today?”

“Our sins have earned us this.” (Jeremiah 14:7)

He knew he could not preach without addressing the current darkness: “It’s not as if I enjoy any of this, but rather it’s that I cannot evade the task—that’s the reason I am speaking like this to all of you.”

“All of you certainly want God to come into your life, to care about our church and about this nation (Volk), just as He cared about the Jewish nation (Volk).”

Gollwitzer addresses John’s question to the baptismal candidates: “O generation of vipers, who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”

“It is a time when no one wants to repent, and yet it is precisely in this unwillingness to repent that we find the secret to the misery of our time. Because ours is a time that cannot tolerate this word, the most vital thing linking people to each other lies broken and shattered: the ability of a person to give another his rights, the ability to admit one’s own error and one’s own guilt; the ability to find the guilt in himself rather than in the other, to be gentle with the other but strict with oneself.”

“These people who have a true desire to be baptized are addressed in this way and are welcomed with the news: God is disgusted at the very sight of you. Surely we today are familiar with the disgust we feel where evil is not simply evil but rather dresses itself up in a repulsive manner as morality, where base instincts, where hate and revenge, parade about as great and good things.”

“… this truth that upright men and women can turn into horrible beasts is an indication of what lies hidden within each of us to a greater or lesser degree. All of us have done our part in this: one by being a coward, another by comfortably stepping out of everyone’s way, by passing by, by being silent, by closing our eyes, by laziness of heart that only notices another’s need when it is openly apparent, by the damnable caution that lets itself be prevented from every good deed, by every disapproving glance and every threatening consequence, by the stupid hope that everything will get better on its own without our having to become courageously involved ourselves.

“In baptism we find death and resurrection, no and yes, fear and joy, hell and heaven—all tied up together. That is why it is a ‘baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.’ With the forgiveness of sin a lifesaving wall is erected between your present suffering and misery as the foreshadowing of the coming wrath and the wrath itself.”

Then the pastor addresses the baptismal candidates’ question to John the Baptist: “What then should we do?”

“Repentance rebuilds the bridge leading to your neighbor.”

“This neighbor does not excel in any way that would cause the world to find him worthy of help—nowhere is it said that he deserves our help. Nowhere are we told that between him and you there is a common bond of race or a people (Volk) or special interests or class or sympathy. He can only point to one thing, and it is that one thing that makes that person your neighbor—he lacks what you have. You have two cloaks, he has none; you have something to eat, he has nothing left to eat; you have protection, he has lost all protection; you have honor, honor has been taken away from him; you have a family and friends, he is completely alone; you still have some money, his is all gone; you have a roof over your head, he is homeless. In addition to all this, he has been left to your mercy, left to your greed (see yourself in the example of the tax collector!), and left to your sense of power (see yourself today in the example of the soldier!).”

There is a clear imperative in baptism, to love and care for your neighbor.

“Now just outside this church our neighbor is waiting for us—waiting for us in his need and lack of protection, disgraced, hungry, hunted, and driven by fear for his very existence. That is the one who is waiting to see if today this Christian congregation has really observed this national day of penance. Jesus Christ himself is waiting to see.”

Afterwards the Gestapo expelled him from Berlin and forbade him to preach or speak anywhere. He escaped the situation by serving as an army medic. Later he lived in a Russian prisoner of war camp. His memoirs became a best seller.

He wrote of preaching: “…in no other form of speech are things taken so seriously, is our whole existence so challenged, even put at risk. In no form of speech does our word itself so much take the form of action, of intervention in the history of the hearers, as in this.”

Rulers frequently demonize and scapegoat minorities to build support for themselves. I often think about the risks pastors took during this era. They risked being arrested or even losing their lives for what they preached. Thank goodness we do not live in such an era. So what excuse do I have for being afraid to speak the truth?

Quotes in this post came from Dean G. Stroud’s Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow: Sermons un Resistance of the Third Reich.

Reformation Sunday – October 27, 2019

Listen to the Podcast

Jeremiah 31:31-34The days are coming when I will make a new covenant with Israel and Judah: law on their hearts.

Psalm 46The 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.




Justification by Grace through Faith


Here is the Romans 3:19-28 text in its entirety:

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For “no human being will be justified in his sight” by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. 21 But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24 they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; 26 it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.

The Romans’ faith is known throughout the world already at the time of Paul’s writing (57 A.D?). Christianity is making its mark on Rome, a city of 400,000 people, enormous for this time in European history. Perhaps not all are equally excited about this. 

Tacitus writes in the latter part of the first century:

Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. (Annals 15.44.)

In Romans 1 Paul introduced his thesis. In rhetorical terms, it is his propositio:

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”

Paul’s gospel: the righteousness of God is revealed through faith, for faith.

What does “through faith, for faith” mean? Luther interpreted ek pisteos, ein pistin to mean “by faith alone.” Ben Witherington III prefers a more nuanced translation: “from the faithful One, unto faith.” As we’ll see below, I take this to mean through Christ’s faith, so that we too might have faith. 

In Romans 2, Paul levels the playing field. All have sinned, therefore Jews and Gentiles are on the same level. It is not having the law that justifies, but keeping it. On this count, he contends, all have fallen short. Therefore you have no excuse in judging others. 

In Romans 3 Paul develops his thesis a bit more. Now that the playing field has been leveled, Paul shows that Christ has revealed that righteousness comes apart from works of the law. We are saved through Christ’s faith, but that faith elicits a response from us, also faith. 

A growing number of scholars agree that Romans 3, along with Galatians 2:15-21 and Philippians 3:2-11, speak of Christ’s covenantal faith, not ours. We are justified by the faith of Christ, not our faith in Christ. This is Michael Gorman’s conclusion in Apostle of the Crucified Lord. 

Paul was born into a Roman world of citizens and slaves. Slavery was not racial, like U.S. slavery was, but it was widespread. By Paul’s time Gorman tells us that most slaves were born into slavery. A slave’s children were the property of of the slave owner, the ultimate dehumanization. 

The Pax Romana, Roman Peace, was well-known. Order was kept in the vast Roman Empire of many diverse peoples through military conquest, domination, taxation, slavery and crucifixion. Gorman calls it “peace through war.” The Romans invaded and enslaved. Like lynchings in the U.S., Roman crowds gathered to watch and jeer as dissidents and opponents died in naked shame. Honoring, worshipping or deifying a crucified man was an absurd idea. 

We cannot understand Paul without understanding his context. 

In his German Bible, Luther writes about Romans 3, in his Preface to Romans, 

St. Paul verifies his teaching on faith in chapter 3 with a powerful example from Scripture. He calls as witness David, who says in Psalm 32 that a person becomes just without works but doesn’t remain without works once he has become just. Then Paul extends this example and applies it against all other works of the law. He concludes that the Jews cannot be Abraham’s heirs just because of their blood relationship to him and still less because of the works of the law. Rather, they have to inherit Abraham’s faith if they want to be his real heirs, since it was prior to the Law of Moses and the law of circumcision that Abraham became just through faith and was called a father of all believers.

Our text starts at verse 19, but Paul has just quoted Psalm 32, using David to make it clear that no one is righteous. He will also use Abraham later. 

Lutherans and Roman Catholics proclaimed 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. 

So how does one preach this message in the 21st century?

Perhaps more than ever, this message needs to be absorbed by people of faith. So many, particularly in the Bible Belt, understand Christianity as a set of laws or rules to follow. They read the Bible as a rule book. They believe the 613 rules in the Hebrew Bible as laws that must be followed by Christians. Luther rejected this idea. Clearly Paul does too.

Christianity is a religion of faith in Christ, not a religion of laws. In fact, this is one thing that distinguishes Christianity from many other religions. We are offered not laws, but rather a relationship. What is called for is not strict obedience to a legal code. What is called for is trust. Paul will, in chapter 4, use Abraham as an example. Abraham believed God’s promises and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. This is the righteousness of God, in Paul’s thought. For Luther, faith is trusting God’s promises, as Christ did, even unto death. 

But faith is not an armchair business. It is not believing the Bible, or creeds, or doctrines. It’s not believing six impossible things before breakfast, like the Queen in Alice in Wonderland.

“I’m just one hundred and one, five months and a day.” 

“I can’t believe that!” said Alice. 

“Can’t you?” the Queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.” 

Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.” 

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

Faith is trusting God’s promises. It is my daughter jumping off the kitchen counters in my arms with no doubt that I will catch her. This is faith. Throwing ourselves in life and in death into the arms of God. It draws us into God’s work in the world. 

My all-time favorite story about this faith, is the somewhat overused, but helpful story. When I tell it, it always gets a laugh and brings the point across. 

The great Blondin was a tightrope walker. He once walked across Niagara Falls on a tightrope. He then asked, 

“Who believes that I can push this wheelbarrow across Niagara Falls?” “We do! We believe!” 

Then he asked, “Who will get into the wheelbarrow?”

Faith is no armchair business. It is getting in the wheelbarrow. Faith is not believing creeds or doctrines. Faith is not assent to an intellectual proposition. Faith is ultimate trust. Faith is putting our trust in God, in life and in death. Faith is Abraham believing God’s absurd promises. Faith is Moses standing before Pharaoh. Faith is Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane praying, “Lord let this cup pass from me, but nevertheless not my will, but your will be done.” In short, faith is throwing ourselves into Jesus’ wheelbarrow. Jesus’ boat. Come hell or high water.


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