Bishop Michael Rinehart

Proper 8, 3rd Sunday after Pentecost – June 30, 2019

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14 – Elijah parts the water so that Elijah and Elisha walk across the Jordan on dry ground. Elijah taken to heaven by a fiery chariot in a wind storm.
1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21 – Elisha becomes Elijah’s apprentice.

Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20 – I will remember your wondrous deeds, O Lord.
Psalm 16 – Protect me, O Lord, for I take shelter in you.

Galatians 5:1, 13-25 – For freedom Christ has set you free! Do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. The whole law is summed up in a single word: Love your neighbor as yourself. 

Luke 9:51-62 – Jesus rejected by Samaritan village. Cost of discipleship. “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”



Galatians 5: Freedom


Freedom is a good jumping off point the Sunday before the Fourth of July. Of course, we will have to define true freedom, but there is some overlap. Here is the epistle reading from Galatians 5, for this Sunday:

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.


13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. 16 Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

The entire thrust of Scripture is about freedom from slavery, both a literal, physical slavery, and also a spiritual slavery to sin, death and the Law. The central story of the Hebrew Bible is the Exodus, a story of a people fleeing a very feral slavery in their country to establish a homeland of freedom elsewhere. Stories of freedom from bondage of every kind permeate the Scriptures. Joseph is sold into slavery. Jesus sets people free from slavery to illness and evil spirits. Paul writes a letter to a slave owner, Philemon, instructing him to treat his slave Onesimus as a brother now.

In today’s epistle, Paul is talking about freedom from the Law, the Torah, which, in Galatians 3, Paul said enslaves us. We are in bondage to sin, and we are in bondage to the Law. By “The Law,” Paul usually means the Torah, with its 613 laws.

The gospel is about freedom. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Do not return to a yoke of slavery, by becoming enmeshed in a web of do’s and don’ts. Paul is not telling the Galatians to live wild, reckless lives. He is reminding them that the Spirit didn’t come by keeping the law, but by faith.

In fact, he goes on to remind them not to let their freedom become an opportunity for self-indulgence. They are not to use that freedom to hurt one another. Instead they are to be slaves to one another.





The word “law” appears about 25 times in this short six-chapter letter called Galatians. You can find the references here.

A brief, one-paragraph summary of Paul’s feeling about the law from his letter to the church in Galatia, might sound something like this:

No one can be justified by the works of the law. I, Paul, have died to the law in order that I might live for Christ. The Spirit does not come through the law, but through faith. Those who rely on the law are under a curse: Having to fulfill the whole law. Every last iota. Christ redeemed us from the law’s curse. Abraham’s covenant was based on faith, that is, Abraham believed God’s promises. Believing God’s promises was the original plan. The Law came afterwards, through Moses, 430 years later to be precise. The covenant of the Law cannot nullify the covenant of Faith ratified earlier by God. We become part of the family of God by faith, believing God’s promises, like Abraham. The law is not opposed to the promises of God; it was just our babysitter until Christ came. Now we know longer need a babysitter. Even Gentiles can become part of this family. Not by law. Through faith they are adopted into the household of God and so become heirs. If you allow yourself to be circumcised, you are “cut off” from Christ, and now must keep the entire law, which is impossible. Even the circumcised don’t keep the law. The entire law can be summed up in a single thought: love your neighbor as yourself. If you’re led by the Spirit, you don’t really need the law anymore. The law of Christ is to bear one another’s burdens.



Freedom from what? To what?


The yoke of slavery to which Paul refers are the two religious systems he has been discussing: Pagan worship and Torah observance. Both of these yokes are heavy, and actually, Paul would argue, can ultimately push us away from God. 

The yoke of Christ is the new law: loving God and neighbor. This law is not heavy. It is light, and offers freedom. Although no longer under the law, followers of Christ should not abuse their freedom. Paul believes if people truly live by the Spirit they will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 

As Christians we are free from the law, but not free to do whatever we please. We are now bound by a new law: the law of love. The law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). There is a paradox in this, one that Martin Luther picked up in what is probably his simplest writing on the gospel, On The Freedom of a Christian (De Libertate Christiana, sometimes known as the Treatise on Christian Liberty). This short treatise may be one that we should provide for every new member of our church. In it Luther explains that Christians are not compelled to keep the laws of the Bible, but are compelled to love their neighbor.

Luther’s thesis is,

A Christian is the most free lord of all, and subject to none;

A Christian is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone.

These may appear contradictory, but they are exactly what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:19,

For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. (1 Cor. 9:19)

Luther goes on to say,

Meanwhile it is to be noted, that the whole Scripture of God is divided into two parts, precepts and promises. The precepts certainly teach us what is good, but what they teach is not forthwith done. For they show us what we ought to do, but do not give us the power to do it. They were ordained, however, for the purpose of showing humans to themselves; that through them we may learn our own impotence for good, and may despair of our own strength. For this reason they are called the Old Testament, and are so.

This tract is sprinkled with quotes from Romans and Galatians, such as,

For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. (Romans 10:4)

This is an interesting passage. The Septuagint (Greek Old Testament, which dates back to before Christ) translates the Hebrew, Torah, with the Greek word for law: nomos. If we substitute Torah back in, that renders Romans 10:14, “For Christ is the end of the Torah, so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” These are strong words for Paul who was trained as a Pharisee, one set apart for the Torah.

Luther (still from On Christian Freedom):

For example: “thou shalt not covet,” is a precept by which we are all convicted of sin; since no one can help coveting, whatever efforts to the contrary we may make. In order therefore that we may fulfill the precept, and not covet, we are constrained to despair of ourselves and to seek elsewhere and through another the help which we cannot find in ourselves; as it is said: “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help.” (Hosea xiii. 9.) Now what is done by this one precept, is done by all; for all are equally impossible of fulfilment by us.

In other words, the purpose of the law is simply to drive us to the gospel. Like the prodigal son, about to eat the pig pods, we realize we cannot make it on our own, and are driven to return to the loving, forgiving embrace of the Father who has been waiting for us all along. This is true freedom.



The Three Uses of the Law


The Formula of Concord distinguished three uses, or purposes, of the Law in Article VI:

  1. that “thereby outward discipline might be maintained against the wild and disobedient,”
  2. that “people “might thereby be led to the knowledge of their sins,” and
  3. that “after they are regenerate … they might … have a fixed rule according to which they are to regulate and direct their whole life…”

The Law may not be our primary guide, and it certainly has no power to save or transform, but neither can it be discarded. It is discipline, mirror and guide (though the third use was hotly disputed amongst theologians).

Article 4 of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1531) says,

All Scripture ought to be distributed into these two principal topics, the Law and the promises. For in some places it presents the Law, and in others the promise concerning Christ, namely, either when [in the Old Testament] it promises that Christ will come, and offers, for His sake, the remission of sins, justification, and life eternal, or when, in the Gospel [in the New Testament], Christ Himself, since He has appeared, promises the remission of sins, justification, and life eternal.

The Formula of Concord says in Article V,

We believe, teach, and confess that the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is to be maintained in the Church with great diligence…

Throughout the Lutheran Age of Orthodoxy (1580–1713) this hermeneutical discipline was considered foundational and important by Lutheran theologians.





As we celebrate freedom on the Fourth of July, freedom is on the brain. People will walk to the door already contemplating the general concept of freedom. This general concept will naturally gravitate, for U.S. Americans, to freedoms of speech, press, assembly, religion, representation, and the like. Paul’s primary thrust in Galatians is, of course, not to speak about freedom from political oppression, though the Old Testament frequently does. Paul is addressing freedom from religious legalism and oppression. We can, however, use freedom as a springboard, by asking the congregation: What is true freedom? A person can be free from oppression, but a slave to addiction. A person can be free from hunger, but a slave to anger. What enslaves you today? What does true freedom look like? This is where a true story of deliverance will drive the point home. When has God delivered you from slavery to something? Or when has God delivered a parishioner or someone you know?

Then we can talk about what we do with our freedom. Okay, once you’re free from whatever enslaves you, now what? Where do you go? What do you do? Once you are free from the law, what then? Now that you don’t have be a slave to some laws in order to stay out of hell, how will you live into your freedom? Or, to put it most poignantly:

Now that you don’t have to do anything, what are you going to do?

What do we do with this freedom we have in Christ? For Paul, and for Luther, we are freed from our bondage to the law in order that we might live in love of God and neighbor. If we live in love of God and neighbor, we will not need the law, for love does no wrong to a neighbor. Luther said if you can keep the first commandment you could toss out the other nine. This is our Christian vocation. You are now free to go and love your neighbor, without constraint. Love. Serve. Do no harm. Speak ill of no person. As Abraham Lincoln said,

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Beloved, be free. Free to love with malice toward none and charity for all. Free to bear one another’s burdens, to care for the orphan and widow, to work for peace and justice.




Luke 9: Fire from Heaven


I can’t close without a few comments about our gospel text. In my Introduction to Luke’s Gospel, I offer an outline of Luke. The three main bodies of material are boldfaced below, Jesus in Galilee, Jesus Traveling, then Jesus in Jerusalem.

A rough outline of Luke’s gospel:

  1. Prologue 1:1-4
  2. The Birth and Childhood of Jesus 1:5-2:52
  3. Preparation for the Public Ministry of Jesus 3:1-4:13
  4. The Ministry of Jesus in Galilee 4:14-9:50
  5. The Journey to Jerusalem 9:51-19:48
  6. Teaching in Jerusalem 20:1-21:38
  7. The Suffering and Death of Jesus 21:1-23:56
  8. The Resurrection 24:1-5

This Sunday’s text launches the Travel Narrative. We begin at Luke 9:51:

51When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55But he turned and rebuked them. 56Then they went on to another village.


57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Jesus “set his face” to Jerusalem. He has his game face on. His ministry in Galilee has concluded. He’s now heading, methodically, to the big city. Mikeal Parsons (Luke, Paideia Series), calls this section “The Demands of the Journey.”

He sends messengers ahead. The Samaritans don’t receive him. “You want us to call down fire from heaven and obliterate them?” the disciples ask (2 Kings 1:9–12). “Uh, no thanks.” And Jesus rebukes them. Jesus reveals a God not interested in genocide. In chapters seven and ten, Jesus will tell stories about good Samaritans.

This is the second time something like this has happened. In the verses immediately preceding today’s text, we have this:

“Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us” (9: 49). Jesus responded, “Do not stop him, for whoever is not against you is for you” (9: 50). Jesus is not ours to own, or hoard. The power in faith is not to be used to exclude, demean or destroy.

57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

Oh yeah? Really? So now we get three sayings, what Parsons calls “chreiae,” about following Jesus. They respond to prepared excuses of an enthusiastic wanna-be disciple for not following.

  1. Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.
  2. Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.
  3. No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.

First, following Jesus will lead to rejection. Second, it will require radical commitment. Third it is of utmost urgency. You may end up homeless (or crucified). You may not be able to make it home for your parents’ funerals. You may not even have time to say goodbye to family. Jesus’ call to place discipleship above family is inescapable in the gospels.

This is a somber call to discipleship. Call it law if you wish. It is a stern warning that the way of love will not be all rainbows, unicorns and lollipops. The way of love sounds warm and fuzzy, but love calls us to sacrifice. Love is giving ourselves for the sake of the other. Jesus offers himself as the example of this self-sacrificial love on the cross.

Proper 7, Ordinary 12, Pentecost 2C – June 23, 2019

1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a – Ahab told Jezebel all Elijah had done. Elijah hides in a cave. He experiences a wind storm, earthquake and fire. God is not in them, but in the quiet whisper.
Isaiah 65:1-9 – Yahweh will judge, but not destroy everyone.

Psalm 42 – As the deer longs for streams of water, so my heart longs for you Lord.
and 43 – Vindicate me, O Lord, against an evil nation. Why so downcast O my soul?
Psalm 22:19-28 – Save me from the claws of the wild dog. Rescue me from the mouth of the lion.

Galatians 3:23-29 – The law was our custodian until Christ came. Now that faith is here, we are no longer under a guardian. There is no longer Jew/Greek, slave/free, male/female, for we are all one in Christ our Lord.

Luke 8:26-39  – Jesus heals the Geresene demoniac.


Note: June 19, 1865 is Junteenth, Emancipation Day in Texas. More here.




1 Kings 19: The Sound of Silence

Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.”
3 Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there. 4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.}


[5 Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. 7 The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”]


8 He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.


9 At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” 11 He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14 He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” 15 Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your
way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive,
you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram.





Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal. Queen Jezebel was hopping mad, and had sworn to execute Elijah in one day’s time. Elijah was running for his life. He made it one day into the wilderness. There he fell asleep, physically and emotionally exhausted. When he awakened, angels ministered to him with food. Strengthened by this food, he spent 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness.

Wilderness experiences abound in the Bible. They are very important. It would be hard to miss the parallel with Moses’ 40 days with the Lord (Exodus 34:28). It rained and stormed 40 days and 40 nights in the Noah story. The angel ministered to Jesus during his forty days in the wilderness. The Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness. The message is clear. This is a holy moment, like other holy moments. More to the point, it is a holy crisis. Never waste a crisis. How will God use this crisis? What will God teach us? How might it move us from where we are?

What crises have you been through? Perhaps you are in a kind of wilderness yourself right now. Can you see the crisis as a holy moment? Where is God in the midst of the crisis, the wilderness? This is a theology of cross. God is there. God may not have created the crisis, but how might God use it?





After the wilderness, Elijah headed up the mountain, Mt. Horeb, which is Mt. Sinai. He complained to God: “I’ve cast down idols and even taken lives for you. Now they’re out to get me, what are you going to do about it?” I must confess, these genocidal texts are troubling. We shouldn’t read past them too quickly. How does Jesus reframe the relationship with the enemy? Where does Jesus land in the tension between the mystical and kingly power narratives of the Old Testament?

A storm then arose, so great that it shook the mountain. Then an earthquake, followed by fire. And then, finally, the sound of silence. It is in the silence where God asked what Elijah wanted. Elijah complained again. Then God put him back to work.

Elijah’s pathway follows one that would be very familiar to the hearers of this story: The Exodus. Just as the Israelites fled Pharaoh, wandered through the wilderness and ended up on Mt. Sinai, so Elijah fled Queen Jezebel, wandered through the wilderness, and ended up on Mount Horeb (Sinai). It is at this point that the two stories diverge. In the Exodus, God was in the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night. In the Elijah story, God is in the silence.

One might see in this a sort of meta-narrative. We go through crises in life, followed by wilderness periods, after which we end up on the mountain of God. There God speaks, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, we hear, not in the thunder, but in the silence.

In what ways have you found yourself on the mountain after a wilderness period? Was there fire or smoke? Thunder or lightening? Silence? How did God speak in the wake of the storm?



Crisis leads to a time of listening


Revelation often comes after a time of crisis. As Pastor Freddie Jack, President of the 7th District of the Louisiana Missionary Baptist Association said recently, following the burning of three African American Churches in what must be described as an act of domestic terrorism, “God can use the spade of sorrow to to dig a well of joy.”

Perhaps this is because desperation drives us back to God. When our own efforts have availed us nothing, and we have nowhere else to turn, we turn to God. Most often living in the illusion of our own self-sufficiency, once in a while we are reduced to our child-like state, recognizing that most of life is beyond our control. It is then that we let go of our life-control projects and lift our eyes to the hills. Our eyes are opened to the vast complexity of the universe, and we choose to listen, rather than lecture. Desperation can do that.

The crisis may be as simple as an illness. I recently fell ill with a bug that left me fevered and flat on my back. I live most of my life doing what feels like self-sufficient, high-energy work. Then something like this comes along and you realize how dependent you are on others. At times like this I realize how much I take my health for granted. And my family, who care for me. With nothing to do, but sleep and wait out the bug, the illness forces me into a prayerful state.

For others it may be a flood that takes your house. The loss of a job. A bad diagnosis. Life can change in the blink of an eye. All our really brilliant plans suddenly seem a bit far-fetched. What was I thinking? I was living in an illusory world.

It’s at moments like this that our world gets put in proper perspective. Our place in the universe is seen closer to what it actually is. Humility restored. Priorities get reset. God is there.





One final thought about this text, thanks to former New England Synod Bishop Margaret Payne, who writes some thoughtful preaching ideas in Sundays and Seasons: Preaching Year C. We live in an overly busy culture. We work hard. We are surrounded by a cacophony of sounds: TV, radio, DVD, CD, Spotify, social media. We seem reluctant to pause, to find Sabbath for our souls. We complain that God doesn’t speak, but in truth, we aren’t listening.

Margaret Payne suggests a play on words. Paint a picture of people rushing along a busy street, “following their own devices.” I like it. With heads bowed down to our phones and hand-held devices, do we look up? Self-absorbed, do we listen? Can we be still, as the psalmist suggests (Psalm 46)? Can we lookup, to the hills (Psalm 121)? What might it be like to spend some time every day listening for the “sound of silence?”

This could be a good time to teach about prayer practices. Don’t just tell people to take time for silent prayer. Teach them some intriguing ways to get there: lectio divina, meditatio and mantric prayer. Those who use contemporary music, could subliminally plant the “sound of silence” idea in people’s heads, but playing Simon and Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence  quietly through the speakers before worship begins. Consider my devotional book on prayer, “Learning to Pray Again.”

If you follow this direction, be sure to build some times of silence into the liturgy. Perhaps no communion music. Or you could have silence after the sermon instead of a hymn. Give people an opportunity to listen to the sound of silence right there in worship.





Galatians 3:23-29


We are in Galatians for the next several weeks:

  • June 19, 2019 Galatians 3:23-29 (June 19 is Juneteenth)
  • June 26, 2019 Galatians 5:1, 13-25
  • July 3, 2019 Galatians 6:[1-6] 7-16 (July 4 is Independence Day)

I would like to point out to you a great resource that I think every pastor should have: The Jewish Annotated New Testament, edited by Jewish scholars Amy-Jill Levine (whom many of you know from Vanderbilt) and Marc Zvi Brettler. So many misunderstandings of the New Testament are based on an erroneous understanding of the cultural milieu and even more so, a misunderstanding of Jesus’ Second Temple Jewish heritage. Amy-Jill Levine has given us a tremendous gift. I’ll be hard pressed to write a sermon without consulting it after using it recently. Today’s post will have a number of references to this work.

In Galatians 1 and 2, Paul said, “through the law I died to the law in order that I might live to God.” Greek speaking Jews used nomos (law) to translate “Torah.” So when Paul said, “through the law I died to the law in order that I might live to God,” what he meant was, “through the Torah I died to the Torah in order that I might live to God.” Paul had to die to Torah in order to become right with God, or justified. The Torah taught Paul to die to the Torah.

Many of us have had this experience with the Bible. The gospel led us to see the Bible as more than a book of laws. The Bible itself calls us to put our faith in God, not a book. The book reveals the God who is revealed in Christ, who, in turn, sent the Spirit.

For Paul, “justified” means “reckoned as righteous.” The Septuagint renders tzedeqah as dikaiosune (justified), especially in Genesis 15:6. So when Paul refers to no one being justified by the “works of the law” what he means is, “no one is made righteous by the works of Torah,” a phrase that appears at Qumran.

Dogged adherence to Leviticus was actually keeping Paul from God. Could it be that we get so tied up with being righteous, that we miss the transforming relationship God seeks with us? This is a very relevant book of the Bible given the way people are tossing around parts of the Torah these days, as if it is still binding on Christians.

Paul closes this portion of his argument by saying no one will be justified, that is made righteous, by keeping Torah. For Paul, faith in Christ frees us from Torah observance.

We now pick up the argument in chapter 3.




23 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded
under the law until faith would be revealed. 24 Therefore the
law was our disciplinarian until Christ came,
so that we might be justified by faith.

A disciplinarian (pedagogue) was a “house slave that was charged with keeping the master’s son out of trouble and escorting him outside the house,” according to the Jewish Annotated New Testament. This emphasizes the temporary and remedial role of the law.

25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer
subject to a disciplinarian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.

Faith replaces the law (our disciplinarian). The law was the only way to draw close to God. Now, through faith (trust) in Christ, we all become part of God’s family, children of God.





Paul mentions the law a couple of times in this short passage. The word “law” appears a lot, about 25 times in this brief, six-chapter letter called Galatians.

A brief, one-paragraph summary of Paul’s feeling about the law, based on his letter to the church in Galatia, might go something like this:

No one can be justified by the works of the law. Paul has died to the law in order that he might live for God. The Spirit does not come through the law, but through faith. Those who rely on the law are under a curse: Having to fulfill the whole law. Christ redeemed us from the law’s curse. Abraham’s covenant was based on faith, that is, Abraham believed God’s promises and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. The law came through Moses 430 years later, so it cannot nullify the Abrahamic covenant ratified earlier by God. We become part of the family of God by faith, not by law. The law is not opposed to the promises of God; it was just our babysitter until Christ came. Now we know longer need a babysitter. Even Gentiles can become part of this family, but only through faith, not by law. Through faith Gentiles are adopted into the household of God, becoming heirs. If you allow yourself to be circumcised, you are “cut off” from Christ, and now must keep the entire law, which is impossible. Even the circumcised don’t keep the entire law. The entire law can be summed up in a single thought: love your neighbor as yourself. If you’re led by the Spirit, you don’t really need the law anymore. The law of Christ is to bear one another’s burdens.

One cannot read Romans or Galatians and not come away with a clear sense that Paul views the law in a negative light. Luther makes it clear in his treatise On Christian Liberty, which we will discuss next week, that the laws of the Hebrew Scriptures are not binding upon Christians, however we are instead bound to love our neighbor. The law simply shows us that we cannot possibly do it perfectly, and therefore are in desperate need of grace.

It is astounding to me that people still point to some archaic Old Testament laws and say, “See! You are breaking the law!” They use the Levitical Codes as a club over others’ heads. Paul says that Christ frees us from the curse of the law. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus mean followers of Christ are no longer under the law, as far as Paul is concerned.

Some view these texts as anti-Jewish, but we must remember that Paul is a Jew, trained as a Pharisee, in fact. I don’t believe he sees himself as proposing a new religion, but reforming his Jewish faith. The idea that faith in God is the way to righteousness, as opposed to fanatical adherence to the law is the heart of the Hebrew Scriptures. The Shemah, which Paul no doubt recited daily, calls us to love the Lord God with all our heart, mind and strength. Abraham is reckoned as righteous for believing God’s promises. Paul is drawing people to a mystical, messianic Judaism.



No distinction

27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 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. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Rabbis said three blessings each day: Blessed are you O Lord our God, who has not created me a Gentile, a slave or a woman. These blessings still appear in the Orthodox Jewish Prayerbook. Reformed Jews have done away with them. Paul is most certainly alluding to these prayers in this passage. Christ revealed that these distinctions were irrelevant in God’s eyes. This is a revolutionary statement, and one that even Paul himself occasionally walked back.

Verse 29 says we become children of Abraham through baptism, by being united into Christ. Since Christ is a child of Abraham, from the house of David, those who are united with him become children of Abraham by adoption (a theme he will pick up later). Baptism grafts us onto Abraham’s family tree. Paul’s logic is not as complicated here as people make it. Paul is not saying Christians are no longer Jews. Quite the opposite, he is saying all Christians are Jews (children of Abraham) by faith and because of their baptism into Christ.

Gentiles, slaves and women all had a significant problem becoming children of Abraham.

Since women could not be circumcised (in the manner of Torah), the only way a Gentile woman could become a child of Abraham was through marriage or adoption. If not, you were out of luck. Now that we are justified by faith, Paul says, the distinction between men and women disappears, as far as righteousness is concerned. Altered male genitalia doth not righteousness make. Likewise, the distinction between slaves and free citizens disappears. The difference between Gentile and Jew becomes irrelevant. These distinctions may still exist in society, but as far as getting right with God is concerned, they are irrelevant.

This is where I part company a bit with Amy-Jill Levine. She points to Paul’s other statements about the role of women (to remain silent) and slaves (to obey masters) to show Paul isn’t really imagining any real liberation existentially. She may be correct, but I have questions.

Levine doesn’t seem to distinguish between authentic Paul and deutero-Pauline literature. Is she assuming the pastoral and catholic epistles are authentically Pauline? Paul’s letter to Philemon, which all scholars agree is authentically Pauline, is a perfect example of what Paul means. He certainly takes slavery for granted in the Roman Empire, but he suggests Christians have a different orientation. Philemon is to receive Onesimus as a brother. Baptism has redefined their very real, earthly relationship. Paul is a product of his culture and upbringing. He can believe in a new relationship between men and women while still being immersed in local customs, and perhaps not seeing every implication of his own revolutionary pronouncement.

Once Paul has done away with the law, the wall creating class and gender distinctions begins to erode. As Paul considered the implications of this, it also occurred to him that abolishing the law meant that there was not even a distinction between slaves and citizens of the empire. Jesus had revealed a profound truth: equality. Love is the ultimate leveler. Jesus was forging a new humanity. One race: the human race.

It’s hard for us to imagine how radical those words must have been in the middle of the first century, to Gallic people who had been incorporated into the Roman Empire. What would it mean if the distinction between citizen and slave disappeared? What would the world look like? How would this change the economy? These were questions likely pondered by Pharaoh and Abraham Lincoln as well. This message was subversive, treasonous and threatening to Roman hegemony. It of course made the Empire… less. Less important than the kingdom of God. Problem: Empires don’t tolerate being in second place.

What about our own empire today? We belong to the most powerful empire in the world. It demands complete allegiance. Is our allegiance to the kingdom of God greater than our allegiance to the empire? What evidence can you point to that substantiates this? Do we view Americans from the U.S. as better than everyone else, or do we see the humanity in those of different cultures? Do we view others as less than ourselves, or do we believe that all people are of equal value to God?

This past week we celebrated Junteenth, Emancipation Day In Texas, June 19, 1865. For those not from Texas, Juneteenth is the day that federal troops arrived in Galveston to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation (which was issued two and a half years earlier on September 22, 1862). Standing on the balcony of the Ashton Villa in Galveston, General Gordon Granger read this pronouncement:

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

The freedom Paul is talking about in Galatians is most certainly freedom from the Jewish ritual laws, portions of Levitical codes and so forth, but it has implications for relationships in the here and now. Remember, in Galatians 3:28 Paul mentions slavery specifically:

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.

Paul sees freedom in Christ, as more than a theoretical concept. This is more than pie in the sky when you die. 1,800 years before the Emancipation Proclamation, a very flawed Paul saw a vision of equality. A world where slaves were not dominated by slave owners. Women were not dominated by men. A world of racial equality. Does he really mean it? One only needs to read Paul’s letter to Philemon to see that Paul means business. The cross of Jesus means nothing less than this: the slave is now your brother.

Truly he taught us to love one another
His law is love and his gospel is peace
Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother
And in his name all oppression shall cease

– From the Christmas carol O Holy Night

The First Paul


In The First Paul, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan spend some time talking about this Sunday’s epistle from Galatians 3. But they begin their book on Paul with some things that most readers of Scripture and theology know. Paul’s statement of faith, Jesus is Lord, would have been high treason in the Roman world. Paul never read the gospels, as they had not yet been penned, and would not be until after his death. Paul did not think of himself as having converted to a new religion. He died thinking of himself as a Jew, albeit a Christian Jew. Many of Paul’s statements seem to support slavery, the subjugation of women, and oppression of homosexuals.

But Borg and Crossan also point out some things that I had not considered. They call Paul a Jewish Christ mystic. Mystics speak of ecstatic experiences of God, often involving light. They base their faith on these experiences of God, often thinking of them as enlightenment. Paul had a firsthand experience of Jesus, whom he saw, and who spoke to him. Luke does not record Paul as having seen Jesus when he recounts Paul’s Damascus Road experience (no less than three times), but Paul himself, in his letters, speaks of having “seen” Jesus. Paul’s apostolic identity rests on it. Luke might not consider Paul an apostle (for Luke there are only 12 apostles, and when Judas dies, he is replaced, not by Paul), but Paul is very clear on the matter: “Am I not an apostle?” Paul also speaks of being taken up into the seventh heaven, and mentions other mystical experiences. Paul does not have a philosophy of religion, as much as a life-changing encounter with Jesus.



Three Pauls


Borg and Crossan ask us to consider three Pauls in the New Testament.

First is the Radical Paul of the seven undisputed epistles (yes, now there are only seven): Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, I Thessalonians, Philemon. These are the letters all scholars agree were actually composed by Paul himself.

Then consider the Reactionary Paul of the pastoral epistles: 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus. These are the letters most scholars agree were not written by Paul. Their language and themes clearly come from a later era.

Finally, in the middle, there is the Conservative Paul of Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians. The authorship of these letters are disputed by scholars.

Radical Paul is pure Paul. Conservative Paul is somewhat revised, perhaps in his lifetime. There is some debate about whether Paul wrote these or not, though the majority view is not. If he did write them, he clearly backed off from his original positions. More likely, they were a corrective from a more conservative pseudonymous writer. Finally, the Reactionary Paul presents viewpoints that in almost every contradict some of Paul’s most basic original positions. The language is that of the second century. No serious scholar believes these epistles to have been written by Paul.

Most of this is familiar territory for students of theology, though Borg and Crossan present the information in a clearer way than I’ve heard it in years. What made lights come on was comparing Paul’s statements about women and slaves in these very clearly defined camps.

Take slavery, for example. The Radical Paul’s position on slavery in the undisputed epistles is clear. He tells Philemon that it’s his duty to release Onesimus, and regard him now as a brother. “I could command you,” Paul says to the slaveholder, “to do your duty, but instead I’ll appeal to you, even though you owe me your very life…”

It may be an appeal, but it doesn’t stop Paul from concluding, “Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, know that you will do even more than I say.” What on earth would lead Paul to consider something like this given the structures of Roman economy and society that everyone took for granted? And of course our text that says for those baptized “into Christ” there is no longer slave or free. How could he possibly imagine something like this?

The Conservative Paul changes his tune, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything, not only while being watched and in order to please them, but wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord…” (Col. 3) “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart…” (Eph. 6) Both passages end with injunctions to masters not to treat their slaves too harshly. I’m fully aware that first century Roman slavery was significantly different than Euro-American enslavement of Africans. Nevertheless, this position is a considerable regression from the Radical Paul. The Conservative Paul considers the Radical Paul a bit too liberal with regard to the norms of Roman society. This Paul is more palatable to the elite classes.

But the Reactionary Paul of Titus 2:9 eliminates even the reciprocity of the Conservative Paul:

Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to talk back, not to pilfer, but to show complete and perfect fidelity, so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior.

There is no mutuality whatsoever. Crossan and Borg point out that there is only one single verse, and it begins, “Tell slaves…” No word to slave masters.

All this reminds me of a very Lutheran principle: All Scripture is not on an equal par. Luther was a scholar. He did not consider James and Romans to have equal weight. We do not treat law and gospel the same.

Passages about women fall very clearly into these three classes as well. The Radical Paul insists on mutuality (see 1 Corinthians 7). Husband and wife injunctions are balanced. Even the decision to abstain from sexual relations for a time must be “by agreement.” The Roman paterfamilias did not need to seek the consent of his wife for much of anything. Radical Paul is suggests a more egalitarian relationship. The Radical Paul in Romans 16 mentions several female leaders (and various slave names), and even a female apostle, confirming that Paul felt there were more than 12 apostles, all male. For 1,000 years every commentator agreed that Junia was a female name, but in the late Medieval period considerable effort was made to turn Junia into a male name for obvious reasons. They couldn’t bear Paul promoting women clergy.

In the Conservative Paul of Colossians and Ephesians, instructions to children and parents become instructions to children and their fathers. (Also instructions to slaves and owners becomes instructions to slaves and masters.) Women, children and slaves were considered inferiors. “Wives be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church…” However, there is some mutuality, in that there are some instructions for husbands, one of which says husbands should be prepared to give up their lives for their wives, as Christ gave up his life.

In the pastoral letters, the Reactionary Paul has left Timothy and Titus in charge of Ephesus and Crete, respectively. I wouldn’t want to have been there. The text is forbidding:

Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty. – 1 Timothy 2:11-15

Ouch. Crossan and Borg call this Reactionary Paul, because it is clearly a reaction to what must have been going on. No one would forbid women to teach if it wasn’t already happening. There are no decrees forbidding female senators. It wasn’t even on the radar.

Borg and Crossan ask, what about the Jesus event makes it impossible for Philemon to own Onesimus? What is this justice that Paul feels is an obvious consequence of the gospel? To get at it, Borg and Crossan take apart Galatians 3:27-29:

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

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.

And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

They suggest we really shouldn’t quote verse 28 without 27 and 29. It becomes and nice sentiment, but we lose the thrust and source of the conclusion. They also point out that Paul repeats this passage in 1 Corinthians 12:13 without the third example. Notice the construction is the same:

For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body

-Jews or Greeks, slaves or free-

and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

Life “in Christ” or “in the Spirit” means no matter how you came into the community, as a male Jew or a female Gentile, you are equal to one another in the community. Hierarchical distinctions are human, and therefore have no place in the community.

But is this just in the community? Are Christian Jews to act “as if” they are equal, even though they are so clearly not in Roman society? When they return to the real world, should things go on as always?

Philemon, the authors point out, is the test case. Clearly for Paul, this is no theoretical equality. Paul “encourages” Philemon to welcome Onesimus back not as a slave, but as a brother. He uses words like “duty” and “obedience.” It seems the Radical Paul has more in mind than play acting in church. What he proposes has implications for the real world.

“On earth as it is in heaven.”

I leave you with the words of the song For Everyone Born:

For everyone born, a place at the table


St. Paul Shelby and Bethlehem Round Top On Pentecost Sunday, June 9, 2019

St. Paul Shelby is near Fayetteville, Texas. One of the joys of serving as Bishop is rising with the sun, and sometimes a little bit earlier, then driving to congregations around Texas and Louisiana. Today worship began at 8 AM in Shelby, so I left a little bit before 6 AM.

Five confirmations today, one in Shelby and four in Round Top.

I was delighted to see four Fayette County congregations raising $20K to refurb the road at Lutherhill.

This pianist, Ms. Nancy Richardson, played by ear. Her left hand effortlessly hit bad-chord-chord without looking, while her right hand played melody with harmonies. She played with a decidedlay Baptist flair. After worship, I asked her, and sure enough she plays at her own Baptist Church as soon as she leaves St. Paul.

Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Round Top, Texas, may be the oldest church building with a continuously worshipping community. If not, it’s one of the oldest. The congregation is 153 years old. Click here to read some history of Bethlehem Round Top.

The day we confirmed four young men, including Pastor John David Nedbalek and Melissa’s son Austin. I presided and preached so that John David could be a dad.

More pictures will follow.

You learn a bit about the history of a place from the gravestones. the first here is the grave of the founding pastor:

The Holy Trinity C – June 16, 2019

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 – Before the oceans and mountains were born, Wisdom was set in place.

Psalm 8When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established, what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.

Romans 5:1-5– Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ… God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

John 16:12-15When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth… He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine.


Hymns: Come, Join the Dance of Trinity, 412 ELW, and Holy God, We Praise Your Name, 414  ELW. Eternal Father, Strong to Save, ELW 756. God, Whose Almighty Word; Holy, Holy, Holy. We Believe, by The Newsboys: David Scherer (Agape) has a creed, as do Lost and Found, Jay Beech, The David Crowder Band (Believe) and Hillsong (This I Believe).



Looking ahead at the RCL epistle readings


The next few Sundays, the second lesson is from Galatians. Links to posts on the Galatians texts can be found below. Paul’s statements about freedom in Galatians 5 fall conveniently on the Sunday before July 4, Independence Day.

June and July in Galatians: The law was our custodian (an adolescent babysitter) until faith came:

July 14-August 4 in Colossians: Then we get a taste of Colossians, which I’ll summarize in Matthew Fox’ words: The Coming of the Cosmic Christ.

August 11-September 1 in Hebrews: Moving toward the “Great Cloud of Witnesses” texts from Hebrews 11-13.

September through the end of October in 1  and 2 Timothy: Continuing on, we get Philemon, then carefully chosen 1 and 2 Timothy texts the rest of the year.



Gospels-at-a-Glance (5 months)


After Trinity Sunday (June 16, 2019) we begin a steady march through Luke. We’ve heard the Birth Narrative and the Passion Narrative. Now we start June 23 with Luke 7 and pace ourselves chapter-by-chapter through Luke 18 in October:

June 23 in Luke 8 and June 30 Luke 9: Sinful woman with alabaster jar forgiven, healing of the Geresene demoniac, Jesus rejected by Samaritan village (cost of discipleship). Sending of the 70.

July in Luke 10-11: Good Samaritan, Mary and Martha, Jesus’ teaching on prayer (and the Lord’s Prayer), Parable of the Rich Fool.

August in Luke 12-14: Where your treasure is there will your heart be also, I have not come to bring peace but sword, healing of a crippled woman on the Sabbath. Jesus heals again on the Sabbath and lectures on the Law, Renounce family  and possessions.

September in Luke 14-16: Then Jesus heals on the Sabbath, Parable of the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin, Parable of the Shrewd Manager, Parable of Rich Man and Lazarus.

October and November in Luke 17-18: All Saints is the Lukan Beatitudes from Luke 6. Parable of the Mustard Seed (undeserving slaves).Then the Parable of the Judge and the Widow (pray and don’t lose heart), the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee (warning against hypocrisy).



Romans 5:1-5

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.


En consecuencia, ya que hemos sido justificados mediante la fe, tenemos paz con Dios por medio de nuestro Señor Jesucristo.2 También por medio de él, y mediante la fe, tenemos acceso a esta gracia en la cual nos mantenemos firmes. Así que nos regocijamos en la esperanza de alcanzar la gloria de Dios.3 Y no sólo en esto, sino también en nuestros sufrimientos, porque sabemos que el sufrimiento produce perseverancia;4 la perseverancia, entereza de carácter; la entereza de carácter, esperanza.5 Y esta esperanza no nos defrauda, porque Dios ha derramado su amor en nuestro corazón por el Espíritu Santo que nos ha dado.

It is not difficult to see why the framers of the lectionary chose this passage for Trinity Sunday. While the word “Trinity” is never mentioned in the Bible, it is implicitly there, and so became the way the church understood divinity, as revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Paul’s theology here in Romans, and in other places seems clear enough: We have peace with God, because Jesus Christ has given us access to faith. So we boast in this hope, and also in suffering (which, seen in the cross, now becomes our lot), that leads to hope, because the Holy Spirit has poured God’s love in our hearts.

Figure – The Trinity, Andrei Rublev

Once Christians began to contemplate the God who creates, redeems and makes us holy, one God in three persons, they began to notice it in other places. They wondered about the three divine messengers Abraham encountered at the Oaks of Mamre. The personification of Holy Wisdom (like in the first lesson from Proverbs 8) in the Scriptures came to be understood as the Holy Spirit. The Trinity was not a new idea; it had been there all along. They noticed that you have God, Word and Spirit in the first Genesis creation account. Jesus became identified with the Word in John’s gospel.

Understanding Jesus as The Word, took on significant importance as the Word, the Divine Logos, had special significance in Greco-Roman culture. Heraclitus had used it as a philosophical term to describe knowledge and the order of the universe 500 years before Christ. The Stoic philosophers identified the Word/Logos as the divine animating principle pervading the universe. In Roman theology, the Logos was the first emanation of the Pleroma (the fullness of all divine powers). For Greek Christians, identifying Jesus with the Divine Logos communicated something substantial in pagan society. That communication had cosmic implications. For Jewish Christians, identifying Jesus with the Word of God spoken at creation, the creative force of the universe, also had cosmic implications. Even the Jewish philosopher Philo (20-50 A.D.) had incorporated the concept of the Logos into his philosophy.

Romans 5 is not a treatise on the Trinity. Paul is not really preaching about the doctrine of the Trinity. The Trinity appears to emerge unconsciously as he is talking about the implications of justification. Paul has spent the first chapters of Romans talking about the human condition. He paints a picture of a humanity that is trapped in the power of sin. Paul condemns paganism. Humans worship creation rather than creator. Paul condemns temple prostitution. He points out that our rejection of God leads to wickedness and ultimately suffering. No one is righteous. All are guilty. Therefore, you have no high moral ground from which to judge others (Romans 2:1, Matthew 7:1). No one can judge.  All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Furthermore, I would contend that Paul is addressing primarily Jewish Christians in Romans 2-4. In chapters 5-8 he addresses Gentile Christians. This is a very conscious structure in his letter, based on his thesis/propositio/theme verse, if you will:

Therefore, I am not ashamed of the gospel,
for it is the power of God unto salvation of everyone who believes,
the Jew first and also the Greek. For the righteousness of God has been revealed from faith to faith, just it is written,
“The righteous by faith shall live.”


So, Paul, true to his statement in chapter 1, deals with the Jew first and then the Greek as his letter unfolds. The Law cannot save, he warns Jewish Christians. This is a critical point, since Pharisees are making significant ground in the Christian community, to Paul’s disappointment.

In chapter 5, our text for today, Paul has moved to the Gentile Christians. Paul begins this section with the word, “Therefore.” In the Bible, whenever you see the word “therefore,” you need to ask what it’s there for. Paul has expanded on his chapter 1 thesis in chapter 3. We are justified by faith, therefore, this has significant implications. New Testament professor turned parish pastor Mary Hinkle Shore says Romans 1-4 is the “What?” In Romans 5 Paul turns to “Now What?” If we are justified by faith, and if the Law cannot make us righteous (3:20-28), then salvation must be available to all, apart from the Law.

Even we who are still caught in the web of sin are now at peace with God, simply by faith. This is Paul’s E=mc2. It is the calculus of faith. We have a shortcut to God that simply involved trusting (and I would argue Paul means also following) Christ. Paul talks about being “in Christ,” (6:3, 8:1, 16:7) in Romans and other letters. Being “in Christ,” we participate in his suffering and death. If we die with him, we will also rise with him. Salvation is not about purity, being good enough or keeping the law. It’s about faith. Trust. Relationship.




John 16:12-15

12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Once again, the Trinity is here implicitly in Jesus’ farewell address to his disciples, as recorded by John 80 years later.

Jesus has more to say, but the disciples cannot bear it now. The Spirit will have more to say. The church cannot rely solely on Jesus’ words and teachings. We must also depend on the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will glorify Jesus, not contradict him. The Spirit will enlighten and clarify Jesus.

In Working Preacher, Gilberto Ruiz of St. Anselm University, points out that in John 14 Jesus has already said he is the way, the truth and the life. Jesus is the truth. In this passage, the Spirit is the “Spirit of truth.” The Spirit will guide you into all truth. Jesus is the Way. The Spirit is the Guide. The words have the same root in Greek (hodos). John wants us to know that Jesus and the Spirit are hand-in-glove.




So how do you preach all this? Much depends on your community. How immersed are they biblically? Theologically? What’s going on in your community right now? What do they need to hear? Where do they need to be on the continuum of challenge and comfort?

Preaching the doctrine of the Trinity can be pretty dry. Preaching about a spiritually life-giving relationship with God can be riveting. What does it mean to put our faith in God, through Christ and allow the Spirit to pour love into our hearts? And for the younger folks who are struggling with older patriarchal ideas about God, can we invite them to see God as creator, as revealed in Christ and as ever-present, blowing through their lives with the wind of the Spirit? Can we invite them to move past concepts of God rooted in archaic cosmologies and encounter the living God in this postmodern context?

Are we grounded in Jesus’ teaching? Are we also open to listening to the Spirit, for new and deeper expressions of faith for our generation?

Perhaps one message of Trinity Sunday is that God is multifaceted – bigger than you thought. Deeper, wider, higher, lower. Invite them to encounter the God revealed in creation of the incomprehensible cosmos.  Introduce them to the God that Jesus invites us to discover divinity in the eyes of the hungry, wandering, sick and imprisoned. Invite them to see the God who speaks to us in prayer, dreams and visions? Through the Spirit. No, this is not modalism. This is good news: proclaiming the three persons of the Trinity as a diverse, multifaceted God who lives in community and calls us to do the same.


What’s in your heart?


One last thought, with another possible angle. Paul talks about the Holy Spirit pouring the love of God into our hearts. For Paul, the Holy Spirit pours love into our hearts. Has this been your experience?

To commit something to memory is to learn it “by heart.” To lose heart is to lose hope. When we say we want to “get to the heart of the matter,” it means we want to get to the very core. To know someone’s heart is to know their intentions. What’s in your heart?

In the Bible, your heart is the very core of your being. Jesus said the greatest commandment was to “love the Lord with all your heart…” (Luke 10:27) To be “heartless” is to lack compassion. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21)


June 3 Prayer Pilgrimage at the three Louisiana Churches burned down in an act of domestic terrorism

On June 3, 2019, after Pastor Robert Miller (First Lutheran in Lafayette) attended the opening of the Louisiana Missionary Baptist Association in Lake Charles, a group of us gathered at each of the three churches to mark this moment with prayer and repentance.

March 26 St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre. The Rev. Kyle Sylvester.

April 2 Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas. The Rev. Harry Richard.

April 4 Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas. The Rev. Gerald Toussaint.

Port Barre and Opelousas are in the boot of Louisiana, about 45 minutes north of Lafayette. We have no congregations in Port Barre or Opelousas, but First Lutheran is located in Lafayette. Port Barre and Opelousas are only a few miles apart.

St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre

The debris from the fire has been cleared from this, the first of the churches to burn.

This is St. Mary’s before the fire.

And now.

Pastor Sylvester

Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas

After the fire:


Mount Pleasant Baptist Church In Opelousas

Before the fire:


From the back.

The church was founded in 1889. Renovated in 1997.

Behold, I make all things new…

We visited with Ernest Lee Hines, with whom I’m shaking hands, and also pictured in the back of the photo elbow that. Ernest did all the brick work on this church. He hopes to do the brickwork on the new church.

Also pictured is Mt. Pleasant member James Austin Espree, who was married to Mary Ann Espree in this church 50 years ago.

We had lunch with Ernest, his wife Oradel, James and Mary. They were so gracious to share with us about their life and their church. Listening to the stories feels like such holy ground:

Pastor Robert Miller (First Lutheran in Lafayette) and his family, Amber, Simon and Thea.

Many thanks to Oradel Hines, Pastor Nancy Andrews, Pastor Robert Miller, Jackie Bernard and others for the photos.

Seventh District Louisiana Missionary Baptist Association

Our brothers and sisters in Christ from the 7th District Louisiana Missionary Baptist Association met tonight, June 3, at Sunlight Baptist in Lake Charles, for their annual convention. Pastor Robert Miller from First Lafayette and I attended.

The pastors of the churches in Opelousas and Port Barre that were burned in an act of domestic terrorism were present. One could feel the great respect the community it had for them and for President Freddie Jack. They have been through so much.

The patience they have, and the kindness and hospitality they showed us is a witness to the love of Christ.

7th District President Freddie Jack has provided a hand of steady leadership: “God can use the spade of sorrow to dig a well of joy.”

They began with celebration in the African American gospel tradition. One could not sit still to the music and expressions of joy. Many songs about God providing, come rain or shine.

Pastor A. L. Williams was a consummate host.

Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter brought greetings.

I have to admit, I was quite taken with this gentlemen’s incredible footwork. His feet played bass, and I never once saw him look at them.

There was a celebration of the Go Fund Me that raised $2.6M. Each of the three churches received a check for over $800,000.

Pastor Rob and I were invited forward. We expressed the love and concern of the Lutheran community and presented a check for an additional $20,000 from offerings and a gift from the ELCA Churchwide Organization.

The pastors whose 100-year-old churches were destroyed were recognized.

  • March 26, 2019 – St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre, Louisiana. The Rev. Kyle Sylvester.
  • April 2, 2019 – Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas, Louisiana. The Rev. Harry Richard.
  • April 4, 2019 – Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas, Louisiana. The Rev. Gerald Toussaint.

    The three pastors, Pastor Kyle Sylvester, Pastor Gerald Toussaint and Pastor Harry Richard:

    Tomorrow we will have a prayer vigil in which we will visit each of the church sites. Our prayers are with these congregations and their leaders, and for an end to racism and the heresy of white supremacy.

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