A Day with Mark Allen Powell: Preaching Lent and Easter Sunday

A Day with Mark Allen Powell: Preaching Lent and Easter Sunday
January 23, 2018
mark allan powell logo.pngSince we’re taking a one-year hiatus on Theological Conference, why not use that time, and those resources for a short preaching prep retreat with Mark Alan Powell, Trinity Lutheran Seminary Professor and author of Giving to God, Loving Jesus. What Do They Hear? Introducing the New Testament, and many other books?

Join us for the day, 8:30 AM to 3:00 PM at Zion Retreat Center in Galveston, for just $30, which includes a continental breakfast and lunch. Such a deal. We will begin with prayer, study the texts, hang out, and those who wish will all go out somewhere for dinner.

Or consider staying overnight on Monday the 22nd and/or Tuesday the 23rd for $45 a night. Walk the beach, prepare sermons for Lent and Easter Sunday, and take time for prayer and reflection.

Costs $30 Powell (Includes 8:30-3 program, lunch and a light breakfast)
$45 Lodging Monday 1/22
$45 Lodging Tuesday 1/23
Registration
Register with Lutherhill at this website:
https://goo.gl/forms/h6JqJTdgCDfmgTPx1
The registration deadline is Epiphany, January 6, 2018

Introduction to Mark’s Gospel

By Bishop Michael Rinehart

Image result for the gospel of mark

The Gospel according to Mark is the shortest, and probably the earliest of the gospels. This proto-gospel begins with a prologue, followed by Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, the journey to Jerusalem, and his ministry in Jerusalem. The gospel culminates in Jesus’ passion and resurrection.

Luther Seminary professor emeritus Paul Berge points out that the first sentence of this gospel has no verb. The missing verb clues us in that this is the real title of his gospel:

“The Beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”

From the inscription, we learn that this is “the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” This is a political statement. This will not be a gospel of innocuous stories designed to help us have happy, successful lives. In an economy where the coins proclaim Caesar as the son of God, this document and its contents are seditious.

Kingsbury says “Son of God” is the thread that brings Mark together. Jesus refers to himself as Son of Man. Son of God is rarely used. It appears in the inscription. Then it is announced to Jesus privately at his baptism (a quote of Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1) and to Peter, James and John at the Transfiguration. Other than that only the unclean spirits refer to Jesus as the Son of God. None of the characters in Mark’s gospel get it, not even the disciples. There is only one exception. It is mentioned by only one person publicly, at the end of the gospel, only after Jesus is lifted up on the cross, and only by a Gentile, the Roman Centurion.

The Roman centurion at the cross, after witnessing, overseeing the crucifixion of a gentle, humble, innocent man – after seeing how he died – the Roman centurion, is the only one who finally realizes who Jesus is: “Truly this man was the Son of God…” Not just king of the Jews, as the authorities had posted above his head, as a sign of his insurrection, but Son of God.

That Jesus is the Son of God is the point of Mark’s gospel. Son of God, and Son of Man. This is a clear statement of the theology of the church from a very early gospel. Jesus is truly human, truly divine. He is the second Adam, who sets creation right by not succumbing to temptation.

I strongly recommend, if you are teaching or preaching on this gospel this year, sit down and read it straight through from beginning to end in one sitting. One feels more clearly the scope and content of the gospel. This is how it was meant to be read anyway.

A few interesting things about Mark’s gospel

  • Mark uses what is referred to as the “Secrecy Motif.” That is, he doesn’t want people (or demons) to reveal who he is (1;34 e.g.). The reader knows Jesus is the Son of God from the inscription, but the characters in the story don’t. Matthias Henze (Rice University), in  Mind the Gap: How the Jewish Writings Between the Old and New Testament Help Us, sees the messianic secret as a literary/rhetorical device that drives the plot. Healings and exorcisms aren’t enough to reveal Jesus’ identity, which is only revealed in the cross.
  • Another motif is the “Stupid Disciples” motif. Of the four canonical gospels, Mark casts the disciples in the least favorable light. They never get who Jesus is, even though they are closest to events.
  • Mark uses the phrase “and immediately” (εὐθὺς) 42 times. The word appears 11 times in chapter 1, and at least once in every chapter of Mark except 12 and 13. This drives the energy and pace of the gospel.
  • Mark has over 11,000 words, compared to Matthew’s 18,000+ and Luke’s 19,000+ (which nearly exceeded the limits of a scroll).
  • Mark never uses the word “law.”
  • Only mark gives the healing phrases of Jesus in the original Aramaic: talitha cum and ephphatha.
  • Mark uses Greek, Latin, Hebrew and Aramaic in his gospel.
  • In Mark, Jesus is a carpenter (6:3). In Matthew he is the carpenter’s son.
  • In Mark (6:3) Jesus names his brothers and mentions his sisters.
  • In Mark, the disciples can carry a staff and sandals. In Matthew and Luke they cannot.
  • Jewish customs are explained for an apparently Gentile audience.
  • Jesus declares all foods clean (7:19)

Genre

Image result for the gospel of mark a socio-rhetoricalBen Witherington III, in his book, The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, reminds us that the way we read a document depends on its intent. One does not read a novel and a will in the same way. After wrestling with several genres (the gospel is not a play, a tract or a speech; it neither reads like a comedy or a tragedy), he lands on an ancient biography as the closest genre. Not like modern biographies, which focus on the historical, but more like Plutarch’s popular bios, which were hortatory, that is, meant to instruct the reading in virtue. Mark sought to answer the questions, “Who is Jesus, what was he like and why would one write about him?” Paetus, in The Life of Cato, sought to portray a hero’s patient suffering and death.

This is supported by many questions asked in Mark’s gospel:

  • Is this a new teaching, with authority? (Crowd, 1:27)
  • Who can forgive sins but God (Scribes, 2:7)
  • Why does he eat with sinners? (Scribes 2:16)
  • Why are they doing what is not lawful? (Pharisees, 2:24)
  • Who is this that even the wind and water obey? (Disciples, 4:41)
  • Where did this man get this wisdom? (Hometown people, 6:2)
  • Why do your disciples not live by tradition? (Pharisees, 7:5)

The focus is clearly on who this Jesus is.

Unlike Matthew, Mark does not narrate or teach much. He lets Jesus’ words and actions speak for themselves. The first half of the gospel consists of miracles. These are short, character-revealing anecdotes. The second half consists of Jesus’ martyrdom. The shortness and simplicity of Greek made it readable – a sort of Reader’s Digest version of the gospel.

The many healing stories are striking in an age when we are quite embroiled in conversations about health care. Mark’s Jesus devotes his life selflessly to caring for the sick, apparently for nothing more than food and a place to stay.

The book must be read in its apocalyptic context: Second Temple Judaism.

“Apocalyptic” does not just refer to a mindset that believes the world is about to come to an end. Is a much broader concept that sees the course of human events in this world as a manifestation of hidden forces, like the battle between good and evil, God and Satan. Certain people, seers, grasp these truths hidden forces or mysteries, not because they are any smarter than anyone else, but because, for some incomprehensible reason, it has been revealed to them.

Image result for mind the gap henzeThis apocalyptic mindset grew during the intertestamental period: the fourth century BC until the first century. Rice University professor and director of the Jewish Studies department, Matthias Henze (a Lutheran from Hanover, Germany and spouse of Christ the King Pastor Karin Liebster) points out in his new book, Mind the Gap: How the Jewish Writings Between the Old and New Testament Help Us, that to understand Jesus, we must understand first century Judaism, which is half a millennium from the ancient religion of Israel. Henze points out how many Jewish realities in the New Testament don’t appear in the Old Testament: rabbis, synagogues, unclean spirits, Pharisees and messiahs. His 200-page book is written for a general audience. It brings to life the rich Judaism of the first century.

Date and Authorship

This may be a bit simplistic, but an easy-to-teach dating of the gospels may go like this:

Mark: 70 A.D.
Matthew: 80 A.D.
Luke: 90 A.D.
John: 100-120 A.D.

Image result for introducing the new testamentSome have argued for a much earlier date for this gospel, but clearly Mark is writing for a non-Jewish audience. Where would one find a non-Jewish Christian audience in the 40’s? And external sources say Mark is writing the memoirs of Peter, which would mean a date in the 60’s at the earliest. Mark Allan Powell, in Introducing the New Testament (p. 128), proposes a date range of 65-73.

The Gospel of Mark is an anonymous document. From the standpoint of internal evidence, the author is not identified.  No copies of this gospel identify Mark as the author.

Externally though, there is plenty of support. Markan authorship was suggested beginning early in the 2nd century. The first person to suggest Mark was the author of this gospel was Papias in 130 A.D. Then it is mentioned by Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, and Jerome. Papias says that Mark is writing down Peter’s recollections, though he says they are not in chronological order. Justin says basically the same, that Mark is writing Peter’s memoirs. Irenaeus calls Mark a “disciples and hermenutes of Peter.” Hermeneutes? Interpreter? Perhaps Mark was Peter’s translator into Greek?

This tradition of Markan authorship is plausible. What evidence do we have to the contrary? There is nothing in this gospel that precludes Markan authorship. There would be no motive to assign authorship to Mark. If they were going to make something up, they would have ascribed this gospel to Peter directly, or one of the other apostles, to give it authority. As it turns out, there actually is a gospel assigned to Peter. More on that below.

The author’s Greek is not the best in the New Testament. The grammar is problematic. Some believe that Greek is not the author’s first language. He’s no stuff though. He uses Greek, Latin, Hebrew and Aramaic in his gospel.

It will be fun to preach from Mark this year imagining that we are perhaps hearing Peter’s memoirs. If these are the recollections of the dying chief apostle, from where are they written? The popular view is Rome. Irenaeus says Mark is written in Rome, but some suggest this is guesswork on Irenaeus’ part, based on 1 Peter 5:13: “Your sister church in Babylon, chosen with you, sends you greetings, and so does my son Mark.”

If Rome, why is the gospel written in Greek and not Latin? Additionally, the Gospel of Mark reflects Palestinian concerns. Some scholars prefer Antioch for provenance. The date of 70 A.D. is preferred because Mark mentions events in the siege of Jerusalem (66-70 A.D.), most notably in Mark’s “Little Apocalypse” in chapter 13.

Whatever else we may say, Mark is clearly the oldest and shortest of the four canonical gospels. Mark presents Jesus as a healer and exorcist, who is also the “Son of God.” (Mark 1:1)

Other gospels

Image result for From Jesus to the Gospels: Interpreting the New Testament in it’s Context,Matthew is not mentioned until Justin in 150 A.D. Irenaeus is the first to know all four of our canonical gospels. Helmut Koester (a student of Rudolph Bultmann), in his book, From Jesus to the Gospels: Interpreting the New Testament in it’s Context, one of my favorite reads, reminds us that the sayings of Jesus on the oldest manuscripts of Ignatius (110 A.D.), Papias (130 A.D.), Polycarp, Marcion (140 A.D.), and Justin Martyr (150 A.D.) are technically older than the quotes on manuscripts of the canonical gospels we have.

The apocryphal gospels complicate things even more. Here are some of the other gospels:

  • Gospel of Peter
  • Gospel of Thomas
  • Infancy Gospel of Thomas
  • Gospel of the Egyptians
  • Gospel of the Hebrews (Mentioned by Clement of Alexandria)
  • Secret Gospel of Mark
  • Gospel of the Nazoreans
  • Gospel of the Ebionites (Irenaeus says the Ebionites used Matthew)
  • Protevangelium Jacobi
  • Gospel of Mary (disc 1896, pub 1955, 2nd C. Fragmentary)
  • Gospel of Truth (quotes Matt.)

There are more. All in all there are about two dozen gospels, that we know of. These above are just the eleven that are mentioned or quoted in the second century.

Koester ups the ante, stretching us: In The Gospel of Thomas 17, Jesus says, “I shall give you what no eye has seen and what no ear has heard and what no hand has touched and what has never occurred to the human mind.” Paul clearly quotes this in 1 Corinthians 2:9, indicating to his readers that it is scripture. What is Paul quoting? Does Paul have The Gospel of Thomas? Is Paul quoting Thomas? It is doubtful, since most scholars date The Gospel of Thomas much later than Paul. Does Paul have a copy of Q (a collection of Jesus’ sayings that we know existed but is now lost)? Are Thomas and Paul quoting from the same source (Q?)? Do they consider it Scripture with a capital “S”? Or is Thomas quoting Paul? Or are they both writing down some oral tradition?

The Gospel of Thomas also has quotes strikingly familiar: “Come unto me, for my yoke is easy, and my lordship is mild, and you will find rest for yourselves.” (Gospel of Thomas 90) Since most scholars date Thomas before John, it appears John is either quoting Thomas’ gospel as authoritative, or more likely, they are both copying another source we no longer have.

A previously unknown gospel was discovered in 1935, Papyrus Egerton 2. It has sayings of Jesus that are similar to the canonical gospels but clearly not quoted from them. This gives us a window into the mysterious pre-canonical sources for Jesus’ sayings that Matthew, Luke and John seem also to be quoting. There may be more than one source. Koester calls them the “free sayings of Jesus.”

I have always thought of the gospel writers’ quoting Jesus as more authoritative than Paul’s quoting Jesus. Paul, however, is temporally closer to the events than the gospel writers who are penning things decades later.

Matthew, Mark and Luke are known by Polycarp and Papias in Asia minor and Greece. John is not mentioned until the end of the second century (Melito of Sardis). Irenaeus (also from Asia Minor) knows all 4 canonical gospels by the end of the second century. Justin knows and quotes the apocryphal gospels. Egypt knows John, Thomas, Egyptians, Hebrews, Secret Mark, Protevangelium Jacobi.

The Gospel of Thomas has been known to exist for centuries, because it was mentioned and quoted so often, but we had no copy until in 1945 some farmers discovered 13 Coptic books buried in an earthenware jar in Nag Hammadi, a town half way down the Nile in Egypt. Scholars wept to have the first (and still the only) complete copy of Thomas. After looking it over, scholars realized for the first time that we had fragments of Thomas all along. They were known as “Fragments of an unknown gospel.”

Of the 660 verses in Mark’s gospel, 600 are copied into to Matthew or Luke. Matthew and Luke have their own points to make of course, and use the stories differently than Mark.

We have no originals of any of the gospels. We only have copies. Our earliest complete copy of any gospel is dated 150 A.D. Or later. Ironically, the oldest fragment we have is of John. It is a scrap about 2.5 x 3.5 inches discovered in the Egyptian market in 1920. It has a few Greek words from John 18:31-33. The words can barely be made out. On this oldest copy of a gospel, hauntingly, Pilate asks, “What is truth?”

But enough digression.

Outlining Mark’s Gospel

Here is a simple outline of Mark’s Gospel:

Introduction (1:1-13)
Jesus in Galilee (1:16-8:26)
Journey Galilee to Jerusalem (8:27-10:52)
Jesus in Jerusalem (11:1-13:37)
Passion and Resurrection (14-16:18)

There are many outlines of Mark out there. Some are very long and detailed, allowing the reader little organizational perspective on the whole. Some draw the lines in different places. For example, some outlines place 1:14-15 in the first section, as a summary of the preface. Others place 1:14-15 in the second section, as an introduction to Jesus’ Galilean ministry. At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter. The goal is simply to “see” the scope of the gospel: its plot and movement, which is deliberate, chronological and geopraphical.

The value of an outline is the ability to see the sweep of the entire book. In Mark, that sweep moves us gracefully from Jesus’ ministry up north in Galilee, to his Judean ministry, then crucifixion and resurrection.

IMG_2216-0.PNG

Another Outline of Mark

  1. Introduction (1:1-13)

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

  1. The beginning of the Good News: Forerunner John the Baptist (1:1-8)
    B. Jesus’ Baptism (1:9-11)
    C. Jesus’ Temptation (1:12-13)
  2. The Ministry of the Hidden Messiah in Galilee (1:16-8:26)

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee…

  1. The beginning of the Galilean ministry (1:14-15)
    B. The Call of the Four (1:16-20)
    C. Exorcisms and Healings in Capernaum
    D. More Healing, and Conflict Stories (2:1-3:6)
    E. Parables (4)
    F. More Healing Miracles (5 and 7)
    G. Double Tradition:

6:30-7:37 8:1-26

Feeding 5,000 Feeding 4,000
Crossing the Lake Crossing the Lake (8:10)
Debate with Pharisees Debate with Pharisees
Healing Healing

III. Journey to Jerusalem (8:27-10:52)

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi…

  1. Gradual Revelation of Suffering (Predictions: 8:31, 9:31, 10:32-34)
    B. Pattern 3x
    Prediction
    Response
    Instructions
    C. Complementary Material
  2. Hidden Messiah to Jerusalem (11:1-13:37)

When they were approaching Jerusalem…

  1. Judgment in Action (11:1-26)
    B. Judgment in Words (11:27-12:37)
    C. The Little Apocalypse (13:1-37)
  2. Passion and Resurrection (14-16:18)

It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread.

  1. Jesus Prepares for His Departure (14:1-42)
    B. Jesus’ Arrest and Trial (14:43-15:20)
    C. Jesus Crucifixion and Burial (15:21-47)
    D. Jesus’ Resurrection, Appearances and Ascension (16:1-8, alternative ending)

Continue reading: Contents of Mark’s Gospel

 

 

 

 

The Cost of Discipleship – Training new leaders for the Church

By Blair Lundborg

Our ELCA seminaries are doing a great job of preparing pastors and deacons for the changing landscape of the ministry. All of our seminaries have been through major curriculum revisions to help better prepare our future leaders. The Lutheran Church has a long history of providing well trained and educated leaders for ministry. But it’s not cheap.

Before our pastors or deacons begin seminary, they must first complete an undergraduate degree. The cost of a college education has outpaced inflation by 2.5 times in the past twenty years. Many of our candidates for ministry are carrying significant undergraduate debt into their seminary education. A recent study by US News & World Report outlined the trends of the past 20 years.

tuition growth

Over 80% of ELCA seminary graduates carry educational debt into their first call. The typical debt for an ELCA seminary graduate is between $50,000 and $75,000.

There are many explanations about how and why educational debt has skyrocketed in the past 20-30 years. That is beyond the scope of this brief article. Instead, let’s look at what the Church is doing about it and how you and your congregation can help.

The Gulf Coast Synod takes the matter of student debt seriously. The Live On Endowment has named seminary scholarships as the primary goal for annual financial support. For the past several years the Live On Endowment has distributed up to $40,000 annually in scholarships for our seminarians in candidacy. The number of students entering candidacy has grown. So has the cost of their education and their financial need. The Live On Endowment is on track to invest $60,000 in scholarships for the 2017-2018 academic year.

In order to keep up with the blessing of welcoming new candidates into ministry, and the rising cost of educational debt, we need your help. The best way we can maximize our financial support of seminarians is to help Live On grow the endowment.

Many congregations have a special scholarship fund set aside for daughters and sons of the congregation who may enter the ministry. Some of these funds have not been utilized in many years. Can you imagine the impact of pooling these various congregational scholarships in the Live On endowment? This year’s Live On scholarships averaged between $8,000-10,000 annually. Many congregations are not able to provide that much financial support. We are stronger together. By pooling our resources in the Live On endowment we have greater capacity.

Here’s the challenge. If your congregation has a scholarship fund lying dormant consider moving those funds to Live On. Here’s the promise- when a son or daughter from your congregation feels the call to ministry, Live On and the Candidacy Committee will make every effort to financially support your student.

Learn more at the Live On website. You can learn about the various giving option here.

Living in a broken world

By Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop, ELCA

elizabeth-eaton
Bishop Elizabeth Eaton

As I write this the Gulf Coast and Florida are starting the long recovery after hurricanes Harvey and Irma; Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are mostly without electricity and running low on water, food, medicine and gasoline after Hurricane Maria. All of us are reeling from the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas. There are no words. We are stunned almost to the point of numbness.

We try to make sense out of the incomprehensible. It’s climate change. It’s not climate change. We need more stringent gun control. We need to protect the Second Amendment. The federal government doesn’t do enough. The local government doesn’t do enough. Soon we’re talking at each other, not to each other.

Natural disasters feel chaotic and capricious. The weather service has gotten pretty sophisticated in predicting paths of hurricanes but is not completely accurate. Tornadoes strike with little warning. Is this just the way of the natural world, or is God visiting judgment upon us? There is human involvement that can make natural disasters more damaging.

The youth group in the last parish I served went on a work-week each summer. We did cleanup and rebuilding after tornadoes, floods and hurricanes in partnership with Lutheran Disaster Response and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. I guarantee that it was the poor whose homes were in the floodplain, who did not have the resources to rebuild and had to depend on volunteer labor.

Evil perpetrated by human beings is a great mystery. How can a good and just God allow evil? Why would a man open fire on concertgoers, killing 59 and wounding more than 500? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do good things happen to bad people? There have been various theodicies trying to make sense of this throughout human existence. I confess to you that I have no conclusive answer to these questions, except that we live in a broken world.

Paul wrote: “The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now …” (Romans 8:21-22). Though God created the heavens and the earth and declared the creation good, this is no longer a perfect world.

Paul also wrote: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-7).

Both of Paul’s assertions are true. We live in a broken world—natural and human made, marred by human sin—and we rejoice in the Lord who is near and guards us with God’s peace.

Bishop Terry Brandt of the Eastern North Dakota Synod reminded us of this truth and this tension in his sermon to the Conference of Bishops the morning after the Las Vegas shooting. And he reminded us that when Paul was doing all that rejoicing, he was doing it from prison, awaiting execution after already enduring beatings, shipwreck, hunger and thirst. I wouldn’t describe Paul as perky, but the joy he found in Jesus made him able to live in hope and believe in life even in the face of despair and death.

So, dear church, we pray and lament and trust and hope. We stake our lives on the belief that God’s life, hope and love are not platitudes, but the truth. We are moved to action and reconciliation. And when the next disaster or massacre happens, we do not lose hope because the Crucified One has been raised from the dead.

A monthly message from the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Her email address: bishop@elca.org. This column originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of Living Lutheran. Reprinted with permission.

Lisa’s Pieces:  Creation Care Tips from the Synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team

The mission of Lutherans Restoring Creation is to promote incorporation of care for creation into the full life and mission of the church, working in five areas:  worship, education, discipleship, building & grounds, and public ministry/advocacy.  For some timely tips in these areas, see below:

Lutherans Restoring CreationWorship Get inspired by the Orthodox tradition with this Epiphany reflection or this blog. Having a New Year’s observance? Consider this New Year’s liturgyCreation-focused commentaries on the lectionary are available. A creation-focused prayer is posted weekly on the synod leaders Facebook.

Education The Interfaith Environmental Network of Houston 2018 Kick-off Event on Jan. 7 will include the top ten free environmental stewardship resources for houses of worship. The ELCA advocacy office makes educational materials available on environmental topics.   The online Sunday Evening Conversations on Creation on  Jan. 28 addresses Stewardship:  Caring for the Plants. Creation Justice Ministries offers material, including education ideas, on Environmental Justice with Indigenous Peoples. This lecture by Larry Rasmussen could serve as an adult study/discussion.

Discipleship:  Make use of the “Bulletin blurb” eco-tips (+ verses & quotes) on the synod leaders Facebook page each week. Mindful eating can be a spiritual discipline.  Offer this guide to local foods to members.  These Green New Year’s Resolutions can encourage discipleship. The personal covenant with creation, or the brief personal covenant asks members to commit to care for creation.

Building & Grounds Landscape your property with native plants to conserve water and provide wildlife habitat. Use batteries? Invest in a re-charger and use rechargeable batteries to reduce waste & save money.   You don’t have to throw out coffee grounds.  Place them directly on soil as fertilizer. Speaking of coffee, if you have a dishwasher, unless it is very old, it is more efficient than hand-washing. So, go ahead and use washable mugs for your coffee hour.  Don’t have mugs?  Ask members to donate. Everyone has extra coffee mugs at home. Have more than one worship service?  If practical, use a single bulletin for all services & re-use them to reduce paper usage.

Public Ministry/Advocacy:  The weekly Opportunities to Care for, Learn About, and Enjoy God’s Good Creation features volunteer events in the greater Houston area (see upcoming opportunities link). Plan an activity for National Bird Day on/near Jan. 5.  Look for an environmental stewardship activity for the National Day of Service on Jan. 15.  Sign a petition for trash-free seas or petition the governor of Texas  to support policies to make it easy to go solar.

For more information on any of the above, or for creation care assistance/information, contact the synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team by writing to Lisa at gcs.lrc@gmail.com. The team is seeking additional members.  If you would be willing to serve, please contact us.

Interfaith Environmental Network of Houston 2018 Kick-Off Event

Sunday, Jan. 2, 2 p.m.

Interfaith EnvironmentalThe Interfaith Environmental Network of Houston invites you to their 2018 Kick-Off Event at the University of St. Thomas. We will hear from faith leaders of a variety of faiths on the relationship between their faith and the natural world. There will be a presentation on the top ten free environmental resources for houses of worship. We will recap activities from 2017, and discuss plans for 2018. You’ll get an opportunity to provide your input into 2018 planning via a survey. And, we ask those who can do so to bring some snacks to share for our break-out sessions, during which we’ll get to know each other better.

We’ll provide beverages to accompany the snacks. People of all faiths are encouraged to attend, as are representatives of local environmental non-profits that would like to work with people of faith on environmental issues. Please join us! This event will take place at the University of St. Thomas, 3800 Montrose Blvd.  Metro buses lines 82, 56 and 25 stop nearby.

Please register for this event for planning purposes.  The Interfaith Environmental Network of Houston seeks to empower the faith community in Houston to advocate and act collectively as stewards of the environment by (a) fostering a strong connection between the rich faith community of greater Houston and Houston-area environmental organizations in order to reach shared goals and by (b) empowering their members to advocate and take action on behalf of the environment. Contact Lisa Brenskelle at gcs.lrc@gmail.com for more information.

Sunday Evening Conversations on Creation Continue…

The synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team invites you to a monthly environmental education web meeting series whose theme in 2018 is Stewardship.

Stewardship:  Caring for the Plants that Care for Us

Sunday, Jan. 28, at 6 p.m.

Jaime Gonzalez
Jaime Gonzalez, Community Conservation Director, Katy Prairie Conservancy 

At the January web meeting, we welcome Jaime Gonzalez, Community Conservation Director, Katy Prairie Conservancy, who will address Caring for the Plants that Care for Us.  He will discuss the importance of native plants for biodiversity, water absorption, carbon sequestration, the economy, and creating a sense of place.  He will link the well-being of eco-systems to human well-being. Jaime will also discuss the work of Katy Prairie Conservancy to restore native prairie, “re-wild” Houston with pocket prairies, offer citizen conservation opportunities and a new initiative to encourage residents to plant the “nine natives” in their yards. Jaime will give details on using these native plantings on your property, will provide resources and outlets for getting native plants, and will even delve into the ethics of saving wildlife by providing native plant habitat.

After his talk, there will be time for Q&A to answer your native plant questions.  Please register for this talk, and you will receive an invitation to the web meeting.  Contact Lisa Brenskelle at gcs.lrc@gmail.com with any questions.

Tri-Synodical Theological Conference

Thank you for your responses to the electronic survey in August on the future direction of the Tri-Synodical Theological Conference (TSTC). The TSTC planning team met recently to discuss the results of the survey and your feedback.

Several themes emerged from the survey responses. It is clear that you value this event as an important time of collegiality and networking. Survey results also lifted up the desire for high quality speakers and programming. Over half (62%) of those who responded wanted to keep the total cost of the event between $200-300.

The TSTC planning team shared the findings with all three Bishops and made the following recommendations, which the Bishops support.  They include:

  1. Continue to hold the Tri-Synodical Theological Conference annually
  2. Continue to rotate the event between synods (TLGCS hosting in 2019 on January 28-30)
  3. Reduce the cost of the event by hosting the worship and plenary sessions in a congregation
  4. Provide housing options for participants at various hotels with participants making their own housing arrangements to better manage costs
  5. Contract with a TSTC Program Coordinator to provide continuity for programming, themes, speakers, with each synod initially providing $2,500 for the TSTC Program Coordinator stipend.  This cost will eventually be paid for through the event itself.

We look forward to resuming the Tri-Synodical Theological Conference January 28-30, 2019. Save the date!

The Role of Bishop

By Bishop Michael Rinehart

What is a bishop? What does a bishop do? You would think after ten years I would have a snappy answer. Actually, I have several. “A player who moved diagonally.” Sometimes that gets a chuckle, but it turns out that these days, people know more about the church than chess. “I care for a little over a hundred churches and their leaders.” This has turned out to be the shortest answer that connects.

bishops past and present

At the ten-year mark, it seems like a good time to reflect on this role. I have found, how I describe this, often depends on who is asking. Sometimes the question comes from folks who have no relationship with a church. They genuinely have no idea. Other times, it comes from Lutherans who know what a bishop is, sort of, but are really asking what kinds of things I find myself doing from day to day.

This article is an attempt at a more nuanced answer to the question for those reading Connections, who I assume have a deeper than average understanding of the church.

History

The Greek word for bishop, episkopos, simply means overseer. It can also be translated “superintendent.” You can see the word “scope” in there. An episkopos literally looks over or watches over something. Luther says, if the Bible hadn’t mentioned bishops, the church would have had to invent them for the sake of order.

In the small first century church of the Bible, bishop is virtually interchangeable with pastor. In Philippians 1:1, Paul greets all “Bishops and deacons.” 1 Timothy 3 describes the qualifications for bishops and deacons. Titus 1:5 ff appears to use presbyter (elder) and bishop (overseer) interchangeably.

Jerome (347-420 AD) said that Presbyters appointed Bishops to provide leadership and to prevent schism in the church. In other words, bishops were to provide leadership and unity.

Fast forward to the Reformation, and Bishops are a very different thing. The office of bishop is a public office that is often combined with the civic power and responsibility of a prince. This mixing of church and state is highly problematic. One who must lead with the accoutrements of secular power, has great difficulty shepherding a flock into a life of prayer, simplicity and humility. The Reformers bemoaned how the bishops had neglected the churches and the gospel to tend to civic affairs. So, their context is also much different than ours today. In both contexts, the early church and the Reformation, its apples and oranges.

How could anyone be a bishop if he does not ride a high horse and does not let himself be called gracious lord, which is enough by itself to create a bishop? But here one can see that St. Paul calls all those who offer the word and sacrament to the people “bishop,” just as ministers and curates do now. —Against The Spiritual Estate of the Pope and Bishops (LW 39:281-282)

Nevertheless, the Lutheran Confessions are helpful. They say that the function of a bishop is to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments in accordance with the gospel. In other words, Melanchthon says, the roles of bishop and pastor are nearly identical. “What does a bishop do,” says Melanchthon, “that pastor does not do?” Confirmations and ordinations. And even those, he says, can be delegated out. So, for the reformers, a bishop is simply a pastor with a different kind of parish and a different call.

So, Bishops should preach the Gospel, administer the Sacraments, provide leadership, and work for unity. That’s all.

Today

Fast forward to today. Episkopos is translated and understood differently in the various churches. Presbyterians have a General Presbyter. Some churches have superintendents. Some have presidents. Some have bishops. Even those who use the same word have differing roles. Some bishops assign pastors to churches. Others, like in our polity, oversee the screening and selection of candidates, so that congregations can elect. Some chair boards of religious schools and hospitals.

In our polity, the role of bishop is laid out in the synod constitution. If you want a detailed, technical list of the bishop’s duties, here you go. The list is dizzying:

†S8.12. As this synod’s pastor, the bishop shall be an ordained minister of Word and Sacrament who shall:

  1. Preach, teach, and administer the sacraments in accord with the Confession of Faith of this church.
  2. Have primary responsibility for the ministry of Word and Sacrament in this synod and its congregations, providing pastoral care and leadership for this synod, its congregations, its ordained ministers, and its other rostered leaders.
  3. Exercise solely this church’s power to ordain (or provide for the ordination by another synodical bishop of) approved candidates who have received and accepted a properly issued, duly attested letter of call for the office of ordained ministry (and as provided in the bylaws of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America).
  4. Commission (or provide for the commissioning of) approved candidates who have received and accepted a properly issued, duly attested letter of call for service as associates in ministry; consecrate (or provide for the consecration of) approved candidates who have received and accepted a properly issued, duly attested letter of call for service as deaconesses; and consecrate (or provide for the consecration of) approved candidates who have received and accepted a properly issued, duly attested letter of call for service as diaconal ministers of this church.
  5. Attest letters of call for persons called to serve congregations in the synod, letters of call for persons called by the Synod Council, and letters of call for persons on the roster of this synod called by the Church Council. f. Install (or provide for the installation of):

1)  the pastors of all congregations of this synod;

2)  ordained ministers called to extraparish service within this synod; and

3)  persons serving in the other rostered ministries within this synod.

  1. Exercise leadership in the mission of this church and in so doing:

1) Interpret and advocate the mission and theology of the whole church;

2) Lead in fostering support for and commitment to the mission of this church within this synod;

3) Coordinate the use of the resources available to this synod as it seeks to promote the health of this church’s life and witness in the areas served by this synod;

4) Submit a report to each regular meeting of the Synod Assembly concerning the synod’s life and work; and

5) Advise and counsel this synod’s related institutions and organizations.

  1. Practice leadership in strengthening the unity of the Church and in so doing:

1) Exercise oversight of the preaching, teaching, and administration of the sacraments within this synod in accord with the Confession of Faith of this church;

2) Be responsible for administering the constitutionally established processes for the resolution of controversies and for the discipline of ordained ministers, other rostered leaders, and congregations of this synod;

3) Be the chief ecumenical officer of this synod;

4) Consult regularly with other synodical bishops and the Conference of Bishops;

5) Foster awareness of other churches throughout the Lutheran world communion and, where appropriate, engage in contact with leaders of those churches;

6) Cultivate communion in faith and mission with appropriate Christian judicatory leaders functioning within the territory of this synod; and

7) Be ex officio a member of the Churchwide Assembly.

  1. Oversee and administer the work of this synod and in so doing:

1) Serve as the president of the synod corporation and be the chief executive and administrative officer of this synod, who is authorized and empowered, in the name of this synod, to sign deeds or other instruments and to affix the seal of this synod;

2) Preside at all meetings of the Synod Assembly and provide for the preparation of the agenda for the Synod Assembly, Synod Council, and the council’s Executive Committee;

3) Ensure that the constitution and bylaws of the synod and of the churchwide organization are duly observed within this synod, and that the actions of the synod in conformity therewith are carried into effect;

4) Exercise supervision over the work of the other officers.

5) Coordinate the work of all synodical staff members;

6) Appoint all committees for which provision is not otherwise made;

7) Be a member of all committees and any other organizational units of the synod, except as otherwise provided in this constitution;

8) Provide for preparation and maintenance of synodical rosters containing:

  1. a) the names and addresses of all ordained ministers of this synod and a record of the calls under which they are serving or the date on which they become retired or disabled; and
  2. b) the names and addresses of all other rostered persons of this synod and a record of the positions to which they have been called or the date on which they become retired or disabled;

9) Annually bring to the attention of the Synod Council the names of all rostered persons on leave from call or engaged in approved graduate study in conformity with the constitution, bylaws, and continuing resolutions of this church and pursuant to prior action of this synod through the Synod Council;

10) Provide for prompt reporting to the secretary of this church of:

  1. a) additions to and subtractions from the rosters of this synod and the register of congregations;
  2. b) the issuance of certificates of transfer for rostered persons in good standing who have received and accepted a properly issued, duly attested, regular letter of call under the jurisdiction of another synod; and
  3. c) the entrance of the names of such persons for whom proper certificates of transfer have been received;

11) Provide for preparation and maintenance of a register of the congregations of this synod and the names of the laypersons who have been elected to represent them; and

12) Appoint a statistician of the synod, who shall secure the parochial reports of the congregations and make the reports available to the secretary of this church for collation, analysis, and distribution of the statistical summaries to this synod and the other synods of this church.

You’d have to be crazy to let your name go forward for something like that, right? Sometimes people say to me, “I wouldn’t have your job for the world.” I respond, “That makes two of us.”

Pastor to the pastors

One final thought. My dad always said the bishop was “Pastor to the pastors.” I believe this is true, though not always in the way people think. Our mental picture of the pastor is often the small church pastor making all the house calls and hospital calls. The bishop is pastor more like a a large church pastor. My first call congregation had 4,000 members. Pastor Bill Waxenberg didn’t visit everyone. Couldn’t possibly. He oversaw (episkopos) pastoral care through a network of hospital visitors (lay and clergy), Stephens Ministers and small groups. There was no way to be present for every surgery, home communion and so on. This kind of care can be superb. The whole body works together, as Paul says, rather than running the wheels off one person.

In a synod that has 77 counties/parishes in two states, a chaplaincy model would be impossible. If someone is rushed into the emergency room in New Orleans, it’s hard to be there. Giving homebound communion to retired pastors is not in the cards. Practically, pastoral care for retired pastors is carried out by the pastor of their home congregation, who they see every Sunday. The synod is a congregation of 112 congregations with 160 pastors.

Actually, the constitution never says the bishop is Pastor to the pastors. It says the bishop is “this synod’s pastor.” This means the bishop is pastor to the pastors and to the congregations. A pastor is not just a caregiver, but also a protector. The shepherd’s staff is used to ward off predators. At times in my tenure, I have had to protect pastors from congregations. At other times, I have had to protect congregations from pastors. It’s part of the job. My least favorite, but an important part.

Conclusion

I remind myself frequently that I’m a pastor with a specialized call. It is a joy, a privilege and a challenge. I’ve lost count of the mistakes I’ve made and dumb things I’ve said. I apologize.

I take comfort that my role is pastoral: Preach the Gospel, administer the Sacraments, provide leadership, work for unity. I find great joy in this work. Most of the time I can see through the barrage of tasks to the heart of things. My energy is high, even in the tough times, like hurricane recovery assistance and a death in the family. I am deeply grateful for your prayers and the prayers of your congregation. They mean more than you can know.

Leaders Supporting Leaders – We need your Prayers and Gifts

recovery aheadThe heroic stage of Hurricane Harvey has passed and the disillusionment stage is here.  While many have gone back to life as normal, we have pastors and church professionals who are deep into recovery efforts in their neighborhoods – and they need our support.

We have a list of over 60 leaders who are engaged in daily recovery work. That includes 33 people in critical situations. This is a long-term effort that has the potential to totally burn out these leaders without your prayers, care, and resources.
These are our leaders and we are beside them all the way.

The synod’s Short-term Disaster Team has made leadership care the #1 priority. So far, the team has been able to offer small financial gifts, regular phone support, and face to face visits – but this is just the beginning. As the weeks go by, leaders will be dealing with their own struggles as well as the rising challenges in their community.

We can expect spiritual struggles of faith and a sense of abandonment by God and community, a rise in divorce, suicide, physical and mental illnesses, severe fatigue, increased drug, alcohol use and domestic violence, and huge financial setbacks. As we head into the holidays, this will get worse.

We can surround our leaders with support so that they can stay healthy, get time away, and manage the needs in their own setting. Being in a long-term disaster recovery situation and coming out more resilient on the other side will take all of us to support these courageous leaders.

The Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod and LEAD are working together to be The Courageous Community. You can join this community too. Your financial gifts and prayers are the primary needs now.

The goals of The Courageous Community are to:

  1. Give 100% of the funds received to leaders recovering from Hurricane Harvey. (Over time we may be able to support other disasters.) We use a triage system, ranking needs as #1 urgent, #2 somewhat urgent, and #3 needs support. To date, we have only given resources to the #1 people on our list which means that the needs of some on the #2 and #3 lists may be escalating.
  2. Provide a place for people who want to support church professionals to give. God uses people to do God’s mission. We have a responsibility to care for our leaders who are serving in natural disasters. If you want to help your peers, join now. (For full transparency, we will provide a full report at the six-month and one-year marks to everyone in The Courageous Community and to the Synod Council. Names of recipients will not be revealed.)

We are grateful for those of you who have been praying for our hardest hit congregations and communities. Please continue this throughout the year ahead. In fact, experts tell us this will be a 5-6 year journey.

If you have ideas or resources to offer and want to talk with someone about this, please contact disaster@gulfcoastsynod.org.