Please note that the Phase II event planned for this Saturday, February 16 in Corvallis, has been postponed by request of the area host congregation and cluster leadership. The event is rescheduled for Saturday, March 16. Thank you and see you then!
Three weeks ago I was in Phoenix, AZ with faculty and staff from PLTS and Luther Seminary. There were also a few ELCA Churchwide staff and other guests present. Our discussion was around the needs and opportunities for church leadership in this new age. Saturday evening I flew home and then Sunday I was privileged to be with Pr. Carl Hansen and the congregations of Colton Lutheran and St. Paul of Damascus for worship.
Last weekend I sat with the board of Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, WA. We’re in a search for a new president and so the needs and future of the university were front and center. Saturday I took the train home and then Sunday I got to be with Creator Lutheran Church in Clackamas where Ray McKechnie is pastor.
Next Sunday I will preach at Nativity Bend in the morning and install Pr. Andrew Bansemer at Grace First in the afternoon. The weekend after that I’ll be with our Synod Council in Hillsboro and then the next Wednesday I leave for a week in Chicago with the Conference of Bishops.
A singular privilege and joy of serving as bishop is seeing the church – and world – in action from many different perspectives. As the weeks spread out I’ll be doing Advocacy in Washington D.C., sitting with the boards of two Oregon hospital systems, working with various agencies on Oregon disaster preparedness, visiting more congregations, meeting with Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, Evangelical, Catholic and Queer leaders, and, and, and. The word “bishop” comes from the Greek “episkopos” meaning to “look over.” Part of my job is to participate, see, process and report on all that God is doing in the world.
I’ve been asked recently “What is your vision?” and “Where is the synod headed?” (i.e. “What do you see?”) One pastor said it felt like I was holding back a little. “How come?” That was helpful, and to the extent that this is true it may be because of the upcoming bishop’s election in May. I am wholly committed to the ecclesiastical processes of the synod and don’t want to be seen as politicking or using my office as a personal bully pulpit for re-election. The pastor I was speaking with appreciated my sensitivity to this. They said, ‘Yes. Thank you – but you’re still the bishop. You’re still our “eyes” and we need to know what you see, what you are thinking, and where we might be headed.’ So let me say this once. I have shared that I am standing for re-election. I have a passion for our work and would be honored to continue serving. At the same time, I pray other leaders will step forward for consideration as they feel led. I want what’s best for the synod, and in that spirit I think it is right that you know what I am seeing and what I believe it implies for the next five, ten or fifty years of ministry here in Oregon. Here’s my plan.
Over the next 5 months I’m going to share 5 letters like this one with you. Today I will reflect on “big picture” observations. Next month I’ll share some of the amazing, transformational work that you have been doing around the synod. There’s a lot going on! Easter is in April and I’ll write then about death and resurrection, along with what I see as challenges and opportunities each and every one of us is invited to wrestle with. May is our Synod Assembly. There will be elections for a new Synod Vice President, Council members, a Council secretary and bishop. If the election process allows I’ll share more about my personal passions and plans to carry strategic initiatives forward. If not, I’ll write later in the month. June and July we’ll talk about concrete next steps for the synod, either how I am preparing the office for a new bishop, or what I am doing to prepare for the next term of my work.
So, the “big picture.” What does the terrain look like from 50,000 feet?
The prophet Isaiah in chapter 42, the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5, and Revelation 21 all declare that the former things are no more, and the new has arrived. People all over the synod are seeing this for themselves and telling me about it. There is a discontinuity in our national politics. We have already missed the window we needed to hit around climate concerns. The country is using immigrants and asylum seekers as pawns in some kind of culture war – and they are the ones who suffer for this. As I meet with other faith leaders, sit on hospital and university boards, or talk with you in rural Oregon, the story is the same – change, change, change. Some of us feel our congregations and communities are at significant risk. Others witness to amazing transformation in mission and self-understanding. The question has been called. This is the big picture.
To say that another way I see a convergence of opportunity, need and change. For the first time in my 63 years of life there is precious little middle ground in almost any issue we consider. We respond or we don’t. We rise from death to life or we seal the tomb back up. Not to choose is to choose.
“The former things have come to pass, and new things (we) now declare.” insists the prophet Isaiah. This is easy to say, wonderful to hear and challenging to live in to. That’s the bigger big picture.
And the big picture is grace filled and hopeful. Believing this the Apostle Paul encourages us on in 2 Corinthians 6 saying:
“As we work together with Christ we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says,
“At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!”
Change? Yes. Can it be confusing? Of course. It is also cause for excitement and joy? Absolutely! There is a promise that comes in the midst of such change. For those of us who walk in an uncertain world by faith and not by site, these are the days that carry the answer to all our prayers.
Next month I will share with you some of the truly amazing things I see being birthed around the synod. There is much that gives witness to the fact that, indeed, this is the “acceptable time,” and God is working in our lives in beautiful and mysterious ways.
Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke
Everything about being human – vision and imagination; our health; politics; family; mysticism, poetry and the arts; our economic well-being; religion; joy; social structures – everything and any thing about human health and wholeness is derivative. That is to say that our human wholeness is dependent upon something else. Human health is not a possibility without the health and wholeness of our planet. That’s the something else. And now, for the first time in the 14 billion years of the universe’s evolution, the opposite is also true. The Earth’s health and viability is now dependent upon human choices.
Scientist’s have called the last 11,000 years the “Holocene.” The term “Holocene” comes from two Greek words, ὅλος (holos, whole or entire) and καινός (kainos, new). It means “entirely new.” The Holocene is the epoch from the end of the great Ice Age to the present time. Humans existed long before the Holocene, but one might say we really didn’t become culturally or religiously “us” until this time.
Before the Holocene was a period known as the Pleistocene. Pleistocene means “mostly new” and refers more to rocks than people. The Pleisocene is what we mostly think of as the “Ice Age.” You had to be a mammoth, mastodon, saber-toothed tiger, woolly rhinoceros or something like that to live in those days. (Homo-erectus stood up in the Pleistocene, as did some other homo-wannabes, but they all died off. Only Homo-sapiens made it into the present age.)
The chart below makes the point I want to get to. Do you see the blue portion of the line in the bottom half of the graph? The line is global temperature, and the blue portion is the Holocene. Humanity flourished, grew and developed in these years as the Earth provided us with climate stability. Culture erupted. Agriculture was developed. The great religions all had their birth. With this blue line came the “entirely new.”
Scientists say that the world moved out of the Holocene and into what we might call the “Anthropocene” somewhere in the middle of the 20th century. Loosely translated “Anthropocene” means the “human controlled new.”
Humans now move more rock and soil every year than all the volcanoes, earthquakes and erosion events combined. Essentially every major river system in the world has now had its flow or path altered by humans. Humans are responsible for the fastest period of species extinction the world has ever know. And then there’s the climate, right? You’ve seen graphs like this before. What follows the blue band above is skyrocketing global temperature projections which are already deconstructing the beautiful Earth God has entrusted to us.
But, “What does this have to do with the Baptism of Our Lord?” you ask.
A vital part of our Judeo-Christian tradition is the prophetic voice. Throughout the Old Testament God sent prophets to critique human behavior. “If you continue to do that . . .” say the prophets “. . . then this will most certainly follow!” Human health and wholeness is derivative. The world that I, as a Holocene era grandpa, am leaving to my Anthropocene era grandchildren, will once again prove the prophets right. It is now written. With great effort we might minimize Earth damage, but we can no longer prevent it.
Yet, the baptism of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke (which we read this year) is interesting. Luke pictures John the Baptist as the last of the classical, Old Testament prophets. His “You brood of vipers!” issues an invitation to baptism, and in Luke John’s voice (and so all just Old Testament style prophecy) is silenced as Jesus steps into the water.
Jesus’ baptism is not what I think of as Christian baptism. My baptism, at 5 weeks old, claimed me as a child of God. I was taught that it bound my soul to the promise of salvation and that I would be resurrected from the dead and go to heaven just as surely as I had been drawn back out of the font and put back into my mother’s arms. Luke reports a voice from heaven at the baptism of Jesus, which also proclaims that Jesus is God’s, but this has already been made clear. What is new is a word of affirmation. “With you I am well pleased!”
Jesus’ baptism is different from what I was taught about my baptism. Jesus’ baptism was a) intentional, and b) public. The same could – and should – be said about my baptism, but the emphasis has already been on a different sylabbel. My baptism was a ‘Holocene baptism.’ It assumed stability, a compassionate status quo, opportunity, a basis of certainty upon which to live my life. I was taught that I could never undo what the Spirit had done for me. Jesus’ baptism, though, was an ‘Anthropocene baptism.’ God knew Jesus was headed into a hellish unknown and what was important is that Jesus took up the reigns of his calling and did so publicly – publicly meaning he would be accountable to his vow. With this God was well pleased.
John, the prophet, railed about a crisis. Jesus, the incarnate, joined a movement. Luke, a follower of the Way, proclaimed a shift in God’s presence for the World. This is what I mean when I say Jesus’ baptism was an “Anthropocene” baptism. God incarnate has given the choice to us. Life or death? Jesus chose life, although doing so meant his death. He had faith.
In Luke’s sequel to the Gospel, the Book of Acts, God descends not just on Jesus but on all of us. And God is seen not as a dove, but as fire. Pentecost is Anthropocene. The choice, the power, the possibility, the trust, the hope, the means, are all given to us. This is Luke’s larger assertion. The prophet loses his voice. Jesus takes the reigns. And now we – the human family – stand on the pivot point of history. All that we are is derivative, and that which our humanity is dependent upon is now (today) keyed to our choices and our actions. What has God done?!
“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying,
the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.
And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
A Holocene baptism is a misunderstanding. With Luke in this year of 2019 I will seek to reclaim a baptism like that for which Jesus stepped forward. The Christian life must be a) intentional, and b) public. No more fear. Jesus’ journey as a public figure of intention was also a) costly, and b) misunderstood. I’m trying to get ready for that. Luke will have more to say on this in the weeks to come, but for now . . . for now Jesus has my attention.
My Baptism is an anchor for me. It offers me peace, purpose and a place. God is pleased with me – and you – not because of anything we’ve done or said, but simply because God chooses love. In this love I can look at the graph I’ve shared above. In this love I can acknowledge and grieve what I am leaving to my grandchildren. But in this love I can also choose to risk obedience and hope. This is the part of my baptism I wish to reclaim and in which I wish to walk in 2019.
Lord God, let me never deny the brokenness of which I am author and actor.
But also let me never deny the promise and power of the Spirit
who goes where I cannot go and works miracles I cannot imagine.
Back into the water I go.
Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke
Oregon Synod – ELCA
The Holy Days of Christendom no longer mark the progress of our time. Once church bells tolled the hours of the day, and holidays told the story of the year. There were four Sundays of Advent; 12 days of Christmas celebration, December 25-January 5; and then there was the Day of Epiphany, January 6. This was the day of the star and the Wisemen.
One might long for a simpler, more “Christian” time, but truth be told the Bible story differs from the tradition it has become. Matthew 1 does not speak of kings, but of “Magi.” These visitors were important not because of their political standing or power, but because of their learning and “other-ness.” Magi were scholars, practitioners of “Zoroastrianism” (astrology.) The mystery is that they, through faulty means of revelation, both knew about and came to honor the birth of Jesus while Israel’s own king, Herod, did not. It is a strange and disturbing contrast. Foreigners respected God’s miracle. The government sought to destroy it.
It does not matter by what means you come to know about Jesus. It does not matter who you are or how you worship. What matters is that God is up to something wonderful. Christmas has signaled a new relationship between God and humanity, a relationship of love, vulnerability and presence. The Gospel of Matthew shows us two ways that people responded. One was respect and awe. The other was murder born of jealousy. The core question, of course, is how we choose to respond today. Humility and thankfulness would seem to be the greater gift.
Let’s do that!
Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke
The Oregon Synod staff wishes you all a very merry and blessed Christmas. We value all we share together with you and give thanks for the birth of Jesus. May our hearts have room for that God gives this day, and in the year to come.
Join the fun Sunday, January 27, 2019 from 4-6 PM at Salt and Light Lutheran Church, 5431 NE 20th Ave, Portland OR. All are welcome – of course!
Join us January 21-23, 2019 in Seaside, OR for Spreading Manure in the Sanctuary: Preaching to Enliven Faith.
Taking our cue from the Gospel for the 3rd Sunday in Lent (Luke 13:1-9), we will borrow Jesus’ metaphor of digging around the fig tree and putting down manure to discern how our preaching can enliven faith within our communities. More specifically we will consider Preaching in the Midst of Pluralism; Preaching Across the Divides; Preaching Words Nobody Wants to Hear; and special attention to Preaching Lent and Easter in the Year of Luke. We will dig deeply, use all our senses, consider new sermon forms, and help one another be manure spreaders (even if that sounds messy).
For much more information go to bybergpreaching.org
**Please note that because we are at a new location this year the registration deadline is earlier than in years past. The 2019 workshop registration deadline is December 20, 2018.