July 9, 2016                         9:30a – 3:30p

St. Martin of Tours Episcopal Church

2312 J St, Omaha, NE 68107

It will be a day study of “The Phoenix Affirmations: a New Vision for the Future of Christianity”.  There will be a break for lunch, and there are restaurants within walking distance.

The book ($10.00) may be obtained from the minister, or directly from There will be no other fees for the retreat.

All are welcome to attend. Please contact Rev. Susan if you plan to attend.


The Phoenix Affirmations, named for the town in which the principles were created and the mythological bird adopted by ancient Christians as a symbol of resurrection, offers disillusioned and spiritually homeless Christians and others a sense of hope and a more tolerant, joyful, and compassionate message than those we often hear from the media and some Christian leaders. These twelve central affirmative principles of Christian faith are built on the three great loves that the Bible reveals: love of God, love of neighbor, and love of self. They reflect commitments to environmental stewardship, social justice, and artistic expression as well as openness to other faiths. Transcending theological and culture wars, inclusive and generous in spirit and practice, these principles ask believers and seekers alike to affirm their Christian faith in a fresh way.

Unlikely Faith

Luke 7: 1-10

1-5 When he finished speaking to the people, he entered Capernaum. A Roman captain CENTURION there had a servant who was on his deathbed.

He prized him highly and didn’t want to lose him. When he heard Jesus was back, he sent leaders from the Jewish community asking him to come and heal his servant.

They came to Jesus and urged him to do it, saying, “He deserves this. He loves our people. He even built our meeting place.”

6-8 Jesus went with them. When he was still quite far from the house, the captain sent friends to tell him,

“Master, you don’t have to go to all this trouble. I’m not that good a person, you know. I’d be embarrassed for you to come to my house, even embarrassed to come to you in person.

Just give the order and my servant will get well. I’m a man under orders; I also give orders. I tell one soldier, ‘Go,’ and he goes; another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

9-10 Taken aback, Jesus addressed the accompanying crowd: “I’ve yet to come across this kind of simple FAITH anywhere in Israel, where the very people who are supposed to know about God and how he works.”

When the messengers got back home, they found the servant up and well.



-Paul the Apostle calls Luke the “beloved physician” (Col. 4:14).

-Luke was a companion and fellow worker of Paul (2 Tim. 4:11; Philemon 24).

-They traveled extensively. Luke was a keen observer of the human condition.

-Like a good physician, he saw people as they were and he loved them all.

-His gospel is the easiest to read and understand, because it

presupposes that his audience is not familiar with Jewish customs and practices.


-Luke was a Gentile. 

-He is the only New Testament writer who was not a Jew.

-He addressed his gospel to a fellow Gentile, named Theophilus.

(Friend of God)

-Luke intended his gospel for the Gentile Christians.

-Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles and likely encouraged Luke to write such an account.

-Luke wanted to give an account of the gospel to a non-Jewish audience who were not accustomed to Jewish beliefs and practices and who lived in a society dominated by Greek culture and language.

-Luke wrote his gospel in the common Greek of the day.

-It was likely written between 63-70 A.D.


Since LUKE was a Gentile, addressing his Gospel to Gentiles… his stories are about Gentiles…

Luke tells a story of great faith, but from an unlikely character

This is a story about a ROMAN CAPTAIN who demonstrates a faith unmatched even from the people of Israel.

A gentile, roman, soldier… triple threat for being unlikely

UNLIKELY to demonstrate faith.

Typically soldiers are not known for examples of piety, and particularly not when it comes to Jewish religious figures.

This story is typically interpreted as a story of tremendous faith.

But, what is faith? There is a clear answer in the centurion…

He understands his position as a Roman Captain is one of authority… he recognizes authority… and he sees this authority in Jesus. He trusts his judgment of Jesus’s authority to heal so much that he sends a messenger to have Jesus just speak the word and his sick servant would be healed…

The roman captain was not only an UNLIKELY believer – he was also an unexpected.

Jesus is surprised by this gentile roman soldier’s confidence in him…

“Not even in Israel have I seen such faith”


Who have you seen or known who was an unlikely and unexpected believer?

The centurion is an example of great faith… but there is more to this story..


It is an illustration of how God shows up where we least expect God to be–

Jesus was amazed at God working in the Centurion… but, those who read the original account decades after it happened knew little had changed in the world. Rome was still forcing its will on Israel – and here is a story about one of those enforcers calling on this Jew for healing.

Luke fails to mention whether the centurion became a follower of Jesus… Neither Luke nor Jesus seem concerned about that.

The centurion did not express interest in anything more than the authority

He saw in Jesus… and how it would benefit him….

Neither Luke or Jesus appeared interested in whether the soldier became a disciple… —

Jesus just praises his faith and Luke writes about it…


God met the gentile soldier where he was… Not after the soldier became a disciple…

What does this mean?


Pope Francis reminded us of that this week as well.

During a homily at mass last Wednesday at the Vatican, the Pope said that all people are redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice and invited his hearers to meet all people, whether they believe or not, at the place of doing good works.

The fact that he included atheists among those who are redeemed by Christ and invited to do good works shocked many.

But perhaps what we should be surprised at is not that unlikely and unexpected people demonstrate faith and do good works, but that we consider them unlikely and unexpected in the first place.


God is God for ALL people… not just those who adhere to some religious dogma …

God is God for ALL people – no matter where they are — who they are – or what they are —

God is God for and to ALL people.

And that is good news.




Ralph, Margaret N.  And God Said What? An Introduction to Biblical Literary Forms                                                                              (Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 2003).

Ralph, Margaret N. Discovering the Gospels: Four Accounts of the Good News                         (Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist    Press, 1990).                                                         Presently published by Wipf & Stock                                                      Publishers, Eugene, Oregon, 2001.

Ralph, Margaret N. Discovering Old Testament Origins: Genesis, Exodus, 1, 2 Samuel                                                                                                 (Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press,1992).

Ralph, Margaret N. Discovering the First Century Church: The Acts of the Apostles, Letters of Paul and The Book of Revelation                       (Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1991).

Ralph, Margaret N. Why the Catholic Church Must Change: A Necessary Conversation                                                                                           (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2014).


The Great EmergenceThe Great Emergence
emersion, an imprint of Baker Publishing Group
(October, 2008)
Buy from:
Buy from:

Emergence ChristianityEmergence Christianity
Buy from:
Buy from:



Meeting Jesus Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time
“For many contemporary Christians, Biblical scholarship is seen as the enemy of faith. In a personal and highly readable account, Marcus Borg shows how Christians can explore contemporary scholarship as a way toward a far more dynamic and meaningful faith.” — Rosemary Radford Ruether, author of Gaia and God
Purchase:    HarperCollins    Amazon    Barnes & Noble    Indiebound
:    HarperCollins    Amazon    Barnes & Noble    Indiebound
Reading the Bible Reading the Bible Again for the First Time
“Takes the Bible back from the specialists … nothing short of a blessing, even a miracle!” — Peter J. Gomes
Purchase:    HarperCollins    Amazon    Barnes & Noble    Indiebound
Heart of Christianity The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith
“A winsome, accessible, pastoral offering … Borg provides a way for an important, positive, and serious rethinking of the gospel.” — Walter Brueggemann
Purchase:    HarperCollins    Amazon    Barnes & Noble    Indiebound




                       SPIRITUAL RETREAT    

(Location/Date to  be Determined)  


The Phoenix Affirmations: A New Vision of the Future of Christianity”                                                                                                               by Rev. Dr. Eric Elnes, Sr. Minister of Countryside United Christian Church, Omaha.

The Phoenix Affirmations is named for the town in which the principles were created and the mythological bird adopted by ancient Christians as a symbol of resurrection. It offers disillusioned and spiritually thirsty Christians and others a sense of hope and a more tolerant, joyful, and compassionate message than those we often hear from the media and some Christian leaders.

These twelve central affirmative principles of Christian faith are built on the three great loves that the Bible reveals: love of God, love of neighbor, and love of self. They reflect commitments to environmental stewardship, social justice, and artistic expression as well as openness to other faiths.

Transcending theological and culture wars, inclusive and generous in spirit and practice, these principles ask believers and seekers alike to affirm their Christian faith in a fresh way.

We touched on these affirmations several years ago, but now we will have the opportunity to address them in a small group setting. 

Books are already arriving and will be available soon. If you wish to experience this clarifying approach to a deeper spiritual life, let Rev. Susan know you want a book. ($10.00 per book)



Did You Hear What I Said?


John 16:12-15     The Message (MSG)

12-15 “I still have many things to tell you, but you can’t handle them now. But when the Friend comes, the Spirit of the Truth, he will take you by the hand and guide you into all the truth there is. He won’t draw attention to himself, but will make sense out of what is about to happen and, indeed, out of all that I have done and said. He will honor me; he will take from me and deliver it to you. Everything the Father has is also mine. That is why I’ve said, ‘He takes from me and delivers to you.’


Christmas Carol –  Do you Hear What I hear?

Ministers Wonder – Did you hear what I said?

  • Each hears the same words, but receives different messages
    • experiences
    • Filters
    • Baggage
    • Education
    • Culture
    • Geographical region
    • Previous information
    • Prejudices

Then – when shared – the message received is altered – because

Who you are telling

Why you are telling

How you are telling

And your listeners hear your words,              and receive a different message


Each listener is in a different place – thus receives information where they are…

Oral Tradition –

The stories that are collected in our Bible were shared by word of mouth for years, decades, or even centuries before they were written down.

This process of telling and retelling these passages from the religious life of God’s people is called oral tradition.

When the stories began to be written down (3500 years ago) the stories were interpreted by the writers

Scribes wrote these stories onto scrolls for the priests  –

by the middle ages – monks were copying the Bible with quill and ink…

only so many could be completed… and only available to priests – who read and interpreted


1455 AD:    Gutenberg Invents the Printing Press; Books May Now be mass-Produced Instead of Individually Hand-Written. The First Book Ever Printed is Gutenberg’s Bible in Latin.

1516 AD: Erasmus Produces a Greek/Latin Parallel New Testament.Finally, the public had access to the Bible —

1517 – Martin Luther — Posted 95 Propositions for academic debate   concerning the practices of the church…

No reformer was more adept than Martin Luther at using the power of the press to spread his ideas. Between 1518 and 1525, Luther published more works than the next 17 most prolific reformers combined.

500 years ago –

Protested reformation  aimed initially at reforming the beliefs and      practices of the Roman Catholic Church

Failed to reform, but produced a split –                                                               A complete change in the CHURCH –                                                                     The Catholic Church did not DIE –                                                                       But the PROTESTANTs were born

Noted 21st Century writer – Phyllis Tickle –And Lay Eucharistic Minister in the Episcopal Church writer of the “EMERGING CHURCH”

  • She argued that Christianity is currently undergoing a vast upheaval —
  • AS HAS been the pattern – 500 years ago we had the REFORMATION
  • A historical pattern
  • Every 500 years or so, Christianity has gone through “an upheaval,” she said, because the old answer no longer holds true for a large number of people, and the church at large has to accommodate.
  • Five hundred years ago, the upheaval was the Reformation, when Protestantism was born. There are now more than 37,000 different denominations worldwide.
  • Five hundred years before the Reformation, in the eleventh century, the church went through the Great Schism – the church split into Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.
  • Five hundred years before that was the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, and 500 before that was a time scholars call the Great Transition, or Great Transformation.
  • Today’s shift, Tickle said, is something scholars call the Great Emergence.


In today’s scripture lesson, Jesus said                                                                     I still have many things to tell you,                                                                                 but you can’t handle them now.

But when the Friend comes, the Spirit of the Truth,                                             he will take you by the hand and guide                                                       you into all the truth there is.


Could it be that we are witnessing or participating in the Great Emergence – another 500 Year upheaval..?


The church is again      in an upheaval –

  • Numbers are down
  • People aren’t religious but spiritual
  • Traditions and beliefs are in question
  • Old ideas are being rejected      and new one’s emerging
  • Church is an old fashioned concept —

But why?

  • The Protestant Reformation was born from                                                 a PRINTING PRESS that gave people personal access to the Bible –
  • with their own understanding of scripture –

But what could be a factor in the present 500 year upheaval?


A major world and life changing invention —       again —                     may be the culprit –


Computers – Communications – Social Media

Today, we have information at our fingertips

When there is news –                                                                                                 it is world known in minutes

As Bob Dylan sang in the 60s –                                                                   The times they are a changing…      

And  the church again has to change with the times…

Generation X and Millennials   do not communicate the way                               we did 40 years ago…

Were not raised the same…

Going to church was not automatic

Religion came into question/suspicion



As the Catholic Church moved into the background during the Reformation –

The post Reformation church is losing its voice of authority –

The modern church  will not die… but like 500 years ago, it has moved into the background –

As the printing press opened Scripture to the Masses

Computer Technology is doing likewise..

    • Undermining fixed traditions
    • Subverting established authority
    • Leveling hierarchies
    • Pulling back the curtain on fear based                                      theology

This 500 year ROLLOVER reminds us

God can’t be limited by scripture or clergy                                                      but available to ALL PEOPLE


Jesus told his followers —

I have much more to tell you…   but you are not ready to hear it ….

Seminary –  Ministers are told we will only be able to preach or share a fraction of  what we learn…

Not everyone is ready to hear it yet

But as we ARE ready, Jesus said the spirit of truth will:

  • bring us into the light…
  • Will provide the information
  • Will light the path for us..

In other words…

When the spirit of truth comes,                                                                             the Spirit will guide us in the ways of truth…                                                    and give us what we need.                                                                                                        For that we are truly grateful….