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Author Archives: Melinda Gapen

Social Net-Worth: Pride and Humility

Our Scriptures are well paired, which offers wisdom about the relationship of pride and humility.

Our Scriptures, similar to first-century Palestine, are rooted in a honor-shame culture. The ‘worth’ of a person was determined by ‘honor points’ gained through family, profession, reputation, and actions minus the ‘shame points’ gained again through family, profession, reputation, and actions. This net-worth would determine your social status, social circles, and your literal place at the table; thus, the table became a visual of the social hierarchy.

Our Scriptures caution about being overly confident in our social net-worth, our importance, and the pride that accompanies it.

According to our Sirach text, pride was not created for humans and pride is sin begun in turning from and forsaking God. Perhaps, this is because pride is the foundation of self-centeredness (Martin Luther’s definition of sin), narcissism, and the God-complex.

While in our Gospel, Jesus is invited to the home of a Pharisee, and more-so a leader of the Pharisees on the sabbath. We can rest assured that the host was of honorable status, as well as his gathered guests. The host and the guests are carefully watching Jesus, because although he was a profound teacher of the Torah, he was also ‘taunted’ by performing works on the sabbath and his association with the shameful tax collectors, prostitutes, and those other “sinners”.

But, Jesus was also watching them. He noticed that the guests were continually choosing seats of ‘honor’ for themselves, thus Jesus begins to teach about pride echoing Proverbs 25:6-7:

Do not put yourself forward in the King’s presence
or stand in the place of the great;

for it is better to be told “Come up here”
than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.

Jesus is teaching the importance of humility above pride, and yet this teaching has always bothered me because it can promote a false and manipulative humility. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2019 in Sermons

 

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Justice as Worship

Our Scriptures, again, are rooted in the seeking of justice but not as a baptismal commitment alone.

Our Presiding Bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, has four statements that have defined her call:

  1. We are Church.
  2. We are Church Together.
  3. We are Lutheran.
  4. We are Church for the Sake of the World.

But, what does this mean? How do we define the ‘Church’?

Is the ‘Church’ this building, this sanctuary, with our candles and pews, our lectern and pulpit, and our altar and stained-glass windows?

Is the ‘Church’ this 60-ish minute worship service with our liturgy and music, our Scriptures and preaching, and our sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion?

Honestly, if you answered “yes” to any of the above, you are wrong.

WE are Church.
WE are Church together.

Church, by definition, is the people who are gathered together to be nourished in the WORD, sustained in the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, and renewed in the Confession and Absolution of Sin that leads to repentance.

We cannot do Church alone.

WE are Church.

WE are Church Together beyond Trinity Lutheran, beyond the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), beyond Lutheranism, for it encompasses all the faithful from all times and all places.

WE are Lutheran.
We gather and experience our lives together through Lutheran-colored glasses.

WE are Church for the Sake of the World, which returns me to our Scriptures.

If we are the Church together, what is our purpose/mission for the sake of the world?
Justice. Justice is the worship that is appropriate for and worthy of God. 

Isaiah instructs us to stop pointing the finger, to stop speaking evil, to feed the hungry, and to satisfy the needs of the afflicted, and thus the most vulnerable. Justice.

The Psalm reminds us that God is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love BUT will provide vindication and justice for the oppressed, and thus the most vulnerable. Again, Justice.

Jesus is preaching in the synagogue, during worship, on the Sabbath, when he pauses to release a woman who has been oppressed by an illness for 18 years. Again, Justice.

The “good”, the “righteous”, the “lawful” Jewish community rebukes Jesus for administering said justice, because it was the Sabbath, a day for rest and restoration without “work”.

Meanwhile, the “bad”, the “unrighteous”, the “unlawful” Jewish community rejoices, perhaps because of Jesus rebuking the “righteous” but perhaps it was because they recognized the healing and restoration of this woman, and therefore the justice.

Micah 6:8 reminds us that ALL God requires of us is to seek justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.

The whole of the Prophets echo that our worship services, our reputation as “good” people of God (for us, “good Christians”), and our ability to uphold the Torah (teaching, law) is pointless and invalid if our worship is not  appropriate for and worthy of God.

This worship is NOT about our physical location and setting.

This worship is NOT about our worship services.

This worship is NOT about the worthiness, or better yet unworthiness, of those gathered.

This worship is about SEEKING JUSTICE for the most vulnerable.
Thus, it is about our lives OUTSIDE OF THESE WALLS AND THOSE DOORS and how it affects the most vulnerable.

Martin Luther stated:
God does NOT need your good works, but your neighbor does.

Anytime we live into our baptismal commitments:
to proclaim Christ in word and, especially, deed;
to act with compassion and mercy; and 
to love and serve all people, but particularly the vulnerable, 
then we are seeking justice.

Are we offering a worship that is appropriate for and worthy of God?

WE are Church.

WE are Church Together.

WE are Lutheran.

WE are Church for the sake of the world  by seeking THE Justice that is THE Worship worthy of God. Amen.

Scriptures were Isaiah 58:9b – 14; Psalm 103:1-8; Hebrews 12: 18-29; and Luke 13:10-17.
Originally preached on 25 August 2019 at Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN).

 

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2019 in Sermons

 

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Sanctuary Church: CWA Reflection

I resonate with Martin Luther in moments such as this, for Luther was known to address concerns due to the demands of the people rather than from his own interests/passions. If my own interests/passions were leading the Church-Wide Assembly reflections, I would not begin with the “Sanctuary” decision…
But I will expand on that later. Let us not put the cart before the horse.

On Sunday (Aug. 11 – Sermon), I noted that that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and specifically the Church-Wide Assembly Voting Members in certain locations would have some explainin’ to do.

I was a voting member. I was also one asked to explain.
[I offer for those so inclined, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton’s Talking Points.]

On Monday morning, I received an email that the ELCA “Sanctuary” decision disturbed a household and ‘how can the church feel that we are above the law?’.

Thus, I thought it might be best to simply share the relatively brief response I wrote, although I realize it does not begin to do justice to the complicated topic.

Please note: None of the proposed action is illegal or unlawful. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on August 18, 2019 in Church Wide Reflections

 

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Seeking Justice, Speaking Truth to Power

We have an uncomfortable theme echoed throughout the whole of scripture, but highlighted this morning. That theme is “seeking justice, speaking truth to power”.

“Seeking justice” is one of our baptismal promises, but in the words of Luther:
‘What does this mean?’.

Our Psalm poses the same question in a cosmic drama, involving God before a panel of gods or spiritual beings. God, in an accusative tone, inquires:

  • When will YOU stop judging unjustly?
  • When will YOU stop favoring the wicked?

Honestly, God asks us these same questions.

God, then, instructs the panel and humankind about the proper use of our time, energy, talents, and treasures. In short, to seek justice by

  1. saving the vulnerable;
  2. defending the vulnerable; and
  3. rescuing and releasing the vulnerable from the hands of their oppressors.

Those, including ourselves, with power, authority, and privilege have the call and responsibility to seek justice for the vulnerable.

Those, including ourselves, who benefit from the abuse, oppression, or dehumanization of another, have the call and responsibility to confess AND to repent.

Unfortunately, in order to answer the call and embrace our responsibilities, our eyes, ears, and hearts must be exposed to the truth.

Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, understood that the political powers, their prophets, the religious authorities, and the people (including ourselves) do not desire the truth. We prefer the sunshine and rose filled illusions provided by the false prophets. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on August 18, 2019 in Sermons

 

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Where Treasure and Heart Rests

The author of the Gospel according to Luke has been long accused of being anti-wealth and anti-money which is not only counter-cultural, although it certainly is, but it also is irrational because money is required for our basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter plus the extras. Within the church, that translates to the building and its maintenance, the worship, the pay of staff, which I am grateful, and our programming.

This accusation has long shone a spotlight on the tension of speaking finances within the church, but especially during a stewardship drive, or worse a capital campaign.

Yet, this accusation of the author is unfounded. The author does not oppose the tool of material resources, particularly for the sake of advancing the kingdom of God in all times and places. In fact, this is the Gospel that addresses how Jesus’ earthy ministry was funded… and it was wealthy women.

But, this author does reject the misuse, mismanagement, and hoarding of resources.

Our scripture this morning is infamous:
“Where your treasure is, there too is your heart”. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2019 in Sermons

 

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Sin Boldly… Pray Boldly

“Sin Boldly” is perhaps the most infamous Luther quote with the exception of “Here I Stand”. Yet, it is unfortunately removed from its context and often misunderstood.

On August 1, 1521, Martin Luther wrote to Philip Melanchton, whose contributions to the Protestant Reformation and its Lutheran tradition is undeniable. Melanchton was the ‘soft footed’ reformer who attended conversations with the Catholic Church on behalf of the ex-communicated Martin Luther, who feared execution. Melanchton was well-written, mild mannered, and a systematic theologian who provided the future Lutheran tradition with its own confessional writings.

In this letter, Luther wrote the following to Melanchton, his friend and colleague:

If you are a preacher of grace, then preach a true and not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly (or bravely), but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. As long as we are here [in this world] we have to sin. This life is not the dwelling place of righteousness, but, as Peter says, we look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. It is enough that by the riches of God’s glory we have come to know the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day. Do you think that the purchase price that was paid for the redemption of our sins by so great a Lamb is too small? Pray boldly – you too are a mighty sinner.

Martin Luther taught that ‘sin’ is being curved in on the self, which is a condition of our being and not necessarily our poor actions. Therefore, we are always in a state of sin for our focus and intentions are never purely spent on God or Christ reflected in our neighbor, particularly the most vulnerable among us.

Since sin is a constant state of being, the sins of fornication and murder mentioned are not the literally acts of sex outside of marriage and murder alone. The sin of fornication would be the lustful thoughts, glazes, or acts while the sin of murder would be any thought, word, or action that ignores, criticizes, or harms a person in body, mind, or soul. Thus, Luther’s assertion that our shadow side (sinful nature) commits “fornication and murder a thousand times a day” may not be an exaggeration.

Luther understood this shadow side of humanity, which should be acknowledged and not hidden.

The shadow side is always present, yet always forgiven by the pure grace of God.

The truer the shadow side the truer the grace that is needed and appreciated.

Remember, Sin boldly… but pray more boldly – you too are a mighty sinner.

But, may we pray and act more boldly for the sake of our neighbors, the world, and all creation. Amen.

 
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Posted by on August 1, 2019 in Newsletter Articles

 

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Sodom: a Disturbing Tale of Inhospitality

We have been on a multiple week journey that concludes today, but in an intense, dramatic, and quite disturbing tale.

Lets pause and take a quick glance back.

A lawyer, like us, asks Jesus to define who is our neighbor in order to justify his lack of care and hospitality towards another, especially if they look, sound, act, think, believe, and/or love differently than us.

Jesus’ response is the parable of the Good Samaritan, confirming that we are to love ALL people and, according to the Gospel of John, it is as Jesus first loved us. (sermon)

Then, we have examples of hospitality through the traditional means of Abraham and Martha, who greeted, invited, provided safe rest, and prepared food. We also had the less traditional hospitality of Mary dwelling, undistracted, in the presence of her guest. (sermon)

Hospitality, or the welcoming of the stranger, was of the up-most importance in the Ancient Near East. Again, it did not matter if you were Greek, Roman, or Israelite. It did not matter if you were Pagan, Jewish, or a follower of Jesus. We know this from the number of stories that echo the theme of reward or punishment based on the hospitality or lack thereof offered.

Before diving into this disturbing tale, I must warn you that it includes sexual violence. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2019 in Sermons

 

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