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Author Archives: Melinda Gapen

Advent Peace (2020)

Peace. Peace upon all the earth. It sounds idealistic. It seems impossible.

We are often taught to ‘keep the peace’, for example:

  • Don’t cause waves;
  • Don’t rock the boat; and
  • Don’t stir the pot.

Our broken humanity, communities and nations, and entire creation embraces the lie of false and dishonest peace. Dishonest peace proclaims that all unrest, strife, and conflict is unhealthy and devastating; thus, it must be avoided at all costs.

Perhaps, it can be connected to the notion of Pax Romina, or the Peace of Rome, which was maintained by violent suppression at the mere murmur of unrest.

But, this dishonest peace is a significant disservice to all of humanity.

This dishonest peace discourages uncomfortable, challenging but necessary, meaningful conversations.

This dishonest peace discourages the ‘Good Trouble’ caused by John Lewis, the civil rights moment, and the persons who sought and continue to seek reforms establishing equality and equity.

This dishonest peace too often maintains the status quo and its systematic injustices.

This dishonest peace too often protects the privileged while causing harm to the under-privileged.

This dishonest peace too often affords those with authority, power, and wealth opportunities at the expense of those without said authority, power, and wealth.

This is not Advent peace. This is not the peace of Christ.

This is not the peace that surpasses all understanding.

Instead, Isaiah summons us to prepare the way for the Lord, which requires honest peace.

This Isaiah text is a ‘Grand Leveling’, where those in positions of authority, power, wealth, and privilege are humbled while the under-privileged and vulnerable are lifted up.

Honest peace dispels unhealthy, devastating false peace, strife, and conflict through meaningful, respectful dialogue and action resulting in sustainable equality and equity.

In the words of Martin Luther: ‘Peace when possible. Truth at all cost’.

Martin Luther King Jr spoke about the arc of history might be long but it bends in the direction of justice.

Although ‘keeping the [dishonest] peace’ may be more comfortable and secure,
may we seek the honest peace that embraces truth and arcs towards justice through ‘Good Trouble’.
Amen.

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2020 in Devotions/Reflections

 

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Saint Nicholas

As I shared, I have shifted our order of Advent emphasis this morning.

This Sunday is often Peace… but, JOY seemed appropriate for Saint Nicholas Day.

There is a common, disappointing misperception that the Saints (capital S) are Catholic (capital C). Saints, whether capitalized or not, are catholic (lower case) meaning ‘universal’.

However, Protestant engagement of the Saints is different than Catholic and Orthodox traditions. Protestant traditions do not pray to the Saints nor consider them able to intercede on our behalf. Instead, Protestants recognize the Saints as simply extra-ordinary examples of Christian discipleship.

This extra-ordinary discipleship, according to our John scripture, is one who testifies to the Christ Light in hope, peace, joy, and love. In accordance with our Isaiah scripture, this testimony is proclaiming good news to the oppressed, liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners, as well as binding up the brokenhearted.

Whether Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, or even non-Christian, without argument Saint Nicholas is among the most well-known and beloved saints throughout the entire world. Saint Nicholas, in the Dutch language, has been adapted to Santa Claus.

The Dutch, English, and other European immigrates brought their Saint Nicholas traditions to the United States, where Saint Nicholas and Father Christmas have merged into our modern depiction of Santa Claus and the related traditions. Unfortunately, the adapted depictions and traditions have become disconnected from the widely unknown legendary tales of Saint Nicholas. Thus, may we pause and reflect briefly on the legends and traditions.

Saint Nicholas, although extra-ordinary was not perfect. Saint Nicholas was a Bishop and early Church Father, who reportedly had a temper resulting in a physical altercation with Arius, who would be deemed a heretic. Remember: All Saints have a past and all sinners have a future.

Saint Nicholas is a protector and Patron Saint of children.
According to legend, he was traveling during a famine and discovered three children who had been kidnapped and murdered for food. He was able to bring these children back to life. Can you imagine the JOY of these children, their loved ones, and the whole community?

Saint Nicholas is a protector and Patron of virgins, as well as the Patron Saint of Gift Giving.
According to legend, a man had three daughters and no dowry funds. Unfortunately, the daughters were facing a grim future in the world’s oldest profession until a mysterious gift of gold coins, enough for a dowry, was thrown through his open window. This happened three nights in a row, thus providing a dowry for all three daughters to be married. Can you imagine the JOY of this father and these daughters?

These legendary tales of Saint Nicholas protecting children, protecting their innocence, and his gift giving reputation, it is easy to understand him as an ideal embodiment of Christmas JOY.

In Europe, Saint Nicholas is celebrated on his Feast Day, which is often December 5-6.
The traditional celebrations include:

  • Children will leave their shoes by the chimney or front door.
    In some nations, it is common to leave hay/carrots for Saint Nicholas’ horse.
  • Saint Nicholas visits the homes, especially those with children.
  • Saint Nicholas fills the shoes of behaved girls and boys with sweet treats, small toys, and money.
  • Saint Nicholas may also leave behaved girls and boys a small gift under their pillows while they sleep.
  • Saint Nicholas fills the shoes of misbehaved girls and boys with coal.

In the United States, these traditions have been adopted and adapted.
On December 24-25, we often celebration Saint Nicholas visiting our homes, filling our Christmas stockings hung by the fire, or elsewhere, with care, and leaving us gifts. We often leave Saint Nicholas cookies and milk to power him for the long night of travel, but some homes (such as mine) also leave snacks for the reindeer.  

The truth is, whether you celebrate on December 5-6 or December 24-25, Saint Nicholas continues to shine the Christ light of hope, peace, love, and especially JOY into our hearts, souls, homes, communities, and the entire creation every single year with his extra-ordinary protecting of children, protecting of innocence, and the pleasure of giving gifts.

May that Christ light of hope, peace, love, and especially JOY,
shine brighter this day, this season, this year, and beyond.
Amen.

Scriptures were Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8 and John 1: 6-8, 19-28.
Originally preached on 6 December 2020 for Trinity Lutheran Church (Union City, IN).

 
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Posted by on December 7, 2020 in Sermons

 

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Advent Trees: Jesse & Chrismon

Again, Advent is a time for spiritual preparation inviting us to pause and reflect, to dust off our souls, clean the cobwebs from our spiritual lives, and to de-clutter our schedules and lives to welcome the divine house guest into our hearts, souls, homes, and entire creation in Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.

This evening, I will be sharing about Advent traditions that utilize the image or foundation of a tree.

The Jesse Tree
Our first Advent Tree tradition is the Jesse Tree, which is basically a Biblical family tree of Jesus.

I personally enjoy genealogy because our ancestors, their stories and histories, and their culture shapes our current family dynamics and individual personalities, whether embracing or rejecting family traditions and traits.

For example:
John (ex-husband) once announced that he had one question about by family, to which I replied: ‘only one?’. He claimed that the family is typical Irish, but he did not know how the entire (biological) family relocated from Indiana/Ohio to Arizona. I shared that essentially because two brothers fell in love with Arizona and decided to re-locate, their brother decided to join, their sister (mother) would eventually follow, and their mother (grandma) relocated after her husband’s death (step-grandpa who raised my mother). 

Despite internal conflicts, the Irish ‘Clan’ mentality remains, especially for the “Gapen Girls”, which is my mother, sister, and me… BUT, that is enough about my family dynamics.

The Jesse Tree is a popular image in Medieval Christian Iconography, or art, beginning in the 11th century. However, the imagery is scripturally based in Isaiah, which reads:

“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and
a branch shall grow out of his roots.”
(Isaiah 11: 1)

Jesse is not an overly familiar figure in Scripture and Christianity; however, he was a shepherd and the father of David… King David. King David was a direct ancestor, a multiple generationally separated great-grandfather, of Jesus the Christ.

Similar to our own ancestry, this Scriptural ancestry continues to inform and shape the Israelites and Judaism, Christians and the Christian church universal, as well as Muslims and Islam.

The Advent practice of the Jesse Tree explores the Scriptural ancestry from creation until Jesus with assigned daily Scriptures from December 1 to December 25. After reflecting upon it, the participates create an ornament inspired by the Scripture and place it on a display.

The intention of the Jesse Tree is to encourage the participates to reflect upon Jesus and the Jesus Movement (or Christianity) as rooted in the whole of Holy Scripture through the ancestors, their stories and histories, and their culture, instead of beginning with a very young Israelite girl in first century Palestine pregnant with God in human flesh and bone.

I encourage you to discern creating a Jesse Tree this year or perhaps next.

The Chrismon Tree
The second Advent Tree tradition is the Chrismon Tree… not the Christmas Tree.
However, I understand the confusion.

Chrismon Trees are quite familiar, and yet you may not have distinguished these from Christmas Trees.

  • The tree in my home is a Christmas Tree.
  • The tree in the Narthex, or lobby, of Trinity Lutheran is a Christmas Tree.
  • The tree often in the sanctuary near the altar and lectern is a Chrismon Tree.

How are we able to distinguish between Christmas and Chrismon Trees?
Well, there are a few basic, differing features.

A Christmas Tree may be ever-green, but it may also be white or another color.

A Chrismon Tree will be an ever-green, artificial or real, because it symbolizes the eternity of God. God has, is, and will always and forever be.

A Christmas Tree may have multi-colored lights shining brightly.

A Chrismon Tree will be adorned with white lights only. White/Gold is the church color for Christmas.

A Christmas Tree will often be adorned with tinsel, beads, or strung popcorn spiraling around it.

A Chrismon Tree will not be adorned with tinsel, beads, or strung popcorn.

A Christmas Tree may have colorful ornaments.

A Chrismon Tree is adorned in white and gold only, again these are the church colors for Christmas.

A Christmas Tree may have ornaments that reflect your family, memories made, passions, and hobbies.

A Chrismon Tree is decorated only with Chrismons.

Chrismons are ancient symbols or images of Jesus the Christ and his earthly ministry. Chrismons include, but are not limited to: a descending dove, shepherd’s crook, chalice, and a cross. 

The intention of the Chrismon Tree, adorned with symbols of Jesus, is to draw our attention to and direct our minds, hearts, and souls to reflect upon Jesus the Christ: the person and the ministry.

Although the Chrismon Tree is a familiar sight, it is not an ancient tradition.
The Chrismon Tree tradition begun when an ever-green tree was decorated with Chrismons at the LUTHERAN Church of the Ascension (Woot! Woot!) in Danville, Virginia in 1957.

I challenge you to track the number of Chrismon Trees you see this holiday season.
You may be surprised at the count.

Advent Traditions is a Faith Formation resource created by Pastor Melinda Gapen.
Originally published digitally for 04 Dec. 2020 for Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN).

 
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Posted by on December 7, 2020 in Resources

 

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Advent Hope (2020)

Proverbs warns that “HOPE deferred makes a heart sick” (13:12a), but why?

Gregory of Nyssa (335-395), early Church Father, wrote about the hungering soul:

HOPE is always drawing the soul away from the beauty which it sees to what lies beyond, ever kindling the desire for the hidden by means of what is continually perceived. Someone who deeply loves beauty receives what he sees as an image of what he longs for and still longs to be filled with the very imprint of the archetype.

Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses

Hope is an emotional and spiritual hunger, which is always and forever seeking fulfillment beyond the present, beyond the perceived, and beyond the imagination.

For example:
Hallmark and Lifetime Holiday movies are teased for the consistent, predictable plot. And yet, this is a plot that inspires HOPE through depicting desired ‘perfect’ romances and happily ever-after endings. It is HOPE because it draws the individual into a desire for what lies behind and beyond the scenes.

The Hallmark and Lifetime HOPE is not different in principle than our Advent HOPE. Advent is a season of HOPEFUL anticipation and expectation.

  • It is HOPE for the promised Messiah to come to Israel.
  • It is HOPE for the Baby Jesus born into our broken world.
  • It is HOPE for Jesus to return to our still broken world.
  • It is HOPE for Jesus appearing, breaking into our world, and journeying alongside us daily.

Advent HOPE embodies seeking the divine presence of Peace, Joy, and Love composing the Kingdom of God to Come that is here now, near, and not yet fulfilled.

Advent HOPE beckons us to prepare our hearts, souls, and entire creation for said Kingdom to Come.

We should always engage said HOPE reaching beyond the present, the perceived, and our current abilities of imagination in and through our shared baptismal vocations to:

  • Proclaim Christ is Word and Deed;
  • Seek Justice;
  • Act with Compassion and Mercy; and
  • Love and Serve ALL people, especially the most vulnerable.

Whether body or soul, if hunger is not addressed it can cause fatigue, weakness, and eventually illness.

Whether deferred or not satisfied, HOPE can cause us to become exhausted, faint, and heart-sick.

Thus, it is essential that we seize the glimpses of the Kingdom Come in Peace, Joy, and Love to mend our hearts, comfort our souls, and empower us in our vocational efforts and imaginations as we await.

Since our Psalm (119: 48-50, 73-76, 80-82) emphasizes this HOPE in the word, or teachings, of God, may we dwell within said word during this Advent season and beyond. Amen.

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2020 in Resources

 

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Jesus Appearing

Welcome to Advent and a New Church Year!

Advent, similar to Lent, is a season of spiritual preparation encouraging us to pause and reflect. Advent, however, despite these scriptures is more warm-and-fuzzy with less focus on repentance.

Instead, Advent is the preparation of our hearts, souls, and even our world for a divine house guest. Advent beckons us to remove the dust from our souls and the cobwebs from our spiritual lives. Advent invites us to de-clutter our calendars to ‘stay awake’ and focus on God breaking into our lives.

Advent is the hopeful anticipation and expectation, awaiting:

  • the long-awaited Messiah promised to Israel;
  • the baby Jesus to be born in the manger;
  • the Jesus, who is judge and jury, to return at the ends of times; and
  • the Jesus who appears, breaks in, and journeys alongside us daily.

Despite the Advent emphasis on hope, our hope candle lit, and these Advent stars of Hope… the Scriptures this morning may seem to embody fear more than hope.

Isaiah calls upon God to break through the barrier and ‘come down’ to be present with us. Isaiah describes terrifying images of creation and the nations trembling, but Isaiah notes that God acts in unexpected ways, especially for those who wait.

According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus foretells of his return with equally terrifying images of creation becoming dark, stars falling, and the entire creation trembling. Jesus warns that we do not know the time and day of his return, and therefore we must ‘stay awake’.

These Scriptures may seem especially appropriate in 2020. I have witnessed an increasing number of persons sounding the alarm and referencing the Book of Revelation anticipating the end of days due to the civil unrest, economic turmoil, and the global heath crisis of COVID19.

And yet, it may not be as hopeless as feared. Our 1 Corinthians scripture reminds us that we have all that we need for our spiritual lives as we await the revealing, the appearing of Jesus the Christ.

Additionally, the falling of stars and darkening and trembling of the entire creation would be significant signs of the divine presence breaking into our lives and world. And yet, Jesus points to the new growth, new life of budding leaves on a fig tree as the sign that summer approaches. It is a relatively settle sign.

Perhaps, the appearing and revealing of Jesus is less of a terrifying entrance at the end of days as judge and jury to separate the sheep and goats.

Perhaps, the appearing and revealing of Jesus is breaking into our lives and world to journey alongside us in a far less dramatic, quieting presence that is easily missed if our souls are dusty, our spiritual lives are cobwebbed from neglect, and out calendars and lives are cluttered with distractions.

Perhaps, we are to ‘stay awake’ not for the darkening skies, the falling stars, and the trembling of creation which would awaken anyone, but rather the divine presence of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love that can be easily missed. It might be a cup of coffee, a sunrise or sunset, a Hallmark or Lifetime movie, a song, cuddles with fur-babies, socially distanced time with family, loved ones, and friends… and beyond.

Perhaps, it is about new growth, new life that calls us into a new future on the other side that is defined by the divine presence of hope, peace, joy, and love in our lives and the entire creation, rather than simply a return to our lives and world of 2019.

Perhaps, Advent is a new beginning of housekeeping out hearts, souls, lives spiritually and otherwise, and the entire creation staying awake and seizing upon the Kingdom of God to Come in glimpses of hope, peace, joy, and love.

May the Triune God continue to appear, break in, and
journey with us yesterday, today, tomorrow, and beyond.

May we dust off our souls.

May we clean the cobwebs from our spiritual lives.

May we de-clutter our calendars and lives.

May we stay awake to witness the divine presence
of hope, peace, joy, and love
entering into our hearts, souls, lives, and the entire creation.
Amen.

Scriptures were Isaiah 64: 1-5; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; and Mark 13: 24-37.
Originally preached on 29 Nov. 2020 for Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN).

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2020 in Sermons

 

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Advent Wreath

Welcome to Advent and a New Church Year!

Advent, similar to Lent, is a season of spiritual preparation encouraging us to pause and reflect. Advent, unlike Lent, is more warm-and-fuzzy with less emphasis on repentance.

Instead, Advent is the preparation of our heart, soul, and even our world for a divine house guest. Advent is intended to be the removal of dust from our souls and cobwebs from our spiritual lives. Advent is intended to be a de-cluttering of our calendars to focus on God breaking into our lives.

Advent is the embodiment of awaiting with hopeful anticipation and expectation:

  • the long-awaited Messiah promised to Israel;
  • Jesus, as the baby in the manger; and
  • Jesus, as the judge and jury at the end; but, also
  • Jesus, as the one who appears, breaks in, and journeys alongside us daily.

Advent has rich traditions, which we will pause and reflect upon on Fridays in Advent (not Christmas Day). We begin with one of the most common symbols and rites in Advent. It is the Advent wreath.

Do you have an Advent calendar, or another means for counting down the days until Christmas?

  • Perhaps, it is a store brought chocolate Advent calendar? YUM!
  • Perhaps, it is a wooden one with little compartments with daily treats or gifts?
  • Perhaps, it is fabric one with a little marker that finds a new pocket each day?
    My childhood home had a cute little mouse that counted down the days.

Well, the Advent Wreath is our Church Advent Calendar.
It helps us to countdown the four Sundays until Christmas.

Although Advent Wreaths are common among Catholics and Mainline Protestants, it was not always. The Advent Wreath originated in 16th century Germany and was developed by Lutherans. Woot! Woot!

In the 19th century, a German Lutheran missionary (woot, woot) shook the dust from the Advent Wreath and introduced it to the impoverished children he ministered. Why? Similar to all children, these asked daily ‘how many more days until Christmas’. Thus, he used an Advent Candle Calendar with one candle for each day Monday-Saturday and special candles on Sundays.

That is a lot of candles! So, it was adapted into the modern Advent Wreath.

This Advent Wreath became widely popular in Germany during the 1920s and arrived in North America during the 1930s, however it was not popular in the United States until 1964 after appearing on Blue Peter, a popular children’s television program.

The Advent Wreath originated as a personal, family, and household spiritual practice, but it has become more commonly associated with public worship in congregational settings. Whether in private or in public, the candles being lit should be accompanied by Scripture, a devotional, and a prayer.

The Advent Wreath is an evergreen wreath, whether artificial or real.
The evergreen and circle are common symbols for eternity.
The Triune God has, is, and will always and forever be.

The increasing light with each passing week is symbolic of God’s divine light returning to the creation.

Western Christianity, such as Catholicism and Lutheranism, have Advent Wreaths of five candles:
three purple or blue, one pink, and one white.

Purple/Blue Candles:
Purple is the traditional color for Advent and these candles; however, it begun to be further associated with the repentance emphasis during Lent.

Blue is a modern option for Advent and these candles, because it distinguishes Advent from Lent and is associated with HOPE.

These purple/blue candles are lit on the first, second, and fourth Sundays in Advent. These are commonly associated with Hope, Peace, and Love,
but may also symbolize the Prophets, Bethlehem, and the Angels (Peace).

Pink Candle:
The pink candle is lit on the third Sunday in Advent representing Joy (or the Shepherds).

White Candle:
There is often a white candle in the center of the Advent Wreath and is lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. It represents Christ and divine Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love born into our world (again).

However, there are variations of the Advent Wreath.

The Advent Wreaths in the United Kingdom commonly have four red candles, representing:

  1. HOPE for all God’s People,
  2. Old Testament PROPHETS,
  3. JOHN the Baptist, and
  4. MARY, the Mother of Jesus.

The Advent Wreaths for Eastern, or Orthodox, Christian traditions observe a 40-day Advent, similar to the 40-days of Lent. Thus, their Advent Wreaths have six candles and in various colors to be lit on the appropriate Sunday.

  1. FAITH (Green)
  2. HOPE (Blue)
  3. LOVE (Gold)
  4. PEACE (White)
  5. REPENTANCE (Purple)
  6. COMMUNION (Red)

Faith Formation resource created by Pr. Melinda Gapen.
Originally published 27 Nov. 2020 for Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN).

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2020 in Resources

 

Divine Judgment

Welcome to the end… of the Church Year.

Christ the King is a celebration that reflects upon Jesus the Christ as our ultimate authority, which can be observed throughout the entire Church Calendar from his birth to baptism; in his public ministry, parables, and miracles; and from his passion and death to resurrection.

Our scriptures this morning paint an image for the final days of humanity, if not the entire creation. Unfortunately, this image is rarely (if ever) warm-and-fuzzy. These paint a particularly judgmental scene foretelling of divine authority administering justice.

Ezekiel provides insight for the necessity of said divine judgment.

We, fallen humanity, have been scattered by those in positions of authority, influence, and privilege gained and maintained through the abuse of under-privileged and vulnerable persons. This is contradictory to the whole of scripture, thus God “will judge between sheep and sheep” (34:22b). And yet, there remains a glimmer of hope because God will send King David as a shepherd to gather, to feed, and to tend to the entire people of Israel.

The Gospel of Matthew provides insight for the rhyme and reason of said divine judgment.

We, fallen humanity, often serve those in positions of authority, influence, and/or privilege or those who can otherwise elevate our own status.

We, fallen humanity, may occasionally serve those within our inner-most circle of family, loved ones, and friends through a rough patch without immediate reward.

We, fallen humanity, however rarely will:

  • Welcome the Stranger, especially the Under-Privileged and Vulnerable;
  • Feed the Hungry and Give Drink to the Thirsty;
  • Clothe the Naked;
  • Tend to the Ill in Mind, Body, and Soul; and
  • Visit the Imprisoned

without expectation of earthly or heavenly reward.

According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus will be the divine authority to separate the “sheep and goats” based upon the above criteria. Therefore, it can be quite tempting to consider it as a checklist of sorts for gaining favorable divine judgment… but it is not.

Instead, Jesus is sharing limited, tangible examples of embodying our shared Christian vocation to:

  • Proclaim Christ in Word and Deed;
  • Seek Justice;
  • Act with Compassion and Mercy; and
  • Love and Serve ALL People, especially the “Least of These”.

Instead, Jesus is building upon the concept of Stewardship Investment from last Sunday. We are called to invest our time, energy, and resources (financial and otherwise) to again:

  • Proclaim Christ in Word and Deed through Welcoming the Stranger;
  • Seek Justice by Giving Food & Drink to the Food Insecure,
    while Advocating for their Well-being;
  • Seek Justice by Clothing the Naked & Sheltering Homeless,
    while Advocating for their Well-being;
  • Act with Compassion and Mercy while Tending to those Suffering
    in Mind, Body, or Soul; and
  • Love ALL People, Serve those in Any Need, and
    Build Relationships with the Imprisoned.

Similarly, it may be tempting to utilize this scripture for judging and dividing persons and communities into the “sheep and sheep” of the “sheep and goats”.

I confess. I have persons and even communities that I would condemn to hellfire.

I am confident persons/communities have me on their ‘condemn to hellfire’ list.

And yet, Ezekiel and Jesus do not hesitate to emphasize that we, fallen humanity, lack the ability and the knowledge to be said authority, judge, and jury. The all-loving, all-merciful, and grace-filled Triune God is the divine authority, judge, and jury… for our sake, for the sake of our neighbors and the entire creation:
Thanks be to God.

May we embody our shared, baptismal Christian vocations;
May we embody Jesus’ example of loving service;
May we resist the temptation to be judge, jury, and the ultimate authority; and
May the Holy Spirit transform us as need.
Amen.

The Scriptures were Ezekiel 34: 11-16, 20-24 and Matthew 25: 31-46.
Originally preached 22 Nov. 2020 for Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN).

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2020 in Sermons

 

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Stewardship Investment

This is a ‘Stewardship Sunday’ of sorts, because Matthew 25 is a scripture about slaves/servants, who are entrusted to manage the property of their master, how they do so, and their reward.

As a Millennial, I have heard us criticized for not being involved in organizations or institutions.
I have had conversations with persons of previous generations about possible reasons for this.

One reason is that Millennials expect a return on our investment, which may sound selfish until it is explored a little deeper. When a millennial invests our time, energy, and resources, we expect a return on investment but it does not necessarily benefit the individual personally.

For example, I know GenX and Millennial persons who are involved in service organizations but these organizations are seemingly not fulfilling their missions. The GenX and Millennial persons struggle with their investment of time and energy in meetings, as well as their investment of financial resources in dues, without bearing witness to a return on said investments, not personally but to the community. This is similar to the slave/servant with one talent, who hides it and thus no return on investment.

Ourselves, the entire creation, all that is tangible and intangible, our time, our energy, our talents, our resources (financial and otherwise), and EVERYTHING was given by God for us to manage, or steward.

Thus, the questions become:

  • How are we stewarding, or managing, these gifts entrusted to us?
  • Do we hoard our time, energy, and resources for ourselves in self-indulgence?
  • How do we use our time, energy, and resources?
    Do we engage in ‘keeping up with the Jones’?
    Do we engage in the game ‘He who dies with the most toys, wins’?
    Do we share for the sake of the Kingdom of God to Come?

In Baptism, we commit to seeking justice, acting with compassion and mercy, while loving and serving all people but especially the most vulnerable. The scriptures instruct that this includes sheltering the homeless poor, clothing the naked, and feeding the hungry.

Therefore, we must ask ourselves:

Are we hoarding, hiding, or burying our time, energy, and resources?
Or, are we managing well and sharing our time, energy, and resources?

If we share these our time, energy, and resources, the two becomes four and the five become ten. Thus, we are able to witness the blessing of God manifold.

We welcomed Lutheran Child and Family Services this morning.
We have a history of supporting the Wernle Home.

These are causes, outside of our walls, that engage in the work of the Kingdom.

These are service organizations that use their time, energy, resources and those gathered from the community for a return on investment that is greater than themselves.

These service organizations practice stewardship and our shared, God given, Christian vocation.

It doesn’t matter how little or how much time, energy, and resources (financial or otherwise) one has to share, but when used for the sake of the Kingdom of God to Come on earth, we are guaranteed a return on our investment. And for that, thanks be to God. Amen.

Scripture was Matthew 25: 14-30.
Originally preached 15 Nov. 2020 at Trinity Lutheran (Union City, Indiana).

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2020 in Sermons

 

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What is Justice? and When?

Amos and the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids is an odd pairing. And yet, odd pairings are able to complement one another and offer profound insight.

Amos is a ‘minor prophet’, which is a description of its shorter length compared to ‘major prophets’. Unfortunately, the ‘minor prophets’ are too often under-appreciated in my opinion but I am bias for Micah and Amos are ‘minor prophets’ and my personal favorites for their down-to-earth, blunt honesty.

Amos’ down-to-earth, blunt honesty is displayed through this proclamation that:

  • God despises our celebratory festivals;
  • God does not delight in our solemn assemblies;
  • God will not accept grain or burnt offerings;
  • God will not accept animal sacrifices; and
  • God does not want to hear music or voices lifted in songs of praise.

If God despises, will not accept, and does not desire our festivals and gatherings, our offerings and sacrifices, and our rituals and worship, then what does God demand from us.

In the words of Micah:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and
to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
(Micah 6:8, NRSV).

Amos words it:

But let justice roll down like waters, and
righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
(Amos 5: 24, NRSV)

But, what is righteousness and justice?

The Hebrew concept of righteousness emphasizes being in ‘right relationship’ with God and ‘neighbor’.


We will fail.
We will be in broken relationship with God.
We will be in broken relationships with our human siblings.

And yet, we have the opportunities for repentance, reconciliation, and
healing with God and our human siblings alike.

Justice, even the biblical perspective, can be more challenging to define.

  • The ‘major prophets’, such as Isaiah and Jeremiah,
    tend to paint an image of ‘justice’ as divine punishment
    for our rebellion against God and the Torah (or teaching).
  • Meanwhile, the ‘minor prophets’ tend to emphasis ‘justice’
    as our benevolent actions toward the most vulnerable in need, equity, and equality. Amos, Micah, and the ‘minor prophets’ frequency proclaim that our festivals, gatherings, offerings, sacrifices, and
    worship is WORTHLESS WITHOUT JUSTICE.
    (You might say that said gatherings, rituals, and worship are simply the icing on the cake).

This justice is manifested in a multitude of means.

  • Justice is our benevolent actions to ensure all persons
    have access to resources and needs are met.
    God provides the entire creation and its creatures, including humans,
    an abundance to meet all needs. Unfortunately, we are sinful critters.
    We hoard said abundance in fear and greed, rather than sharing it.
    (One simple example is toilet paper during the COVID-19 pandemic).
  • Justice is when all persons experience equity,
    or fair practices that are a means to equality.
    Equity has been hindered by systems that have benefited the privileged at the disadvantage, expense, and harm of vulnerable persons and communities often based on race, ethnicity, and nationality;
    biological sex, gender identity, and sexuality; age and health; and
    socio-economics.
  • Justice is equality. Equality is not only hindered by systematic injustice,
    but also the prejudice of persons. This personal prejudice includes
    the before said vulnerable persons and communities,
    but can further expand to political affiliations,
    religious adherence or lack thereof, and far beyond
    reaching into every aspect of our lives.

Justice as equity and equality is firmly rooted in the Scriptures emphasizing God’s grace extended to all nations, all peoples, and all languages, as well as the Holy Spirit poured out upon men, women, and children.

This perspective of justice, biblical justice, causes Garth Brooks’
“We Shall be Free” to echo in my mind, heart, and soul.
Simply listen to these lyrics:

This ain’t coming from no prophet, just an ordinary man.
When I close my eyes, I see the way this world shall be
When we walk hand in hand.
When the last child cries for a crust of bread,
When the last man dies for just words that he said,
When there’s shelter over the poorest head,
We shall be free.

When the last thing we notice is the color of skin,
And the first thing we look for is the beauty within;
When the skies and oceans are clean again,
Then we shall be free.

We shall be free, we shall be free.
Stand straight, walk proud, ’cause we shall be free.

When we’re free to love anyone we choose,
When this world’s big enough for all different views,
When we all can worship from our own kind of pew,
Then we shall be free.

We shall be free, we shall be free.
Have a little faith, hold out, ’cause we shall be free.

And when money talks for the very last time,
And nobody walks a step behind;
When there is only one race and that’s mankind,
Then we shall be free.

We shall be free, we shall be free,
Stand straight, walk proud,
Have a little faith, hold out; We shall be free.

We shall be free, we shall be free,
Stand straight, stand straight,
Have a little faith, walk proud,
’cause we shall be free.

If that is justice, when will equity and equality free us?
When is the time for ‘right relationships’ and justice?

Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow. and Beyond.

The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids emphasizes the urgency for ‘right relationships’ and justice.

The bridesmaids do not know when the bridegroom will arrive to escort them into the wedding celebration, similarly we do not know when Christ will return to usher in the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom to Come. However, we do know that the Kingdom to Come is here now, it is near, and it is not yet fulfilled, but we are called to strive for the Kingdom to Come here and now. We are called to seize glimpses of the Kingdom to Come and expand these through our baptismal commitments:

  • To proclaim Christ in word and deed;
  • To seek justice;
  • To act with compassion and mercy; and
  • To love and serve all people, especially the most vulnerable among us. 

The bridesmaids were divided into two categories:
the ‘foolish’ and the ‘wise’.

The five ‘foolish’ bridesmaids were ill-prepared for the evening, for they did not bring extra oil for their lamps. Thus, when these bridesmaids heard the bridegroom was approaching, they were unable to light their lamps and were forced to seek an open shop from which to purchase the oil. The consequence for their lack of preparation was missing the wedding celebration.

The five ‘wise’ bridesmaids were prepared for the evening, for they did bring extra oil for their lamps. Thus, when these bridesmaids heard the bridegroom was approaching, they were able to light their lamps. The consequence for their preparations was attending the wedding celebration, or the Kingdom fulfilled.

Similar to these bridesmaids, we are divided. In fact, we are in a time, a nation of significant divisiveness that hinders our ‘right relationships’ with God and our human siblings, as well as seeking and doing justice. And yet, we always are foolishly confident that our own perspectives and actions are the appropriate preparations for the Kingdom to Come. Thus, we presume ourselves to be the ‘wise’ bridesmaids. Why?

Honestly, none of us want to be ‘foolish’.

  • How often are we given the chance to right our relationship with God
    and human siblings, but do not?
  • How often are we given the ability to seek and to do justice, but do not? 

It is far more often than we are willing to admit to ourselves, our human siblings, and God. 

The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids reminds us that we do not know when Christ will return to usher us as individuals, communities, humankind, and all of creation into the Kingdom fulfilled. Meanwhile, we do know that God has for centuries, is currently, and will continue to demand ‘right relationships’ and justice.

We have, are, and will continue to be called to seize opportunities to expand upon glimpses of the Kingdom to Come yesterday, today, tomorrow, and beyond. Therefore, we are called to be the ‘wise’ bridesmaids prepared and ready to light our lamps and shine Christ forth into the world.

And yet, we often seat on our comfy couches and in our lazy chairs thinking
“not today, but one day I will restore ‘right relationships’ and will seek and
do justice, but it will have to wait until I have more time, energy, or resources, and thus more convenient for me”?

We are called into ‘right relationship’ and
the challenging work of justice NOW!

We are called to love and serve all persons, especially the vulnerable, NOW!

Are we prepared, ready to shine the Christ light in word and deed,
in ‘right relationships’ and justice?

Or are we too tired, perhaps too lazy, to shine said Christ light in our lives,
communities, and beyond? 

In the title of another Garth Brooks’ song,
“What if Tomorrow Never Comes”.

May we be prepared.
May we be ready.

May we repent, reconcile, and heal
our relationships with God and our human siblings alike.

May we seize opportunities to seek and do justice in compassion,
mercy, love, service, and advocacy.
Amen.

The scriptures were Amos 5: 18-24 and Matthew 25: 1-13.
Originally preached for 11-08-2020 and Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN).

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2020 in Sermons

 

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Fall and All Saints

Welcome to the mid-point of Allhallowstide!

Allhallowstide is a three-day celebratory festival to honor the saints of all times and all places: past, present, and future.

It began yesterday with All Hallows’ Eve (or Halloween).

Today is All Saints Day, originally designated for the canonized capital “S” Saints.

Tomorrow is All Souls Day, honoring the lower case “s” saints who were, who are, and who will be. 

Death is not often celebrated among those who remain behind for our grief and the memories that will never be weigh heavily upon our minds, hearts, and souls.

Death is associated with the unknown, the fearful, and the permanent.

Although death is one of only two guarantees in this life, it ALWAYS feels unnatural.

But as I stated this is a three-day joyful celebration of the dead rather than a sober affair. 

We can learn from nature and its changing of the seasons. Autumn is a beautiful reminder of death.

Fall teaches us how beautiful it can be to let go of our leaves, preparing ourselves for a death of sorts.

These leaves can be arrogance and pride, hate and anger, pain and resentment, guilt and shame,

toxic relationships and unrealistic expectations, and beyond.

Fall prepares us for a death of sorts that is mirrored throughout creation in Winter.

It is a death to our old selves.

It is a death to self-centeredness and projecting a false self to the world.

It is a death to seeking harm to or fostering ill-will towards another in mind, body, and soul.

It is a death to harming ourself in mind, body, and soul in our desire to
harm or in ill-will towards another.

It is a death to relationships, situations, and expectations that do not serve God’s Kingdom to Come.

It is THIS death that prepares us for a resurrection into new life in the Spring.

Our First John scripture reminds us that we are the children of God, and thus will inherit the Kingdom to Come which is here now, near, and not yet fulfilled. The image of being made pure connects to Baptism and the Revelation scripture (not included in this flashback 1940s service). The particular Revelation verse reads:

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and people and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands”. (Revelation 7:9)

A few Sundays ago, I noted that the traditional practice of Baptism included the individual stripping naked, walking through and being completely submerged in the water to symbolize their drowning death, and came through the water onto the other side where they would be greeted by the Baptized community and clothed in a white robe. The white robe was a sign of having been made clean, or pure, through said waters of Baptism, and thus among the great multitude clothed in Jesus the Christ.

Revelation reminds us that the children of God, this great multitude, includes persons from all nations, tribes, peoples, and languages gathered together at the foot of the divine throne, gathered together in worship and praise.

This means there is no space for nationalism among God’s people.

This means there is no space for racism among God’s people.

And yet, racism and nationalism has historically and continues to remain among God’s people.

Revelation continues with language in our Holy Communion rite, which proclaims that salvation, blessing, glory, and power belongs to the Triune God alone.

This means that salvation and blessing does not come through a person or institutions,
including religious or political leaders, denominations or governments.

This means that said glory is not to be given to a person or institutions,
including again religious or political leaders, denominations or governments.

This means that said power and authority does not belong to a person or institutions,
and yet again including religious or political leaders, denominations or governments.

Ultimately, our First John and Revelation scriptures are about a hope that is rooted in the Triune God, who may be active among persons and institutions but cannot be substituted by said persons and institutions.

We are called to follow the example of the Fall trees letting go of all that hold us captive, including:

Arrogance and Pride;

Hate and Anger;

Pain and Resentment;

Guilt and Shame;

Toxic Relationships and Unrealistic Expectations;

Nationalism and Racism;


and Beyond…

We are called to prepare for a winter death:

to our old self, self-centeredness, and projecting a false self to the world;

to seeking harm to or fostering ill-will towards another in mind, body, and soul;

to harming ourself in mind, body, and soul in our desire to harm or foster ill-will towards another;

and to relationships, situations, and expectations that do not serve God’s Kingdom to Come.

We are called to embrace the impending Spring resurrection:

Into the persons and community that God has, is, and will continue to call us to be;

Into the Kingdom of God that is here now, near, and not yet fulfilled; and

Into the company of all the Saints and saints gathered around the divine throne and the Lamb.

Jesus offered a glimpse of said Kingdom to Come in the Beatitudes, which was a manifesto for his disciples. The Kingdom to Come is where the needs of all will be met while seeking:

to comfort, or more accurately advocate for, the poor;

to comfort those who mourn;

to be meek peacemakers when possible;

to hold-fast to righteousness; and

to proclaim and reflect Christ in word and deed.

Although we will fail, we have the example of the Saints and saints, who:

proclaimed Christ in word and deed;

sought justice;

acted with compassion and mercy; and

loved and served all people, but especially the most vulnerable.

Martin Luther defined a ‘saint’ as a ‘forgiven sinner’, this includes each one of us.

And I want to share a quote I read and LOVE:

Every Saint has a past and every sinner has a future.

We all have a past, perhaps we can let go of any negative hold it has upon us.

We all have a future, perhaps we can embrace it fully in mind, body, and soul.

May we remember that death does not have the final word. The Triune God does.

Amen.

Scriptures were Revelation 7: 9-17; 1 John 3: 1-3; and Matthew 5: 1-12.

Originally preached 1 November 2020 at for Trinity Lutheran Church (Union City, Indiana)  

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2020 in Uncategorized