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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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Why was Jesus Baptized? Why Affirm Our Own?

As I was scrolling on Facebook, I stumbled upon a post inquiring:
If Jesus was without sin, why must he have been baptized?

I love such questions that invite us to ponder our understanding and engage our faith.

The Gospel accounts agree that Jesus’ baptism was the beginning of his public ministry.

John the Baptizer was the one to ‘prepare the way for the LORD’.

  • John not-so-gently invited persons to recognize and acknowledge their own failures and sins.
  • John aggressively encouraged persons to repent, or turn from their sins and toward the Will of God.
  • Then, John would baptize persons in the Jordon River as a Rite of Purification for their new path. Rites of Purification were and remain significant within the Jewish tradition.

Jesus was without sin to acknowledge; therefore, his baptism was not for the forgiveness of sin.

Since Jesus was without sin, he had not turned from God; therefore, his baptism was not an act of repentance. And yet, such acts of repentance symbolize beginning a ‘new path’ ahead.

Thus, Jesus’ baptism was the beginning of a ‘new path’ that was his public ministry and a public dedication to the path, Will, and Kingdom of God.  

This is profound for understanding our baptism into Christ and our public ministry.

According to our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), as an Ordained Minister within this denominational body I am a public figure engaged in public ministry, including but not limited to:

  • [witnessing] to the Kingdom of God in community, in the nation, and abroad; and (C9.03.a.7)
  • [speaking] publicly to the world in solidarity with the poor and oppressed, calling for justice and
    proclaiming God’s love for the world. (C9.03.a.8)

Although ordained June 2014 with the stole placed upon my shoulders as a reminder of the yoke, the burden of my responsibility as an Ordained Minister, the above public ministry was NOT added weight. The weight of public ministry was originally placed upon my shoulders when I decided to be baptized into Christ at seven.

It is within the Rite of Baptism that one accepts the responsibilities of our shared Christian vocation.

If baptized as an infant or child, loved ones accept the responsibility to raise you within said vocation. 

This shared Christian vocation is:

  • To live among God’s faithful people who encourage us to come to the Word and the Sacraments, as well as teach us the Lord’s Prayer, the Creeds, and the Ten Commandments;
  • To engage our faith and nurture our prayer life, in order to grow deeper and healthier in a trusting relationship with the Triune God;
  • To proclaim Christ in our thoughts, words, and deeds;
  • To care for other persons, the world, and the creation that God has made; and
  • To seek and work for justice and peace.

The weight of public ministry and shared Christian vocation intensified when I was confirmed. Confirmation is our initial public affirmation of baptism, in which previously baptized persons accept their own responsibilities in and dedicate themselves to our shared Christian vocation.

All the baptized, especially the confirmed, share this Christian vocation. It is not the ordained alone.

We all should affirm our baptism and re-dedicate ourselves DAILY whether privately or publicly.

It can be as simple as showering,
simply envision the failures and sins of the day being washed down the drain with the dirt, grim, and germs. Then, re-dedicate yourself to the Christian vocation again.

But, why re-affirm our baptism and re-dedicate ourselves to the Christian vocation daily?

  • We are sinful, self-centered critters.
  • We fail to walk the path of God daily.
  • We fail to act in accordance with the Will of God daily.
  • We fail to live into and bring forth the Kingdom of God that is here, near, and not yet fulfilled daily.

Unfortunately, our communities, our nation, and abroad have and continue to suffer from a lack of dedication to, or worse yet a perversion of, our shared Christian vocation, in summary, to:

  • to proclaim Christ in thought, word, and deed through imitation;
  • to seek justice for the under-privileged;
  • to act with compassion and mercy; and
  • to love and serve all persons, especially the most vulnerable.

And so, I would fail as a public figure, an Ordained Minister, and a baptized and confirmed Christian,
if I did not recognize, acknowledge, and boldly renounce the violent and deadly riot, attack, and insurrection of our United States Capital Building on Wednesday.

  • It was disturbing to bear witness to this event unfolding on my television screen.
  • It incited sighs of lament deeper than words could express but the Holy Spirit alone can understand.
  • It was not appropriate or excusable. It was not patriotic or American.

On Thursday, a friend asked for my thoughts on the situation to which I simply replied “disturbing”.

He asked what I found most disturbing. I replied that I could not prioritize the disturbing elements.

And yet, there is a disturbing element that our shared Christian vocation demands I address.

  • It is the presence of Christian symbols boldly, proudly displayed during the violent acts.
  • It is the twisting and perverting of Christian identity intertwined with American politics.
  • It was a violent flashpoint of Christian Nationalism on full display for America and the entire world.

Our Christian vocation includes reflecting, imitating Christ in thought, word, and deed.

Jesus was not ignorant of the social and political realities of his Roman occupied time and place.

  • It was a time and place of chaos.
  • It was a time and place of normalized violence justified to maintain Pax Romania, or Peace of Rome.
  • It was a time and place of abuses of power to maintain authority at the expense of the vulnerable.

Jesus was not silently compliant.

Jesus opposed the injustice of Israelite religious elite without violent riots or attacks.

Jesus opposed the injustice of the Roman Empire without violent attacks or insurrection.

Instead, Jesus drove out the darkness of injustice with the divine light of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.

Instead, Jesus opposed the injustice in life and ministry defined by mercy and compassion, grace and love, and humble servant leadership.

Instead, Jesus provided a ‘new’ commandment to love one another as he loved his most intimate disciples (John 13: 34-35). Our love is how we will be identified as Christ-followers.

The Apostle Paul would later write:
Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:10)

Hope. Peace. Joy. Compassion. Mercy. Grace. Humble Servant-Leadership. LOVE.

  • These are the tenants of our reflection and imitation of Christ.
  • These are our Christian Identity on display even without visible symbols of Christianity.

Injustice. Abuse. Violence. Riot. Attacks. Insurrection.

  • These are NOT tenants of our reflection and imitation of Christ.
  • These are a perversion of Christian Identity.
  • These should NEVER be associated with Christ, his teachings and symbols included.

And so, considering the state of our communities, our nation and abroad paired with our shared Christian vocation in public ministry, I invite us all to affirm our baptism and re-dedicate ourselves.

Thus, our services in this Time after the Epiphany will begin with an Affirmation of Baptism.
This provides a weekly opportunity to not only give thanks for baptism, but to reflect upon our baptismal responsibilities, Christian Identity, and shared Christian vocation.

May we affirm our baptisms and our responsibilities daily.
May we re-dedicate ourselves to our shared Christian vocation daily.
May we imitate Christ in thought, word, and deed daily.
May we reflect the hope, peace, joy, mercy, compassion, grace, and love of Christ daily.
Amen.

Scripture was Mark 1: 4-11.
Originally preached on 10 January 2021 from Trinity Lutheran Church (Union City, Indiana).

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2021 in Sermons, Uncategorized

 

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Proclaiming the Word

The Gospel according to John is often the favorite among people, thus people are surprised that it is not my favorite Gospel. It might be due to my Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), because it is so different from the Gospels according to Mark, Matthew, and Luke.

However, the difference is beautiful language of philosophy, deeper thinking, and poetry that people love; and yet, this results in difficulty to follow it and to find concrete, tangible lessons to take forth.

This prologue, the opening verses of the Gospel, can specifically be a challenge to find tangibleness to hold on to but it teaches that words are important.

Words have power.

We have been taught, however, that words only compile about 20 percent of our communication while 80 percent is composed of our tone of voice and body language. And yet, words remain extremely important.

According to the Gospel of John and the Christian tradition, Christ is the Word (Incarnated).

This Word brought creation into being when God (the Father) spoke at the birth of all that exists.

But we can become stuck on the meaning of the word ‘Word’.

We often hold that ‘Word’ is simply about what we speak, write, or read and that is definitely part of it. But in the life of the church universal, we understand that the Word comes in three parts.

The first aspect of the ‘Word’ is the Bible or Scriptures. This is words in black and occasionally red on white pages that is the foundation of our worship, fellowship, and discipleship. This is the Word that offers guidance for our lives, which we can read.

The second aspect of the ‘Word’ is Jesus the Christ. Jesus was the Word Incarnate and embodied in his public life and ministry, which we can learn to imitate through the Scriptures.

The third aspect of the ‘Word’ is the ‘preached word’. It is not simply preached from a pulpit or desk on a Sunday morning from the pastor or a guest preacher.

Within our Baptismal Rite, we dedicate and commit ourselves first and foremost to proclaiming the Word (or Christ) in the thoughts we think, the words we speak, and the actions we do. All of our thoughts, words, and actions should embody the light of Christ. This light is hope, peace, joy, and love shining forth into a world that does not always seem illuminated, in a world that far too often seems dark, lonely, hopeless, full of strive, lacking in joy, and lacking in love.

We do not always give thought to our words, especially how our words impact others.

  • When we have and hold negative thoughts, whether regarding ourselves or another, we do damage.
  • When we are disrespectful, rude, inconsiderate, or self-centered (Martin Luther’s definition of sin), those words do damage.

This concept is included in our Lutheran understanding of ‘you shall not kill’, because we are called to not cause harm to another in body, mind, soul, or otherwise.

How often do we think negative thoughts, speak damaging words, or act in destructive means that is harmful to ourselves or another?

This is NOT proclaiming Christ in hope, peace, joy, and love.

Proclaiming the Word in hope, peace, joy, and love in thought, word, and deed is an aspect of being Christ-like and embodying Christ. Unfortunately, it is an aspect that I personally have failed to uphold.

I am confident that we all have and continue to fail to proclaim Christ in thought, word, and deed.
We could all do better.

This week and beyond:

  • I invite us to ponder our thoughts and words.
  • I encourage us to ponder how our thoughts and words influence our actions.
  • I challenge us to ponder how our thoughts, words, and actions impact us, family, loved ones, friends, and even the stranger we pass on the street.

May we go forward with the Spirit of Christmas proclaiming loudly the Word
with the light of Hope, Peace, Joy, Love, and especially Christ.
Amen.

Scriptures were John 1: 1-18.
Originally preached 03 January 2021 for Trinity Lutheran (Union City, Indiana).

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2021 in Sermons

 

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A Grinchy Christmas

Oh NO!
My sister always said I was a Grinch,
but I never imagined 2020 would do it in a cinch.

No services to be held at our church,
but for the Christmas Spirit we still search.                   

This Christmas is different from those past…
Travel to visit family and friends? Not so fast.
Time with grandparent, aunt, uncle, and cousin?
These loved ones may not buzz in.
Favorite foods may too be lacking from the feast,
whether it is rolls, pie, or even the roast beast.

Shiny packages, short and tall,
Bright lights, big and small,
may be dimmer as is all.

Perhaps, you better not flinch,
for 2020 can also make you a Grinch.

If you will indulge me, may I share a story?
It tells of divine glory,
when God broke into our deepest, darkest night
with Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love so bright.

Mary, a young girl with a pure heart not to be ignored,
was asked to birth a son, Jesus, who creation adored.
Joseph was her husband-to-be,
but not the father of Jesus was he.
Jesus was the Son of God,
who among the ordinary would trod.

Mary and Joseph rode a donkey down,
across and through the desert, to Bethlehem town.
And then, the time came for the divine light
of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love to shine so bright.
Jesus was born that very night.

Nearby shepherds, strong and tough,
watching their flock by night were busy enough.
But, the baas of the sheep would hush
as the angels told of God born in human flesh.

These shepherds to Bethlehem they sped
until reaching the babe in a manger as the angel said.
They shared with Mary and Joseph the news
the angels proclaimed about Jesus, who was a snooze.

They pondered the words within their hearts.
What an amazing adventure God charts!

A babe born in a manger that night,
would shine with the divine light
of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love so bright.

On this deepest, darkest night,
this light continues to shine so bright.

These gifts wrapped in paper so shiny
may seem, well, oh so… tiny.

The first candle we light is Hope,
which helps us in the worse of worse to cope.

The second candle we light is Peace,
which encourages us to remain calm and squabbles to cease.

The third candle we light is Joy,
which reminds girls and boys
to enjoy more than their toys.

The fourth candle we light is Love,
which is more powerful than any on earth can dream of.

The final candle we light is Christ,
who came among us in Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love to sacrifice.

So you see, on this darkest night
the godly light of Christ remains oh so bright.

“The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.

It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right.
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
But, I think that the most likely reason of all,
may have been that his heart was two sizes too small.”*

Despite the most wonderful, awful ideas of the Grinch,
he could not steal Christmas in a pinch.

“He HADN’t stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!

And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?”
“It came without ribbons! It came without tags!”
“It came without packages, boxes, or bags!”

And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.”
“Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more!””*

Christmas doesn’t come from a store.
Christmas definitely means a little bit more!

Christmas is Christ entering in the deepest, darkest night
shining the divine light oh so bright.

“And what happened then? Well… in Whoville they say,
that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day!”*

May our hearts grow three sizes too, we pray. (Amen)

With our hearts so big on this day,
a prayer for the church, the entire world, and all in need will you say?

God of love, who is above, we give you glory.
May peace upon all the earth be your story.

Blessed Prince of Peace, may you rule all of earth with justice and truth.
May all the nations with your gift of peace sooth.

Blessed Son of Mary, who our humanity shares.
May the sick, dying, and suffering be in God’s merciful care.

Blessed Son of God, who is Word made flesh, please among us dwell.
May we reflect your light of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love oh so well.
(Amen).

May this night shine forth always and forever with God’s light
of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love oh so bright.

Christ is born this night!
May divine Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love be a light
in Whoville, on Mt. Crumpit, and everywhere oh so bright!

*These are quoted directly from Dr. Suess’ ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’.

‘A Grinchy Christmas’ was created by Rev. Melinda Gapen.
‘A Grinchy Christmas’ was originally performed/preached on 24 December 2020.

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2021 in Resources

 

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Christmas Spirit

Christmas is not a day.

According to the church universal, Christmas is a twelve-day season beginning on Christmas morning.

And yet, the Spirit of Christmas should be within our homes, minds, hearts, and souls 365 days a year.

Advent was the hopeful anticipation and expectation of God arriving into our sinful, broken, and dark hearts, souls, homes, communities, nations, and the entire creation with the divine light of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.

Christmas is the celebration of said divine light of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love busting into our sinful, broken, and dark hearts, souls, homes, communities, nations, and the entire creation. And yet, this Christmas we were reminded said sinfulness, brokenness, and darkness remains as we heard word of an intentional explosion in the heart of Nashville, Tennessee.

Again, Christmas is not a day. Christmas is technically a season.

The Christmas Spirit should be cherished daily by each person, each critter, and the entire creation for divine Hope, Peace, Joy, Love, and God in human flesh and bone is not only born in a specific time and place, but in every time and place.

The Christmas Spirit ignites our ability, willingness, and desire to share said divine light of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love in and despite the sinfulness, brokenness, and darkness within ourselves in mind and soul, our homes, our communities, our nations, and the entire creation.

The Christmas Spirit reminds us that God has, continues, and will forever enter into our hearts, souls, homes, communities, nations, and the entire creation in, among, though, and despite the ordinary.

Joseph and Mary were Israelites and practitioners of Judaism, per cultural and religious custom these parents brought the newly born Christ child to the temple. This was ordinary.

Simeon was a devoted and righteous man, who desired to lay eyes upon the Messiah, or Christ.
Simeon was in the temple. This was ordinary.

Anna was a widowed woman, who often spent time in prayer in the temple. This was ordinary.

And yet, the Christmas Spirit reminds us that God has, continues, and will forever enter into our hearts, souls, homes, communities, nations, and the entire creation in extra-ordinary means.

Mary was a young, unwed, virgin girl in first century Palestine. This is extra-ordinary.

Joseph was a well-respected man, who the angels persuaded to not dismiss Mary and to raise this divine child as his own. This is extra-ordinary.

Simeon is enabled to recognize Jesus as the divine light of Hope, Peace, Joy, Love, and the Messiah.
Simeon proclaims that this child is the long-awaited salvation of Israel AND the gentiles.
Gentiles were the uncircumcised, pork-eating pagans. This is extra-ordinary.

Anna is a female. Anna is an elderly, vulnerable widow. And yet, Anna is a PROPHET.
Anna is stirred from her prayers. Anna recognizes Jesus as the Messiah. Anna begins to prophecy.
This is extra-ordinary.  

The Christmas Spirit is indeed the extra-ordinary bursting forth through the ordinary, but take a moment to note how the narrative ends:

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord,
they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.
The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom;
and the favor of God was upon him.

Wait! WHAT?

The Archangel Gabriel announced Mary will birth, nurture, and love the Christ child, named Jesus.

Joseph is visited by an angel who assures him to trust Mary about her sexuality and to marry her.

Mary visits Elizabeth, whose unborn John (the Baptist) leaps with joy at the unborn Jesus.

Mary sings the Magnificat, which praises God and embraces the ‘Grand Leveling’ or ‘Grand Reversal’.

Mary gives birth to God Incarnate, God in human flesh and born, in a lowly manger.

The Shepherds are visited by angels who encourage their travel to said lowly manger.

Simeon recognizes Jesus as the long-awaited Christ or Messiah.

Anna, the prophet, prophesized about the life and public ministry of Jesus as the Christ.

Despite ALL of this, the Holy Family of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus returned to their home in Nazareth. The Holy Family returned to their ‘life as normal’, well the new ‘normal’ with an infant.

Similarly, we often pack away the Christmas Spirit was the Christmas decorations.

We fail to recognize the divine light of Hope, Peace, Joy, Love, and Christ.

We fail to reflect, to shine said Hope, Peace, Joy, Love, and Christ into our sinful, broken, and dark hearts, souls, homes, communities, nations, and the entire creation.

As the Christmas Spirit is packed away until next year, our lives return to ‘normal’.

Similar to children, we choose to not be on our best behavior until Christmas is approaching again.

We return to old routines and habits hindering our ability to be Christ to others.

We return to old routines and habits hindering our ability to even recognize Christ in others.

And so, may this year be different…

May we leave the Christmas Spirit out.

May we hold the Christmas Spirit in our hearts and souls.

May we put the Christmas Spirit on display in Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.

May we shine the Christmas Spirit upon ALL people, at all times, and in all places.
Amen.

Scripture was Luke 2: 22-40.
Originally preached 27 December 2020 for Trinity Lutheran (Union City, Indiana).

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2021 in Sermons

 

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Light Dispels Darkness

If it had not been previously established, 2020 has been painfully blunt about the brokenness of humanity, our communities and nations, and the entire creation. This brokenness is a darkness, intensifying our sense of hopelessness, anxieties and depression, disappointments, and fears, while bringing forth the worse of our humanness.

This darkness embraces the hopelessness of a global pandemic increasingly impacting communities from small to large, from rural to suburban to urban centers. The hopelessness intensifies with each updated report of increasing positivity rates, confirmed positive cases, hospitalizations over-whelming the medical system, and ultimately deaths.

This darkness fuels unhealthy strife and enrages devasting conflict, instead of meaningful conversations and the ‘Good Trouble’ of John Lewis, the civil rights movement, and those seeking equality and equity.

This darkness embraces a false sense of peace that too often seeks to maintain the status quo and its systematic injustices; protecting the privileged while causing harm to the under-privileged; and affording those with authority, power, and wealth opportunities at the expense of those without said authority, power, and wealth.

This darkness thrives in hatred, particularly the dehumanizing and demonizing of persons in order to justify a lack of compassion. Our polarizing extremes serve to increase tension until persons are divided and sorted based upon race, ethnicity, and nationality; biological sex, gender identity, and sexuality; socio-economics; political affiliations; religious adherence or lack thereof; and beyond.

This darkness dispels the divine light and diminishes our ability to recognize Emmanuel, or God with Us.

Joy is rooted in our ability to recognize God active in, among, through, and despite said brokenness and darkness, but it is challenging while existing during a deadly pandemic, civil and social unrest, and a financial crisis.

BUT, God is with us. God is acting in, among, through, and even despite us in all times and places.

Our Christmas story confirms God breaking into our brokenness unexpectedly.  

One. God choose a young, engaged but not married, Israelite girl named Mary in first-century Palestine to birth the incarnated God, the divine in human flesh and bone, into our broken, dark world.

Two. God assured Joseph, her older and well-respected fiancée, to trust Mary about her own sexuality, to dismiss the reasonable doubts of their community, and to proceed with their pending marriage.

Three. God encouraged Joseph to father, nurture, teach, and love this Christ Child as his own. He did.

Four. God proclaimed the birth of the Savior, Messiah, Christ Child to lowly, rough shepherds.

Five. God did not awaken those traveling for the census, the inn keepers and Bethlehem residents, or even the elites who all slept peacefully, unaware that night.

In addition to God being unexpected, another theme emerges in the Christmas story.
It emerges in the experience of the lowly shepherds to the elite wisemen who have not yet arrived.

It is within our Advent and Isaiah scriptures. It is reflected in various religious and cultural traditions, as well as in nature, at this time of year. The theme is LIGHT.

Light has come into our broken humanity, communities, and entire creation to dispel

  • Hopelessness;
  • Unhealthy Strife and Devastating Conflict;
  • Hatred;
  • Dehumanizing and Demonizing Persons;
  • Being unaware of Emmanuel, God with us; and
  • Beyond.  

It is the light of hope. True hope dispelling hopelessness by trusting in God to provide the needed insight and wisdom to those whose education and knowledge, training and experience can guide individuals and communities through a global pandemic while developing effective, safe treatments and vaccines.

It is the light of peace. Honest peace dispelling unhealthy strife and devastating conflict through meaningful dialogue and action resulting in sustainable equality and equity. As Martin Luther wrote:

Peace when possible. Truth at all costs.

Martin Luther King Jr spoke about the arc of history might be long but it bends in the direction of justice.
Honest peace embraces the truth and arcs towards justice through ‘Good Trouble’.

It is the light of love. Unconditional, agape love dispelling polarization and hatred that divides, sorts, dehumanizes, and demonizes persons who may look, speak, think, belief, act, or love different than ourself. In John’s Gospel, Jesus gives a ‘New Commandment’ which is to love one another as Jesus first loved his most intimate disciples, knowing we would be different and that was the point. This love honors all life as sacred by seeking justice and equity, acting with compassion and mercy, while tending to and serving all persons but especially the under-privileged and vulnerable.

It is the light of joy. Real joy dispelling hopelessness, anxiety, depression, disappointment, and fear enough to enable our awareness of Emmanuel, God with us, who is always and forever active in, among, through, and even despite us unexpectedly in hope, peace, and love.

The Christ Child is born! The Light has come! The Light is returning!

May the light of the Christ Child be born
in our hearts, souls, homes, communities, and the entire creation
this night, every night, and beyond.
Amen.

Scriptures were Isaiah 9: 2-7; Titus 2: 11-14; and Luke 2: 1-20.
Originally preached on 24 December 2020 for Trinity Lutheran Church (Union City, IN).

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2021 in Sermons

 

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Blessed Light

Advent, a season of hopeful expectation and anticipation, is drawing to an end.

The darkest night is approaching, but this means so is the returning light.

We have lit the candles of Hope, Peace, Joy, and now Love.

The brokenness and darkness of our hearts, our homes, our communities, nations, and the entire creation thrives in the fear and hatred seeking to dispel the light of Love. This fear fuels a hatred that dehumanizes and demonizes individuals and communities justifying a lack of compassion for the “other”. This dehumanizing and demonizing enable polarizing extremes that divide and sort persons based upon race, ethnicity, and nationality; biological sex, gender identity, and sexuality; socio-economics; political affiliations; religious adherence or lack thereof; and beyond.

Unfortunately, this brokenness and darkness in heart, home, community, nation, and creation begun with the ‘Fall’ of humanity. It continues in our time and place, for the Kingdom of God has come here, it is near, and it is not yet fulfilled.

However, the light of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love has come, it is here, and it is returning again.

This morning, we encounter Mary being visited by the archangel Gabriel.

Gabriel is THE massager. If a divine message must be delivered come hell or high-water, Gabriel is your angel.

Gabriel is informing Mary that she will birth, nurture, and love God in human flesh and bone.

Gabriel is informing Mary that she will birth divine Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love into being.

Gabriel is informing Mary that she will essentially destroy the curse of the ‘Fall’ of humanity. 

Mary is understandably perplexed. 

Mary is engaged, but not yet married, to Joseph.

Mary is still a virgin. 

Mary is understandably terrified, in addition to Gabriel standing before her.

Mary was approximately only twelve to fourteen years old.

Mary was an Israelite, who were oppressed persons in a Roman occupied land.

Mary will become pregnant while unwed in first-century Palestine.

Mary will have Joseph and the community question her claim of a divine pregnancy.

And Mary will experience the anxieties of motherhood, additionally the motherhood of God Incarnate.

Mary is able to respond ‘I am the servant of my Lord; let it be with me according to your word’.

Mary will travel to visit her significantly older cousin, Elizabeth, perhaps when her condition becomes increasingly noticeable similar to unwed pregnant girls of past generations. Elizabeth is miraculously pregnant with the prophet who will prepare the way for the Lord, also known as John the Baptist.

John (the Baptist) leapt in Elizabeth’s womb at the presence of the unborn Christ child. This caused Elizabeth to call Mary ‘blessed’ for being selected to birth God Incarnate.

THIS is when Mary sings The Magnificat, which was our ‘Psalm’.

Mary sings the praise of God.

Mary sings in thanksgiving for her active participation in God’s Will and Kingdom to Come.

Mary sings about mercy, grace, and justice.

Mary sings about the Grand Leveling or Grand Reversal.

Mary essentially sings of the Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love that destroys the curse of the fallen humanity

Although Mary perhaps continued to be perplexed and terrified, she was empowered to accept this tremendous responsibility. Thus, she birthed the divine Light of Love that dispels the human created boundaries that divide and sort persons based upon their race, ethnicity, and nationality; biological sex, gender identity, and sexuality; socio-economics; political affiliations; religious adherence or lack thereof; and beyond. She birthed the divine Light of Love that dispels the dehumanizing and demonizing of the “other”. She birthed the divine Light of Love that dispels all darkness and heals all our brokenness in heart, soul, home, community, nation, and creation.

Blessed is Elizabeth for recognizing Mary as pregnant with the Christ Child.

Blessed is Mary for birthing, nurturing, and loving the Christ child.

Blessed is Mary for birthing the Divine Light of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love into our world.

Blessed is God for allowing us to encounter this story of our fore-mothers in faith.

May the Divine Light of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love continue to shine upon us,
our homes, our communities, our nation, and the entire creation
until all darkness is dispelled, all brokenness is healed,
and the Kingdom of God is finally fulfilled.
Amen.

Scripture was Luke 1: 26-38, 46b-55.
Originally preached 20 December 2020 for Trinity Lutheran Church (Union City, IN).

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2020 in Sermons

 

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Advent JOY

Joy! It can cause us to break out in song and dance, even if no one wishes to hear and see it!
Perhaps, the song goes:

I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy
down in my heart, down in my heart, down in my heart.
I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy,
down in my heart, down in my heart to stay.

Joy is often understood to be a wonderful sense of happiness and pleasure.

It can be easy to have the joy, to hold it in our hearts, and to keep it deep in our hearts when…

  • we are well in mind, body, and soul;
  • we are satisfied in our personal and professional lives; and
  • we have the necessary resources beyond survival enabled to thrive.

It can be easy to be joyful at the sound of amazing news for yourselves and/or our loved ones.

In another words, it is easy to have joy when the pieces of our lives are in their place and all is right.

Unfortunately, it becomes challenging to have, to hold, and to keep said joy in complicated situations that compose our being, our family and friends, our communities, and beyond. Yet, we are encouraged to continue rejoicing in the most complicated situations and darkest moments.

This complicated joy is embodied in the opening chapters of Luke with three canticles (hymns) that rejoice in the Messiah who will bring good news to the oppressed, proclaim liberty to captives and release to the prisoners, tend to the broken-hearted, comfort those who mourn, and announce the forgiveness expected in the ‘Year of the Lord’s Favor’.

And yet, the rejoicing is complicated by social and cultural expectations, the anxieties about the impact of the grand leveling or reversal, and concern about the extremes that those with authority, power, wealth, and privilege will go to prevent said leveling or reversal.

The first canticle is The Magnificat (Luke 1: 46-55). Mary was a young, engaged but unwed, pregnant Israelite girl in first-century Palestine. In the later months of pregnancy, perhaps when Mary’s condition was becoming increasingly noticeable, she traveled to visit her much older cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth is also miraculously pregnant with John the Baptist, who leapt in her womb acknowledging the unborn Christ child. Upon Elizabeth praising Mary for her faith (or trust), she responds in song.

Although we consider The Magnificat to be a joyful song, Mary was arguably not in a joyful space. Unfortunately, Mary would have been in a complicated situation lacking her own control of it, socially shamed and isolated, and burdened not only with the anxiety of motherhood but the motherhood of the Messiah, who was God in human flesh and bone.

The second canticle is Benedictus, or Blessed (Luke 1:68-79). Zechariah was a priest, the husband of Elizabeth, and the father of John the Baptist. He was inspired at the circumcision of John (the Baptist) to give thanks with a grateful heart and song. He was grateful for John being selected as the prophet to prepare the way for the Messiah, but also anxiously reminds God of the promises made. Further, I envision that Zechariah was concerned for the well-being of his son, John, because prophets often have a complicated relationship with political, social, and religious authorities resulting in social isolation, persecution, and death.

The third canticle is ‘Nunc Ditmittis’, or Now You Dismiss (Luke 2: 29-32). Simeon was a devoted man, who had been divinely promised the experience of laying his eyes upon the Messiah, the salvation, of Israel prior to death. Simeon was guided by the Spirit to be present when, per tradition, Jesus was dedicated in the temple at only eight days old. Simeon rejoices about the divine promise kept and the Messiah come, but I envision his heart dropped slightly for the ‘dismissal’ is not simply from the temple but his physical life.

Thus, joy might be less about the pleasure and happiness at the pieces of our lives in their place.

  • Joy is God always and forever active in, among, through, and despite the brokenness and darkness of ourselves, our communities, the nations, and the entire creation.
  • Joy is the ability to recognize Emmanuel, God with us, despite brokenness and darkness.
  • Joy is the dispelling of hopelessness, anxiety, disappointment, and fear ENOUGH to enable our awareness of Emmanuel, God with us.

May we practice said joy and strive to have, hold, and keep it down in our hearts now and forever. Amen.  

Emmanuel, God with us, ease our hopelessness, anxieties, disappointments, and fears enough that we can experience and rejoice in the awareness of your divine presence in, among, through, and despite our brokenness and darkness.

Enable us to have, to hold, and to keep your joy down in our hearts in hope, peace, and love. In the name of your Son, Jesus the Christ. Amen

 
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Posted by on December 17, 2020 in Devotions/Reflections

 

Peace Making

Isaiah foretells of a voice in the wilderness calling for us to prepare the way of the LORD, to prepare a highway that is straight with mountains and valleys leveled, rough places smoothed, and pot holes filled.

John the Baptist is said voice in the wilderness.

John the Baptist is the bridge between the prophets of old, sharing fashion with Elijah echoing their voices, and the new, as Jesus’ cousin who foretells of his ministry and identity as the Christ

But, John the Baptist is not the biblical person I would associated with peace.

John was brutally honest, extremely vocal, and lacked tact.
John made waves among the common persons.
John rocked the boat with the political leadership and social elite.
John stirred the pot among the religious leadership and elite. 

Again, we do not often associate said persons and actions with peace.

However, humanity has been taught, continues to teach, and far too often embraces a lie. It is the lie that all strife, all unrest, all conflict is unhealthy and destructive; thus, it must be avoided. This lie is the foundation for a dishonest and false peace.

This dishonest and false peace is embodied in the notion of Pax Romania, or Peace of Rome. This Peace of Rome was ensured through oppression and fear. This Peace of Rome was ensured through violent, military force at the mere murmur of unrest.

Dishonest peace avoids differences, disagreements, strife, and conflict at the expense of meaningful but uncomfortable conversations, necessary but challenging changes, and honest peace.   

Dishonest peace maintains the status quo and its systematic injustices.

Dishonest peace protects the privileged and harms the under-privileged and vulnerable.

Dishonest peace affords opportunities to those with authority, power, wealth, and privilege at the expense of those without said authority, power, wealth, and privilege.

Dishonest peace creates ‘Peace-Keepers’, who discourage the ‘Good Trouble’ of John Lewis, the civil rights moment, and those who have and continue to prepare the way for the LORD seeking to level the mountains and valleys, smoothing the rough places through establishing sustainable equality and equity.

In the words of Martin Luther: “Peace when possible. Truth at all costs.”

Honest peace rejoices in the truth and prepares the way of the LORD.

Honest peace dispels unhealthy, devastating strife, unrest, and conflict through those honest meaningful but uncomfortable conversations.

Honest peace establishes the necessary but challenging changes that level the mountains and valleys, which continue to distinguish persons based on positions of authority and power, amount of accumulated wealth, social status, and privilege.  

Honest peace encourages the ‘Good Trouble’ that continues to demand and establish sustainable equality and equity that smooths the rough places.

Martin Luther King Jr., spoke that the arc of history is long but always bends towards justice.

Honest peace is a force that bends the arc of human history towards said justice.

Honest peace is a force that prepares the way of the LORD through mountains and valleys leveled, rough places smoothed, and pot-holes filled.

John the Baptist was not a peace-keeper. John the Baptist was a peace-maker.

John the Baptist was creating honest peace, rather than maintaining a dishonest peace.

John the Baptist demonstrated that peace-making may include brutal honesty and being vocal,
but hopefully with more tact.

May we, similar to John the Baptist, be peace-makers who are willing to make waves, rock the boat, and stir the pot for the sake of ‘Good Trouble’ establishing an honest peace upon all the earth for the sake of preparing the way for the LORD. Amen.

Scriptures were Isaiah 40: 1-11 and Mark 1: 1-8.
Originally preached on 13 Dec 2020 for Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN).

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2020 in Sermons

 

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Advent Traditions: Nativity

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 the Nativity of Jesus and how it can be utilized during Advent and Christmas.

The Nativity of Jesus
The Nativity of Jesus is often shortened to ‘the Nativity’, although it is simply birth.

I will continue with the short-hand for convivence.

The Nativity is the depiction of Jesus’ birth, although often envisioned as 3-dimensional figures.
It may include a dramatic performance (or Living Nativity), painting on canvas, or otherwise. 

The Nativity varies in production, but always includes the Holy Family: Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus.

It will often include an angel, shepherds, and perhaps a donkey and sheep.

It may include the Magi (or Wise Men), camels, and additional barn animals such as cattle.

History of the Nativity
The original Nativity is attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi in the year 1223.

Saint Francis was inspired after a visit to the Holy Land, including Jesus’ traditional birthplace.
 
He developed a dramatic production, or a Living Nativity, in central Italy with the blessing of the Pope.

These Living Nativities became widely popular throughout Europe.  

Saint Francis desired to shift the cultural focus and cultivate the worship of the Christ Child at Christmas instead of secular materialism.

Hmm, I guess Christmas materialism has been a significant concern for FAR longer than I imagined.

Nativity Traditions
There are a number of Advent traditions with the Nativity, which varies depending on denomination, culture and nation, as well as family practice.

  • One tradition is a Nativity Blessing, which seeks to re-orient us to the Christmas story and speaks a word of blessing for all who set their eyes upon it. In my professional ministry, I have begun to invite the entire congregation (especially young youth) to Bless the Nativity with me during the Christmas Eve worship service.

The majority of traditions, however, engage a significant debate about whether the Holy Family, but especially the baby Jesus, is added to the manger scene prior to Christmas or not. These traditions often emphasis the ‘journey’, but as you may have noticed not all Nativities allow for said traditions.

  • One such tradition is to place Mary and Joseph, plus the other persons and animals, within the home but not the manger. Then, you can relocate these each day until their arrival to the manger on Christmas Eve. On that night, the Holy Family (including the baby Jesus) is placed in the manager as well as their donkey, the angel, shepherds and sheep, and additional barn animals.
  • Another such tradition is to have the empty manger, but with each day add a piece of straw to prepare the manager and your heart for the Christ Child to be born. On Christmas Eve, again, the Holy Family, their donkey, the angel, shepherds, sheep, and additional barn animals may be added to the scene.

However, you may have noted that I did not include the Magi (Wise Men) and their camels. The Magi were not present at the Nativity. They arrived potentially two years later. We celebrate their arrival at Epiphany, which concludes the Twelve Days of Christmas on January 6. Thus, you can continue to relocate the Magi and their camels until their arrival at Epiphany.

Conclusion
I invite you, as able, to incorporate the Nativity of Jesus into your Advent and Christmas.

Allow the Nativity to incite your pondering of the journey to the Christ Child, whether as Mary and Joseph, the Shepherds, or the Magi (Wise Men).

Allow your preparation of the Nativity to be a preparation of your own heart and home for the Christ Child to be born, yet again, in hope, peace, joy, and love.

Advent Traditions is a Faith Formation resource created by Pastor Melinda Gapen.
Originally developed and published digitally for 11 Dec. 2020 for Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN).

 
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Posted by on December 12, 2020 in Resources

 

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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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