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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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Milwaukee Reflections

I intended to craft a collection of reflections from the 2019 Church Wide Assembly, but I have decided to compile extremely brief reflections into a single post. Why?

  1. The Church Wide Assembly was August 5-10, 2019.
    Thus, reflections have been shared by those most impacted or vocal.
    Thus, my reflections are not “timely”, “pressing”, or necessarily unique.
  2. The Church Wide decisions, in my opinion, were not ‘out of character’.
    Thus, these do not require in-depth analysis.
  3. Due to the lack of joy writing brings me, I procrastinate and prefer to be short.

What is the Church Wide Assembly?

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is the largest Lutheran denomination and the seventh largest Christian denomination in the United States of America based upon self-identification and reported membership. It is composed of 9,000+ congregations and approximately 3.4 billion baptized members.

The ELCA  is composed of three expressions in an inter-dependent relationship:

  • Congregations (9,000+)
  • Synods (65)
  • Church Wide (National expression)

Congregations conduct business by an elected Church Council and an annual meeting.

Synods conduct business by an elected Synod Council and a Synod Assembly.
The frequency of Synod Assemblies may vary, but are often annually or biennially.

The Church Wide expression conducts business by an elected Church Wide Council, the Conference of Bishops, and a triennially held Church Wide Assembly. Therefore, the Church Wide Assembly conducts business on behalf of the ELCA as a whole. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2019 in Church Wide Reflections

 

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Grace and Gratitude

Our 2 Kings and Luke Scriptures are deeply intertwined this morning.

Naaman is a non-Israelite commander with significant social net-worth, authority, and power.

The Samaritan leper in Luke is also non-Israelite, but is unnamed.
Thus, he is without social net-worth, authority, and power.

And yet, these men are plagued with the disease of leprosy.
Leprosy does not discriminate based on social net-worth, authority, or power.
But, it does isolate the infected from the community, especially holy men, such as Elisha and Jesus.

However, these men do seek the assistance of the holy men, who give each a simple task. Naaman is instructed to wash in the Jordon River. The unnamed lepers are instructed to show themselves to the priests, who could declare them healed.

Although we may not have leprosy or been miraculously healed, we have a shared experience with these men and all of humanity. We ALL have been infected with a disease simply known as “sin”. Sin does not discriminate based on social net-worth, authority, power, race, ethnicity, culture, nationality, biological sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, political leanings, or otherwise. But, sin isolates, divides, and separates us from God, loved ones, and neighbors far and near alike.

I envision sin less as a list of behaviors and more as a state of being. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on October 14, 2019 in Sermons

 

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Faith or Faithful? (the Mustard Seed)

We have an infamous and beloved scripture this morning.

The disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith (or trust) in him.
Jesus, seemingly frustrated, responds that if the disciples had faith even the size of a small mustard seed, they could order a tree uprooted and planted into the sea.

Although a number of persons, probably including a few sitting in these pews, find these words comforting and inspiring, I wish these words were never uttered especially recorded and attributed to Jesus. Why?

I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and High-Functioning Anxiety, which both offer the great gift of being a perfectionist…
Plus, this passage and similar have been used against me in spiritual abuse.

Therefore, when I hear or read these words I can sense my anxiety rising,
because if I read it literally…
well, I have not been able to order a tree uprooted and planted elsewhere.
How about you?

Thankfully, I do not read it literally BUT it still causes questions of self-doubt: Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on October 8, 2019 in Sermons

 

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St. Michael & All Angels

We, Lutherans, often do not celebrate the feast days unless it happens to land on a Sunday, which means approximately once every seven years if a leap year does not interfere. But, today is Saint Michael and All Angels!

Saint Michael and All Angels offers the opportunity to learn about the angels according to Scripture and tradition.

But, SPOILER ALERT:
You might discover that our depictions, such as Touched by an Angel, art, and your figurines at home may not be accurate.

As Lutherans, we tend to not focus on the angels although we do acknowledge them in our liturgy, notably in Holy Communion, when we gather with the heavenly hosts (angels), the faithful departed, and the faithful in congregations throughout the world to sing “Holy, Holy, Holy”.

So, what or who are the angels?
According to Crazy Talk: A Not-So-Stuffy Dictionary of Theological Terms (p. 7-8),
angels are:

Divine beings, heavenly servants of God, know as purveyors of godly messages, such as recipes for light and delicious food cake and impossibly fine pasta, or the somewhat rougher tradition of motorcycle fellowship. 

Neither fish nor fowl, an angel is a messenger who bears a tiding from God. In art angels are most often depicted with wings upon their back – sometimes two, sometimes six – but it should be noted that in the Bible, angels are most often do not have wings and seem to appear much like people. There is one biblical passage that describes a type of angel that has six wings – Isaiah 6. If you’re wondering whether a  six-winged angel flies faster than the other varieties, the answer is no, as two wings are used for flying and the other four to cover eyes and ensure decency (Isaiah 6:2). (Now, whether a laden or unladen angel makes better time remains a separate matter.)

The angel has long been  one of the most compelling biblical creatures, inspiring artwork throughout the centuries, lines of collectible figurines, and the occasional melodrama. Despite the fascination, or perhaps because of it, there are many misconceptions about angels. The angel is not, primarily, one’s “wingman,” some sort of divine insurance policy or airborne, side-winding muscle-for-hire (although the Bible does attest to God sending angels to watch over God’s chosen people or person: see Genesis 24: 7, 20; Psalm 91:11). Neither is an angel the next stage in human evolution, what good little boys and girls morph into when they die. Every time you hear a bell ring, it means … it’s lunchtime, or break’s over, or Pavlov’s messing with his dog again, not that an angel gets his wings. Angels are creatures made by God, much like human beings, only of a slightly different order. Maybe an equation would be helpful at this point: as chimpanzees are to people, people are to angels – as far as the human creature is above the lovable chimp, so are angels that much higher than humans.

First and foremost, angels are messengers, beings who have been entrusted with the task of delivering God’s word. With their winged harking (or is it harping?), angels herald important events, give instruction, or issue warning. The messages angels deliver vary: Hagar is promised well-being for her son; Abraham and Sarah are promised a son; Joseph is convinced to stick with Mary; and of course Jesus’ birth and resurrection were declared first by angels. In short, angels communicate God’s will to their fellow creatures, and in this regard Shakespeare is right when he says human beings are like angels (Hamlet, act 2, scene 2), for this is the point at which normal, everyday dopes like us are at our most angelic – when we share the message of Jesus with our fellow creatures.

Question(s):

  1. How often do we envision angels are our little guardians?
    Those guardian angels who follow our cars and we want to be sure not to drive faster than they can fly.
  2. How often do we envision the faithful departed as “gaining their angel wings”?

These ‘visions’ are misconceptions.

Angels and humans are different species, like cats and dogs.
Angels may appear human (to deliver a message), but will never be human.
Humans will never be angels.

The Courts (or Choirs) of Angels
There are nine ‘courts’, or types, of angels.
Since we are speaking about angels as a species, the courts would be different breeds with their own responsibilities. 

  1. Seraphim
    The seraphim, or ‘fiery one’, is the highest court of angels with the task of attending to and guarding the throne of God. These are the angels that Isaiah describes has having six wings: two to fly, two to cover their face, and two to cover their feet.
  2.  Cherubim
    The cherubim is the fat, little babies who fly around shooting people with arrows to force them to fall in love with one another… right?

    The cherubim is actually the second highest court of angels who hold intimate knowledge of God and reside in God’s glory. These angels are described to be human-like in appearance with two sets of wings.
  3.  Thrones
    The thrones are not well-known but are angels that embody pure humility, peace, and submission… It sounds a bit ‘perfect’, doesn’t it?
  4. Dominions
    The dominions, who again are not well-known, are the angels of leadership.
    These angels are responsible for communicating God’s will and commands to the other courts of angels by regulating their duties.
  5. Virtues
    The virtues, who yet again are not well-known, are the angels within nature who control and govern the earthly elements. The virtues are described as the “shiny ones”, which may provide for the visions of angelic ‘glow’.
  6. Powers
    The powers, who yet again are not well-known, are the warrior angels primarily responsible for engaging in the cosmic battle between ‘good’ and ‘evil’.
  7. Principalities
    The principalities, who yet again are not-well known, are those angels who are hostile towards God and humans. These are those who may have rebelled against God and are referred to as “demons”, because angels and demons are indeed the same species simply involved on opposing sides of the cosmic battle.
  8. Angels
    The “angels” are the generic, well-known messengers, who interact most intimately with the physical world, including humans, on behalf of God and the other courts of angels.

If there are nine courts of angels, who have I ‘skipped’? 

The Arch-Angels
The arch-angels are the angelic princes, chiefs, or commanders who lead the angels.

Do you know the number of arch-angels?
It is a trick question, because there is no agreed upon number.
The number, depending on source and tradition, ranges from about 3 to 13.

However, there are five widely accepted arch-angels although one is often not discussed as such….

  1. Michael
    Michael is the most well-known and the primary name of our feast. Why?

    Michael is the supreme, number one angel with authority over ALL the angels.
    In fact, Michael means “the one who is like God”, which you can often discover written across his shield in Christian art.

    Michael is the ultimate Warrior Angel, who was tasked with managing the infamous rebellion and removing Lucifer from heaven.
    (This is referenced in our Gospel and in John’s Revelation.)

  2.  Gabriel
    Gabriel is your supreme, ultimate messenger.

    If you need a message to be signed, sealed, and delivered… Gabriel is your angel.

    Gabriel is primarily focused upon in Christianity at Advent and Christmas, because Gabriel was the angel would came and asked Mary to bear God Incarnate.

    Gabriel, according to Islamic tradition, was the angel who dictated the Quran to the prophet Muhammad.

  3.  Raphael 
    Raphael is widely accepted as an arch-angel, although his narrative is grounded in texts not included in the ‘common’ Bible. However, Raphael is recognized as the supreme, ultimate healer.

    If you have seen depictions of a boy, a dog, and an angel walking together, it is most often a depiction of Raphael with Tobias (Book of Tobit). It is an interesting story.

  4. Uriel
    Uriel is often accepted as an arch-angel, who is known for knowledge and wisdom.

    Honestly, it seems that Uriel may have been tasked with replacing Lucifer.

  5.  Lucifer
    Lucifer, also known as the Morning Star, the Light-Bearer, and later Satan or the Devil, is an arch-angel whom we struggle to acknowledge as such.

    Lucifer led a rebellion in heaven.
    Lucifer was cast down from heaven.
    Lucifer rules over the rebellious angels, also known as ‘demons’.

    According to the narrative, Lucifer was not pleased with God’s affection and love of his little creatures on earth called ‘humans’. Then, God told Lucifer and all the courts of angels to bow down, guard, protect, and guide us.

    Lucifer asked ‘you want me to bow down to THAT?’.

    As the definition above states, it would be as if I told you to bow down to a monkey.
    How many of you would say, ‘you want me to bow down to THAT?’.
    You would probably have some questions, wouldn’t you?

    Thus, Lucifer was, is, and will forever remain an arch-angel (breed) but he is on the opposing side of the cosmic battle.

In summary, the angels are a species of messengers who also are warriors engaged in a cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil fought here upon the earth and among the humans.

What can we, humans, do about this cosmic battle?
I offer to you a portion of The Prayer of Saint Michael as written by Pope Leo XIII:

 Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our protection against
the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host –
by the Power of God –
cast into hell, satan and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls.
Amen.

“The Prayer of Saint Michael” is for protection against all evil, negative spirits who seek to cause harm and suffering. It is utilized in house blessings, house cleansings, and in exorcism (although rare, the rite of exorcism does continue to be performed).

We, Lutheran, do not often ‘invoke’ angels (and definitely not the Saints), but I do invite you to ponder the words of the “Prayer of Saint Michael”, as well as the angels in Scripture and tradition… may this offer you an excuse to explore them more deeply.

But, I want to offer you an intriguing puzzle…. 
Theologians throughout history have argued that humans are ‘above’ the angels because humans have free-will while the angels do not…
but, if angels do not have free-will, how can a group ‘rebel’ against God?

 

The Scriptures were Daniel 10:10-14, 12:1-3; Psalm 103:1-5, 20-22; Revelation 12:7-12; and Luke 10:17-20.
It was originally preached on 29 Sept. 2019 at Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN)
 
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Posted by on October 2, 2019 in Sermons

 

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Just Business

We had a slight rest on Sunday from the summer focus.

We have spent the summer in the Gospel of Luke, which a number of preachers hate because the scriptures focus on money, wealth, and material resources. It is a difficult topic for most within our private lives, but more challenging in an alb (white robe) standing before the congregation.

Honestly, does any person excitedly look forward to stewardship drives?
I am noting several heads shaking “no”. 

So, on Sunday, we had a moment to breath.
Although the scripture did mention a lost coin, but the widow was seeking to find it.

I have argued that although Luke seems anti-money and anti-wealth, he is not.
In fact, Luke is the only Gospel account to address the financial support of Jesus’ public ministry, because ministry is not cheap. The financial support was from the wealthy women, including Mary Magdalene, who traveled with him and the male disciples.

Thus, our material wealth is a necessary piece of our lives and is not evil, but Luke and other authors of Scripture were concerned about how we use our wealth. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on October 1, 2019 in Sermons

 

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God’s Radical Love

God’s Radical Love

We have a re-occurring theme throughout the whole of Scripture, which is highlighted in our texts today. In short, I could say “God’s love is radical” and sit back down.

The ‘punchline’ today: “God’s love is radical”.

But, how do we know this?
We know this because of a relational cycle, repeated over and over again, with God. It has not been for days and months, or even years and decades, or even centuries, but millennia… the whole of our sacred and human history.

  1. God makes a covenant (contract, agreement) with God’s people.
    It is relational: “I will be your God and you will be my people”.
  2. Every. Single. Time. We, humans, break the covenant (contract, agreement).
    We are the ones at fault.
  3. God becomes upset and disappointed.

Do you understand being sad, disappointed, and angry when a child goes rogue?

Do you understand that from time to time, a child does not act in their best interest?

Do you understand that a child does not always act in the best interest of the relationship?

We can understand this as parents, teachers, and other care-providers.
We, as the beloved children of God, break our agreement with God.
We cause the distance in our relationship with God.
God becomes disappointed.

And then, God makes yet another covenant with us.
And then, we break that covenant.
And then, the cycle continues as it has for millennia since the literal dawn of time.
And yet, the cycle still continues now.

We encounter it within each of our Scriptures.

In Exodus, the Israelites are roaming in the wilderness and have become impatient. The Israelites want that promised land of milk and honey… and they wanted it yesterday.

Moses is on the holy mountain talking to God, recording the guidelines for their relationship with God and with one another. We all know the scene, Moses comes down and throws the tablets on the ground where these shatter, because before the people have even received the guidelines of the covenant, it has been broken. The Israelites have created an idol, worshiping it because the God that brought them out of slavery and captivity in Egypt is not working fast enough for them.

The nostalgia has settled in to their community and they are saying:
“Oh, I remember that milk and honey in Egypt, it was fantastic!”
“Oh man, Why did we ever leave Egypt?”

Nostalgia is dangerous, for we remember the good like milk and honey, but we forget the bad like bondage, slavery, and captivity.

Moses mediates and reminds God of the covenant, God’s never-ending, never-breaking, unstoppable love for the worthless, sinful critters that are humans.

Our Psalmist wrote aware that they are one of those worthless, sinful critters.
The author asks God:

“Please work within me, putting that covenant on my heart, clean my heart, and
restore a right spirit within me, so that I can be a better partner
in our relationship that you have called us into with you.”

Jesus talks about this.
Jesus says that a shepherd will leave 99 sheep, unattended in the wilderness, to go looking for one.

Does anyone else think this sounds absolutely insane? irrational? illogical?

And yet, Jesus teaches that God will leave 99 ‘righteous’ or ‘self-righteous’, who trust in their own ability to maintain the law/covenant, in order to find any single repentant person. Then God will rejoice finding the one that, similar to the author of the Psalm, knows they are not in right relationship with God and neighbor.

This is a radical concept.

In 1 Timothy, the story of Paul is retold. Paul, as Saul, actively persecuted the practitioners of The Way, the earliest name of Christianity. Paul did not care if you were a man, woman, or child; if you were following the teachings of the rebel named Jesus, you needed to be held accountable for it. Until one day, Paul is on the road and Jesus literally comes and meets him exactly where he is, literally on the road of his journey.
Jesus essentially tells Paul:

“Get off your high horse. You are not ‘right’.
Let me show you the truth, then use you for the sake of the gospel”.

So, Jesus basically says “be that one lost sheep that repents and I will do great things through you”.

creation-of-adam-michelangelo(pp_w650_h187)“The Creation of Adam” by Michelangelo
is painted upon the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

A friend pointed a detail out to me once.
Now that I have seen it, I cannot un-see it.

The fingers of Adam and God are almost touching, which I had realized before.
But, God is fully stretched out, pointing as far as possible.
Adam, however, is lounged and reaching like “eh”.

Adam is definitely not reaching for God, as though expecting God to continue reaching towards him while communicating this is as far as I am reaching.

This is a perfect illustration for our relationship with God throughout the whole of Scripture.

God is consistently reaching out into our world and to each one of us.
And we are like “eh, this is as far as I am reaching. You come the rest of the way”.

We do this in part because of our human nature rooted in sin, which is being curved in on the self.

But, this is radical love.

Radical love is when you continually, literally for millennia, reach out to be in relationship with persons who continue to turn away from you in mind, body, and soul.

And yet, Jesus says, if you are a lost sheep God will seek you out.
If you are a lost coin, God will find you.

This section of the Gospel according to Luke, includes another parable that could be named “The Lost Son”, aka The Prodigal Son.

I was once told, if someone tells you something three times, especially in the same conversation, to listen because it is the truth and/or their desire.

We have three parables in a row about the irrational, illogical, and radical love of God for each and every one of God’s creations.

I begun saying that I could say “God’s love is radical” and sit back down, because even hearing these parables cannot communicate, nor can we fully know, understand, or comprehend the radical love of God. But, I invite us to ponder the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son, the broken covenants throughout the millennia, and how God’s love is truly, truly unconditional for God is always reaching out for us.

May we not be “Adam”, rooted in apprehension or lack of energy, but let us lean in and reach out to be in a better relationship with our creator and neighbors rather than say “eh”. Amen.

Scriptures were Exodus 32: 7-14; Psalm 51: 1-10; 1 Timothy 1: 12-17; and Luke 15: 1-10.
Originally Preached on 15 Sept. 2019 at Trinity Lutheran (Union City, Indiana).
 
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Posted by on September 26, 2019 in Sermons

 

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Discipleship: Cost and Benefit

Again, the author of Luke presents us with a challenging text.

Jesus has recently ate with the honorable Pharisee and his honorable guests. Jesus taught about living into God’s kingdom as a celebration with food, drink, and seating abundant enough for all to be invited, welcomed, and have a seat at the table. This kingdom is here now, near, and not yet fulfilled.

Jesus continues to teach about discipleship and the kingdom to come, but he sounds like a honest salesperson cautiously informing us of the costs and risks of discipleship, in order that we are able to make an informed decision. He basically says:

Step on up! Boys and girls, men and women for all ages! 

I have a deal for you! God’s FREE and abundant grace!
That is right FREE, my favorite price. 

But, can I also interest you in discipleship? 

It will cost you your ego, pride, and social net-worth. 
It may also cost you family, friends, all your stuff, and even your very life. 

THAT is a hard sale, even for God Incarnate.  Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2019 in Sermons

 

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