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Conflict, Consequences, & Responsibility

Our scriptures provide practical life advice and a Standard Operational Procedure (SOP) for confronting conflict, accepting consequences, and embracing our responsibility in relationship. Conflict, consequences, and responsibility are neutral terms despite often painted in an unfavorable light.

The entire creation, including human creatures, are inter-weaved in an inter-dependent relationship; and thus, per family systems theory, what impacts one will impact all in a ripple effect of sorts.

Unfortunately, it is not breaking news that our world, nation, communities, and ourselves are troubled. The church universal, as expressed in denominations and their congregations, are not immune.

Jesus was not naïve about our humanness rooted in sin, or self-centeredness, and its resulting trouble. Jesus provided the Standard Operational Procedure (SOP) for conflict resolution and repentance as consequence for the disciples, the early church, and our modern church, while Paul expanded upon our responsibility to love our siblings (neighbors) as the fulfillment of the Torah, the teaching or law

So, shall we confront conflict?

Conflict is unpreventable within our shared, communal lives and relationships. However, said conflict does not necessarily result in either harm to or broken relationships among persons and/or institutions whether only once removed or a million times removed in our ever-connected, inter-dependent world. 

Conflict, if addressed well, can promote healthier relationships rooted in trust, informed through proper boundaries, and improved communication between the partners.

Conflict management styles are traditionally either Passive, Passive-Aggressive, or Aggressive. The culture of the Midwest, and further within congregations, is most often passive-aggressive. In comparison, the culture of the Southwest is most often aggressive.

Yet, it was recently suggested that I describe my conflict management as ‘direct’ because I do not actively seek conflict but I do not actively avoid it.  I would rather lay all the cards on the table, process the situation together, and then move forward together.

I envision that Jesus’ Standard Operational Procedure (SOP) is similar to the ‘direct’ approach.

Step one is to engage in direct communication with the individual rooted in love and seeking resolution, reconciliation, and restoration of the relationship. The desired response of the approached individual is discernment and repentance as necessary.

Step two, if step one did not result in the desired change, is to be in direct communication with the individual again but with the accompaniment of one or two mutual persons. The intention is to limit unnecessary drama but include objective observers who can keep the conflicting parties honest. Again, it should be rooted in love and seek resolution, reconciliation, and restoration of the relationship. Again, the desired result is further discernment and repentance as necessary.

Step three, if steps one and two did not result in the desired change, is to bring the concern before the community. The intention is to allow the community to hold the conflicting parties honest while rooted in love and seeking resolution, reconciliation, and restoration of the relationship. Again, the desired result is further discernment and repentance as necessary.

Despite this process, the desired resolution, reconciliation, and restoration may not be possible for it depends upon discernment and repentance, that is a change in conduct. An apology without said repentance is simply manipulation, which neither promotes well-being nor a healthy relationship.

If the conflict is not addressed, it will fester into an infected wound.

If the repentance from inappropriate conduct is not lived, reconciliation and restoration is impossible.

If the relationship is toxic due to conflict or otherwise, it may need to end with persons parting ways.

Hopefully, you noted that the emphasis of the process is resolution, reconciliation, and restoration.

Hopefully, you also noted that the driving force of the process is love.

Paul, in his letter to the Romans, expanded upon this love and its significance.

The Roman culture existed within an obligation economy; and thus, persons were indebted to one another such as honor and allegiance to the emperor and the empire, or honor and resources to your benefactor, or service and your life to your master, or submission to your husband, and so on.

Paul, however, writes that we are not obligated or indebted to another except to love ALL persons. This is an indebtedness of all humans to the Triune God, specifically through the life, passion, crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. This indebtedness is to be paid forward to our neighbors, or human siblings, in words and deeds of love. This indebtedness and the resistance to pay it forward is often rooted in our sin (self-centeredness) and results in conflicts, unstable or unhealthy relationships, and our far too often troubled existence.

Paul further encourages the Romans (and us) that said love is the fulfillment of the Torah, or law, for it does no wrong, does no harm to our neighbor and human sibling.

While serving the youth at The Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd on internship, these teenagers almost literally jumped for joy at the announcement that there was only one rule: ‘Be Respectful’. Quickly, almost in the blink of an eye, these teenagers became disenchanted with the only one rule for it was far more encompassing than imagined. I would question their word choice or actions with the simple question ‘was that respectful’ and they were convicted in the moment.  

Similarly, we may rejoice that our only obligation is to love one another but become quickly disenchanted with its all-encompassing nature. Perhaps, we should continually question our thoughts, words, and actions with ‘is this loving’. We should allow for ourselves to be convicted in the moment.

It seems so simple, and yet it is not.

Love can be manifested in the most simplistic thoughts, words, and deeds of mercy and compassion.

Love can be manifested in honor and respect. 

Love can be manifested in practices, customs, and traditions that are seemingly ‘not of this world’.

The philosopher, lay theologian, and more named Gilbert Keith Chesterton wrote: It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it.

Brad Paisley, the country artist, is a Christian who is able to tease about the practices, customs, and traditions of Christian love in his song ‘Those Crazy Christians’. It is our offering video in a moment.

May we confront conflict directly.

May we accept repentance as a consequence.

May we embrace our responsibility in relationships, which is to love one another.

May we be able to reflect honestly and tease ourselves as need.  Amen.

Scriptures were Romans 13:8-14 and Matthew 18:15-20.

Originally preached 6 Sept. 2020 at Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN).   

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2020 in Sermons

 

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For the Sake of the Kingdom to Come

I cannot in good conscience preach these scriptures without a disclaimer.

Our scriptures lament, encourage patient endurance through, and foretells of suffering, at times violent suffering, for the sake of the ‘Kingdom to Come’. However, this is NOT the emotional, mental, physical, sexual, or spiritual abuse endured in domestic relationships and sexual assaults for said suffering is NEVER for the sake of the ‘Kingdom to Come’. 

Thus, I am wearing my ‘Preach Bravely’ shirt as a reminder that:

  1. We are to ALWAYS boldly, bravely preach the ‘Kingdom to Come’ and
  2. said ‘Kingdom to Come’ has NO space for violence, particularly domestic abuse and gender-based assaults.

Despite the disclaimer, our scriptures offer inter-weaving themes creating a tapestry of the ‘Kingdom to Come’ promoting self-awareness that fosters integrity and self-denial that incites transformation.

Jeremiah is a prophet who has reached his breaking point having suffered isolation, loneliness, insults, and rejection for the sake of the ‘Kingdom to Come’. This suffering is rooted in his obedience to God through proclaiming difficult truths, drawing attention to injustice and corruption, while demanding change. Those with privilege, wealth, and authority benefiting from the status quo prefer to ignore the message and oppose said prophets through isolation, slander, threat, or violence in order to maintain their privilege, wealth, and authority.

Jeremiah raises his voice with the prophets of all time to proclaim:

  1. Our worship, rituals, songs and praises are worthless without social justice, humility, loving-kindness, service, and sacrificial love.
  2. God loves ALL people, because God created ALL persons. Yet, God has a deep concern for the vulnerable who are under-privileged, impoverished, oppressed, and/or abused.

The prophetic voice is perhaps built upon another difficult truth.
The majority of our human suffering is rooted in our troubled world, a consequence for our complicity with sin. However, we are not called into a culture war of sorts because sin, as defined by Martin Luther, is being curved in on the self, or self-centeredness. Thus, sin is a lack of concern for the wellbeing of our human siblings and the entire creation. Sin is a lack of justice, compassion, mercy, and love. Sin is a lack of serving our human siblings, especially the most vulnerable who are under-privileged, impoverished, oppressed, and/or abused.

Although Jeremiah is exhausted, our Psalm will support his efforts to hold a mirror before our eyes. Our Psalm is seemingly dripping with self-righteousness, and yet the whole of the Psalm condemns said righteousness. Similar to the prophets, the Psalm demands honest self-reflection to become self-aware and foster an embodied integrity. This integrity is the integration of the good, the bad, and the ugly incorporated into a single, self-aware persona in thought, word, and deed despite lacking perfection and embracing our own need for God’s grace. 

Jesus, rooted in his own integrity, shared a difficult truth with his inter-most circle of disciples.  It is the truth that as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, he will go to Jerusalem in order to be arrested, crucified upon a cross until death, and resurrected three days later.

Peter rebukes Jesus. Why?

  • The Hebrew Scriptures do not foretell of the Messiah suffering, for the Messiah was (and remains in Judaism) a political figure who reunites the tribes of Israel.
  • Perhaps, Peter cannot handle the idea of Jesus, his beloved Rabbi and friend, suffering crucifixion.
  • Perhaps, Peter feared that Jesus condemned would result in a loss of his privilege and authority.

Despite the reason, was it necessary for Jesus to rebuke Peter with the words ‘Get behind me, Satan’?

Satan was not a little red man with horns, a tail, and pitchfork…
that is Sparky, the ASU Sun Devil.

‘Satan’ was not intended as a name, but it is the Hebrew word for ‘adversary’.

Thus, a satan or even an anti-Christ is simply one who opposes the ‘Kingdom to Come’.

Jesus had encountered a satan prior to his public ministry while in the wilderness, who desired for Jesus to abuse his divine authority for human benefit. Jesus, however, resisted the bait and instead fed the hungry, healed and restored vulnerable persons in mind, body, and soul while opening the ‘Kingdom to Come’ to ALL persons.

Jesus knew the path paved with his public ministry of proclaiming difficult truths and drawing attention to injustice and corruption while demanding change. Jesus knew that those persons with privilege, wealth, and authority would violently demand his life in order to silence him and destroy the revolutionary movement he had incited.

But now, Jesus hears the lure to change direction and turn his back on the ‘Kingdom to Come’ from the lips of his beloved friend, his first called disciple, the ‘rock’ whose confession the church is built. Thus, Jesus rebukes Peter but neither rejects him nor criticizes his humanity, instead Jesus not-so-gently reminds him of his place. Peter, as a follower, belongs behind Jesus who will lead him (and us) upon the right paths to the ‘Kingdom to Come’. Besides, Jesus does not need us or our egos to protect him from the consequences of his ministry.  

Jesus’ path modeled a self-denial in his public ministry, among his disciples, through his passion, and upon the cross which all persons are called to emulate. We will fail miserably, and yet this self-denial incites a transformation in us and also our troubled world. This self-denial speaks the difficult truths to power, draws attention to injustice and corruption, and demands change for the under-privileged, impoverished, oppressed and/or abused human siblings rooted in a genuine love.

According to Paul, this genuine love fulfills the law for it does not do harm to another and it will transform us and our troubled world. This genuine love:

  • stands against forces opposing love and hospitality such as intolerance, prejudice, and hate;
  • clings to said forces of love, hospitality, and hope;
  • shared affection towards ALL persons that is warm and devoted with sincere concern;
  • shows the upmost honor and respect to ALL persons;
  • sustains a bright soul eager to love and serve ALL persons, especially the vulnerable other;
  • serves ALL persons confronting our sin, destroying injustice, and ensuring needs are met in body, mind, and soul whether loved ones, enemies, or the “other”; and
  • Blesses ALL persons abandoning the desire for vengeance or the cursing of any persons.

Unfortunately, this self-denial and genuine love can result in isolation and loneliness, insult, rejection, and persecution as foretold, encouraged to be endured with patience, and lamented within our scriptures.

May we embrace difficult self-reflection that leads to self-awareness.

May our self-awareness develop into an embodied integrity.

May our integrity be rooted in love and self-denial for the sake of our most vulnerable human siblings.

May our self-denial transform us and our troubled world into the ‘Kingdom to Come’.

And may our suffering for the sake of said ‘Kingdom to Come’ be minimal.
Amen.

Scriptures were Jer. 15: 15-21; Ps. 26: 1-8; Rom. 12: 9-21; and Matt. 16: 21-28.
Originally preached 2020-08-30 for Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN).

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2020 in Sermons

 

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Well-Rooted Family Tree

Our scriptures utilize two re-occurring and beloved images.

Our Romans scripture emphasizes the imagery of the church as a body, specifically the body of Christ. Paul settles on the language to describe diverse members with differing functions incorporated into a single entity, inter-connected for a common purpose and mission.

While our Gospel scripture embraces word play with the imagery of a rock, a solid foundation upon which the church will be built. However, church is an assembly not a building, as Martin Luther wrote:

The scriptures speak plainly about the church and use the word in one sense only… the community or assembly of all believers in Christ on earth… This community or assembly includes everyone who lives in true faith, hope, and love. So it is the essence, the life, the nature of the church to be an assembly of hearts united in faith, not an assembly of bodies… It is a spiritual unity… but the blind Romanist makes it into an external community like any other.
(The Papacy in Rome).

Since the church is an assembly of hearts spiritually united, shall we explore the rock it is built upon?

Read the rest of this entry »
 
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Posted by on August 24, 2020 in Sermons

 

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Fightin’ Words: the Canaanite Woman

I have always had a love for this Gospel narrative, but it is a love that has become more firmly rooted and grown greater with further exploration and its paired lectionary scriptures this morning.

The Gospel begins with Jesus teaching a lesson that was essential in the biblical Ancient Near East (ANE), but it remains essential in our own time and place as highlighted with the current social unrest regarding the worth of human life despite race, ethnicity, or nationality; age; gender, gender identity, or sexuality; socio-economics; political affiliations; religious adherence or lack thereof; or otherwise.

Jesus teaches that it is not about adhering to a purity code concerned with the food one consumes, their personal hygiene practiced, or who one has interactions.

But, with that said, please continue to practice personal hygiene, social distancing, and other COVID19 precautions.

Jesus teaches, instead, that one is defiled or “unclean” through the sins rooted in our heart such as:

  • manipulation and evil intentions;
  • causing harm to one in mind, body, or soul;
  • being lustful or unfaithful;
  • desiring or taking what belongs to another; and
  • speaking falsely.

Although included in the Ten Commandments, these are not included in the purity code.

Immediately afterwards, Jesus seemingly flirts with not practicing what he preaches. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on August 24, 2020 in Sermons

 

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Chaos. Fear. God. Community.

Our scriptures are rooted in chaos and fear, which is seemingly appropriate for 2020. But, our scriptures also communicate the presence of God and community.

Elijah can be overly dramatic and apparently unaware of consequences for his actions. Elijah opposed Ahab, the Israelite King, and his Phoenician Queen, Jezebel. Elijah stood against their national institution of the worship of Baal and he defeated the prophets of Baal in a battle of “my God is better than your God”. Afterwards, Elijah had the prophets of Baal captured and he murdered them.

Jezebel was clearly not pleased and threatened his life. Thus, he fled to the wilderness. Chaos and Fear.

God promises to ‘pass before’ Elijah, in order that he may experience that intimate presence of God.

  • There was a violent wind, a traditional sign of God…
    but God was not in the breeze.
  • There was an earthquake, another traditional sign of God…
    but God was not in the trembles.
  • There was a fire burning, again a traditional sign of God…
    but God was not in the flames.

Afterwards, a deafening, unsettling, and terrifying silence fell upon that place. There was no noise from humans or critters of any size. There was no rustling of leaves in a breeze. And yet, God was present Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2020 in Sermons

 

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Compassion, Generosity, & Abundance

Our scriptures from Isaiah, Psalms, and Matthew are inter-connected with the themes of Compassion, Generosity, Abundance, and … Food.

In the days prior to my grandma Peggy’s death in 2015, she was informing the care-home staff that her husband was hungry and waiting on his plate. My grandpa Bill had died in 1987. Thus, the morning that our grandma died, my sister envisioned that grandpa became impatient and he took her out for breakfast. An uncle, however, informed her that there is no food in heaven, to which she replied “then I don’t want to go there”.

Thankfully for Amanda, myself, and perhaps a few of you, the Gospel of Luke is continually painting the image of heaven as a grand banquet with space, food, and drink abundant enough for all people.

We know that food is important for our physical wellbeing.

Perhaps, the majority would agree that home-cooked, comfort food is important for mental and emotional wellbeing.

But, can food be important for our spiritual wellbeing?
A study may imply, that food is indeed important to our spiritual wellbeing.

The survey asked persons to rank practices or otherwise per their personal sense of spiritual fulfillment. It had surprising results for religious institutions and faith communities, for the practices of prayer/meditation and attending worship were ranked among the least fulfilling. While the most fulfilling would become referred to as the 4 Fs:

  • Family;
  • Friends;
  • Fido (companion pets); and
  • Food.

You might be puzzled, or perhaps amused by these 4 Fs. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2020 in Sermons

 

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Knowledge, Understanding, & Wisdom

Parables, parables, parables. We are in a season of parables.

But, there is a thread throughout the whole of our scriptures this morning.
It is wisdom, from King Solomon to Paul’s letter, to Jesus’ parables.

Solomon, son of King David, is essentially offered a magical Genie lamp.
God comes to Solomon and asks ‘what do you want? Whatever is your heart’s desire, I will give you. I encourage you to ponder, what would your response have been? What is your heart’s desire?

Solomon asked for wisdom, although it was not the language used in scripture. Solomon asked for the ability to discern the ‘right’ (or wise) choices, not for his own benefit but for the benefit of the people that he had been placed in authority over.

Wisdom, understanding, and knowledge are not quite the same things.
We can know something intellectually and not understand it.
We can understand something and still not have the wisdom to apply it.

As seen online, but adapted…
Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit.
Understanding is knowing a tomato is a fruit because of the seeds.
Wisdom is knowing that you do not put tomato in a fruit salad. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2020 in Sermons

 

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Sorting Wheat & Weeds: Cautionary Tale

Our Scriptures are especially intertwined through exploring the nature of God, our identity in Christ, and the theodicy question. Theodicy is the fancy term for the common question: ‘why does suffering and evil exist’, especially if God is all-powerful and all-loving.

Isaiah reminds the exiled Israelites that God is eternal and has a personal relationship with us. Additionally, God is our true King who rescues and protects us.

The Psalmist reminds us that God is our ever-patient, compassionate, and kind teacher of divine truth.

Paul, in his letter to the Romans, reminds us that God is our perfect parent.

And thus, we are called into a personal relationship with God, who has named and redeemed us.

We are called to be engaged students seeking to learn the divine truth from God whole-heartedly.

We are called to be children of God, who are co-heirs with Christ in the Kingdom to Come.

Our Parable of the Tares, or Weeds, addresses the theodicy question while rooted in the nature of God and our identity in Christ. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2020 in Sermons

 

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The Sower and the Soil

As I began to prepare for this sermon, I was struggling with the scripture.

The ‘Parable of the Sower/Soil’ is not the most infamous scripture or parable, but it is well known and of importance as it is included in all of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).

The struggle was because as a preacher, it is my responsibility to explore the scriptures and interpret how it might apply to our current time and place. Yet, it seemed the interpretation was done and provided on a silver platter.

Since our lectionary is a three-year cycle, I returned to the first time I preached this parable six years ago and I began it sharing that it was the first parable I preached and the process taught me that I hate preaching on parables. Why? The Gospel authors always include the interpretation of the parable on a silver platter saying “and here is what this means”. Thus, as the preacher, I am left asking ‘what else am I to say about it’.

Then, I read this quote on a colleague’s Facebook page providing a little motivation and inspiration.

Jesus’ parable did not deliver prepackaged meaning but challenged the hearer to respond. Parables are open-ended narrative metaphors that generate new meaning in new situations. While a parable cannot mean simply anything (it is not a Rorschach ink blot), it “teases the mind into active thought” in such a way that the hearer himself or herself must actively participate in deciding what the parable means, i.e., how the hearer should respond to it. Parables thus often function by beginning in the familiar world of the hearer but then presenting a different vision of the world that challenges the everyday expectations of the hearer.

So, how do we hear a familiar parable paired with an interpretation handed to us on a silver platter in a ‘new’ light that relates to our time and lives? Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on July 15, 2020 in Sermons

 

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Yoked

Available on YouTube, simply click here.

Our scriptures reflect a tension that exists within our discipleship, vocations, and lives in general. It is a tension that is held between rest and restlessness, between rest and service.

In the previous weeks, we have explored our co-mission and its high cost, for the cost of discipleship can shatter valued relationships, cause scorn, and for a few physical death.

This morning, we have the yoke of discipleship.

A yoke is a device that joins two or more creatures, often oxen, together as partners in mission and labor. It is used to increase their cooperation in sharing the labor of pulling heavy equipment or a burdensome load. Thus, the yoke has become symbolic of constraining, burdensome labor and servitude.

Within our Matthew scripture, Jesus utilizes the yoke as a metaphor for our relationship, particularly regarding our shared mission, ministry, and baptismal vocation to proclaim Christ in word and deed, to seek justice, to act with compassion and mercy, and to love and serve all people.

Perhaps, we may understand it best within our own personal, human-human, Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2020 in Sermons

 

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