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Prophetic Voice

After the sermon “Why was Jesus Baptized? Why Affirm Our Own?” on January 10th, it was brought to my attention that despite direct renouncing on social media and the generalized renouncing of violence in previous sermons, I had failed to directly renounce previous violence, riot, and attack from the pulpit.

I recognize and acknowledge this failure. I publicly repent.

I bravely and boldly renounce all acts of riot and violence as contrary to the Will and Kingdom of God.

I bravely and boldly renounce all acts of riot and violence despite the associated gatherings, person or persons, organizations or institutions, including but not limited to:

  • Antifa,
  • Black Lives Matter,
  • Child Abuse,
  • Domestic Violence,
  • Gender-based and Sexual Violence,
  • Proud Boys,
  • QAnon,
  • Sport Championship Wins,
  • and otherwise.

This brave and bold renouncement is rooted in our baptismal commitments and re-commitments in our Affirmation of Baptism, through renouncing the devil, all forces that defy God, the powers of this world that rebel against God, and draw us from the path, Will, and Kingdom of God. This requires the help of God.

And yet, our shared Christian vocation rooted in our baptismal commitments and these renouncements are not divorced from our intriguingly, inter-connected scriptures from the call of the young Samuel to Jesus’ earliest disciples, and from how the call arrives to its embracement and embodiment.

Our baptismal commitments include:

  • to live among the faithful gathered around the Word and sacraments and who teach us the Lord’s prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments;
  • to nurture our faith and prayer life in order to grow in a deeper, healthier, more trusting relationship with the Triune God;
  • to proclaim Christ in thought, word, and deed through embodying His teachings while imitating His public life and ministry as recorded in the Scriptures;
  • to care for, love, and serve others and the entire creation that God has made; and
  • to seek and strive towards justice and peace.

Although I often refer to this as our shared Christian vocation, it is our discipleship.

According to our Old Testament scripture, Israel was in a dark time lacking the experience of the divine presence in voice and vision. Eli was their high priest, who had grown dull, blind, and deaf spiritually while ignoring the actions of his ‘priestly sons’ according to the Torah, or teaching, in ritual practice and basic human decency.

Meanwhile, Samuel is a young boy whose short life has been dedicated to the service of the Temple, who is literally sleeping near the Arc of the Covenant holding the tablets that the Ten Commandments were inscribed. Samuel is not and will never be a priest, for he is not from the ‘priestly’ tribe.

But, Samuel will be awoken by the voice of God. Samuel would be a prophet, for that is not limited to tribe.

Samuel responds to the voice “Here I am Lord, your servant is listening”.

And yet it may seem a cruel calling, for Samuel is initially summoned to deliver a divine warning to Eli that his family’s legacy will be destroyed due to their faithlessness.

Samuel will continue his prophetic, public ministry sharing the messages of God not within the temple but among the common people in the country-side.

Then after centuries had passed, God became incarnated in human flesh and bone as Jesus the Christ, who was raised by a common family within a small country-side town called Nazareth. Jesus was baptized in the Jordon River beginning his public ministry as a teacher and prophet with a public dedication to the path, Will, and Kingdom of God.

Now, we enter into the scriptures with the calling of Jesus’ earliest disciples. Philip and Nathanael.

Philip easily and excitedly agreed to leave his employment, family, and life as he knew it to answer the invitation and call from Jesus to ‘follow me’.

Nathanael, on the other hand, was more ‘skeptical’, but perhaps he had a deeper sense of fulfillment in his employment, family, and life as he knew it. So, he asks ‘can anything good come from Nazareth’?

Philip, perhaps grabs Nathanael by the hand, says ‘come and see’. Nathanael does.

I envision the conversation of Philip, Nathanael, and Jesus was deeper and lengthier than included in Scripture. But, the conversation convinced Nathanael to ‘follow’ Jesus and to ‘see’ for himself.

Jesus always spoke truth. Jesus, similar to Samuel, spoke prophetically.

Jesus called his disciples, including us, to speak prophetically.

Unfortunately, the prophetic voice is often uncomfortable, painful, and convicting to hear.

The prophetic voice can be uncomfortable, painful, and dangerous to speak.

I think of Paul Tillich, a German Lutheran theologian, whose prophetic voice against the NAZI party resulted in the loss of his employment at the University and relocation to the United States of America.

I think of Martin Luther King Jr, a Black Baptist preacher from Alabama, whose prophetic voice against racial injustice in the United States of America paired with non-violent protest and civil disobedience ultimately resulted in his assassination.

These men are examples of Christian persons who spoke prophetically in courage.

These men are examples of Christian persons who paired their prophetic voice with action. 

These men are examples of Christian persons who relied on the Grace of God to do so.

Similarly, we are called to speak prophetically in courage for the sake of justice and honest peace.

Similarly, we are called to pair our prophetic voice with actions of compassion, mercy, love, and service.

Similarly, we are called to rely on the Grace of God to do so. God Help Us.

May we echo Samuel, ‘here I am Lord, your servant is listening’.

May we model Philip and Nathanael, who answered the calling to follow Jesus as disciples.

May we embrace our prophetic voice within and through our shared baptismal, Christian vocation. 

May God help us. Amen.

Scriptures were 1 Samuel 3: 1-10 and John 1: 43-51.
Originally preached  17 January 2021 at Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN)

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2021 in Sermons

 

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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).

Statement of Recognition, Acknowledgment, Repentance, and Renouncement:
After the sermon “Why was Jesus Baptized? Why Affirm Our Own?” on January 10th, it was brought to my attention that despite direct renouncing on social media and the generalized renouncing of violence in previous sermons, I had failed to directly renounce previous violence, riot, and attack from the pulpit.

I recognize and acknowledge this failure. I publicly repent.

I bravely and boldly renounce all acts of riot and violence as contrary to the Will and Kingdom of God.

I bravely and boldly renounce all acts of riot and violence despite the associated gatherings, person or persons, organizations or institutions, including but not limited to:

  • Antifa,
  • Black Lives Matter,
  • Child Abuse,
  • Domestic Violence,
  • Gender-based and Sexual Violence,
  • Proud Boys,
  • QAnon,
  • Sport Championship Wins,
  • and otherwise.

This brave and bold renouncement is rooted in our baptismal commitments and re-commitments in our Affirmation of Baptism, through renouncing the devil, all forces that defy God, the powers of this world that rebel against God, and draw us from the path, Will, and Kingdom of God. This requires the help of God.

 
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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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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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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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Saint Nicholas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
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Posted by on December 7, 2020 in Sermons

 

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Jesus Appearing

Welcome to Advent and a New Church Year!

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

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

Advent is the hopeful anticipation and expectation, awaiting:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May we dust off our souls.

May we clean the cobwebs from our spiritual lives.

May we de-clutter our calendars and lives.

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

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

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2020 in Sermons

 

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Divine Judgment

Welcome to the end… of the Church Year.

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

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

Ezekiel provides insight for the necessity of said divine judgment.

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

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

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

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

We, fallen humanity, however rarely will:

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

without expectation of earthly or heavenly reward.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2020 in Sermons

 

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