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Brave Enough to Doubt

Good Morning and peace be with you!

I am Pastor Melinda Gapen, your Lutheran sister in Christ residing in Arizona.

I do have two disclaimers:

  1. The average Lutheran sermon is about 12 minutes, but my average is closer to 9 minutes; and
  2. Lutherans, myself included, tend to preach from the Revised Common Lectionary which is a three-year cycle of Scriptures.

The morning of the Resurrection (Easter) emphasizes Mary Magdalene and additional women arriving at the tomb of Jesus the Christ to anoint his body per custom. These women were expecting to encounter his corpus, but instead are greeted by the Risen Lord. He commissions them to bear witness to and share the good news of his resurrection with the others, including the inner-most circle of the eleven disciples.

These other disciples, except Thomas, are fearfully hidden in a dark room behind locked doors. These other disciples did not believe these witnesses of the Risen Lord until Christ appeared within their dark room. These disciples share their experience with Thomas, who similarly does not believe them.

Interestingly, the Revised Common Lectionary includes ‘doubting Thomas’ the Sunday after the Resurrection every single year. It is an annually opportunity to explore the relationship between ‘doubt’ and ‘faith’.

Thomas was a straight-shooting realist (Jn. 11:16).

Thomas sought to understand through his inquisitive nature (Jn. 14:5).

Thomas, similar to the other disciples, did not believe the reports of the Risen Lord.

As a straight-shooting realist with an inquisitive nature, I also would not have trusted the disciples.
The truth is that the probability of one returning from the death is extremely low, if not impossible. 

Similarly while on internship in Olympia Washington, my immediate family visited from Arizona to celebrate Easter. After the Easter celebrations, we explored Seattle for a day and were approaching Pike Place Market.

My sister, Amanda, was a smoker and proclaimed ‘I have to smoke before getting into THAT crowd’. Meanwhile, the rest of us thought ‘Amanda you JUST smoked’ and begun to walk toward the original Starbuck’s location to cross it off the ‘wish list’ of her significant other at the time.

As we walked, we noticed a man attempting to take a selfie with the unique Starbuck’s logo. We noticed him, however, not because of selfie taking skills but because he reminded us of my cousin Mikey. Mikey was raised in Indiana, lives in Connecticut, and is employed out of New York City. 

My mother, Tonya, decided to call out his name since the worse thing that could happen is a few funny looks.

However, he spun around and shouted “Aunt Tonya” while coming over to hug us all.

He is a professional model and actor, who was in town briefly for one day for a photo shoot.

He only had enough time to spare before the airport to probably get a beer OR a coffee and he was unable to ignore the siren of the original Starbuck’s location.

There are moments in our lives that if we are not present to bear witness to the event, we would not believe it  for it is too improbable. In fact, I have been asked if I fabricated this story for a sermon illustration but I do have photographs to prove it.

It is sort of like your Rabbi (teacher) returning from the dead.

Paul Tillich, a 20th century Lutheran theologian, lived during World War II. He was a German who taught at a university and was vocal against the NAZI party. Once Hitler and the Nazi party were in power, he became unemployed, his wife left him, and he had nowhere to turn. He immigrated to the United States of America, learned the English language, and begun to teach in our seminaries.

Tillich became known as a theologian in the ‘gray’ that exists between ‘black and white’ designations, which is expressed in his infamous quote:

“Doubt is not the opposite of faith; doubt is an element of faith”. (The Dynamics of Faith, 1957).

Doubt is not equal to faithless.

Doubt, instead, is a necessary and dynamic element of our faith journey that calls us more deeply into relationship with the divine through our skepticism and its sidekick of being inquisitive. For it is within these moments of doubt that we are called to engage and wrestle with the difficult questions, including:

  • Who is God?
  • How is God active in our life?
  • How is God active in your community, the Church universal, and the world?

For within these moments of ‘doubt’ we can experience significant spiritual growth, if only we are brave enough to:

  • wrestle with the uncertainties and improbabilities;
  • ask the challenging questions; and
  • create peace with doubt understanding it is neither weakness nor the opposite of faith.

May we be brave enough to be a straight-shooting realist.

May we be brave enough to wrestle with the uncertainties and improbabilities.

May we be brave enough to be inquisitive and not shy away from the challenging questions.

May we be brave enough to ‘doubt’. Amen.


Scripture was John 20: 19-31.
Originally Preached via Zoom on 11 April 2021 (Valley Christian Church, Birmingham, AL) 

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2021 in Sermons

 

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Temptations

As we begin our Lenten journey, it is helpful to again pause and rewind.

Our Lenten journey does not begin after Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain, instead it begins after Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordon.

Jesus publicly commits to proclaiming repentance and the Kingdom to Come that is here now in glimpses, near, and not yet fulfilled.

  • Jesus publicly commits to seeking justice and honest peace.
  • Jesus publicly commits to acts of compassion and mercy.
  • Jesus publicly commits to loving and serving all people, but especially the under-privileged.

Immediately afterwards, the Holy Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness alone.

Jesus will be alone in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights while tempted by the Satan.

According to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, the Satan tempts Jesus with three notable tests.

  • Jesus is tempted to abuse his divine power for the physical nourishment of food.
  • Jesus is tempted to surrender his divine authority for material wealth and earthly authority.
  • Jesus is tempted to ‘test’ God.

These temptations are reasonable.

  • Similar to puppy friends, we (as humans) are often food motivated especially when hungry. Hungry humans are often ‘hangry’ humans.
  • We, as humans, are often motivated by material reward and earthly authority. Studies have indicated that humans, organizations, and companies often do not consider themselves ‘wealthy’ due to the presence of persons, organizations, and companies that are ‘wealthier’. This results in a continual drive to accumulate additional wealth or maintain, perhaps hoard,
    their current wealth.
  • We, as humans, intentionally or not, often ‘test’ God.
    Our intentional tests may be modeled from Martin Luther: “Lord, I will become a monk, IF YOU save me from this storm” or “I will believe in you, IF YOU do this”.

    Our unintentional tests may include our assurance of God’s grace for ourselves despite:
    not proclaiming Christ in thought, word, and deed through imitation,
    not seeking justice and honest peace,
    not acting with compassion and mercy toward another, and
    not loving and serving all people, but especially the under-privileged.

However, the Gospel of Mark does not provide insight into the temptation of Jesus; and thus, it enables us more deeply to discern Jesus’ experience in the wilderness. I envision that Jesus experienced additional challenges during his 40 days and nights.

Perhaps, Jesus heard the Satan whispering lies into his ear.

  • The lie that Jesus was not divine.
  • The lie that Jesus was not the Beloved Son of God.
  • The lie that Jesus was not the long-awaited Messiah or Christ.
  • The lie that Jesus was not a ‘Miracle Worker’ lifting the under-privileged in status.
  • The lie that Jesus was not a Rabbi instructing persons in the Kingdom of God to Come.

Similarly, the Satan whispers in our ear.

  • The lie that we or perhaps another are not beloved children of God.
  • The lie that we are unable to lift the under-privileged for the sake of justice and honest peace.
  • The lie that we are unable to walk in Jesus’ footsteps of compassion, mercy, grace, and love in service to all despite difference in race, ethnicity, or nationality; biological sex, gender identity, or sexuality; socio-economics; political affiliations; religious adherence or lack thereof; and beyond.

Perhaps, Jesus was further tempted to abuse his power, his authority, his privilege.

Similarly, we are tempted to abuse our power, our authority, and our privilege.

  • The abuse of dominating and silencing those who may have less power, authority, and privilege.
  • The abuse of intimidating those whose voice and presence is perceived as a threat to our authority or comfort.
  • The effort of gas-lighting, or creating a false reality, to manipulate another for our own benefit.

The truth is that we, as humans, are tempted to not live more boldly into our baptismal commitments.

We, as humans, sin each second and beyond due to our desire to remain comfortable and un-changed.

We are tempted by thoughts and actions that are self-centered and self-serving. 

We are tempted by less-than-charitable thoughts and actions towards another.

We are tempted by words rooted in ego and pride, frustration and anger.

As I pondered this temptation of Jesus and ourselves, “A Day with the Devil” echoed in my soul. It is a country song performed by a Hoosier boy named Matt Mason. (It is our Offering Video and I encourage you to pause and listen to it at that time.)  

May our eyes, minds, hearts, and souls be open to recognizing the temptations in our own lives.

May we be enabled to boldly renounce all forces that defy God and the Kingdom to Come.

May we be empowered to boldly renounce all temptations that seek to draw us from God and neighbor alike.

May we be emboldened to boldly follow in the footsteps of Jesus through baptism, temptation, and beyond.

Amen.

Scriptures were Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25:1-10; 1 Peter 3:18-22; and Mark 1:9-15.
Originally preached 21 February 2021 at Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN).

A Day with the Devil
Matt Mason

I left here this mornin’, my feet hard on the ground,
swore I wasn’t comin’ back, we’d fought our final round.
Then a stranger, offered me a ride.
So I took him up and climbed on inside.
He said I’ve got some things to do, I hope that you don’t mind.
I figured what’s the difference? I had lots of time.
When I seen his eyes, I sank in disbelief.
I was ridin’ with the devil, and I watched him do his deeds.

He told that lonely man to keep drinkin’,
simple child to just quit thinkin’,
and begged the wife to cheat,
and he cursed the farmers land,
told that sick old soul to just give up,
teenage boy to take that puff,
and whispered to me let go of her hand.

He said I can’t keep you here, no not against your will
but go ahead and leave that girl and see how good it feels.
Boy you know, this world’s a big ol’ place
and loves not really real anyway
Life don’t last forever, so you oughta roll the dice.
You know I’d never tell a lie, just take my advice.
But I’d seen enough and I told him we were through.
I said go to hell, there’s some things I need to do.

I told that lonely man to quit drinkin’,
simple child to just keep thinkin’,
and begged the wife to pray, God bless the farmer’s land,
told that sick old soul to not give in
the teenage boy to run from sin
and came back home to take you by the hand.
I know I can be a better man.

 
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Posted by on February 21, 2021 in Sermons

 

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The Lenten Journey

Richard Rohr, a Roman Catholic theologian, wrote:

We worshiped Jesus instead of following him on his same path.
We made Jesus into a mere religion instead of a journey towards union with God and everything else.

This shift made us into a religion of “belonging and believing” instead of a religion of transformation.

Ash Wednesday begins Lent, a transformational journey toward union with God, neighbor, and beyond.

Ash Wednesday reminds us that our physical bodies, minds, and lives are temporary, a blink of the eye, for ‘from dust [we] came and to dust [we] shall return’. And yet, we strive to extend our delusional existence built upon pride, ego, and presumed righteousness.

The honest truth is simple. We are beautifully flawed and broken people, who live among our beautifully flawed and broken human siblings, in our beautifully flawed and broken communities, nations, and creation. It is our flaws and brokenness that separates us from our neighbors and God.

Lent is the life-giving journey into the darkest depth of our flawed, broken, and sinful messy selves.

It is a journey that demands vulnerability as we confront the reflection in the mirror proclaiming:

  • I am human.
  • I am flawed and broken.
  • I am a sinner.

Lent is a literal ‘Come to Jesus’ journey re-prioritizing our time, energy, resources, and entire life toward reconciliation with God and neighbor through vulnerable soul searching, re-directing our attention to the cross of Jesus the Christ, and responding to the grace of God beyond comprehension.

Lent is a journey that burns our pride, ego, and presumed righteousness into ash.

Lent is a journey that burns our personal flaws, brokenness, and sin into ash.

Lent is a journey that burns our communal flaws, brokenness, and sin into ash.

These flaws, brokenness, and sin, includes but are not limited to:

  • Injustice and Oppression;
  • Heartlessness and Indifference,
  • Prejudice and Hatred,
  • Frustration and Anger;
  • Violence and Suffering; and
  • Self-Centeredness or ‘sin’.     

It is from these ashes that our authentic, beautiful, and still flawed selves can rise anew.

It is from these ashes that our authentic, beautiful, and still flawed communities can rise anew.

It is from these ashes that our authentic, beautiful, and still flawed world can rise anew.

Lent is a transformative journey. 

Although still flawed, we are raised from the ashes stronger and bolder in new life with Jesus the Christ.

Although still flawed, we are raised from the ashes stronger and bolder into the persons, communities, and world that the Triune God has, is, and will continue to call us to be.

As a proud daughter of Arizona, I cannot deny the imagery of the Phoenix who self-combusts, becomes ash, and then rises again from the ashes stronger than before. And so, we came from ashes, we are called to die to the self, we return to ash, and we rise from said ash by the grace of God alone transformed further into the one God has, is, and will continue to call us to be.

And yet, this process of burning our pride, ego, presumed righteousness, self-centeredness (sin), and distractions in order to be resurrected again is a re-occurring, life-long process until the moment of our earthly deaths.This transformational journey is new life, a resurrection, more deeply into our baptismal vocations to:

  • Proclaim Christ in thought, word, and deed through imitation;
  • Seek justice and honest peace;
  • Act with compassion and mercy; and
  • Love and serve all people.

Lent is a life-giving, ‘Come to Jesus’, transformative journey.

As we enter into this journey, may we reflect upon our need for God and God’s transforming grace.

As we enter into this journey, may we repent from pride, ego, presumed righteousness, and sin.

As we enter into this journey, may we reconcile with God and neighbor alike.

As we enter into this journey, may we be restored by the love, mercy, and grace of God.

Similar to the Phoenix, may we be raised from the ashes stronger and bolder by God’s grace alone.
Amen.

Scriptures were Isaiah 58: 1-12 and Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21.
Originally preached 17 February 2021 for Trinity Lutheran Church (Union City, Indiana).

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2021 in Sermons

 

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Listen to Him

I want to pause, rewind, and briefly chart our journey since the Epiphany.

  • Jesus was baptized, publicly committing to God’s Will for the sake of the world.
  • Jesus invited persons to be his disciples, calling them from their previous lives into a new journey.
  • Jesus’ public ministry emphasized miracles, such as healings and exorcising demonic spirits.
  • Jesus leaves Capernaum after healing and exorcising many, but not all.

During Jesus’ baptism, he alone heard the voice of God from the heavens say:
“This is my Son, the beloved, with him I am well pleased”.

During the exorcisms, Jesus will not permit the demonic or unclean spirits to speak for they are aware of his divine identity as the Son of God.

This idea is the ‘Messianic Secret’ throughout the Gospel of Mark. The divine identity of Jesus is to remain hidden until the end.

After Jesus and the disciples leave Capernaum, their public ministry of healing and exorcising will continue throughout and beyond the region of Galilee. While the healed and exorcised are enabled, empowered, and emboldened to serve and minister to those whose disabilities, illness and disease, and even demons remain as their proclamation of Christ, their action of compassion and mercy, and their light of love.

The Transfiguration of Christ is another transitional narrative.

Jesus invites Peter, James, and John to accompany him on a hike up the mountain to pray.
Peter, James, and John are Jesus’ most intimate disciples among his inner-most circle.

Suddenly, Jesus is divinely transfigured (or changed) before their eyes.
Moses, the ancestor of faith who provided the Israelites with the Torah (the law or teaching), appears.
Elijah, the prophet who will return to usher in the Messiah, appears.
Jesus, Moses, and Elijah are in conversation with one another.

Peter, James, and John are awe-struck.
Peter, similar to humankind, is uncomfortable with silence. He suggests building three sacred tents.

Instead, the heavens open and the voice of God says:
“This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.”

Jesus, the demons, and the unclean spirits are no longer the only ones who know Jesus’ divine identity. And yet, Jesus will order Peter, James, and John to remain silent about his identity until the end.

Similar to Jesus and the disciples leaving Capernaum, the Transfiguration begins a new chapter. Jesus begins the journey to Jerusalem, where he will be arrested and crucified. Jesus shifts his emphasis from healing and exorcising demons to teaching the disciples and crowds, as though preparing us for his earthly departure.

And thus, I am intrigued by God instructing Peter, James, and John to listen to Jesus the Christ.

We, as humans, are not comfortable with silence and often anticipate said silence with a response. Thus, we listen to respond instead of listening to understand.

We often listen for keywords or phrases to hear whether one agrees or disagrees with us.
Thus, we can more quickly label said person as supporting or opposing us.
And yet, we are called to fully listen in order to understand.

We often listen for keywords or phrases that support our bias and pre-conceived notions.
Thus, we can more quickly dismiss the words and perceptions that do not support our own.
And yet, we are called to fully listen in order to understand.

  • The understanding we should seek can open our mind, hearts, and souls to new possibilities.
  • The understanding we should seek can blossom into new or even reconciled relationships.
  • The understanding we should seek can lead us on a journey of personal and spiritual growth.

And so, we are directed to fully listen to Jesus, the Son of God, the beloved.

  • In order that we may seek to understand the teachings of Jesus.
  • In order that we may seek to build relationships, whether in agreement or not.
  • In order that we may seek said journey of new possibilities and growth.

May we listen not to respond, but listen to understand our human siblings.

May we listen not to respond, but to proclaim Christ in thought, word, and deed more faithfully.

May we listen not to respond, but listen to be more aware of needed compassion and mercy.

May we listen not to respond, but listen to become a greater light of love for the sake of all creation.

May we listen not to respond, but listen to become a serving embodiment of Jesus the Christ.
Amen.

Scripture was Mark 9: 2-9.
Originally preached 14 February 2021 at Trinity Lutheran (Union City, Indiana).

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2021 in Sermons

 

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New Chapters

Jesus has exorcised an unclean, demonic spirit from a man within the synagogue.

Afterwards, Jesus and the newly called disciples enter into the home of Simeon (Peter) to find his mother-in-law is in bed ill. This means that Simeon (later Peter) was a married man, who would leave his home, career, parents, spouse, and possibly children behind to follow Jesus.

Jesus does heal his mother-in-law, who responds appropriately with gratitude in service.

As we might imagine, the news of the exorcism and this healing ripple through the small town. The community begins to bring their loved ones who have demons for exorcisms and their ill for healing. Although Jesus does exorcise and heal many, he does not exorcise and heal all of them.

In the night, Jesus escapes to pray. The disciples will encourage him to return and continue exorcising and healing, but Jesus shares that the time has come to end this chapter and begin the next.

This narrative, especially paired with our Isaiah, Psalm, and 1 Corinthians scriptures, is simple but offers profound teaching about the divine character of the Triune God, our appropriate response, and the next chapter.

Our Scriptures include an over-arching truth, God desires life that is truly LIFE for all; and thus, God is life-giving. God is merciful, slow to anger, steadfast in love, and according to our Psalm and Isaiah scriptures it is experienced as:

  • God gathers,
  • God lifts the lowly,
  • God binds up wounds,
  • God heals the broken-hearted,
  • God rebuilds,
  • God sustains,
  • God provides, and
  • God protects.

Within our Christian tradition, we experience this life that is truly LIFE through baptism.

In baptism, we experience a death to the Old Adam, our old selves, or the ending of a previous chapter.
This includes an exorcism through renouncing all forces that defy the Kingdom of God to Come.

In baptism, we are raised as a new creation into this new life and the new chapters ahead.
This is a healing or restoring of our souls through forgiveness, mercy, and of course grace.

Our appropriate response to this new life is to strive for the Kingdom of God that is here in glimpses now, that is near, and that is not yet fulfilled with gratitude in living further and further into our Baptismal vocations:

  • To proclaim Christ in thought, word, and deed through imitation,
  • To seek justice and honest peace,
  • To act with compassion and mercy, and
  • To love and to serve all people, especially the vulnerable.

Unfortunately, this is NOT easy.

We fail. We easily become weary, faint, and eventually exhausted and over-whelmed in faithful service.

When we are weary, faint, and exhausted, it hinders our ability to recognize the creative power of God, which is on-going and sustaining activity fostering the life that is truly LIFE, and our envisioning of a new creation that is the next chapter and beyond.

But, fortunately God does not fail. God does not become weary, faint, or exhausted.

And thus, we can and must rely on the sustaining grace of God.

And so, Jesus and the disciples continue into their next chapter of proclaiming the good news, exorcising demons, and healing people beyond Capernaum and eventually beyond Galilee.

Meanwhile, those who have been exorcised or healed are left behind to continue expressing their gratitude in faithful service through proclaiming Christ, acting with compassion and mercy, while loving and serving especially those whose demons and illnesses remain. Those who were exorcised and healed have been freed to boldly serve the “other”, similarly the baptized have been freed and are subject to the Triune God alone. According to the Apostle Paul (and Martin Luther), this freedom enables us to become servants who boldly serve all persons, grabbing ahold of and expanding upon the glimpses of the Kingdom of God that is here in this time and place. That is their next chapter. That is our next chapter.

May we embrace the life that is truly Life offered by the Triune God.

May we embrace our appropriate response to serve with gratitude
in accordance with our baptismal vocation.

May we embrace the next chapter and beyond.
Amen.

Scriptures were Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-11, 20c; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; and
Mark 1:29-39.

Originally preached 7 Feb. 2021 for Trinity Lutheran Church (Union City, Indiana).

 
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Posted by on February 8, 2021 in Sermons

 

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Baptismal Exorcism

Since the Epiphany, we have emphasized our Baptismal Vocation to:

  • Proclaim Christ in Thought, Word, and Deed through Imitation;
  • Seek Justice and Honest Peace;
  • Act with Compassion and Mercy; and
  • Love and Serve All People, but especially the Vulnerable.

Our shared Baptismal vocation calls us to utilize our prophetic voice participating in ushering forth the Kingdom of God that is here among us now in glimpse, that is near, and that is not yet fulfilled. Unfortunately, the prophetic voice is often uncomfortable for it is convicting to the hearer while dangerous for the speaker.

Our shared Baptismal vocation calls us to proclaim a call to repentance, or an opportunity for individuals, communities, and nations to turn from their own will to the Will of God. This call is to be proclaimed whether we desire the person or persons to be afforded this second chance.

Our share Baptism invites us into repentance, thus acknowledging our need to turn from our own will and toward the Will of God in a second chance yet again.

Our Baptismal emphasis does continue this morning.

Jesus is teaching in the synagogue. Jesus is impressing the people and teaching with authority.

And yet, Jesus is interrupted by the disruptive outburst from the unclean, demonic spirit within a man. This unclean, demonic spirit recognizes Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God.

Jesus quickly silences the unclean, demonic spirit with an exorcism nestled in our passage.

The Gospel of Mark has the ‘Messianic Secret’, or Jesus holding his divine identity secret even from his most intimate disciples until the Transfiguration.

Thus, Jesus silences and removes the unclean, demonic spirit that announced his divine identity.

Exorcism is not often discussed in mainline Protestant denominations, perhaps we are not comfortable with the idea of supernatural evil forces that must be removed from persons. However, our Rite of Baptism and our Affirmation of Baptism does include a minor Rite of Exorcism.

  • Do you RENOUNCE the devil and all forces that defy God?
  • Do you RENOUNCE the powers of this world that rebel against God?
  • Do you RENOUNCE the ways that sin draws you from God?

And, we responded “I renounce them”. This was a minor Rite of Exorcism.

The devil and all forces that defy God, the powers of this world that rebel against God, and the sin that draws us from God and neighbor, whether actively or in silent complicity, are unclean spirits.

But, what are these unclean spirits?

Our Christian Scriptures do support the presence of supernatural evil summoned from the depths of hell, but admittedly this disturbs me and thankfully is rare. Thus, I tend to shy away from the topic.

In the Biblical era, disability or illness in mind or body was often attributed to unclean, demonic spirits. Despite advances in science and medicine, there are faiths and persons who continue to do so. 

And yet, our Rite of Baptism and Affirmation of Baptism does not limit said unclean spirits to supernatural forces from hell determined to destroy our mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing.

Instead, these rites intend to exorcise any spirit, force, idea, or action that defies the Will and Kingdom of God in and among the entire creation, our nations, our communities, our synagogues and churches, and even within ourselves.

Prejudice based upon race, ethnicity, or nationality is an unclean spirit.

Prejudice based upon gender, gender-identity, or sexuality is an unclean spirit.

Prejudice based upon socio-economics, education, or age is an unclean spirit.

Prejudice based upon political affiliations is an unclean spirit.

Prejudice based upon religious adherence or lack thereof is an unclean spirit.

The dehumanizing of one another is an unclean spirit. 

The denying persons respect and dignity is an unclean spirit.

All acts of violence and any harm done to another in mind, body, or soul is an unclean spirit.

Silent complicity in the presence of said unclean spirits is also an unclean spirit.

Unfortunately, we are all guilty of said unclean spirits.

And thus, the minor Rite of Exorcism in our Rite or Affirmation of Baptism is needed daily.

It is the daily renouncing of the devil and all forces that defy God.

It is the daily renouncing of all powers that rebel against God.

It is the daily renouncing of all the ways that sin, personal and communal, draw us from God and neighbor.

This exorcism is not for our sake alone. This exorcism is for the sake of our neighbors, places of worship, communities, nations, and the entire creation. 

May we affirm our baptisms daily
including the renouncing of all unclean spirits.

May said minor Rite of Exorcism enable us
to more faithfully follow the Will of God.
Amen.

Scripture was Mark 1: 21-28.
Originally preached 31 Jan. 2021 for Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN).

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2021 in Sermons

 

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Call to Repentance

I want to pause and rewind for a moment.

Since the Epiphany, our scriptures have emphasized the “light-bulb” moments of vocation. Vocation is our callings, which expand well beyond our profession to our relationships, our public roles, our family roles, and every aspect of our being. These vocations, for baptized Christians, should be firmly rooted in our baptismal callings:

  • To proclaim Christ in thought, word, and deed;
  • To seek justice and honest peace;
  • To act with compassion and mercy in the care of the world that God has made; and
  • To love and serve all people, but especially the most vulnerable.

We heard Samuel called by the voice of God in the night. Samuel was a willing prophet responding “Here I am, Lord, your servant is listening”. And yet, the first prophetic message is one of judgment upon his mentor, the high priest Eli.

Jonah is instead a reluctant prophet of sorts.

Jonah was an Israelite prophet, who spoke from and among his people.

Jonah spoke confidently that despite the failures and sins of the Israelite people, God would pardon them in abundant grace without their recognition and acknowledgement of it.

God would pardon them in abundant grace without their accountability and responsibility.

God would pardon them in abundant grace without their repentance and change of mind, heart, or behavior.

The grace of God is beyond our comprehension, but the idea of pardon through grace without recognizing and acknowledging our own personal and collective failure and sins, without holding ourselves and another accountable and responsible, and without repentance that leads to renewed commitment to our baptismal vocation is simply cheap grace.

Please note, however, that we must rely on the abundant grace of God for we are not without failure and sin to be recognized and acknowledged, to be accountable and responsible, and to be called into repentance that changes our minds, hearts, and lives to more fully reflect the path, Will, and Kingdom of God. This is a lifetime process and every second is a second chance.

So, God sends Jonah to Nineveh, in order to proclaim a call to repentance. Jonah is reluctant because:

  • Jonah did not like those in Nineveh.
  • Jonah did not want these to have the opportunity to repent.
  • Jonah knew that in abundant grace, God would be true to the divine characteristics of steadfast love and being merciful.

Jonah delivered the shortest sermon in history, under his breath, and prayed none heard the warning. And yet, they did.

The people enter into a fast of repentance, including wearing the grain sacks for clothes.

Their leadership declared and ordered the observation of this fast of repentance, although unnecessary for the people were already participating.

And then, it becomes the comedic commentary intended when the livestock and animals are included in the fast. Can you envision the cows wearing grain sacks?

God does pardon Nineveh to the dismay of Jonah. Perhaps, Jonah was sent as a reluctant prophet to Nineveh to grow more deeply in his understand of God abundant in grace, merciful to a fault, and always steadfast in love towards us and the ‘other’, whether it is to our dismay or our celebration.

And yet, one day the people of Nineveh will invade and occupy a non-repentant Israel.

Jonah was not the only prophet sent from and among Israel to proclaim a call to repentance.
John the Baptizer held the same vocation, which led to his arrest and beheading.

And then, Jesus places the mantle upon his shoulders proclaiming a call to repentance for the Kingdom of God is here now in glimpses, it is near and coming, and it is not yet fulfilled.

Jesus invites Simeon (Peter), Andrew, John, and James to leave behind their professions, their possessions, and their loved ones in order to gather more persons into relationship with the Triune God in hope, honest peace, divine presence in joy, and unconditional love through repentance and reconciliation.

Unfortunately, Jesus and his disciples would also suffer violent death for their prophetic voice and call to repentance for none take pleasure in looking at the mirror to see our sin, our failure, our shadow-side staring back. And yet, we are precisely called to confront said sin, failure, and shadow-side with a repentant heart seeking reconciliation with neighbor and God as able.

May we hear the call to repentance.

May we look into the mirror and confront our sin, failure, and shadow-side.

May we recognize and acknowledge it.

May we be accountable and responsible for it.

May we repent for our sin, failure, and shadow-side and
recommit to our shared Christian, baptismal vocations.

May we seek reconciliation with neighbor and God.

May we experience abundant, but true, grace.
Amen.

Scriptures were Jonah 3: 1-5, 10 and Mark 1: 14-20.
Originally preached 24 January 2021 for Trinity Lutheran Church (Union City, IN).

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2021 in Sermons

 

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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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