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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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Stewardship Investment

This is a ‘Stewardship Sunday’ of sorts, because Matthew 25 is a scripture about slaves/servants, who are entrusted to manage the property of their master, how they do so, and their reward.

As a Millennial, I have heard us criticized for not being involved in organizations or institutions.
I have had conversations with persons of previous generations about possible reasons for this.

One reason is that Millennials expect a return on our investment, which may sound selfish until it is explored a little deeper. When a millennial invests our time, energy, and resources, we expect a return on investment but it does not necessarily benefit the individual personally.

For example, I know GenX and Millennial persons who are involved in service organizations but these organizations are seemingly not fulfilling their missions. The GenX and Millennial persons struggle with their investment of time and energy in meetings, as well as their investment of financial resources in dues, without bearing witness to a return on said investments, not personally but to the community. This is similar to the slave/servant with one talent, who hides it and thus no return on investment.

Ourselves, the entire creation, all that is tangible and intangible, our time, our energy, our talents, our resources (financial and otherwise), and EVERYTHING was given by God for us to manage, or steward.

Thus, the questions become:

  • How are we stewarding, or managing, these gifts entrusted to us?
  • Do we hoard our time, energy, and resources for ourselves in self-indulgence?
  • How do we use our time, energy, and resources?
    Do we engage in ‘keeping up with the Jones’?
    Do we engage in the game ‘He who dies with the most toys, wins’?
    Do we share for the sake of the Kingdom of God to Come?

In Baptism, we commit to seeking justice, acting with compassion and mercy, while loving and serving all people but especially the most vulnerable. The scriptures instruct that this includes sheltering the homeless poor, clothing the naked, and feeding the hungry.

Therefore, we must ask ourselves:

Are we hoarding, hiding, or burying our time, energy, and resources?
Or, are we managing well and sharing our time, energy, and resources?

If we share these our time, energy, and resources, the two becomes four and the five become ten. Thus, we are able to witness the blessing of God manifold.

We welcomed Lutheran Child and Family Services this morning.
We have a history of supporting the Wernle Home.

These are causes, outside of our walls, that engage in the work of the Kingdom.

These are service organizations that use their time, energy, resources and those gathered from the community for a return on investment that is greater than themselves.

These service organizations practice stewardship and our shared, God given, Christian vocation.

It doesn’t matter how little or how much time, energy, and resources (financial or otherwise) one has to share, but when used for the sake of the Kingdom of God to Come on earth, we are guaranteed a return on our investment. And for that, thanks be to God. Amen.

Scripture was Matthew 25: 14-30.
Originally preached 15 Nov. 2020 at Trinity Lutheran (Union City, Indiana).

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2020 in Sermons

 

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What is Justice? and When?

Amos and the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids is an odd pairing. And yet, odd pairings are able to complement one another and offer profound insight.

Amos is a ‘minor prophet’, which is a description of its shorter length compared to ‘major prophets’. Unfortunately, the ‘minor prophets’ are too often under-appreciated in my opinion but I am bias for Micah and Amos are ‘minor prophets’ and my personal favorites for their down-to-earth, blunt honesty.

Amos’ down-to-earth, blunt honesty is displayed through this proclamation that:

  • God despises our celebratory festivals;
  • God does not delight in our solemn assemblies;
  • God will not accept grain or burnt offerings;
  • God will not accept animal sacrifices; and
  • God does not want to hear music or voices lifted in songs of praise.

If God despises, will not accept, and does not desire our festivals and gatherings, our offerings and sacrifices, and our rituals and worship, then what does God demand from us.

In the words of Micah:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and
to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
(Micah 6:8, NRSV).

Amos words it:

But let justice roll down like waters, and
righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
(Amos 5: 24, NRSV)

But, what is righteousness and justice?

The Hebrew concept of righteousness emphasizes being in ‘right relationship’ with God and ‘neighbor’.


We will fail.
We will be in broken relationship with God.
We will be in broken relationships with our human siblings.

And yet, we have the opportunities for repentance, reconciliation, and
healing with God and our human siblings alike.

Justice, even the biblical perspective, can be more challenging to define.

  • The ‘major prophets’, such as Isaiah and Jeremiah,
    tend to paint an image of ‘justice’ as divine punishment
    for our rebellion against God and the Torah (or teaching).
  • Meanwhile, the ‘minor prophets’ tend to emphasis ‘justice’
    as our benevolent actions toward the most vulnerable in need, equity, and equality. Amos, Micah, and the ‘minor prophets’ frequency proclaim that our festivals, gatherings, offerings, sacrifices, and
    worship is WORTHLESS WITHOUT JUSTICE.
    (You might say that said gatherings, rituals, and worship are simply the icing on the cake).

This justice is manifested in a multitude of means.

  • Justice is our benevolent actions to ensure all persons
    have access to resources and needs are met.
    God provides the entire creation and its creatures, including humans,
    an abundance to meet all needs. Unfortunately, we are sinful critters.
    We hoard said abundance in fear and greed, rather than sharing it.
    (One simple example is toilet paper during the COVID-19 pandemic).
  • Justice is when all persons experience equity,
    or fair practices that are a means to equality.
    Equity has been hindered by systems that have benefited the privileged at the disadvantage, expense, and harm of vulnerable persons and communities often based on race, ethnicity, and nationality;
    biological sex, gender identity, and sexuality; age and health; and
    socio-economics.
  • Justice is equality. Equality is not only hindered by systematic injustice,
    but also the prejudice of persons. This personal prejudice includes
    the before said vulnerable persons and communities,
    but can further expand to political affiliations,
    religious adherence or lack thereof, and far beyond
    reaching into every aspect of our lives.

Justice as equity and equality is firmly rooted in the Scriptures emphasizing God’s grace extended to all nations, all peoples, and all languages, as well as the Holy Spirit poured out upon men, women, and children.

This perspective of justice, biblical justice, causes Garth Brooks’
“We Shall be Free” to echo in my mind, heart, and soul.
Simply listen to these lyrics:

This ain’t coming from no prophet, just an ordinary man.
When I close my eyes, I see the way this world shall be
When we walk hand in hand.
When the last child cries for a crust of bread,
When the last man dies for just words that he said,
When there’s shelter over the poorest head,
We shall be free.

When the last thing we notice is the color of skin,
And the first thing we look for is the beauty within;
When the skies and oceans are clean again,
Then we shall be free.

We shall be free, we shall be free.
Stand straight, walk proud, ’cause we shall be free.

When we’re free to love anyone we choose,
When this world’s big enough for all different views,
When we all can worship from our own kind of pew,
Then we shall be free.

We shall be free, we shall be free.
Have a little faith, hold out, ’cause we shall be free.

And when money talks for the very last time,
And nobody walks a step behind;
When there is only one race and that’s mankind,
Then we shall be free.

We shall be free, we shall be free,
Stand straight, walk proud,
Have a little faith, hold out; We shall be free.

We shall be free, we shall be free,
Stand straight, stand straight,
Have a little faith, walk proud,
’cause we shall be free.

If that is justice, when will equity and equality free us?
When is the time for ‘right relationships’ and justice?

Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow. and Beyond.

The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids emphasizes the urgency for ‘right relationships’ and justice.

The bridesmaids do not know when the bridegroom will arrive to escort them into the wedding celebration, similarly we do not know when Christ will return to usher in the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom to Come. However, we do know that the Kingdom to Come is here now, it is near, and it is not yet fulfilled, but we are called to strive for the Kingdom to Come here and now. We are called to seize glimpses of the Kingdom to Come and expand these through our baptismal commitments:

  • To proclaim Christ in word and deed;
  • To seek justice;
  • To act with compassion and mercy; and
  • To love and serve all people, especially the most vulnerable among us. 

The bridesmaids were divided into two categories:
the ‘foolish’ and the ‘wise’.

The five ‘foolish’ bridesmaids were ill-prepared for the evening, for they did not bring extra oil for their lamps. Thus, when these bridesmaids heard the bridegroom was approaching, they were unable to light their lamps and were forced to seek an open shop from which to purchase the oil. The consequence for their lack of preparation was missing the wedding celebration.

The five ‘wise’ bridesmaids were prepared for the evening, for they did bring extra oil for their lamps. Thus, when these bridesmaids heard the bridegroom was approaching, they were able to light their lamps. The consequence for their preparations was attending the wedding celebration, or the Kingdom fulfilled.

Similar to these bridesmaids, we are divided. In fact, we are in a time, a nation of significant divisiveness that hinders our ‘right relationships’ with God and our human siblings, as well as seeking and doing justice. And yet, we always are foolishly confident that our own perspectives and actions are the appropriate preparations for the Kingdom to Come. Thus, we presume ourselves to be the ‘wise’ bridesmaids. Why?

Honestly, none of us want to be ‘foolish’.

  • How often are we given the chance to right our relationship with God
    and human siblings, but do not?
  • How often are we given the ability to seek and to do justice, but do not? 

It is far more often than we are willing to admit to ourselves, our human siblings, and God. 

The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids reminds us that we do not know when Christ will return to usher us as individuals, communities, humankind, and all of creation into the Kingdom fulfilled. Meanwhile, we do know that God has for centuries, is currently, and will continue to demand ‘right relationships’ and justice.

We have, are, and will continue to be called to seize opportunities to expand upon glimpses of the Kingdom to Come yesterday, today, tomorrow, and beyond. Therefore, we are called to be the ‘wise’ bridesmaids prepared and ready to light our lamps and shine Christ forth into the world.

And yet, we often seat on our comfy couches and in our lazy chairs thinking
“not today, but one day I will restore ‘right relationships’ and will seek and
do justice, but it will have to wait until I have more time, energy, or resources, and thus more convenient for me”?

We are called into ‘right relationship’ and
the challenging work of justice NOW!

We are called to love and serve all persons, especially the vulnerable, NOW!

Are we prepared, ready to shine the Christ light in word and deed,
in ‘right relationships’ and justice?

Or are we too tired, perhaps too lazy, to shine said Christ light in our lives,
communities, and beyond? 

In the title of another Garth Brooks’ song,
“What if Tomorrow Never Comes”.

May we be prepared.
May we be ready.

May we repent, reconcile, and heal
our relationships with God and our human siblings alike.

May we seize opportunities to seek and do justice in compassion,
mercy, love, service, and advocacy.
Amen.

The scriptures were Amos 5: 18-24 and Matthew 25: 1-13.
Originally preached for 11-08-2020 and Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN).

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2020 in Sermons

 

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Trust & Allegiance

Available on YouTube.

We have been taught to avoid religion and politic among polite company.

However, this is a disservice to our lives as individuals, community, and entre world. We should be taught how to be in respectful dialogue about both religion and politics, which listens to understand rather than listens to respond.

Our language for ‘politics’ is from the Greek word for citizen/city (public), it is the language used to describe our public life together. The opinions about how our public life together should be lived is as numerous as persons existing within all time and all places. This leads to potentially harmful and destructive dialogue among family, loved ones, friends, co-workers, and beyond.

Jesus did not avoid public life, or politics.

We enter into a conversation between Jesus and the religious elite, the dichotomy that has been established in this context is rather intense.

The religious elite question Jesus about a topic people have loved throughout the ages… NOT. It is about the lawfulness of paying (Roman) taxes. Their question is not rooted in mere curiosity or an intellectual exercise, but it is rooted in a malicious intent to entrap Jesus with words of treason against the Roman Empire.

Jesus will not be so easily tricked.

Jesus asks these religious elite to produce a Roman coin, which they can.
It displays the image of the Caesar and his inscription upon it.

Jesus tells these religious elite to give to Caesar want belong to Caesar, or give to the Roman political life what belongs to it. Jesus continues teaching that we are to give to God, what belongs to God.

Jesus transforms the question into one about where we place our trust and our allegiance.

Martin Luther discussed that the source of our greatest trust and allegiance is our god. We often hear this language in association with substance abuse or an addiction for wealth, power, authority or otherwise.

But, these religious elite were displaying their trust and allegiance in Rome, perhaps in the security of Pax Romana (“Peace of Rome”) established and maintained through oppression and violence as needed. This “peace” is not aligned with the Hebrew Scriptures summarized as a mission of seeking
justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God (Micah 6:8).

Where do we place our trust and allegiance?
Where do you place your trust and allegiance?

  • the United States of America;
  • elected officials/candidates; or
  • the Democrat or Republican Parties.
  • the Christian Church;
  • Lutheran Confessional teachings;
  • the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA); or
  • Trinity Lutheran Church.

Perhaps, we place our trust and allegiance in another human institution.
Perhaps, we place our trust and allegiance in our relationships with:

  • a parent;
  • a significant other;
  • a child;
  • a friend; or
  • a pet.

In another words, our trust and allegiance must be prioritized.

God is not naïve. God is aware that we place trust and give allegiance to institutions and persons.

But, what or who is at the top of of our priority?

We, similar to the Roman coin, bear an image.
We bear the image of God, the image of Christ.

We, similar to the Roman coin, have an inscription.
It is written on our hearts by God alone, it is the law or teaching and it reads “You are ay beloved”.

We are called to give God what belongs to God.
That is our entre being: mind, body, soul, trust, and allegiance.

God uses people, in their personal and public life, to bring forth the Kingdom of God to Come through justice, compassion, mercy, love, and service.

God uses human institutions to bring forth the Kingdom of God to Come again through justice, compassion, mercy, love, and service.

God, again, can use any person to bring forth said Kingdom to Come including the Gentle (uncircumcised, pork eating Pagan) political leader in our Isaiah passage.

This Kingdom to Come should be the frim ground all our personal and public action is rooted. It should be the priority, well above and beyond:

• nations;
• governments;
• leaders;
• political organizations;
• religious institutions;
• human relationships; and
• otherwise.

Where do you place your trust and allegiance?
Where do we place our trust and allegiance?

May it always and forever be in the Triune God
who has placed the divine image upon us and
who wrote the inscription “You are my beloved” upon our hearts.

May our personal and public lives reflect
the justice, compassion, mercy, love and service
of the Kingdom to Come.
Amen.

Scriptures were Isaiah 45: 1-7 and Matthew 22: 15-22.
Originally preached 18 Oct. 2020 at Trinity Lutheran (Union City, Indiana)

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2020 in Sermons

 

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Invitations & Robes

Jesus continues to teach the Pharisees, Scribes, and other religious elite in parable about the Kingdom of God.

It is a parable that paints a grand wedding banquet, which is more reminiscent of the ever-expanding, universal nature associated with the Gospel of Luke instead of the Gospel of Matthew. Luke often enlists the imagery of banquets with food, drink, and space abundant enough for all people, but Matthew adds a bitter taste of judgment, not once but twice, within this parable.

Recently I had been invited to the wedding of my cousin, who lives in Ohio. The invitation was expected.

Similarly, the Pharisees, Scribes, and religious elite would expect an invitation to the Kingdom of God, to this wedding banquet.

Despite the invitation to the wedding for my cousin, I declined after confirmation that my immediate family in Arizona was not invited. The reasons given were applicable to myself with the exception that my address read Indiana.

Similarly, the Pharisees, Scribes, and religious elite declined the invitation to the feast, the Kingdom of God. Additionally, members of the spiritual elite had seized, caused harm, and killed massagers from the host.

I did not seize, cause harm, or kill any person.

But as we can image, the host was not amused by their declining of the invitation and further their violent actions. Thus, the host ordered his military to destroy and burn their property.

Perhaps, my lack of violence is the reason my Jeep, house, and otherwise was not destroyed, although it apparently caused drama between my aunt and uncle due to a lack of communication. I also was not invited to the bridal shower.

The first part of this parable emphasizes, yet again, Jesus informing the religious elite that they will not enter the Kingdom of God before the sinners, who are considered unworthy. Jesus also emphasized again that the religious elite have ignored, seized, caused harm, and even killed the true messengers, or prophets, sent by God.

The parable shifts into scene two.

The host sends messengers into the town, on the road, in the back alleys to invite all persons to the prepared banquet, again seemingly with food, drink, and space abundant enough for all persons. Yes, the unclean, the unworthy, the sinners, the vulnerable easily dismissed by the elite.

This is that ever-expanding, universal invitation of God for all persons, despite:

  • Race, ethnicity, or nationality;
  • Gender, gender identity, or sexuality;
  • Socio-economics;
  • Political affiliations;
  • Religious adherence or lack thereof; and
  • Any boundaries we seek to place on God’s grace freely given.

These unexpectedly invited guests seize such an opportunity, put on the expected robes, and gladly arrive for this banquet.

Then, we arrive at the third and final scene of the parable and that second bitter taste of judgment.

The host notices and questions one of the unexpectedly invited guests, who was not adorning the proper robe, or clothes, for the celebration. The host has this unwelcome guest removed from the celebration.

This parable does not reflect the reality of the Ancient Near East (ANE), which is common for parables, for the poor and vulnerable may not own the proper robes for such a celebration. And yet, it is deeply ingrained with theological importance, particularly the early practice of Holy Baptism.

In our rite of Baptism, we note that the newly baptized is clothed in Christ. This is when I place a quilt around the newly baptized.

This is to symbolize shredding our sinfulness, in order to take on the commitments, to imitate and embody Christ through proclaiming Christ in word and deed, seeking justice, acting with compassion and mercy, while loving and serving all persons but especially the most vulnerable.

In the ancient rite of Baptism, it occurred in a room with a small but fairly deep pool of blessed water. The soon to be  baptized begun on one side of it, while the community of the baptized stood on the other side. The soon to be baptized would strip themselves of their clothing, or old self, and walk naked through the pool ensuring complete submersion in the water, symbolizing their own drowning death to the old Adam, or old self. They would exit the pool among the community of the baptized and be clothed in a white robe to signify taking on those baptismal commitments, of being clothed with Christ.

The wedding and celebratory robe in our parable is simply being clothed for the Kingdom of God. It is God’s freely given grace that incite our good deeds, which to quote Martin Luther:

“God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does”.

It is not about proper theological belief.
But it is about how God’s grace changes us.

It is not about completing particular rites or proper worship.
But, in the words of Micah 6:8, it is about seeking justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God.

It is not about upholding the letter of the law.
But, it is about upholding the spirit of the law.
In the words of the Apostle Pau, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor;
therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10, NRSV).

Ultimately, it is about being clothed with Christ.
It is about a change in us by God’s grace alone.
And thanks be to God for said grace. Amen.

Scripture was Matthew 22:1-14.
Originally preached 11 October 2020 at Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN).

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2020 in Sermons

 

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Sinners & Hypocrites

Our scriptures are profound. These might be as sweet as honey for some, but bitter to another.

Ezekiel highlights that we are responsible for our own thoughts, words, and deeds, as well as the consequences of such. Thus, we are responsible for our sin; how we respond to the perceived sin of another; and how we allow sin (our own, those of another, or our human systems) to influence our thoughts, words, and deeds.

Although it seems bitter, God reminds Ezekiel and the people of a truth as old as the fall of humanity. God does not desire death. God is concerned about all life for all life matters, all life is beloved, and all life is sacred. Unfortunately, we are (or should be) aware that this truth is not always embodied in our thoughts, words, deeds, and human systems. As the protest sign of a young, beautiful, black girl read:

We say Black Lives Matter.
We never said ONLY Black Lives Matter.
We know All Lives Matter,
but we need your help because Black Lives are in danger.

Or as a beautiful clergy woman and classmate of mine wrote:

Black Lives Matter, and Blue Lives Matter, too.
Dehumanizing some Lives will leave All Lives Black and Blue.
Some roses are red, and violets come in shades of blue,
but I know that God loves me because God loves you, too.

But, the Apostle Paul takes our call to action another step while writing to a community divided by difference resulting in tension and conflict. Paul wrote to be united in diversity. This is a high calling that we have far too often failed to answer.

In the history of the United States, we lift up an ideal of unity among diversity within a large melting pot that (1) has not embraced the difference of persons, particularly our indigenous, brown, and black siblings, and (2) demands these persons assimilate, at times by force, to white, European norms.

Unfortunately, the church universal, denominations, congregations, and cultural Christianity has demonstrated these same demands.

Paul wrote that we are not to love the other as equal to ourselves…
but as greater than ourselves.

This love would not permit forced assimilation or dehumanization.

Lets look at the gospel.

Jesus was teaching in the temple and the religious elite questioned his authority because of his association with sinners.

Remember:
Be like Jesus, spend enough time with sinners that it ruins your reputation.

Jesus criticizes them for questioning the authority of John for he was a ‘righteous’ man, considered a prophet by the people, and who offered repentance in baptism to the sinners.

Note:
These baptisms remind us all that ‘Every saint has a past. Every Sinner has a future’.

But, for the religious elite it was a lose-lose.

Christians are often defined as such by their belief in Jesus as the Messiah alone. Thus, Christians can profess the faith without a change in their lives. This is a defining aspect of Christianity that separates us from other faith traditions.

Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and other faith traditions also require a change in life and adopting faith practices that interweave and root your entire being within the teachings, the philosophy of the tradition. It is quite beautiful.

Jesus asks the religious elite, who does God’s will on this earth?


Is it the one who claims, or commits to do it, but does not?

This is the “Christian” who does not seek justice, act with compassion and mercy, or love and serve all persons but especially the vulnerable “other”.

Is it the one who does not claim, or commit, to do it but does?

These are perhaps Christians, non-Christians, and otherwise, who does seek justice, act with compassion and mercy, and love and serve all people but especially the vulnerable “other”.

Surprise!
It is the one living into and living out said Christian vocation whether identifying as “Christian” or not.

We often hear the criticism that Christians are hypocrites. It is fair.

Unfortunately, I have witnessed “Christians” who sort and separate the teachings of Christ from their personal, professional, family, and political lives.

Unfortunately, I have witnessed “Christians” who consider themselves righteous for not partaking in “sinful” behavior such as playing cards, dancing, smoking, drinking, cussing and tattoos; and yet, they stand in sinful judgment of those who do.

Unfortunately, I have witnessed “Christians” blame our troubled world on the Godless and Unchurched while sitting comfortably in their privilege ignoring the vulnerable “other”.

I recall a conversation with a friend who knows me well. He made a comment about how ‘good’ I was.

Now, for many “Christians” I might be a rebel.

I love card games and dancing.
I enjoy a good cigar and adult beverage from time to time.
I cuss like a sailor (ask my mom and sister).

I have ink.

I will be changing the language slightly, but I replied “I am messed up”.

He said “Oh, you are messed up, but you have a pure heart”.

Although I fail, I strive to live into and love out my Christian vocation to:
seek justice for all persons, but especially those in the most need;
act with compassion and mercy, even in the face of disagreements; and
love and serve all persons whether I will benefit or not.

So, in the words of Miranda Lambert,
I think Jesus could ‘understand a heart like mine’.
Amen.

Scriptures were Ezekiel 18: 1-4, 25-32 and Matthew 21: 23-32.

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2020 in Sermons

 

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Lessons in Forgiveness

Within the life of the church, we are in a season of healing the nations, the tribes, the peoples by the grace of God alone paired with learning and growing as disciples and church together.

Unfortunately, the centuries have proven and continue to prove that human creatures often fail to learn, especially the first 100+ times.

We have recently heard about the importance and challenges of community.

We have recently witnessed Jesus’ expanding of divine grace to the unexpected.

These join in our scriptures about the importance of forgiveness paired with a warning about judging.

We begin with Joseph, who was undeniably the favorite son of Jacob (Israel). Perhaps, Joseph enjoyed reminding his brothers of his status. His brothers did not properly address the conflict, but rather sold him into slavery.

Joseph become an important man in Egypt because of his integrity, dreams, and the ability to interpret dreams. One dream foretold of seven years of bumper crops followed by seven years of drought. Egypt was able to prepare accordingly, however the neighboring nations did not benefit from the prophecy and suffered greatly. One neighboring nation was the 12 tribes of Israel, or essentially Joseph’s brothers and their families.

Joseph’s brothers arrived in Egypt with the intention of seeking, begging for merciful aid in their basic needs.

Can you envision their expressions, their despair that came over the brothers recognizing that Joseph was the person who controlled their fate?

Although Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers is not explicit, it is implicit.

Joseph teaches a truth that counters our human history, a truth with the power to end a toxic cycle. This truth is that those who have been oppressed/abused, do not necessarily become oppressors/abuser when able.

In recent years, a love one shared a confession with me.
It was the fear that when “minorities”, particularly our black siblings, become the majority within the United States of America, the “whites” will be subjected to the oppressions and abuses that they have and continue to subject our brown and black siblings.

As one raised in a more diverse community and time, I shared that my experience with black and brown siblings is a desire for equality and equity, but not revenge. Perhaps our brown and black siblings, at least those I know and love, have learned a lesson from Joseph that would benefit all.

A few centuries after Joseph, Peter asks Jesus how many times are we called to forgive a sibling who wrongs us. Peter suggests, perhaps prays, that the appropriate number is seven providing the opportunity for us to carry a notebook listing our relationships with space enough for seven tick marks each.

In fairness, I do have a Scot-Irish temper AND my immediate family would share:

  1. When I am done, I am DONE; and
  2. It is not always a challenge for me to reach said point of no return.

Jesus teaches that we are to forgive a sibling more than seven times.

  • In the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), it is translated as 77 times.
  • In other translations, it is translated as 70 x 7 (490 times).

Whether it is 77 or 490 times, Jesus teaches the disciples (and us) about the abundance of forgiveness we have received from God.

Jesus teaches that despite us (humans) experiencing the divine debt forgiveness beyond our ability to repay and our imaginations, we struggle to mirror this divine mercy, grace, and forgiveness to our human siblings.

Jesus teaches that the one who refuses mercy, grace, and forgiveness to a sibling with be tormented. Jesus, again, teaches a practical truth. It is with-holding forgiveness is similar to drinking a toxic poison and expecting it to harm the other person AND that our own healing is impossible without extending forgiveness to the one who wronged us.

The Apostle Paul expands that the opposition, the enemy, to forgiveness is judgment and intolerance. We are called to not pass judgment upon another because God is the ONLY righteous judge.

Unfortunately rooted in our sinful natures, we easily misjudge persons in regards to their race, ethnicity, and nationality; gender, gender identity, and sexuality; socioeconomics; political affiliations; religious adherence or lack thereof; and so forth. These judgments are not only often inaccurate but also harmful.

Martin Luther explained in the Small Catechism that we are to always and forever seek the most positive light to view our human siblings and their actions, thus to not rush into harmful assumptions and judgment. This is particularly difficult within toxic relationships whose history is marked with challenges, traumas, and abuses. These are relationships that forgiveness may have to be extended while maintaining distance.

We have wronged God a million times a DAY in thought, word, and deed, and yet God continues to extend mercy, grace, and forgiveness to us.

As I shared, I am not a prime example of embodying Jesus’ lessons and mirroring God’s divine forgiveness. Unfortunately, I have the knowledge and understanding but not always the wisdom to put it into practice.

May we learn from Jacob to extend forgiveness and not seek revenge.

May we learn from Jesus the extent of our debt that God has forgiven us.

May we learn from Jesus to mirror and
extend said forgiveness to our siblings, near and far.

May we learn from Paul that our judgment and
intolerance of another opposes forgiveness.

May we be granted the wisdom to extend forgiveness,
in order that we might heal.

Amen.

Scriptures were Genesis 50:15-21; Romans 14: 1-12; and Matthew 18: 21-35.
Originally preached on 13 Sept. 2020 at Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN)

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2020 in Sermons

 

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Conflict, Consequences, & Responsibility

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

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

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

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

So, shall we confront conflict?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It seems so simple, and yet it is not.

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

Love can be manifested in honor and respect. 

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

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

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

May we confront conflict directly.

May we accept repentance as a consequence.

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

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

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

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

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2020 in Sermons

 

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For the Sake of the Kingdom to Come

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter rebukes Jesus. Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May our self-awareness develop into an embodied integrity.

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

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

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

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

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2020 in Sermons

 

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Well-Rooted Family Tree

Our scriptures utilize two re-occurring and beloved images.

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

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

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

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

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Posted by on August 24, 2020 in Sermons

 

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