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Christmas Spirit

Christmas is not a day.

According to the church universal, Christmas is a twelve-day season beginning on Christmas morning.

And yet, the Spirit of Christmas should be within our homes, minds, hearts, and souls 365 days a year.

Advent was the hopeful anticipation and expectation of God arriving into our sinful, broken, and dark hearts, souls, homes, communities, nations, and the entire creation with the divine light of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.

Christmas is the celebration of said divine light of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love busting into our sinful, broken, and dark hearts, souls, homes, communities, nations, and the entire creation. And yet, this Christmas we were reminded said sinfulness, brokenness, and darkness remains as we heard word of an intentional explosion in the heart of Nashville, Tennessee.

Again, Christmas is not a day. Christmas is technically a season.

The Christmas Spirit should be cherished daily by each person, each critter, and the entire creation for divine Hope, Peace, Joy, Love, and God in human flesh and bone is not only born in a specific time and place, but in every time and place.

The Christmas Spirit ignites our ability, willingness, and desire to share said divine light of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love in and despite the sinfulness, brokenness, and darkness within ourselves in mind and soul, our homes, our communities, our nations, and the entire creation.

The Christmas Spirit reminds us that God has, continues, and will forever enter into our hearts, souls, homes, communities, nations, and the entire creation in, among, though, and despite the ordinary.

Joseph and Mary were Israelites and practitioners of Judaism, per cultural and religious custom these parents brought the newly born Christ child to the temple. This was ordinary.

Simeon was a devoted and righteous man, who desired to lay eyes upon the Messiah, or Christ.
Simeon was in the temple. This was ordinary.

Anna was a widowed woman, who often spent time in prayer in the temple. This was ordinary.

And yet, the Christmas Spirit reminds us that God has, continues, and will forever enter into our hearts, souls, homes, communities, nations, and the entire creation in extra-ordinary means.

Mary was a young, unwed, virgin girl in first century Palestine. This is extra-ordinary.

Joseph was a well-respected man, who the angels persuaded to not dismiss Mary and to raise this divine child as his own. This is extra-ordinary.

Simeon is enabled to recognize Jesus as the divine light of Hope, Peace, Joy, Love, and the Messiah.
Simeon proclaims that this child is the long-awaited salvation of Israel AND the gentiles.
Gentiles were the uncircumcised, pork-eating pagans. This is extra-ordinary.

Anna is a female. Anna is an elderly, vulnerable widow. And yet, Anna is a PROPHET.
Anna is stirred from her prayers. Anna recognizes Jesus as the Messiah. Anna begins to prophecy.
This is extra-ordinary.  

The Christmas Spirit is indeed the extra-ordinary bursting forth through the ordinary, but take a moment to note how the narrative ends:

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord,
they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.
The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom;
and the favor of God was upon him.

Wait! WHAT?

The Archangel Gabriel announced Mary will birth, nurture, and love the Christ child, named Jesus.

Joseph is visited by an angel who assures him to trust Mary about her sexuality and to marry her.

Mary visits Elizabeth, whose unborn John (the Baptist) leaps with joy at the unborn Jesus.

Mary sings the Magnificat, which praises God and embraces the ‘Grand Leveling’ or ‘Grand Reversal’.

Mary gives birth to God Incarnate, God in human flesh and born, in a lowly manger.

The Shepherds are visited by angels who encourage their travel to said lowly manger.

Simeon recognizes Jesus as the long-awaited Christ or Messiah.

Anna, the prophet, prophesized about the life and public ministry of Jesus as the Christ.

Despite ALL of this, the Holy Family of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus returned to their home in Nazareth. The Holy Family returned to their ‘life as normal’, well the new ‘normal’ with an infant.

Similarly, we often pack away the Christmas Spirit was the Christmas decorations.

We fail to recognize the divine light of Hope, Peace, Joy, Love, and Christ.

We fail to reflect, to shine said Hope, Peace, Joy, Love, and Christ into our sinful, broken, and dark hearts, souls, homes, communities, nations, and the entire creation.

As the Christmas Spirit is packed away until next year, our lives return to ‘normal’.

Similar to children, we choose to not be on our best behavior until Christmas is approaching again.

We return to old routines and habits hindering our ability to be Christ to others.

We return to old routines and habits hindering our ability to even recognize Christ in others.

And so, may this year be different…

May we leave the Christmas Spirit out.

May we hold the Christmas Spirit in our hearts and souls.

May we put the Christmas Spirit on display in Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.

May we shine the Christmas Spirit upon ALL people, at all times, and in all places.
Amen.

Scripture was Luke 2: 22-40.
Originally preached 27 December 2020 for Trinity Lutheran (Union City, Indiana).

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2021 in Sermons

 

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Light Dispels Darkness

If it had not been previously established, 2020 has been painfully blunt about the brokenness of humanity, our communities and nations, and the entire creation. This brokenness is a darkness, intensifying our sense of hopelessness, anxieties and depression, disappointments, and fears, while bringing forth the worse of our humanness.

This darkness embraces the hopelessness of a global pandemic increasingly impacting communities from small to large, from rural to suburban to urban centers. The hopelessness intensifies with each updated report of increasing positivity rates, confirmed positive cases, hospitalizations over-whelming the medical system, and ultimately deaths.

This darkness fuels unhealthy strife and enrages devasting conflict, instead of meaningful conversations and the ‘Good Trouble’ of John Lewis, the civil rights movement, and those seeking equality and equity.

This darkness embraces a false sense of peace that too often seeks to maintain the status quo and its systematic injustices; protecting the privileged while causing harm to the under-privileged; and affording those with authority, power, and wealth opportunities at the expense of those without said authority, power, and wealth.

This darkness thrives in hatred, particularly the dehumanizing and demonizing of persons in order to justify a lack of compassion. Our polarizing extremes serve to increase tension until persons are divided and sorted based upon race, ethnicity, and nationality; biological sex, gender identity, and sexuality; socio-economics; political affiliations; religious adherence or lack thereof; and beyond.

This darkness dispels the divine light and diminishes our ability to recognize Emmanuel, or God with Us.

Joy is rooted in our ability to recognize God active in, among, through, and despite said brokenness and darkness, but it is challenging while existing during a deadly pandemic, civil and social unrest, and a financial crisis.

BUT, God is with us. God is acting in, among, through, and even despite us in all times and places.

Our Christmas story confirms God breaking into our brokenness unexpectedly.  

One. God choose a young, engaged but not married, Israelite girl named Mary in first-century Palestine to birth the incarnated God, the divine in human flesh and bone, into our broken, dark world.

Two. God assured Joseph, her older and well-respected fiancée, to trust Mary about her own sexuality, to dismiss the reasonable doubts of their community, and to proceed with their pending marriage.

Three. God encouraged Joseph to father, nurture, teach, and love this Christ Child as his own. He did.

Four. God proclaimed the birth of the Savior, Messiah, Christ Child to lowly, rough shepherds.

Five. God did not awaken those traveling for the census, the inn keepers and Bethlehem residents, or even the elites who all slept peacefully, unaware that night.

In addition to God being unexpected, another theme emerges in the Christmas story.
It emerges in the experience of the lowly shepherds to the elite wisemen who have not yet arrived.

It is within our Advent and Isaiah scriptures. It is reflected in various religious and cultural traditions, as well as in nature, at this time of year. The theme is LIGHT.

Light has come into our broken humanity, communities, and entire creation to dispel

  • Hopelessness;
  • Unhealthy Strife and Devastating Conflict;
  • Hatred;
  • Dehumanizing and Demonizing Persons;
  • Being unaware of Emmanuel, God with us; and
  • Beyond.  

It is the light of hope. True hope dispelling hopelessness by trusting in God to provide the needed insight and wisdom to those whose education and knowledge, training and experience can guide individuals and communities through a global pandemic while developing effective, safe treatments and vaccines.

It is the light of peace. Honest peace dispelling unhealthy strife and devastating conflict through meaningful dialogue and action resulting in sustainable equality and equity. As Martin Luther wrote:

Peace when possible. Truth at all costs.

Martin Luther King Jr spoke about the arc of history might be long but it bends in the direction of justice.
Honest peace embraces the truth and arcs towards justice through ‘Good Trouble’.

It is the light of love. Unconditional, agape love dispelling polarization and hatred that divides, sorts, dehumanizes, and demonizes persons who may look, speak, think, belief, act, or love different than ourself. In John’s Gospel, Jesus gives a ‘New Commandment’ which is to love one another as Jesus first loved his most intimate disciples, knowing we would be different and that was the point. This love honors all life as sacred by seeking justice and equity, acting with compassion and mercy, while tending to and serving all persons but especially the under-privileged and vulnerable.

It is the light of joy. Real joy dispelling hopelessness, anxiety, depression, disappointment, and fear enough to enable our awareness of Emmanuel, God with us, who is always and forever active in, among, through, and even despite us unexpectedly in hope, peace, and love.

The Christ Child is born! The Light has come! The Light is returning!

May the light of the Christ Child be born
in our hearts, souls, homes, communities, and the entire creation
this night, every night, and beyond.
Amen.

Scriptures were Isaiah 9: 2-7; Titus 2: 11-14; and Luke 2: 1-20.
Originally preached on 24 December 2020 for Trinity Lutheran Church (Union City, IN).

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2021 in Sermons

 

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Blessed Light

Advent, a season of hopeful expectation and anticipation, is drawing to an end.

The darkest night is approaching, but this means so is the returning light.

We have lit the candles of Hope, Peace, Joy, and now Love.

The brokenness and darkness of our hearts, our homes, our communities, nations, and the entire creation thrives in the fear and hatred seeking to dispel the light of Love. This fear fuels a hatred that dehumanizes and demonizes individuals and communities justifying a lack of compassion for the “other”. This dehumanizing and demonizing enable polarizing extremes that divide and sort persons based upon race, ethnicity, and nationality; biological sex, gender identity, and sexuality; socio-economics; political affiliations; religious adherence or lack thereof; and beyond.

Unfortunately, this brokenness and darkness in heart, home, community, nation, and creation begun with the ‘Fall’ of humanity. It continues in our time and place, for the Kingdom of God has come here, it is near, and it is not yet fulfilled.

However, the light of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love has come, it is here, and it is returning again.

This morning, we encounter Mary being visited by the archangel Gabriel.

Gabriel is THE massager. If a divine message must be delivered come hell or high-water, Gabriel is your angel.

Gabriel is informing Mary that she will birth, nurture, and love God in human flesh and bone.

Gabriel is informing Mary that she will birth divine Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love into being.

Gabriel is informing Mary that she will essentially destroy the curse of the ‘Fall’ of humanity. 

Mary is understandably perplexed. 

Mary is engaged, but not yet married, to Joseph.

Mary is still a virgin. 

Mary is understandably terrified, in addition to Gabriel standing before her.

Mary was approximately only twelve to fourteen years old.

Mary was an Israelite, who were oppressed persons in a Roman occupied land.

Mary will become pregnant while unwed in first-century Palestine.

Mary will have Joseph and the community question her claim of a divine pregnancy.

And Mary will experience the anxieties of motherhood, additionally the motherhood of God Incarnate.

Mary is able to respond ‘I am the servant of my Lord; let it be with me according to your word’.

Mary will travel to visit her significantly older cousin, Elizabeth, perhaps when her condition becomes increasingly noticeable similar to unwed pregnant girls of past generations. Elizabeth is miraculously pregnant with the prophet who will prepare the way for the Lord, also known as John the Baptist.

John (the Baptist) leapt in Elizabeth’s womb at the presence of the unborn Christ child. This caused Elizabeth to call Mary ‘blessed’ for being selected to birth God Incarnate.

THIS is when Mary sings The Magnificat, which was our ‘Psalm’.

Mary sings the praise of God.

Mary sings in thanksgiving for her active participation in God’s Will and Kingdom to Come.

Mary sings about mercy, grace, and justice.

Mary sings about the Grand Leveling or Grand Reversal.

Mary essentially sings of the Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love that destroys the curse of the fallen humanity

Although Mary perhaps continued to be perplexed and terrified, she was empowered to accept this tremendous responsibility. Thus, she birthed the divine Light of Love that dispels the human created boundaries that divide and sort persons based upon their race, ethnicity, and nationality; biological sex, gender identity, and sexuality; socio-economics; political affiliations; religious adherence or lack thereof; and beyond. She birthed the divine Light of Love that dispels the dehumanizing and demonizing of the “other”. She birthed the divine Light of Love that dispels all darkness and heals all our brokenness in heart, soul, home, community, nation, and creation.

Blessed is Elizabeth for recognizing Mary as pregnant with the Christ Child.

Blessed is Mary for birthing, nurturing, and loving the Christ child.

Blessed is Mary for birthing the Divine Light of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love into our world.

Blessed is God for allowing us to encounter this story of our fore-mothers in faith.

May the Divine Light of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love continue to shine upon us,
our homes, our communities, our nation, and the entire creation
until all darkness is dispelled, all brokenness is healed,
and the Kingdom of God is finally fulfilled.
Amen.

Scripture was Luke 1: 26-38, 46b-55.
Originally preached 20 December 2020 for Trinity Lutheran Church (Union City, IN).

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2020 in Sermons

 

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Peace Making

Isaiah foretells of a voice in the wilderness calling for us to prepare the way of the LORD, to prepare a highway that is straight with mountains and valleys leveled, rough places smoothed, and pot holes filled.

John the Baptist is said voice in the wilderness.

John the Baptist is the bridge between the prophets of old, sharing fashion with Elijah echoing their voices, and the new, as Jesus’ cousin who foretells of his ministry and identity as the Christ

But, John the Baptist is not the biblical person I would associated with peace.

John was brutally honest, extremely vocal, and lacked tact.
John made waves among the common persons.
John rocked the boat with the political leadership and social elite.
John stirred the pot among the religious leadership and elite. 

Again, we do not often associate said persons and actions with peace.

However, humanity has been taught, continues to teach, and far too often embraces a lie. It is the lie that all strife, all unrest, all conflict is unhealthy and destructive; thus, it must be avoided. This lie is the foundation for a dishonest and false peace.

This dishonest and false peace is embodied in the notion of Pax Romania, or Peace of Rome. This Peace of Rome was ensured through oppression and fear. This Peace of Rome was ensured through violent, military force at the mere murmur of unrest.

Dishonest peace avoids differences, disagreements, strife, and conflict at the expense of meaningful but uncomfortable conversations, necessary but challenging changes, and honest peace.   

Dishonest peace maintains the status quo and its systematic injustices.

Dishonest peace protects the privileged and harms the under-privileged and vulnerable.

Dishonest peace affords opportunities to those with authority, power, wealth, and privilege at the expense of those without said authority, power, wealth, and privilege.

Dishonest peace creates ‘Peace-Keepers’, who discourage the ‘Good Trouble’ of John Lewis, the civil rights moment, and those who have and continue to prepare the way for the LORD seeking to level the mountains and valleys, smoothing the rough places through establishing sustainable equality and equity.

In the words of Martin Luther: “Peace when possible. Truth at all costs.”

Honest peace rejoices in the truth and prepares the way of the LORD.

Honest peace dispels unhealthy, devastating strife, unrest, and conflict through those honest meaningful but uncomfortable conversations.

Honest peace establishes the necessary but challenging changes that level the mountains and valleys, which continue to distinguish persons based on positions of authority and power, amount of accumulated wealth, social status, and privilege.  

Honest peace encourages the ‘Good Trouble’ that continues to demand and establish sustainable equality and equity that smooths the rough places.

Martin Luther King Jr., spoke that the arc of history is long but always bends towards justice.

Honest peace is a force that bends the arc of human history towards said justice.

Honest peace is a force that prepares the way of the LORD through mountains and valleys leveled, rough places smoothed, and pot-holes filled.

John the Baptist was not a peace-keeper. John the Baptist was a peace-maker.

John the Baptist was creating honest peace, rather than maintaining a dishonest peace.

John the Baptist demonstrated that peace-making may include brutal honesty and being vocal,
but hopefully with more tact.

May we, similar to John the Baptist, be peace-makers who are willing to make waves, rock the boat, and stir the pot for the sake of ‘Good Trouble’ establishing an honest peace upon all the earth for the sake of preparing the way for the LORD. Amen.

Scriptures were Isaiah 40: 1-11 and Mark 1: 1-8.
Originally preached on 13 Dec 2020 for Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN).

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2020 in Sermons

 

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Saint Nicholas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
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Posted by on December 7, 2020 in Sermons

 

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Jesus Appearing

Welcome to Advent and a New Church Year!

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

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

Advent is the hopeful anticipation and expectation, awaiting:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May we dust off our souls.

May we clean the cobwebs from our spiritual lives.

May we de-clutter our calendars and lives.

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

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

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2020 in Sermons

 

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Divine Judgment

Welcome to the end… of the Church Year.

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

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

Ezekiel provides insight for the necessity of said divine judgment.

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

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

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

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

We, fallen humanity, however rarely will:

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

without expectation of earthly or heavenly reward.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2020 in Sermons

 

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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 and 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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