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Just Business

We had a slight rest on Sunday from the summer focus.

We have spent the summer in the Gospel of Luke, which a number of preachers hate because the scriptures focus on money, wealth, and material resources. It is a difficult topic for most within our private lives, but more challenging in an alb (white robe) standing before the congregation.

Honestly, does any person excitedly look forward to stewardship drives?
I am noting several heads shaking “no”. 

So, on Sunday, we had a moment to breath.
Although the scripture did mention a lost coin, but the widow was seeking to find it.

I have argued that although Luke seems anti-money and anti-wealth, he is not.
In fact, Luke is the only Gospel account to address the financial support of Jesus’ public ministry, because ministry is not cheap. The financial support was from the wealthy women, including Mary Magdalene, who traveled with him and the male disciples.

Thus, our material wealth is a necessary piece of our lives and is not evil, but Luke and other authors of Scripture were concerned about how we use our wealth. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on October 1, 2019 in Sermons

 

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God’s Radical Love

God’s Radical Love

We have a re-occurring theme throughout the whole of Scripture, which is highlighted in our texts today. In short, I could say “God’s love is radical” and sit back down.

The ‘punchline’ today: “God’s love is radical”.

But, how do we know this?
We know this because of a relational cycle, repeated over and over again, with God. It has not been for days and months, or even years and decades, or even centuries, but millennia… the whole of our sacred and human history.

  1. God makes a covenant (contract, agreement) with God’s people.
    It is relational: “I will be your God and you will be my people”.
  2. Every. Single. Time. We, humans, break the covenant (contract, agreement).
    We are the ones at fault.
  3. God becomes upset and disappointed.

Do you understand being sad, disappointed, and angry when a child goes rogue?

Do you understand that from time to time, a child does not act in their best interest?

Do you understand that a child does not always act in the best interest of the relationship?

We can understand this as parents, teachers, and other care-providers.
We, as the beloved children of God, break our agreement with God.
We cause the distance in our relationship with God.
God becomes disappointed.

And then, God makes yet another covenant with us.
And then, we break that covenant.
And then, the cycle continues as it has for millennia since the literal dawn of time.
And yet, the cycle still continues now.

We encounter it within each of our Scriptures.

In Exodus, the Israelites are roaming in the wilderness and have become impatient. The Israelites want that promised land of milk and honey… and they wanted it yesterday.

Moses is on the holy mountain talking to God, recording the guidelines for their relationship with God and with one another. We all know the scene, Moses comes down and throws the tablets on the ground where these shatter, because before the people have even received the guidelines of the covenant, it has been broken. The Israelites have created an idol, worshiping it because the God that brought them out of slavery and captivity in Egypt is not working fast enough for them.

The nostalgia has settled in to their community and they are saying:
“Oh, I remember that milk and honey in Egypt, it was fantastic!”
“Oh man, Why did we ever leave Egypt?”

Nostalgia is dangerous, for we remember the good like milk and honey, but we forget the bad like bondage, slavery, and captivity.

Moses mediates and reminds God of the covenant, God’s never-ending, never-breaking, unstoppable love for the worthless, sinful critters that are humans.

Our Psalmist wrote aware that they are one of those worthless, sinful critters.
The author asks God:

“Please work within me, putting that covenant on my heart, clean my heart, and
restore a right spirit within me, so that I can be a better partner
in our relationship that you have called us into with you.”

Jesus talks about this.
Jesus says that a shepherd will leave 99 sheep, unattended in the wilderness, to go looking for one.

Does anyone else think this sounds absolutely insane? irrational? illogical?

And yet, Jesus teaches that God will leave 99 ‘righteous’ or ‘self-righteous’, who trust in their own ability to maintain the law/covenant, in order to find any single repentant person. Then God will rejoice finding the one that, similar to the author of the Psalm, knows they are not in right relationship with God and neighbor.

This is a radical concept.

In 1 Timothy, the story of Paul is retold. Paul, as Saul, actively persecuted the practitioners of The Way, the earliest name of Christianity. Paul did not care if you were a man, woman, or child; if you were following the teachings of the rebel named Jesus, you needed to be held accountable for it. Until one day, Paul is on the road and Jesus literally comes and meets him exactly where he is, literally on the road of his journey.
Jesus essentially tells Paul:

“Get off your high horse. You are not ‘right’.
Let me show you the truth, then use you for the sake of the gospel”.

So, Jesus basically says “be that one lost sheep that repents and I will do great things through you”.

creation-of-adam-michelangelo(pp_w650_h187)“The Creation of Adam” by Michelangelo
is painted upon the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

A friend pointed a detail out to me once.
Now that I have seen it, I cannot un-see it.

The fingers of Adam and God are almost touching, which I had realized before.
But, God is fully stretched out, pointing as far as possible.
Adam, however, is lounged and reaching like “eh”.

Adam is definitely not reaching for God, as though expecting God to continue reaching towards him while communicating this is as far as I am reaching.

This is a perfect illustration for our relationship with God throughout the whole of Scripture.

God is consistently reaching out into our world and to each one of us.
And we are like “eh, this is as far as I am reaching. You come the rest of the way”.

We do this in part because of our human nature rooted in sin, which is being curved in on the self.

But, this is radical love.

Radical love is when you continually, literally for millennia, reach out to be in relationship with persons who continue to turn away from you in mind, body, and soul.

And yet, Jesus says, if you are a lost sheep God will seek you out.
If you are a lost coin, God will find you.

This section of the Gospel according to Luke, includes another parable that could be named “The Lost Son”, aka The Prodigal Son.

I was once told, if someone tells you something three times, especially in the same conversation, to listen because it is the truth and/or their desire.

We have three parables in a row about the irrational, illogical, and radical love of God for each and every one of God’s creations.

I begun saying that I could say “God’s love is radical” and sit back down, because even hearing these parables cannot communicate, nor can we fully know, understand, or comprehend the radical love of God. But, I invite us to ponder the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son, the broken covenants throughout the millennia, and how God’s love is truly, truly unconditional for God is always reaching out for us.

May we not be “Adam”, rooted in apprehension or lack of energy, but let us lean in and reach out to be in a better relationship with our creator and neighbors rather than say “eh”. Amen.

Scriptures were Exodus 32: 7-14; Psalm 51: 1-10; 1 Timothy 1: 12-17; and Luke 15: 1-10.
Originally Preached on 15 Sept. 2019 at Trinity Lutheran (Union City, Indiana).
 
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Posted by on September 26, 2019 in Sermons

 

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Discipleship: Cost and Benefit

Again, the author of Luke presents us with a challenging text.

Jesus has recently ate with the honorable Pharisee and his honorable guests. Jesus taught about living into God’s kingdom as a celebration with food, drink, and seating abundant enough for all to be invited, welcomed, and have a seat at the table. This kingdom is here now, near, and not yet fulfilled.

Jesus continues to teach about discipleship and the kingdom to come, but he sounds like a honest salesperson cautiously informing us of the costs and risks of discipleship, in order that we are able to make an informed decision. He basically says:

Step on up! Boys and girls, men and women for all ages! 

I have a deal for you! God’s FREE and abundant grace!
That is right FREE, my favorite price. 

But, can I also interest you in discipleship? 

It will cost you your ego, pride, and social net-worth. 
It may also cost you family, friends, all your stuff, and even your very life. 

THAT is a hard sale, even for God Incarnate.  Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2019 in Sermons

 

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Social Net-Worth: Pride and Humility

Our Scriptures are well paired, which offers wisdom about the relationship of pride and humility.

Our Scriptures, similar to first-century Palestine, are rooted in a honor-shame culture. The ‘worth’ of a person was determined by ‘honor points’ gained through family, profession, reputation, and actions minus the ‘shame points’ gained again through family, profession, reputation, and actions. This net-worth would determine your social status, social circles, and your literal place at the table; thus, the table became a visual of the social hierarchy.

Our Scriptures caution about being overly confident in our social net-worth, our importance, and the pride that accompanies it.

According to our Sirach text, pride was not created for humans and pride is sin begun in turning from and forsaking God. Perhaps, this is because pride is the foundation of self-centeredness (Martin Luther’s definition of sin), narcissism, and the God-complex.

While in our Gospel, Jesus is invited to the home of a Pharisee, and more-so a leader of the Pharisees on the sabbath. We can rest assured that the host was of honorable status, as well as his gathered guests. The host and the guests are carefully watching Jesus, because although he was a profound teacher of the Torah, he was also ‘taunted’ by performing works on the sabbath and his association with the shameful tax collectors, prostitutes, and those other “sinners”.

But, Jesus was also watching them. He noticed that the guests were continually choosing seats of ‘honor’ for themselves, thus Jesus begins to teach about pride echoing Proverbs 25:6-7:

Do not put yourself forward in the King’s presence
or stand in the place of the great;

for it is better to be told “Come up here”
than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.

Jesus is teaching the importance of humility above pride, and yet this teaching has always bothered me because it can promote a false and manipulative humility. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2019 in Sermons

 

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Justice as Worship

Our Scriptures, again, are rooted in the seeking of justice but not as a baptismal commitment alone.

Our Presiding Bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, has four statements that have defined her call:

  1. We are Church.
  2. We are Church Together.
  3. We are Lutheran.
  4. We are Church for the Sake of the World.

But, what does this mean? How do we define the ‘Church’?

Is the ‘Church’ this building, this sanctuary, with our candles and pews, our lectern and pulpit, and our altar and stained-glass windows?

Is the ‘Church’ this 60-ish minute worship service with our liturgy and music, our Scriptures and preaching, and our sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion?

Honestly, if you answered “yes” to any of the above, you are wrong.

WE are Church.
WE are Church together.

Church, by definition, is the people who are gathered together to be nourished in the WORD, sustained in the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, and renewed in the Confession and Absolution of Sin that leads to repentance.

We cannot do Church alone.

WE are Church.

WE are Church Together beyond Trinity Lutheran, beyond the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), beyond Lutheranism, for it encompasses all the faithful from all times and all places.

WE are Lutheran.
We gather and experience our lives together through Lutheran-colored glasses.

WE are Church for the Sake of the World, which returns me to our Scriptures.

If we are the Church together, what is our purpose/mission for the sake of the world?
Justice. Justice is the worship that is appropriate for and worthy of God. 

Isaiah instructs us to stop pointing the finger, to stop speaking evil, to feed the hungry, and to satisfy the needs of the afflicted, and thus the most vulnerable. Justice.

The Psalm reminds us that God is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love BUT will provide vindication and justice for the oppressed, and thus the most vulnerable. Again, Justice.

Jesus is preaching in the synagogue, during worship, on the Sabbath, when he pauses to release a woman who has been oppressed by an illness for 18 years. Again, Justice.

The “good”, the “righteous”, the “lawful” Jewish community rebukes Jesus for administering said justice, because it was the Sabbath, a day for rest and restoration without “work”.

Meanwhile, the “bad”, the “unrighteous”, the “unlawful” Jewish community rejoices, perhaps because of Jesus rebuking the “righteous” but perhaps it was because they recognized the healing and restoration of this woman, and therefore the justice.

Micah 6:8 reminds us that ALL God requires of us is to seek justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.

The whole of the Prophets echo that our worship services, our reputation as “good” people of God (for us, “good Christians”), and our ability to uphold the Torah (teaching, law) is pointless and invalid if our worship is not  appropriate for and worthy of God.

This worship is NOT about our physical location and setting.

This worship is NOT about our worship services.

This worship is NOT about the worthiness, or better yet unworthiness, of those gathered.

This worship is about SEEKING JUSTICE for the most vulnerable.
Thus, it is about our lives OUTSIDE OF THESE WALLS AND THOSE DOORS and how it affects the most vulnerable.

Martin Luther stated:
God does NOT need your good works, but your neighbor does.

Anytime we live into our baptismal commitments:
to proclaim Christ in word and, especially, deed;
to act with compassion and mercy; and 
to love and serve all people, but particularly the vulnerable, 
then we are seeking justice.

Are we offering a worship that is appropriate for and worthy of God?

WE are Church.

WE are Church Together.

WE are Lutheran.

WE are Church for the sake of the world  by seeking THE Justice that is THE Worship worthy of God. Amen.

Scriptures were Isaiah 58:9b – 14; Psalm 103:1-8; Hebrews 12: 18-29; and Luke 13:10-17.
Originally preached on 25 August 2019 at Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN).

 

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2019 in Sermons

 

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Seeking Justice, Speaking Truth to Power

We have an uncomfortable theme echoed throughout the whole of scripture, but highlighted this morning. That theme is “seeking justice, speaking truth to power”.

“Seeking justice” is one of our baptismal promises, but in the words of Luther:
‘What does this mean?’.

Our Psalm poses the same question in a cosmic drama, involving God before a panel of gods or spiritual beings. God, in an accusative tone, inquires:

  • When will YOU stop judging unjustly?
  • When will YOU stop favoring the wicked?

Honestly, God asks us these same questions.

God, then, instructs the panel and humankind about the proper use of our time, energy, talents, and treasures. In short, to seek justice by

  1. saving the vulnerable;
  2. defending the vulnerable; and
  3. rescuing and releasing the vulnerable from the hands of their oppressors.

Those, including ourselves, with power, authority, and privilege have the call and responsibility to seek justice for the vulnerable.

Those, including ourselves, who benefit from the abuse, oppression, or dehumanization of another, have the call and responsibility to confess AND to repent.

Unfortunately, in order to answer the call and embrace our responsibilities, our eyes, ears, and hearts must be exposed to the truth.

Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, understood that the political powers, their prophets, the religious authorities, and the people (including ourselves) do not desire the truth. We prefer the sunshine and rose filled illusions provided by the false prophets. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on August 18, 2019 in Sermons

 

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Where Treasure and Heart Rests

The author of the Gospel according to Luke has been long accused of being anti-wealth and anti-money which is not only counter-cultural, although it certainly is, but it also is irrational because money is required for our basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter plus the extras. Within the church, that translates to the building and its maintenance, the worship, the pay of staff, which I am grateful, and our programming.

This accusation has long shone a spotlight on the tension of speaking finances within the church, but especially during a stewardship drive, or worse a capital campaign.

Yet, this accusation of the author is unfounded. The author does not oppose the tool of material resources, particularly for the sake of advancing the kingdom of God in all times and places. In fact, this is the Gospel that addresses how Jesus’ earthy ministry was funded… and it was wealthy women.

But, this author does reject the misuse, mismanagement, and hoarding of resources.

Our scripture this morning is infamous:
“Where your treasure is, there too is your heart”. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2019 in Sermons

 

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