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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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