Sermon: “We Are Members of One Another” (Ephesians 4)

This is the audio (37:24, 11.9 MB) of a sermon preached at Klaipėda Free Christian Church, on August 14, 2022. The main text is Ephesians 4.

The sermon was translated back-and-forth into Russian, for the benefit of Ukrainians who have joined our church since February. (Older Lithuanians in our congregation know Russian, and younger Lithuanians understand English.) I took this audio from my phone, which was in my breast pocket–so you might not hear Liubava’s translation. Since the scripture was up on the screen in English, I asked her to read in Russian–so you will need to use an English Bible to follow along. You can also watch the service on Facebook.

This was my final sermon as pastor of this church. We began attending briefly back in 2015, then again in 2017 when we returned to Lithuania. In 2020, the church council asked me to serve as co-pastor along with Modestas Gaubas, who is a bivocational pastor (as was I, since my main job was teaching at LCC). It was a bittersweet day, as you can imagine–sad to leave, but reflecting on the joy that God has given us through these relationships.

Since we have been “saying goodbye” to various groups in Lithuania for months now, I wasn’t sure how much emotion I would feel, and when exactly it would come over me. Thankfully, during the sermon I was pretty composed. It was actually during the first worship song, which is the Lithuanian version of “Goodness of God”–not a particularly significant or favorite song for me–that I lost it.

What struck me was the recollection of how difficult it had been for me and my family to worship in Lithuanian language, particularly in those early years. I remember showing up to music practice with my bass or guitar, and muddling along in basic conversation with other members of the worship team who spoke not much English (though still more than I spoke Lithuanian). We didn’t always understand one another, but we were playing music, and honoring God together.

When I saw the worship team on Sunday–three Ukrainian young people, two of whom are refugees from the war, one a student; and two Lithuanians; leading the congregation in worship in three languages, including original songs in Russian and Lithuanian–I recalled those early days, and how dearly-fought-for was the communion with God and with other believers in this church, to overcome barriers of language and cultural understanding. I saw Vlada, a remarkable Ukrainian young woman whom it was my privilege to baptize several months ago, playing piano and “limping along” singing in the Lithuanian language she’s studying in order to survive in her new country of refuge–and I hoped that she would come to experience the same joy of hard-won fellowship with God and fellow Christians. And it gave me joy to think that our hard-won experience learning to lead worship in Lithuanian language, and of course the corresponding patience and hospitality of Lithuanians in letting me and Corrie try, has created space in this church for Ukrainians to step up and use their gifts to serve God.

So, you really should watch the service on Facebook and get a taste of how beautiful it is–even though nothing compares to being present to worship God with His people assembled from many nations, tribes and tongues!

Audio and text: ©2022 by Benjamin D. Giffone. Reproduction and distribution are permitted, providing that the author is properly credited and that no fee is charged.

Posted in Bible-Theology, Giffones in Lithuania | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Does the Old Testament Prescribe a ‘State’?

Numerous texts in the Bible speak about the need for civil authority, and/or presume that a state exists. But does the Bible’s normative teaching prescribe something like a state government, or rather mere governance of some kind?

Continue reading
Posted in Bible-Theology, Culture-Economics-Society | Tagged | Leave a comment

Travels and Transitions

It’s been a very long time since I’ve shared a personal update on this blog–or really, anything other than sermons and links to publications. I suppose I have been so busy living life–surviving, if not always flourishing–that I have not always had time to process and share. Academic writing and preaching is a big part of how I process and share these days–and I have been doing plenty of that.

But it seems an appropriate time to share some important news, and what the past few months have looked like, and what we’re looking ahead to in the months to come.

Continue reading
Posted in Giffones in Lithuania, Travels | Leave a comment

Sermon: “Those Who Sigh and Groan” (Ezekiel 8-9)

This is the audio (51:13, 46.8 MB) of a sermon preached at Kaunas Free Christian Church, on May 15, 2022. The main text is Ezekiel 8:1-15 and 9:1-11. An excerpt:

Our passage for today is one that has been rattling around in my head for the last two years, and I’m finally collecting my thoughts to say something about it. It’s kind of like an expose, a bit of “hidden camera footage” that shows what the religious leaders of Israel were doing in secret, in the Jerusalem temple, in its last days before it was destroyed. They thought that they could use their power to do whatever they wanted, and that no one would see—including God. We will see from this passage that God does act to stop those in power from abusing their power in secret. And there is a message for us who don’t always have “inside access”: how are we supposed to react to corruption? And, how can we look to Jesus as an example of how to live faithfully in a sinful world?

Continue reading
Posted in Bible-Theology, Giffones in Lithuania | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

New Article in Journal of Media and Religion

I’m pleased to announce the publication of an essay, coauthored with Jon Radwan of Seton Hall University, in the Journal of Media and Religion: “YouTubing Eudaimoniae? Pachamama, Inspiration, and Manipulation in Platonic and Biblical Rhetorics.”

Here is the abstract:

Rhetorical functions of media are outlined in the Platonic and Biblical traditions and applied to 2019ʹs “Pachamama YouTube iconoclepsis (“image-stealing”) controversy. Where post-Enlightenment theory brackets or dismisses spiritual communication, pre-modern frames offer clear heuristics and vocabulary for interpreting mediated religious protest. In reaction to a culture of sophistic manipulation, Plato envisioned ideals approached via cooperative dialectic. Psychogogy, leading souls, requires artists and orators adapting true, beautiful, and good ideals for people in their care. Plato uses a pharmacological metaphor to show how art and public discourse can harm and diminish, or heal and restore, spiritual wellbeing, and social eudaimonia. In contrast to Plato, the Biblical tradition cedes invention to God, whose message is shared with passion and urgency to guide people away from evil toward flourishing. The culmination of prophetic communication is the Incarnation: Jesus gives humanity direct contact with divine truth and light, and upon His resurrection the Holy Spirit inspires missionary outreach. Today YouTube activists engage power dynamics within sacred space and imagery to attempt Church reforms.

Continue reading
Posted in Bible-Theology, Culture-Economics-Society, Research | Tagged | Leave a comment

Sermon: Sage Gibson on Mark 5:25-34

This is the audio (30:08, 26.9 MB) of a sermon preached at Klaipėda Free Christian Church, on April 3, 2022, by one of my students, Sage Gibson. The main text is Mark 5:25-34.

Sage completed a course on the Book of Isaiah with me in Fall 2021. We continued to work together on an article based an idea in a paper she wrote for that course. The article is under review with a journal; we decided to preach sermons based on our studies for the article, which is about the use of Isaiah 63-66 in Mark 5.

I’m enormously proud of Sage for all the work she did for her paper, our article, and her sermon! She gave me permission to share the audio in my podcast feed. My sermons are available here and here.

Continue reading
Posted in Bible-Theology | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Sermon: “I Stretched Out My Hands All Day Long” (Isaiah 65–66)

This is the audio (43:17, 99.1 MB) of a sermon preached at Klaipėda Free Christian Church, on March 27, 2022. The main text is Isaiah 65:1–9, 12–15; and 66:1–6.

Have you ever had an experience with a toddler that you knelt down, held out your arms, and waited for the child to run to you to be hugged—and instead the child runs past you to someone else? (This can also happen with dogs!) No one really takes this personally when it happens, because—children are children! But if, let’s say, you’re an uncle or an aunt, and a child ignores you like this, multiple times in a row—maybe you feel a bit hurt. Well, God felt this way with Israel. He didn’t just want them to conform to some rule or standard; he wanted to be close to them. He made himself available to them, he held out his arms all day long to them (65:2) but most ignored him….

In the Gospels, we see that Jesus’s arms were open wide, to those who would answer his call and take hold of him in faith. At the cross, with his arms stretched out all day long, in excruciating pain, he looked out at a rebellious and disobedient people—Jews and Gentiles—and took upon himself the punishment for their sins, the sins of anyone who would repent.

Continue reading
Posted in Bible-Theology | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Sermon: “Hide the Fugitives!” (Isaiah 15:8–16:5)

This is the video (22:16, 145 MB) of a sermon preached at Klaipėda Free Christian Church, on March 13, 2022. The main text is Isaiah 15:8–16:5. The sermon follows on my report of a trip to Western Ukraine, to bring supplies to fellow Christians from Zaporizhzhia, and to bring back refugees to Lithuania. An excerpt:

The church is Jesus’s household, his kingdom on earth. We should absolutely be a place of refuge for refugees and those fleeing for their lives—just as the Davidic kings of ancient Judah could be a safe place for Moabites and others from all over the world.

Continue reading
Posted in Bible-Theology, Giffones in Lithuania, Travels | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Sermon: “Oh, That You Would Rend the Heavens!” (Isaiah 63:7-64:12)

The Potter and Clay - Living through him

This is the video (45:43, 573 MB) of a sermon preached at Kaunas Free Christian Church, on February 13, 2022. The main text is Isaiah 63:7–64:12.

The prayer in Isaiah 63–64 is a great example because the faithful prophet knows what his people need: they need God to change their hearts, and they need God to be near to them. It is passionate, and thoughtful, and based on God’s promises to his people. It’s also beautiful for us to think about how God answered this prayer: including in ways that his people did not expect.

Continue reading
Posted in Bible-Theology, Giffones in Lithuania | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Seminar: “Images of Healing, Healing Images”

Fragment of a terracotta statue of a god. U. 16993; BM 122934. (Ur)
Walker & Dick 1999, “The Mesopotamian mis pî Ritual”

This is the audio (34:04, 31.2 MB) of a [virtual] talk I gave on January 28, 2022, entitled, “Images of Healing, Healing Images.” It was my honor to address a group of professors, physicians, researchers, and graduate students at the Yale Program for Medicine, Spirituality and Religion (YPMSR), at the invitation of Prof. Ben Doolittle: a physician, a professor, a researcher, and a pastor in a local church.

Here is the abstract:

This presentation explores the concept of the “image of God” found in the Hebrew Scriptures, and its value for understanding the task of the healing and caregiving professions. Against the backdrop of other ancient Near Eastern conceptions of cultic images—their fashioning, care and feeding, and function to mediate the deities’ presence—the Bible describes only human beings as adequate images to mediate the presence of YHWH, Israel’s deity, into the world. Treating human beings with care and dignity, and participating in their healing, is an act that allows both patient and caregiver to mediate the presence of God to one another and into the world.

Continue reading
Posted in Bible-Theology, Research | Tagged , | Leave a comment