This is the audio (37:57, 26.3 MB) of a sermon preached at Center Church (EPC) of Grove City, PA, on November 27, 2022. The main texts are Genesis 1:26–31; 2:7; and 3:1–11. You can also watch the service on YouTube.Continue reading
New links to follow my work:
- Audio/video of lectures and talks: https://thinkhardthinkwell.com/category/podcast/feed
- Weekly services of Center Church (EPC), mostly my sermons: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdS3H6sJL_Sv_whbHB3SOzQ
- Personal website: thinkhardthinkwell.com
- Archive of past sermons: thinkhardthinkwell.com/sermons
- Church website: http://www.centerchurchgc.org
As I have shared in the last few months, I am transitioning from serving as a professor who is involved in ministry part-time, to serving as a full-time pastor in a church. This is a huge change for me, but I’m excited to embrace this new challenge.
In the last eight years or so (since I became a professor), this site has mainly been a venue for me to share my sermons and publications. My output of substantive blog posts has been much less than it was when I started in seminary. I don’t know what the rhythms of pastoral ministry will allow, but it is possible that I might blog more in the years to come, even though I plan to continue some writing for academic audiences. We’ll see how it goes.
There will be some technical changes, though, for anyone who has been following my work through my podcast feed. Since 2014, I have been using FeedBurner to capture episodes from a separate WordPress site, Out Of Exile. These “episodes” were originally a podcast I did with my sister, Rebekah, but eventually it was how I shared my sermons and lectures.
Well, FeedBurner is no longer being supported by Google, so I have been meaning to find an alternative for sharing audio and video. It turns out that this is actually possible on this WordPress site. If you want to subscribe in your podcasting tool/app to receive episodes of my talks, just paste this address: https://thinkhardthinkwell.com/category/podcast/feed
I’m now in a position where I’ll be delivering 40+ sermons each year. The church at which I will be serving as pastor broadcasts the services on YouTube. At this point, I don’t see the need to duplicate the web hosting and sharing, so if you want to watch or listen to weekly sermons which will be nearly all preached by me for the foreseeable future, you can subscribe here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdS3H6sJL_Sv_whbHB3SOzQ
An archive of my sermon recordings arranged by books of the Bible is still available here. I’m not committing to this, but I could see myself updating this page on an ongoing basis, linking to my new sermons at Center Church.
Thanks for your interest in my work and ministry!
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.
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?
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.Continue reading
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.
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.
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.
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.