A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

Renewed By Gratitude: Sermon on Luke 17: 11-19 Year C Pentecost 18 October 13, 2019

This sermon was preached on Oct. 13, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. This is part of our stewardship series Renewed For All Seasons.

The texts were:

2 Kings 5: 1-3, 7-15c
2 Timothy 2: 8-15
Luke 17: 11-19

Children’s sermon: Do you know how to say “Thank you” in different languages? Yep, all kinds of ways to say thank you! How can we say “thank you” without words? Yeah, it might be harder, but there is ASL (show sign for “thank-you”) but we can say “thank you” also with a smile, a hug if the other person is ok hugging, a high five, a note,  or like the person in our Bible story today, with both words and actions. He was so grateful to Jesus for making him well that he laid himself down on the ground in front of Jesus. When we say “thank you” we are showing gratitude, we are noticing that someone has been kind, thoughtful and helpful. Our bible story from Luke is about gratitude this morning. Jesus made all ten of the sick people well, no one was excluded from Jesus’ gift of healing, but one person noticed that it was more than physical healing, it was a return to full life with people. In Jesus’ time, if you were sick, even if you weren’t contagious, you had to stay away from people. Such as when my allergies are bad, I might look sick, but you can’t get my allergies from me, but I wouldn’t have been allowed to be with people either!  When Jesus healed these ten people, they could be with people again! The other nine were glad to be made well, and did what Jesus said, the went to the temple to show themselves healed to the religious authorities-they didn’t do anything wrong. But the one, who was a Samaritan, an outsider whom many people didn’t like, took it one step further than others-he noticed that in being healed, he was also excepted and included. This is why he turned around to show with actions and words gratitude to Jesus. We notice that God always includes us in God’s healing, love and wholeness and so that is why in worship we have many ways that we show gratitude. Did you know that communion each Sunday is one way we think about gratitude? The fancy Greek word for communion is Eucharist-which means thanksgiving or gratitude. You might notice that the heading in the bulletin is even called the Great Thanksgiving and some of those words are “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give our thanks and praise.” We say this each week! No matter what is going on in our lives, even if we are having a hard time, we know that God always includes us, keeps us in this loving community and never leaves us-so we notice, we are turned around and we help other people in our lives notice God’s inclusion too. In the rest of my sermon, we’re going to say together a couple of times “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give our thanks and praise.” And on the back window, we are all going to write or draw on a post it note to put on our cross, all the places and people where we notice God’s love, kindness and inclusion. And we pray to be show inclusion to other people too. We also have a Gratitude sheet to go home to keep track of how you are grateful for God’s work in your life or the world.

“Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give our thanks and praise.” As I told the children, we do say these words each week and they can become rote and trite. Or if we are struggling, these words can seem too simplistic and not in touch with our emotions or the rest of our lives. Give thanks to God? For this mess? But I’m sick, I’m lonely, I’m hurting, the world is crashing down around me and I don’t know which way to go next. I’m asking “why me, God?” Why am I the unlucky one to whom these bad things are occurring? Give thanks? No thanks.

Gratitude can be hard in our lives. I know that for me, it’s not a “go-to” spiritual practice and it is a spiritual practice. Gratitude has also become a culturally “co-opted” word-as I wrote about in my Enews article, how many of you have heard the phrase “have an attitude of gratitude.” It seems so simple doesn’t it? All you have to do is think everything is great and your life will be better. And if you don’t, then there’s something wrong with you. Gratitude as a concept can also be used to shame. How many times have you been told, “you should be grateful, it could be worse…” So, that’s not helpful either is it? What does the spiritual practice of gratitude look like in a way that isn’t shaming, simplistic, or denies the realities of the world?
“Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give our thanks and praise.”
At first blush, our Luke story this morning seems to reinforce some of those unhelpful concepts of gratitude. Jesus is walking towards Jerusalem-towards the cross-on the border of Samaria and Galilee. As a “good Jew” he should not be crossing through Samaria at all but that’s where we find Jesus in this story-where others dare not to go. And in this remote area, there are some leper’s we read. Now it’s probably not actual leprosy, or Hansen’s disease, but some condition that made them ritually unclean and ostracized from community. The ten called out to Jesus, “Master, have mercy on us!” Jesus saw them, really saw them and they probably hadn’t been seen by anyone in years, and he simply said “go show yourselves to the priests.” In order to be brought back into community, a temple priest had to declare you clean. And as they walked they noticed that all of them, all ten, were made well. Their disease was gone. Nine continued on the path to the temple, as directed, but one, a Samaritan, on realizing his return to health, turned around. Now, let’s remember that the Samaritan, even healed, would not have been considered clean by the priests and allowed in the temple anyway. He would always be unclean according to Israelite law, simply because of his ethnicity. This one recognized the radicalness of what Jesus had said to him, a Samaritan, go to the temple, for you are included in God’s mercy, love and grace. You are a witness to the source of all blessings.

With the realization of what Jesus had really offered him beyond physical healing, he laid himself out before Jesus, and said thank you. I imagine overwhelmed tears of joy streaming down his face. His healing, his inclusion, reoriented him and opened him up to truly see what God was doing in the world and he had to offer thanks and praise. Jesus responded by asking about the other nine and affirming that it was the outsider, the supposed enemy, who noticed God’s inclusion, grace and mercy through Jesus and was turned around by it. Jesus tells him to get up and that his faith-his connection to God’s vision of wholeness-has made him well. This man is saved, included in God’s work of wholeness for all creation, and is sent out by Jesus. What the other nine missed, Jesus is saying, is that their healing isn’t only about themselves and religious ritual. The one who returned, who showed gratitude, recognized that his being made well wasn’t only about himself, but what Jesus’ healing work in the world meant for all people.  “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give our thanks and praise.”

So often we are like the other nine, doing what we think we should be doing, because it’s what the religious tradition says to do, and missing the bigger picture of what God is up to in the world. We miss the witness of God’s transforming and renewing work from unexpected people, the outsiders, the ones with whom we would rather not interact, let alone learn from, because we are focused on other things. Gratitude helps us to be focused on God and our neighbor and not ourselves. Gratitude propels us to ensure that others have what we have. Gratitude moves us to advocate for equality, gratitude opens us up to the outsider in our midst, such as the Samaritan, to see our own blind spots in our lives together as church. When ritual and tradition begin to calcify and exclude and space isn’t created for people who are different or new, we need to be turned around and renewed.

Gratitude reorients us to God’s true blessings, God’s work of building a beloved, inclusive community and God’s desire for us to go out into the world to be the witnesses to these truths. We are to live rooted in thanks and praise to reveal to all people God’s love and grace. Our 2 Timothy passage recalls these roots with the words “remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead,” and continues a couple of verses later with “so that they (all people) may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.” This echoes our Communion liturgy: When we hear the words “Do this in remembrance of me,” it’s not Jesus saying to intellectually recall him, but to “re-member,” to reconnect, return, to the truth that no matter what, we are in relationship with God and the people of God now and forever. And so we return over and over again, to the table, in this community, with saints past, present and future, we are healed, nourished, forgiven, and made whole. We are created for this relationship, we were created to live in gratitude- turned around, noticing and witnessing to God’s inclusive, abundant, transforming and renewing grace through Jesus Christ.
“Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give our thanks and praise.”

 

 

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Renewed by Faith Sermon on Luke 17: 5-10 Pentecost 17 Year C October 6, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on Oct. 6, 2019 in Holladay, Utah.

The texts were:
Psalm 37:1-9
2 Timothy 1: 1-14
Luke 17: 5-10

 

Children’s sermon: Invite the children forward. Then invite an adult for each child to come forward as well. Ask the children: “Do you wonder what you will be like when you grow up? Yes, of course! Even as adults we wonder about our future! These adults here have a lot of experience in life. I’m going to ask them to take turns and share with you one thing that they want you to know about God in your life as you grow up and what they see in you that is special and will serve God when you’re older.” Ask the children “is that what you see for yourself? Yes? No? It’s so good to hear what other people see about us that is special! It can give us a bigger vision of ourselves and what we can do!  You do your normal every day stuff: eating food, going to school, soccer, ballet, piano, cleaning your room, coming to SS and church-kinda all ordinary not exciting things but those things are part of who you are and yet they are special too, because it’s how you serve and love Jesus.
The disciples were struggling with the feeling that they felt too ordinary for the work Jesus was asking them to do. The asked Jesus to give them more faith so that they can be amazing-but Jesus said, you don’t need more of anything- you have all that you need to do big things! Faith isn’t about size, or what we know, Jesus says faith is about God’s presence in your life, how God sees you, and God’s power. Jesus tells the disciples that with God’s power, maybe you can move a tree to be planted into the ocean! That might seem silly, but Jesus says, don’t limit yourself because you think that you’re a kid, or ordinary and plain-because God’s vision of what you can do with God is limitless and it renews us each day.  Dream big about what God can do in your life! Jesus understands that we can’t always dream big-sometimes our imaginations are tired. And so that is why we gather together-we pass on the faith-God’s vision of what God can do in our lives and in the world-to each other! And that doesn’t have to be fancy, just reading the bible, talking, praying, helping other people, those ordinary things, help us to keep dreaming big together-to see what God is doing in the world and how we can do those things with God. I want you on this paper to write/draw what you want to do with God this week to share God’s love. Put it on our cross at the back.  Let’s pray:

It’s easy to feel that we aren’t enough. It can seem in life that we are always waiting for when we have enough of something: whether it’s enough money to retire, or enough courage to make a career or life change, or enough time to go on that vacation, as human beings we seem wired to notice what we don’t have rather than taking stock of what we do have. For humans, everything can be a commodity, measured and weighed, right? And then when we see exactly how much we have of something, we can assess whether we need more or not. And the funny thing is, how many of us have over looked at our bank accounts, our calendars, our courage and said-“oh this much is perfect! It will do nicely.” I know that I never have. We tend to live in the perspective of scarcity. And when we measure ourselves against others or some unattainable standard, it exhausts us, discourages us, and we can feel worthless regardless of what we do really have.

Faith has become of victim of this kind of thinking in our 21st century lives. When I think about my faith, I immediately do an inventory of all the people whom I think have more faith than I do. And the list is long. But when I talk to those people, I discover that they don’t think they have any more faith than anyone else, and often they feel that they have less. And so, we all set about trying to figure out how to get more faith. We think that to increase faith, we have to do extraordinary things and be extraordinary people-you know be like Mother Theresa, Martin Luther, or St. Francis of Assisi. To have more faith, we must never doubt, never question, and lead an exemplary life. And in our American culture, we connect faith with receiving blessings, and we buy the lie that if we have enough faith, live faithful and faith-filled lives, that God will give us things-material things-as a sign of our faithfulness. This is called the prosperity gospel-that if you live faithfully, God will bless you with wealth. This is dangerous and false. Jesus never says this, in fact, Jesus says that we will suffer for the gospel-and Paul reiterates this in our 2 Timothy reading today. So what is faith? And how does it function in our lives?

The disciples were struggling with this too, it seems. In the verses before our gospel text started, Jesus had been teaching them to not be an obstacle for others, and forgiving someone over and over. All of this must have stressed them out because our passage opens with the disciples pleading to Jesus “increase our faith!” We can’t possibly do all those things! We’re too human, we lack so much! Give us more faith so that we have enough! Jesus’ response indicates that the disciples have not understood. Faith, Jesus says, is not a worldly good that you can have more or less of, you can’t get more, manufacture more, nor can you lose it. Faith isn’t up to you, it’s up to God. Faith is a gift from God freely given to you and to all. Faith is God’s vision of you, for you, your life and for the world. Faith is being connected to God’s presence and power in your everyday life, even if you can’t see, feel, or hear God. Faith also isn’t an inoculation against hardships. We will all encounter hard things of one kind or another, and faith reminds us of God’s presence in the midst of things we can’t understand, and vision beyond what we can see in the here and now. God’s gift of faith expands our imagination of what we, our ordinary selves, in our ordinary days can do with God. God’s gift of faith pulls us into community with God and others.

Jesus adds on to this explanation of faith that expands our vision, with the story of the master and the slaves. This story makes us uncomfortable, as slavery is a hard part of our country’s history and we know still goes on today with people who are caught in human trafficking. Jesus doesn’t shy away from this hard reality but names it and turns it on its head. The human master uses power over people for his/her own benefit, exerting their power for themselves and this is always harmful. Jesus moves us from seeing ourselves as the master to the slave as a reminder that Jesus came to serve, to be the master that uses power for other people, for healing and for us and we are to do the same. Faith from God is God sharing power, vision, and love with us. Faith is living your day to day life naming reality, even hard things, in the presence of God who proclaims you beloved and enough, and who has the power and love to transform all that we do into more than enough, expanding God’s kingdom in the world in ways that we can’t always imagine. Faith is sharing that transformation.

God gives us faith to see what others struggle to see: how the world in God’s vision can be and how we are enough to be a part of it. Each day God’s presence renews us and our faith to reveal God’s kingdom in everything we do. Things that we might think are ordinary or not worth much in worldly standards. But faith tells us we do have everything we need for ministry and mission each day here at Our Saviour’s. Can we see God’s vision for OSLC in the next ten years? What does it look like? We’re looking with God’s vision into the future and we see greater connections with our neighborhood through Scouting, a playground for all who come to our property for any reason, ensuring our building is usable for whatever ministry God invites us into in the future, engaging and meaningful worship that proclaims all people have worth, will feel safe with healthy boundaries,  will be affirmed in their gifts and faith will be passed from one to another. We can look with God’s vision where God is calling us to be people of reconciliation and healing for those who are on the margins of our society. We can look with faith for what new thing God is doing in our midst and step toward it.

Renewal is all around us-for God is already at work.  We are gifted by God with faith to be connected to God and God’s people. We live in the promise of all being beloved and having worth. We do only what we know we ought to do: use our ordinary actions as part of God’s extraordinary work in the world. We are indeed renewed by faith.  Thanks be to God.

Prayer Station: You can take a post it note and share how you can participate in God’s vision for OSLC in the coming year and place it on our cross on the back window.

 

We Already Know Sermon on Luke 16: 19-31 September 29, 2019

This sermon was preached on September 29, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT.

Texts: Amos 6: 1a, 4-7
1 Timothy 6: 6-19
Luke 16: 19-31

Children’s sermon: gather the children up front. Start with the closing prayer! Dear Jesus, thank you for showing us God’s love and how to love others. May we notice those around us who need what we already have an abundance of your love and grace. Amen.
Then ask them, when do we normally do that prayer in children’s time? At the end! Yes, we always know that we are going to end with a prayer but today we started with the prayer because our bible stories are a little like this today. In reading the Luke story about the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man already had everything he needed-food, housing, clothes, and Lazarus did not have those things. Now, I want to let you know that this story is NOT about what happens when we die, we don’t have to worry about that and Jesus promises that we will never be alone in this life or the next. There is a not a bad place that you need to worry about going to, that’s not what God wants. This story is about the last sentence we read, that we already know Jesus, we already listen to God telling us to love everyone and to make sure that everyone has what they need to be healthy, happy and safe. Just as you already know that we will always end children’s time with a prayer, we already know that God’s last word for all of us is love. And this last word of love means that we already know the whole story, that love and life never end! Just like a circle never ends, being in God’s love and life is like that too. We are all in this circle of love. So, since we don’t have to worry about that-we can stop focusing on ourselves and focus on people around us. We can see people like Lazarus who are sick, hungry and without a house. How do we help people like that here at OSLC? YES! We have Family Promise, we collect food to hand out, we will be collecting diapers, all kinds of ways! Ok, we’ve already prayed and I’m going to talk to the adults some more about this.

We all love a good story and want to know how it will end. Whether it’s movies or books, we can’t wait for the ending to see how it turns out. There is great satisfaction in knowing the whole story. We take this same tactic with our lives too it seems, we are always wondering how things will turn out-what will our whole story be? Will I get that promotion? Will we move into that bigger house? Can we go on that vacation? What will my children be when they grow up? What will we do in retirement? How will my health be as I age? We want to know everything, we want assurances, we want details and, of course, we want control.

This was what the rich man in our parable from Luke today was trying to do. He was trying to ensure that he had what he needed for the future so that he could control and predict the outcome of his life story. Jesus doesn’t say that he’s a bad person, Jesus doesn’t condemn him in anyway. Jesus merely points out that the rich man is so concerned with his own life that he doesn’t notice the lives around him, particularly the man right outside his own gate-Lazarus. While the rich man is dressed nicely, eats well and has safe housing in a gated community, Lazarus languishes nearby hoping for just a modicum of what the rich man has. And then both men die, death is the great equalizer it seems. Although Lazarus is carried away by angels and the rich man is buried. Now as I told the children, the point of this parable is certainly not to say that there is a heaven and a hell as places. Whenever Jesus in the gospels talks about Hades or in Matthew Ghenna-which is the garbage heap that gets burned outside the city, it’s all about being separated from God and community. Hell isn’t a place where bad people go when the die, hell is a place any of us can be in this life when we separate ourselves from God and God’s people. We create our own hell.

We read that there is a great chasm-that God didn’t create, the rich man did. The rich man is so oblivious, blinded by his wealth and excess, that he doesn’t know his own arrogance and entitlement. It never occurs to him that he could bridge or remove that chasm. But instead he barks orders at Father Abraham to have Lazarus do things for him. Even in death, the rich man thinks that he knows more and can control his own predicament and write his own ending. “Have Lazarus give me water, send him to warn my brothers.” The rich man seems to not know that his wealth and status are fleeting, aren’t his whole story, aren’t his to begin with and are a distractor for what is really important. Jesus doesn’t say that his wealth is the problem, it’s how he uses it, or in reality, how the wealth uses him. Money isn’t a problem, loving money, or loving anything more than God or people is a problem and is a root of evil. When we put anything before God and others, we do harm, we separate ourselves and think it’s only about us. We deny others their full story. Jesus came to show us how to reorder our loves. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” Just as God has loved us from the beginning, we are to love God and each other all the way to the end.

In response to the rich man’s request to send Lazarus to his brothers, Abraham admonishes him, they know this story, this truth. They have already heard it, over and over again, from Moses to Joshua, from Amos to Isaiah, God’s word of redemption, reconciliation and salvation-wholeness, have been spoken. They know this, but they won’t live it. Will hearing the story one more time from someone who has been resurrected from the dead matter? When they grasp the end, they will change how they live today.

We know the ending of the story, brothers and sisters. We have the witnesses of the resurrection to know that in the end, God’s end, is death is no more, love wins, the chasm is once and for all bridged and God’s kingdom of wholeness is here and is still to be revealed. And we know that God sent Jesus to remove any chasm, nor death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything can now separate us from God’s love and each other. This is not in dispute. This good news is freedom from worrying about ourselves, from our ends, we are free to be content with our here and now. As we read in 1 Timothy, we can take hold of eternal life and our life today-they are one in the same. There is a not a separation between today and eternal life with God. How we live today is as important as our eternal life with God. As followers of Jesus, this is our call, to live in such a way for all to see this eternal love right here and now.

We already know this unity of our lives today and eternal life opens us to see the plight of others around us, their need to be whole. Our present life entwined with the eternal life to come, bridges any chasms that we have created between others and ultimately God. We bridge chasms when we talk to people who are living on the street and holding up signs off of interstates. We bridge chasms when we elicit from our neighbor what they really need and don’t assume and speak for them. We bridge chasms when we recognize that we have enough-enough wealth, power and status-and we share the excess that we have so that all may be content. We bridge chasms when we recognize whatever wealth we have as a resource to be used in God’s kingdom and not as an entitlement or for power. We bridge chasms when we see what our neighborhood around us needs from us-how we can be together-whether it’s Scouting, diapers, food, hosting meetings, or places for children to play.

We already know the whole story, we have already heard the good news, and we have been richly blessed. We already have all that we need to bridge any chasms, to love our neighbor, and be generous, so that all may take hold of true life with God: life and love that we already know doesn’t end. Thanks be to God.

 

Desperately Seeking Connection Sermon on Luke 15 Pentecost 15 Year C September 15, 2019

This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on September 15, 2019.
The texts were Psalm 51: 1-10, 1 Timothy 1: 12-17, Luke 15: 1-10

Children’s sermon: gather the children and have them stand in a line. Invite them to link arms and then have them pass a balloon using their hands. When they pass it all the way down rejoice! Then remove one child in the middle or so. Have them pass the balloon again. What happens when there is a gap? You can’t pass it! Being connected and together matters! Our bible texts are like that today. Some people are complaining that Jesus is hanging out with people he shouldn’t have been, people who weren’t considered nice and ok. The people complaining wanted to stay separate from those people whom Jesus was hanging out with but also kinda wanted to be near Jesus. Jesus says nope! If you want to be near me, then you have to be near everyone-even people you may not like or think you shouldn’t be around. Why? Because belonging and togetherness is what God values most! God wants everyone gathered into God’s love and grace-that’s why God sent Jesus-to show us what God is like and how we are to act since we are all made in God’s image. That’s really hard and a bit mind blowing even for adults. I’m made in God’s image, you are and so are the people you don’t like! BUT the good news is that Jesus invites us each day to look for what is precious to God-other people. This week is God’s Work, Our Hands weekend and part of that is realizing that everyone-even people we’ve never met, need to be included in God’s love and need to belong in God’s community. We’ll keep working at it and try not to complain when there are people who are different from us or we don’t like-as complaining keeps us separated. But when we can rejoice with everyone and FOR everyone- we are connected! Let’s practice rejoicing: This person has a blue shirt: yay! This person has glasses: yay! This person is the smallest: yay! This person is the biggest: yay! We are a people of joy and rejoicing in God’s love! YAY!

Let’s pray:

We all have stories of getting lost in stores or losing our own children in stores…our joke with Andrew isn’t don’t get lost but here’s what to do when you do get lost. We’ve lost him nearly everywhere we’ve gone. At all ages. At the age of two in the Phoenix airport (before 9/11) he almost got on a plane going to London! We were in line to get something at the gate agent desk-Mike went to the restroom leaving me with Kayla-4 and Andrew 2-who was supposed to be sitting nicely in his car seat. I look down, he was there, I look up for a minute and then look down again, and he was gone. Seriously. I start to scan the area only to see my red headed boy running for the open door to the plane to London. I quickly scooped him up and was relieved that I had found him. Currently, he’s somewhere in Zanzibar and we’re not really sure exactly where…but he’ll turn up! Or there’s the story from Mike’s childhood of a family road trip where they stopped at a rest area. They piled back in the car and were a little bit down the road when the realized they had left Mike’s younger brother Dave at the rest area. Now why Mike didn’t speak up earlier is a question…but their parents noticed Dave was missing and they immediately turned around. Fortunately, Dave didn’t even know he’d been lost! Despite what Mike might of thought of leaving his little brother behind, I’m sure that their parents rejoiced that they were all together again. When we notice that we are separated from people we love, we stop and focus only on searching for them. But what about the separation we create or uphold from people whom we don’t even know or want to know?

This being connected, disconnected and reconnected is part of the human experience it seems from the beginning. From Genesis on, we see this pattern of connection, disconnection and reconnection, over and over. From the first people in the garden, to Joseph and his family, to the Israelites in Egypt and then in the desert, and then to the promised land, and then in exile, and then the return to Israel. And there are some common behaviors that accompany this pattern. People needing to know where they rank, people ensuring that others aren’t elevated over them, people making sure that they get their fair share so that no one impedes on their wants and desires. Or as the pharisees and scribes in the Luke story this morning, there is much grumbling and complaining about other people. Now I don’t want to pick on the pharisees and scribes, as they are us-right? How many of you have ever complained or grumbled? OOO me! Me! It seems that this is not a new phenomenon or one that we have solved in the past 2000 years. I don’t know if you know this, but sometimes people even complain and grumble about stuff at church. Weird, I know.

Why do we do this? Church, in particular, is supposed to be all about connections. Complaining and grumbling is about being disconnected. The pharisees and scribes were grumbling behind Jesus’ back (which is hilarious when you think about it!) because he was connecting with people who had been disconnected by the rest of society, for seemingly good reasons. I mean, tax collectors and sinners? People who are unclean and don’t follow all the traditions, or maybe don’t even know all of the traditions, are excluded, lest something change or not be the way it had always been. And the word that the pharisees and scribes use that we translate as “welcomes” really means “seeks.” Jesus seeks out those whom everyone else grumbles and complains about, those whom should be held at arms-length, are a lost cause and are not part of the group.

Jesus does overhear this grumbling and tells them three parables about connections-two of which we hear today. A shepherd who leaves his other 99 sheep to go after the one-the black sheep if you will-to ensure that it is brought to safety with the others. Or the woman who loses a coin and spends hours looking high and low until she finds it. You see, God is like this, Jesus is saying. In God’s vision, there is nothing that can separate us from God or each other. God will go to great lengths to connect with us. And what’s more, when we connect, or reconnect with God, there is rejoicing! Rejoicing is all about belonging and connections! Jesus’ response to complaining is to draw the complainers into God’s joy! Jesus is redefining the laws that separate and repentance means recognizing our distance from God and trusting in God’s connections with us. Sin is anything that separates us from God and each other-sin tears at the fabric of community. Sin is complaining that not everyone thinks like us or acts like us and we want them to change. Sin is not challenging the idea that some people are a lost cause and not worth our time. Jesus came to declare that this sin, sin of separation from God and each other, is not God’s will. God values wholeness, and redemption, and God’s work in the world, is to return us to wholeness, to oneness with each other, creation and God. Shalom, the Hebrew word for peace, has a deeper meaning of being one with God and everything/everyone God created. When we pass the peace in worship, we are living into the idea that we all belong here-we are one with God, with one another and one with all people beyond this space.

Just as this connection and rejoicing is part of God’s nature, as creatures created in the image of God, being one with God, we are to be joyful connectors to all people. Our work in God’s kingdom is to be those who seek people who are disconnected from the rest of society, the outcast, the picked on, the object of internet jokes, the so-called weird, and find them and bring them into the wholeness and unity of God’s people. Our work is to seek relationship with all people even with those who ascribe to different political, religious, or social beliefs. In today’s world, I think that is the harder task. It’s easy to grumble about those whom we think are wrong or a lost cause, we can ignore them, we can just unfriend them on FB, change the channel, not make eye contact in the neighborhood, refuse invitations. But this is the radical, countercultural work we are called to. This work for wholeness is risky, people will grumble about us, call us lost causes and demand that we follow the rules for society as set up by those in power and authority. But there are people everywhere desperate for us to search for them and rejoice over them. They have been disconnected for so long they have given up hope of joy and belonging. And so as people connected to the good news of Jesus, focusing on the joy of wholeness, we can set aside our own grumbling, live in gratitude that God’s love, grace, and mercy through Jesus Christ is where all belong, whether we think they are worthy or not. None of us has earned it, but every one of us receives it, connected by Jesus into this new reality, and we are all joyfully found and loved by God. Thanks be to God.

 

Do you have the guts to be a disciple? Sermon on Luke 14: 25-33 September 8, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah on September 8, 2019.

Texts: Psalm 1, Deuteronomy 30: 15-20, Luke 14: 25-33

Children’s sermon: It’s Rally Sunday! Today is a day that we celebrate the beginning of SS for the year and being together. Being together is fun and important. Do we have to be together here at Our Saviour’s? Can we choose something else? Yep we can! What two things do I have here: yep, a marshmallow and an apple. How are they similar? Both food, both kinda sweet. What happens if we eat a lot of marshmallows? We don’t feel good, we get sick! They are not nutrition and are not really good for us. If we eat them every day, it’s not good for our bodies long term is it? How about the apple? We can eat an apple everyday (along with other good foods) and it’s ok for our bodies. Apples have nutrients that we need to be healthy. So in order to have a healthy body, which one should we choose most often? Yes, the apple. That give our bodies a good foundation to run around, play, have fun and help others! We know that our bodies work better when we make good choices, even though it’s hard. In our bible lessons today, Jesus has some hard things for us to hear. Jesus knows that we have lots of choices in our lives: things that are good for us and things that aren’t. But Jesus says that God offers us only good things for a good life. Now, a good life doesn’t mean an easy one, things might be hard sometimes. What’s hard for you? Yep, those things are hard. And Jesus says that hard things are even harder when we don’t have God as the most important thing in our lives. Coming to church isn’t the only way to put God first. Jesus says that putting God first means that we don’t worry more about our stuff, our houses, even our friends and family than following Jesus. That seems really weird, because God wants us to love and care for people too, but sometimes we get confused-like we might think that eating marshmallows is ok instead of apples because they taste better to us.  Just as putting healthy foods first into our bodies makes us feel good, so does putting God first in our lives. God has put us first in God’s life and has promised to be with us in our lives no matter what and we can trust that, even when we don’t make good choices, God is with us and loves us. At OSLC we are going to focus on that this year and that is worth celebrating today! Let’s pray:

Have you seen the show on HGTV “Fixer Upper” or at least know the premise of it? A couple, Chip and Joanna Gaines, help people in Waco, TX take the worst house in the best neighborhoods and fix them up. The families tell the Gaines’ their budget, their hopes and dreams for the house, how that will improve their lives and how long they want the renovation to take. The Gaines show them several properties, list out the work that needs to be done to get the house remodeled to what the family wants, details the budget and the timeframe. The renovation always starts with demolition day. This is when everything is deconstructed so that the house can be transformed. Walls come down, flooring comes up, cabinets are removed from the walls. Now of course, it’s not good tv unless something goes wrong, and if you’ve ever done any home improvement yourself, you know that something always does go wrong. As demolition happens things are revealed: a wall that was to be removed turns out to be load bearing, pipes are too old, the electricity was done incorrectly 50 years ago, subflooring that has water damage, the list goes on. The families are stressed and worried that their budget isn’t enough or they can’t get done what they really want done. But in the end, Chip and Joanna always come through and the house comes together and is reconstructed in ways that the family never imagined. They are always moved to cries of joy and excitement for their lives ahead in their home, the deconstruction and hard work was all worth it. I love the ending line of their opening credits: DO you have the guts to take on a fixer upper? After all, it’s not easy and not for everyone.

We could say the same of Jesus from today’s gospel lesson. Here we get an all too real, honest and perhaps cranky Jesus. After all, he’s been traveling now towards Jerusalem for a while, going to dinner parties, teaching in synagogues, healing, telling parables, and maybe he needs a nap or maybe Jesus just doesn’t like crowds. The opening lines of our text are sharp and piercing as he says to the large crowd, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” The disciples had to be thinking two things 1) do I hate everyone and myself? And 2) this is not going to look good on a billboard or t-shirt. Jesus, there is a huge crowd following: say something inspirational and tweetable! Something pithy that we can make a meme out of! But instead Jesus appears to be saying, “Do you have the guts to be my disciple?” How is this helpful?

This is one of those texts that makes us uncomfortable and that is exactly the point. Jesus is deconstructing everything we know about life. Can we walk away from our only means of survival-which in Jesus’ time was your family? Can you get rid of everything you own-again even if it’s a means of survival? What happens when all that’s left are the gapping holes where you can see the pipes, the wires and we’re left completely vulnerable? Do we have what it takes to do this?  Jesus knows that choosing what really matters each day means confronting our own impulses for what’s easy, cheap and fast. We need to do a little demolition work to reveal what’s important, or load bearing if you will. To say that we put survival, our comforts as primary in our lives sounds perfectly acceptable and maybe even holy until we realize that those things aren’t a strong foundation. Those are human foundations that will fall.

What we focus on matters and Jesus is clear that true disciples have one focus, one foundation: God. Our Deuteronomy text highlights the Israelites struggle with this as they wandered around for 40 years waiting to go into the promised land. They made idols, they got cranky about food, they tried assimilating to other cultures. Moses laid it out plainly for them: what will you focus on-life or death? And then he admonished them to choose life. Why? Not because choosing life with God is easy, it’s not. But choosing life means that you acknowledge that it is God who is our foundation and rebuilds us when everything falls apart. Choosing life is about being connected to something that is more than about mere survival but is about what Jesus tells us in John 10: that God comes to us to give us life and to give it abundantly. Death is separation from God and God’s promises of a transformative life.

As Jesus tells us in the parables, God has already done the budget, God already knows how much the cost of redemption, resurrection, restoration, and relationship is and comes to us with the word of peace amid the battles in our lives. We tend to think it’s up to us to count the costs but we need to focus on God as the builder and the king. The creator who decided at the beginning of time that relationship with creation and humanity was worth any price, even the price of God’s own son. That’s not a guilt trip by any means! It’s a reassurance that God will never leave us. When we truly follow Jesus, we do the hard work of demolition, distancing ourselves from the idols of possessions, status quo, and mere survival. We live with God as our foundation. God will be with us, over and over coming to us with a word of peace, hope and the promises of new life, no matter where we are.
We begin a new program year today at Our Saviour’s and it’s a year where we will proclaim this foundation in God.  We will live our mission statement: “A Spirit filled community that reaches out and cares for all.” We boldly step out in faith and keep our focus on following Jesus. We don’t get caught in clinging to the worry of survival but each day pick up the cross of Christ-the cross that transforms our old lives into new ones. The promises of new life that God is building right here, right now. It might be hard some days, and we might think that we don’t have the guts to be a disciple, but Jesus calls us through the waters of baptism and says that we have everything we need for this mission. We won’t be perfect disciples, but each day we are renewed to try again, together, as community, to choose life on this day and every day. The old life will be demolished and the new life of God’s wholeness, love, mercy and grace wil transforms us and the world. Thanks be to God.

 

God’s Power of Love Sermon on Luke 14: 1, 7-14 September 1, 2019

This sermon was preached on Sept. 1, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah.
The texts were Psalm 112, Hebrews 1-8, 15-16 Luke 14: 1,7-14

Children’s sermon: What are your favorite super heros? Or movie/tv characters? Why do they do that no one else can? Do you wish you could do that? Yes, we can often want to be someone else, or want to be around certain people because they make us feel good about ourselves or safe and secure. Did you know that you, each one of you, have a superpower? Yep! We all do! Jesus talks about this superpower in our bible story today. Now it doesn’t seem like Jesus is talking about superpowers-but he is! Jesus gets invited to a dinner by some people who want to know more about him-they want to see if Jesus is really who he says he is-they have heard he has powers. Jesus Heals people, touches people who are sick and doesn’t worry about getting sick himself, he talks to people whom no one else will, hangs out with people who no one else likes, loves all people no matter who they are. Jesus did have power-the power of God’s love! Jesus knew that he was being watched at this dinner and do you know what he did? Showed God’s love! At this dinner party Jesus watched the other people too. In Jesus day where you sat for dinner mattered. The really important people all sat at the head of the table together and less important people sat further away. He watched as some pretended to be more important than they were, more popular than they were and made other people feel less important by not having a place at the table for them. But Jesus told them a story to help them and us realize that we have a superpower that makes sure everyone is important: God’s Love! Jesus said that when we invite people who no one else wants to be around-make all people feel included, make room for them, we show God’s love. When people know that they are loved, then they can use their superpower of love too! This is a power that we all have through God no matter what we can do or not do, even if we are little and young. Here’s a way for you to use your superpower right here, right now. Here are cards and markers, draw, write notes of love or friendship (which is a form of love) to your family, friends, someone here today that you think needs to be told that they are loved and have this same superpower of love. Let’s pray:

They come into the fellowship hall a few at a time. Many walking independently, some in wheelchairs, some guided by care givers. They are people whom most assume are powerless over much of their lives and so are treated as powerless and unimportant most of the time. But on this afternoon, they feel valued and important. Everyone eats together around tables sharing food and tidbits from their week. After eating, they offer their gifts, creating cards of care for Habitat for Humanity families or those in assisted living facilities, gifts to share with friends, blessings bags to hand to those who are hungry, creating prayer reminders, and materials to help share information about this unique gathering with others. Then the community gathers in the sacred space of the chapel, a worship space where many have never been invited into or are have never been truly welcomed into just as they are. And if they are in those spaces, there are not accommodations for their visual or hearing differences, their verbal outbursts, unpredictable movements, noise and visual sensitivities, and other physical realities. But in this space, on this afternoon, everyone is invited, accepted and accommodated. Noise canceling headphones are available, there is a corner with dimmed lights and a tent for visual sensory deprivation, prayers, songs, scripture readings are communally and imperfectly led, the gospel is proclaimed through conversation, games, activities. Offerings are collected: words and pictures are put on laminated cards with dry erase markers that proclaim what of themselves will be offered to God this day and then the cards are read out loud as the prayers of the people. Bread and grape juice are distributed by those whom are usually excluded from the table, by people whom most assume don’t have the capacity to understand the gifts of God’s grace or distributed by children whom the adults assume are too young to understand. The words aren’t exact, “Jesus bread is for you,” or “juice of Christ to drink” but the intent and the love are clear and the power of those words and actions moves many to tears. All have a place at the table.

Songs are led by anyone who desires to lead and an occasional solo is spontaneously offered. Throughout the worship there is random talking, walking around, times when everything stops to answer a question, times when what was planned to happen doesn’t, something else does and it’s better. In this sacred space and time, all who are gathered matter, have a voice, and are part of the power of authentic community. The guests are given power to unabashedly share their gifts of love, joy and presence, the care givers who bring the guests feel the power in their holy work for caring for those whom society ignores and pushes to the side, the caring support people, people like me, are shown what true power, true love and true worth look like in God’s kingdom. We are changed by the presence of those who are usually not in our daily lives or in our supposedly sacred spaces of worship. We see clearly that God’s kingdom comes when those who seemingly have all the power, share it, give it away to those whom society hides, ignores, and deems unworthy and unimportant. When all are invited, included and given their own power as God’s beloved people, the power of love through Jesus is unleashed to reveal true community in God’s love. This community we call Rejoicing Spirits is all about the power of love, God’s love that flows through us all, and the strength of this love that has power to change the world. Rejoicing Spirits does the hard work of love in action, revealing the truth that all are important and have a place in God’s kingdom.

Jesus knows this power, Jesus sees that when not everyone is included, when some claim more power for themselves, pushing others to the outside, that our collective power is diminished and some people are harmed. When we assume that we are more important than other people, when we place value on human lives-whether that is through economic status, gender, age, ability, citizenship, or when we think that being close to people who have worldly status and power gives us status and power and that being with people whom society deems without value reflects on our own worth, we misuse our power of love. It becomes love of self and not love of neighbor. The shadow side of power is revealed.

God is the source and originator of this power of love and pours it out into us all and the world through Jesus. God is not afraid to share God’s power with us through Jesus Christ. Jesus’ ministry is one of showing how God’s power works in the world. God’s power is always used for wholeness, joy, dignity and worth for all creation. Jesus shows that God’s power that grows stronger when it is shared and is mutual. It’s power to live as our authentic selves not worrying about what someone might do to us-as God’s power removes fear. This power opens us up to awareness-awareness of who is sitting in a lower place at the tables in our community, and power to unabashedly point to the value and worth of all people.  On Friday, some of the Salt Lake City community, clergy, lay people and a couple of state legislators, gathered in loving power to support Cecelia, a woman who advocates for women of color in her community to receive healthcare and educational opportunities, a woman who lifts others up and is vital to her family and her neighborhood. The group pointed to the love she shows and that she should not be deported to Mexico where she faces certain violence, trauma and possible death. She has worth and importance right here despite paperwork. Worth is not a piece of paper or a label, worth is being loved by God. Jesus proclaims that labels are not statuses of worth, and the power of God’s love flows to those who feel powerless in our society: not only Cecelia but all immigrants, refugees, the sick, the differently abled, the under employed, the unhoused. Our scriptures over and over recall that God welcomes all and we are to imitate that welcome. Love is the power to do the hard work to change the circumstances that denies anyone their worth. And we can’t just talk about this hard work of love, we have to do it.

We have this power. With the power of God’s love, we include and invite those who are missing from our sacred worship spaces. With the power of God’s love, we offer radical hospitality and welcome to people whom others ignore. With the power of God’s love, we value all people ahead of our own wants, needs and fears. With the power of Gods’ love from Jesus, we act to love to all around us, even when we are uncomfortable, even if we are mocked, dismissed, uninvited and marginalized ourselves. We trust in this power of love from Jesus that is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Jesus who invites us to claim this power of love that changes us, transforms our actions, our hearts and turns the whole world upside down. Thanks be to God.

 

 

Seeing Changes Everything Sermon on Luke 13: 10-17 August 25, 2019

This sermon was preached on August 25, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT.

The texts were: Psalm 103: 1-8, Hebrews 12: 18-29 and Luke 13: 10-17

Children’s sermon: When I was in sixth grade, we had an assignment of writing the vocabulary words off the blackboard onto our paper and then looking them up. So, I did. The teacher then had us take turns reading the words and the definitions from our papers. When it was my turn, I dutifully read the word “crestfallen” and the definition. The teacher stopped me, looked confused for a minute and said, where did you get that word? It’s on the board I said. The teacher said, “is that what it looks like to you?” Turned out, the word I had written, was NOT the word on the board. I couldn’t really see the word on the board, so I had filled in with what I thought was correct. It was most decidedly not…I needed glasses! So, my parents got me glasses and then I could see! My glasses changed how I saw my world around me! I could see the correct words on the board! I discovered that there were trees far off in the distance that I didn’t know existed! So exciting! I was missing so much!  And once I could see life around me, I saw my entire world differently! I saw details people, more trees, dogs, etc. In our story today, Jesus is in the synagogue and sees a woman whom no one else sees, or if they see her, they pretend that she is not there. You see, her back has been bent for 18 years from age, or maybe a disease, we really don’t know, but in Jesus’ time, and even today sometimes, when someone looks different or acts different, people can be afraid of them. Kinda like they are afraid that they might catch having a bent back from her. Sounds a little silly, but we all do sometimes worry about things like that don’t we? If you were bent over what could you see? Yes, not everything around you!  But Jesus saw her, called her over to be in the middle of all the people! That would have made the people nervous! And he said to her, “you are set free from your ailment.” He touched her, which we call laying hands on her, and she stood up! She could see what was in front of her! She had only been able to look down for all those years! Can you imagine! And then with her new way of seeing the world around her, she praised God! The way she saw her life and her life with God and people was changed forever as was how people saw her! Jesus came to change the way we see the world, our lives, each other and God. Jesus shows us that we need to see the world how God sees the world and all people: as loved, important and so very special!  When we see the world how God sees the world, it changes us and other people. Let’s pray:

 

The woman had only been able to see her feet and perhaps just a bit in front of her feet for 18 years. In that time her children had grown, had children of their own, there were celebrations, sorrows, all kinds of firsts and lasts-many of which she missed from her stooped over vantage point that separated her from the life around her. She could twist her head and with great strain and pain see a little side to side, but it could never last very long and most often she saw only a glimpse of life around her that she had to decipher the snippets of view and what people told her. That is, when they talked to her or if they even saw her at all. Afraid of catching whatever evil had stooped her over and bound her to this life, the people in her community avoided this woman and she was essentially, invisible. Yet, she faithfully attended synagogue each week. Eagerly hearing the texts of the ancient scrolls, the stories of freedom, justice and grace. From the edges of the synagogue she would listen, sing the psalms, smell the candles, and dream about what God’s coming messiah might mean for her and change her life.

This Shabbat morning was no different, she carefully shuffled in, only seeing the dirt floor of the synagogue, and her own feet and she took her place on the edge where she wasn’t noticed and wouldn’t be in the way. Nothing new. But at this shabbat there was a teacher, a visiting rabbi, who seemed to have quite a following and seemed to cause quite a stir. His teaching was familiar and somehow very different. He read the same scrolls, but his interpretations were unique. She was pondering all of this while staring at her feet when she suddenly realized that he was addressing her. He saw her in the corner and called her to him in the middle of the synagogue. This can’t be. For so many reasons, this really can’t be happening in the middle of the very formal and predictable worship. Yet, she cautiously made her way to this rabbi, surrounded by all the attendees to the synagogue and his followers. Then he told her that she was freed from this spirit! What? He placed his hands gently on her back and told her to stand. How can this be? Again, without any rational reasoning, she did as he said, and stood! Suddenly she could see everything and everyone around her! Those dear ones who’s faces she had not gazed upon in 18 years, new face to meet, and the face of the one who now saw her face to face and told her that she was loosed from had kept her down. In the wake of this new perspective-she rejoiced! She sang, “O bless the Lord my soul! O praise God’s holy name!” Her response was unfiltered joy that would not be contained! Everything for her had changed!

The leader of the synagogue nervously looked out at the congregation and realized that the iterant street preacher and his followers where in attendance for Shabbat. He, himself, didn’t have a problem with this man, but he knew several who did. He had heard some of what this rabbi had been saying about God’s kingdom, and he didn’t disagree with all of it. But there was something that did make him a bit leery…Worship began without incident and the visitor began to teach. But then the street preacher called the woman who had a spirit into the middle of the synagogue. The leader felt his heart race as he looked around to see that all eyes were on this visiting rabbi. Then this man had the audacity to lay hands on the woman and heal her! On the Sabbath! In clear violation of the fourth commandment! As the leader of the community, he knew he had to offer the correct teaching as he saw fit. The people he was charged to teach and set an example for couldn’t view him as complicit in this man’s disregard for the laws. How could he see himself as a conduit for the word of God if he allowed this to go unchecked? It would change everything.

Jesus walked into the synagogue that morning and saw the people gathered there. He saw the tired parents wrangling toddlers, the awkward teens who didn’t want to be there, the widow, the young couple, the weary traveler, the single man, the hungry worker, the leader of the synagogue and the woman on the edge who was bent over. He saw them all and with the words from the Torah, began to tell them about God’s love for them. Jesus saw the people as made in God’s own image of goodness and promise. Jesus saw that they struggled with seeing each other as connected and seeing God’s abundance. They saw one another as competition for limited resources, including God’s love and grace. Jesus also saw that they were having a hard time believing that God’s unconditional, love, mercy and grace are indeed true and really for them. Jesus saw that the people needed to see that this was true. He saw the look of incredulity on the woman’s face who was bent over and knew that more than her just physical ailment was binding her up. Jesus called her over to him, brought her to the center so that all could see her, she was no longer invisible. He then laid hands on her and God’s healing power surged and then all who were gathered saw her stand up straight. Jesus saw the look of joy on the woman’s face. He saw the leader of the synagogue blinded by the law. He saw the people unsure of what to think amid the tension of what they had witnessed. They somehow understood that everything had just changed in that moment.

Jesus called them to see something new on this day of Sabbath. He called on them to see beyond how they have always done things, to see people who had been invisible because of disease, social status, abilities, gender, where they lived and whom they lived with. Jesus called on them to change their perspectives and to see the world how God sees the world: with love and compassion. Jesus saw the people in the synagogue and deeply loved them, all of them. Love that was strong enough to say what needed to be said, love that saw past rules that harmed some people while keeping others in power and privilege. Love not as a sentiment but as action and justice, love that changes everything.

The crowds saw, even if just briefly, a  glimpse God’s kingdom: people loosed from what keeps them apart from healing community, people offered not laws but relationships, people freed by God’s love and grace to be who God created them to be and to see each other face to face as God’s beloved creatures, people part of the new life in God, people who were changed. The crowds saw it and rejoiced at what Jesus was doing to heal, love and offer God’s vision of the world where all belong and are loved. Once you see the kingdom of God, it changes how you see everything and everyone. Thanks be to God.